When did murder become a mature action? In the course of conversation last week, I once again heard an argument that has never rung true to me. The argument is that mainstream comic book stories are too immature because their heroes don’t kill. This statement which ignores Punisher, Vigilante, and the entire Ultimate Universe (except Spiderman) is at its heart built on what I feel is an incorrect premise. That premise is that choosing not to kill is an immature decision
The most common supporting fact used in the argument that Superheroes should kill is that police and soldiers kill. I would like to point out that killing is a last resort for police, and they are trained to wound. Every shot fired has to be accounted for and paperwork has to be filed. In these cases the position comes with jurisdiction and accountability. Superheroes typically don’t have either of these. They appoint themselves and by killing would be saying that they know who should live or die. I do concede, though, that it does not make much sense for a government sanctioned team that is part of the military to not kill unless it is a PR decision.
Would anybody accuse a doctor of being immature? Doctors take an oath to do no harm, and this concept constantly comes up on TV shows. Every medical show on the air has dealt with doctors getting a questionable patient and having to make the hard decision of whether or not to save them. I have never heard anyone call these stories immature for exploring that concept. Is ER immature because its doctors don’t kill? If a firefighter were to save the life of a murderer would they then be called immature? I would argue that these two professions are more closely related to Superhero, because their primary function is to save lives. Still in both cases there is an authority and accountability that Superheroes lack.
While I feel that killing your enemies when you have the power to do otherwise is taking the easy way out, I do enjoy these darker stories as well. These stories explore concepts that would taint long standing characters. Superman for example should never kill, but Hyperion can give you those stories while Superman remains untouched. Killing, though, seems to be a throwaway action for these types of characters. The slippery slope of who and what have earned death is very rarely explored. Even rarer is dealing with the psychological turmoil that killing could cause a person.
I personally read just as many stories about heroes that kill as I do about those that don’t. There is a distinctly different feel between the two, but neither is inherently more mature than the other, and both types have their merits. Too often titles that call themselves mature focus less on the story and more on the nudity and foul language. They essentially become shock titles. Murder is never a requirement for a story to be mature, but it could be a strong component in exploring the psychology of a hero.