Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My hero, the Killing Machine...?


GOSH, there's a lot of killing in the new Wonder Woman animated film!

Okay, to get it out of the way, yes, it was good, and yes, I liked it. Naturally; it's a Gail Simone story.

But GOSH, there's a lot of killing in it.

I guess I thought I had adapted to the Xenafication of Wonder Woman. During the period when my concept of Wonder Woman was being formed, Wonder Woman followed the same "code" as Batman and Superman: no killing. Lesser people have to kill. Cops, soldiers, et al.; regular people have to kill to defend themselves. But for superheroes, not killing was always part of the challenge. Killing makes heroing rather easy, particularly when you are a superhero. You just kill anyone who throws a punch at you, and let the Spectre sort out the rest.

It's not a question of "mere" morality. It's a storytelling issue. Heroes who kill are, well, they're cheating. When Superman killed the Phantom Zone villains (before the last few multiversal reboots), I wasn't so much shocked by the deed itself. He gave a kind of plausible excuse for his right to "execute" them according to Kryptonian law. I wasn't disappointed that Superman failed morally, but that he seemed to have given up intellectually. He failed to solve the problem at hand without killing.

You can say I'm showing my time period; that my perception comes from the Innocent Silver/Bronze Ages, that my brain is soaked in the Superfriends for too long.

Maybe. Yet...

I also remember that in the 1940s, Wonder Woman kicked all sorts of Axis patootie during WWII. Without killing anyone. It was wartime; she was, in fact, a soldier, and, based on that, had a "right" to kill the enemy. But she didn't. And comics weren't exactly delicate then. Bad guys died like flies in the Golden Age.

But, ever since Xena, it's been (apparently) paramount to show that Wonder Woman is a "warrior" (which, I guess, means really really ready to kill at the slightest opportunity).

William Moulton Marston was definitely a wacko. But he wasn't an idiot. He was trying to use Wonder Woman to show us a better way, to show that love can conquer war (as long as it's strong enough!). Wonder Woman is still good; she's still cool. But somehow Wonder Woman the Killing Machine has lost a certain superiority that I long for in my heroes...

P.S. Don't get me started on the fact that Etta Candy -- the ULTIMATE symbol of female self-reliance and empowerment in comic books -- was portrayed as the symbol of what is worst in the women of "Man's World". Just don't get me started.

36 comments:

Mike Noga said...

Etta Candy...you should let us vote on a list of your favorite Etta Candy quotes.

SallyP said...

Obviously, I need to break down and actually pick this up.

ticknart said...

At WonderCon, Michael Jelenic said that the one BIG regret he had was naming that character Etta Candy. He said he didn't know the lore behind her and was ashamed after he found out.

Scipio said...

Oh? His shame is nice, but not useful.

What the hell are doing making a Wonder Woman movie if you don't know anything about Etta Candy?

A cursory internet search on her name alone would have told him how wrong a choice it was.

Or just asking A SINGLE WONDER WOMAN FAN.

TotalToyz said...

Etta Candy...you should let us vote on a list of your favorite Etta Candy quotes.

My vote goes to "My constitution has room for lots of amendments!"

Diamondrock said...

What the hell are doing making a Wonder Woman movie if you don't know anything about Etta Candy?

For some reason people outside of the comics industry seem only dimly aware of the fact that these characters have histories stretching back to an era when television didn't even exist.

Also, they don't think comic writers know how to write, despite evidence to the contrary...

Roel said...

I understand your perspective on heroes abiding by a code of honor and not killing opponents. Having said that, there are some heroes (The Punisher, Wolverine, Lobo, The Authority) were killing seems to define part of their core essence.

I mean, clearly I'm against killing. But every time Joker breaks out of Arkham to cripple a Barbara Gordon or to brain a Jason Todd with a crowbar, I entertain the possibility that Batman does the world a disservice by not killing the man.

TotalToyz said...

there are some heroes (The Punisher, Wolverine, Lobo, The Authority) were killing seems to define part of their core essence.

Personnaly, I don't consider any of those characters to be "heroes". I'd explain why but I'm certain Scipio can do it far more coherently than I can.

Anonymous said...

Just watched this, and, while there was a lot of killing, there was also a lot of Diana not killing when everyone around her did. She was clearly willing to, but she did take the approach of disabling when feasible.

But, yeah. The Etta Candy moment made me flinch.

Tony Z™ said...

"Michael Jelenic said that the one BIG regret he had was naming that character Etta Candy. He said he didn't know the lore behind her and was ashamed after he found out."

How on earth did he come up with the name without knowing anything about her!!? Did he just make it up and then suddenly find out "Wow, there's actually a character associated with Wonder Woman that has that name!"? That's ridiculous!

That was the worst part of the movie. I just kept staring at the screen thinking "What? What?"

My favorite part of the movie, though, was the epilogue (Coda? Whatever, I don't know). That's what I wanted from this: a superhero movie. Wasn't looking for a Wonder Woman battles the gods (again) just like Xena (again)...

But I still enjoyed it. And am immensely thankful that they avoided using "the spin." Urg.

Diamondrock said...

Personnaly, I don't consider any of those characters to be "heroes". I'd explain why but I'm certain Scipio can do it far more coherently than I can.

Ooh, you beat me to the punch. I was going to say basically the exact same thing, but figured I should let Scipio take care of that. It's his blog, after all...

Justin said...

Debates about whether or not killing is okay for superheroes usually get hung up on the individual's personal beliefs, which is why I absolutely adore "killing = cheating if you're a superhero," because it focuses on narrative issues instead of ethics or morals.

I know that Batman and Superman are going to survive every issue and are generally going to achieve at least some measure of victory over the villain. The interest in superhero comics is about how they do it, and a protagonist refusing to kill can only add suspense and force creativity because it denies the easiest out.

Scipio said...

" I don't consider any of those characters to be "heroes". I'd explain why but I'm certain Scipio can do it far more coherently than I can."

Because they kill people.

ASK said...

Really, I think the culprit here might not be Xena, but Waid's Kingdom Come. I think this was the first appearance of WW as a warrior willing to kill. I don't know if it appeared after Xena, but Kingdom Come seems to have had a big influence over the DCU.

TotalToyz said...

Because they kill people.

To be honest I was expecting something more introspective and sub-contextual, but that sums it up pretty well.

Sea_of_Green said...

I FINALLY got to see this movie the other night, and while I did do a double-take when Etta Candy appeared, that wasn't my biggest complaint about the movie. Still, all and all, I did enjoy it, too, despite the things I had issues with.

TotalToyz said...

How on earth did he come up with the name without knowing anything about her!!?

His "research" for the movie probably consisted of watching Season One episodes on YouTube. Blame Beatrice Colen.

Verification word: "mother". My hand to God. The first time it's ever been an actual word for me, and oddly appropos for this thread.

Club President said...

I enjoyed the video to but the one thing that bothered me more than the killing...was the way Etta Candy was depicted...that for some reaon really ticked me off.

They could have easily had any bimbo unnamed character for that role in the movie...but I guess they felt they needed a cameo for her and instead of giving her a good cameo they turned her into a bimbo...

Doctor Polaris said...

Hmph. For a villain such as myself the question of "to kill or not to kill" never enters into the equation. Rather, it is a matter of how do you kill the hero in the most elaborate and humiliating fashon possible. Extra points for style and color coordination.

Sleestak said...

Wasn't it during Kingdom Come that Wonder Woman started being portrayed (in modern comics) as willing to kill? At least that is when I first noticed it. As I recall, she had quite the moral dilemma about changing her code. How long then did it take to bring that that over to the regular DCU persona?

Scott said...

Actually, while it's cheating to kill your villains in a vigilante fashion, it's well within the rules of the game to capture said villain in a state that has capital punishment, then testify or even serve as the prosecutor for the villain's trial, resulting in the villain being electrocuted. Sadly, it seldom takes... but this is yet another tip that Batman should take from Captain Marvel.

After all, if Bruce Wayne is able to become past expert in all sorts of fields of endeavor, why not a law degree (in some disguise such as Matchsticks Malone, if not as Bruce himself) so he could overcome the Joker's insanity defense and see him die by lethal injection.

Or maybe he could just buy up Arkham Asylum and get the place some real security instead of the revolving door situation it is now.

Roel Torres said...

Well, alright. I guess my definition of hero is a little more flexible than everyone else's. That's fine.

Yes, Wolverine kills people. But he also selflessly risks his life and sacrifices himself to fight the nazis in WWII and megalomaniacs like Magneto from taking over the planet, despite the fact that the human race treats him with fear and prejudice.

And you might not consider the Authority heroes but, again, there's that whole "risking their lives to save the planet multiple times over" thing going in their favor.

Heck, apparently Wonder Woman is killing all sorts of people in her new movie? And Batman killed Darkseid with a gun? And Superman killed the phantom zone villains?

I am not going to charge headlong into a debate where it seems like I am in favor of killing. Ah, no thanks. Pass. But I will say that disqualifying someone from hero status because they kill -- despite, you know, saving the planet and humanity many times over -- might be cutting off the nose to spite the face a little bit.

In my book 99% hero with 1% killing still comes out "hero". But I can respect people who have a 100% to 0% ratio. That's also a reasonable standard. A higher one. I guess I'm just a little more forgiving on my grading curve.

TotalToyz said...

You want the definition of a hero and the moral code he must live by? Read Aquaman Vol. 1 #57 and the issues of Adventure Comics leading up to it. Black Manta murdered Aquaman's toddler son, forced him to fight his best friend to the death, and pretty much destroyed everything Aquaman held dear. But when given the chance to kill Manta, even though he wanted to with every part of his soul, Aquaman didn't. Because heroes don't do that.

Matt said...

"Yes, Wolverine kills people. But he also selflessly risks his life"

...

Roel Torres said...

Hi TotalToyz,

I'm not arguing with you. I'm just disagreeing with you.

I guess I think it's important to judge people/characters by the sum totality of their cumulative actions, instead of focusing on their lowest moments. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr was an adulterer and a plagiarist. But he is still a hero of mine. Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner. But he is still a hero of mine. Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star and flat-out KILLED thousands. Luke Skywalker is a hero in my book.

I'm against adultery, and plagiarism, and slavery, and killing. But to me, there's a huge difference between "heroic" and "perfect." If a person kills, well it's clearly a black mark against them. But as Scipio said -- it's an INTELLECTUAL failing. Not a MORAL one. I'm okay with the idea that my heroes are not all intellectual giants.

If we start blacklisting characters like Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Captain America, etc. for killing -- I just think that we've created an impossibly high standard for heroism. I guess I would like my list of heroes to be longer than "Aquaman."

(PS -- If Aquaman had killed Black Manta in the example you cited, I would have been totally okay with it. He would still be a hero in my book. It wouldn't have been the most idealistic solution. But I can forgive moral failings under those circumstances.)

Respectfully,
Roel

Scipio said...

"I guess I would like my list of heroes to be longer than "Aquaman.""

You know... I think he's more than enough, LOL!

TotalToyz said...

If we start blacklisting characters like Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Captain America, etc. for killing -- I just think that we've created an impossibly high standard for heroism.

While I'm not an advocate of situational ethics, when someone like Superman or Batman kills, its a last resort and a moral dilemma that causes them much soul-searching and anguish. When someone like Wolverine or Lobo kills, it's just Tuesday. That, to me, is the difference.

Roel Torres said...

Personally, I sensed no anguish when Batman shot Darkseid, or when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Start. They seemed very comfortable with the decision.

But it's cool. I understand that we're going to disagree, and I have no problem with that.

Omar Karindu said...

I think the best argument against superheroes killing is Scipio's, but for those who think it's not an incredible moral breach like Roel, I rather like Superman's remark in JLA Classified #3 tot he effect that, in a superhero universe, killing the villain is rarely either final or even effective.

Swamp Thing killed Anton Arcane on the order of four or five times, and all that accomplished was eventually sending Arcane to Hell...where he became a fearsome and probably UNkillable demon with even greater powers.

In a universe with Darkseid's resurrecto-vision, mad scientists who can effectively resurrect the dead (ask Major Force, Gizmo, and scores of others), plus guys like Neron and Satanus running a Hell that especially wicked souls can actually return from or where they simply achieve literal demonhood, killing isn't just morally problematic...it's practically useless and even more dangerous than devising clever imprisonments.

Citizen Scribbler said...

I think it may be a question of scale. If Wild Dog is up against twenty terrorists with guns, I don't really mind if he kills anyone, because that's all he can do. But if Superman kills even one of them, it just strikes me as monstrous because he has so many other options. Many non-powered heroes like Batman and The Blue Beetle (Ted) are so highly trained or have such incredible gadgets that it makes killing unnecessary. The Authority totally kill and torture people when they don't need to- it's very unnerving. I guess I figure that a real hero doesn't abuse their power over life and death and a real hero appreciates the concept of mercy.

-Citizen Scribbler

TotalToyz said...

a real hero doesn't abuse their power over life and death and a real hero appreciates the concept of mercy.

The really sums up what I've been trying to say about heroes and killing. Thank you.

allan said...

Speaking of something else entirely....

Was it just me or could you actually tell which lines of dialogue came from Ms. Simone? It was actually kinda spooky.

Matt said...

@Roel: "Personally, I sensed no anguish when Batman shot Darkseid"

It was the end of the world. The only thing that could stop Darkseid (especially since Batman was already worn out) was the Radion. Batman said something to the effect of "I made a promise never to use a gun" (guns obviously symbolize murder to him) "but for you I'll make a once in a lifetime" (meaning Batman figures that he's probably going to die anyway) "exception." Morrison is constant in writing certain things, one of which is the moral conviction of heroes like Superman and Batman.

@allan: Me too, haha. Short, cheeky banter.

tad williams said...

Speaking of shame being nice but not useful (and forgive me if someone already commented on this and I missed it) John Byrne recently said that if he had it to do over, he probably would have had the Kryptonian villains get themselves killed and left open the question of whether Superman would have killed or not in that infamous story.

Which to me is like someone who humiliated you horribly in school coming up years later and saying, "You know, that was my bad."

Yeah, great. It doesn't do a thing to change the way one's life was blighted.

Byrne sort of implied (and here we touch on Scipio's point) that he did it because he couldn't think of a better alternative. Now, I don't really think that was the case -- Jesus, I hope not -- but I'd almost rather he was defiant to the end, Jimmy Cagney on top of the gas tank with his gat.

After all, it wasn't just a bad choice, making Superman kill, it was a fiercely aggressive bad choice, like giving Batman permanent super powers, making Wonder Woman a man, or rehabilitating the Joker (other than in alternate world-type stories, obviously.)

When Byrne did that, he failed his job as custodian of a cultural touchstone. There are certain kinds of character virginity, for lack of a more elegant term, that once ended can never be regained.

For me, when he did that Byrne became Uncle Bad Touch and I really don't want to hear that he's sorry now.

TotalToyz said...

Of course, the bottom line is that the comic companies aren't creating "heroes" who kill, and weakening the moral fibre of their longtime heroes by having them kill, in any kind of effort to portray realism in an increasingly violent world. No, they're doing it to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to win the devotion and the dollars of the kids who were brought up on Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto, who think it's wicked cool that Batman shot Darkseid and that Bucky slit Nazis' throats.

Timothy Burke said...

The killing wasn't the worst thing about the movie. I thought "Steve Trevor, Major Asshole" was considerably more annoying. Plus the editing of the movie was just terrible: incredibly rough cuts in the action, almost incomprehensible at times.