Hero By Night – Moral Fiber


First thing I’d like to address is that I’m truly sorry for the lateness of this article. I am currently in the process of building my home and we are coming down the home stretch here. Things are coming to a head and the house now consumes most of my time. It also seems that everyone I know is either getting married or having babies. These types of things tend to eat up time and next thing you know weeks have gone by. So once again to all the faithful readers out there I’ll try not to let the next article take so long.

Now on with the show… My last article was a philosophical look at heroes’ and villains’ origins and in it I mentioned that I had a couple more ideas along this theme that I’d like to discuss. The second topic I’d like to cover is that of being a superhero and how morality plays into it. Dictionary.com has the definition of morality as: “A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct.” It would seem that if one has a sense of morality, it can be inferred that they would know the difference between right and wrong. The thing about being a superhero is that the line between right and wrong is sometimes very subjective. A lot more of the modern day comic superheroes seem to want to dance around that line. The problem I have with any hero and morality is that being a superhero, in my opinion, is not moral. I want to quantify this with a definition (also from Dictionary.com):

Vigilante – One who takes the law into his or her own hands.

All heroes are vigilantes. I want to make that perfectly clear. By pursuing and capturing criminals they are taking the law in to their own hands and this definition of heroism doesn’t shed a positive light on the do-gooders of comic-dom. I think that is why it is overlooked by most comic readers. They simply don’t want to acknowledge that their favorite comic book heroes from Jubilee to Superman are criminals in some sense. That’s right Clark Kent is a criminal – by working outside the law, he is in affect breaking it. Now the argument can be made that that U.S. government sanctioned his (Superman’s) actions and skepticism aside, I can believe that. What he does is for the greater good so we turn a blind eye to the part where he actually breaks the law.

That is the issue I don’t think we see enough in today’s comics. We do see it in an off hand way when J.J. Jamison gets on his kick about Spiderman and what a menace to society he is. His reaction seems to be the one comics typically want to portray; that when a person opposes a hero or superheroes that they must be fanatical and irrational about it…or they are trying to take over the world. What I’d like to see is a clear and level-headed non-mutant or meta-human character step up to the plate and talk about how superheroes harm society. Let them put the ball back in the heroes’ courts and make them justify to us why they do what they do. Let Superman, Spiderman or whoever let us know why they feel they need to step across the line. What I don’t want to hear is every hero say: “Because it’s the right thing to do.” That’s not a reason, that’s a cop out. Enforcing the law by breaking it isn’t noble it’s a double standard. To me if a hero gives me a canned response like that I’d call them a hypocrite. That’s like a parent telling a kid not to smoke because it’s bad for you then said parent lighting up. What I want to see is characterization. It doesn’t need to be a formal setting like standing in front of the U.N but something simple like with Pete and Mary Jane. The writers should make him tell her (and by extension us) why he continues to work outside the law. Clichés can only be motivation for so long, after a time they tend to wear thin and when a characters motivation wears thin he/she becomes a joke.

What I’d also like to see how effective superheroes are thwarting crime within the confines of the U.S. Judicial system. Sure they can stop crimes but what’s it like when the criminal they stopped goes to trial? Are there special laws governing what a hero sees or does can be held in court? Do heroes testify? Is it morally right for Superman to stop a crime and not appear in court? Let’s face it if Superman had to appear in court every time he’d caught a criminal he wouldn’t spend much time elsewhere. What if the evidence was based solely on Superman’s or another hero’s testimony? The ramifications of these issues when the Justice system tries to convict a criminal are profound. The revolving door that we have courthouses would be nothing compared to those courthouses in worlds that are populated by heroes. How does this effect a hero’s moral code knowing that he can stop crime but in the end all his good intentions don’t put people behind bars?

Moral values are a hot button topic no matter if you’re talking about comic books or reality as we know it. This makes it hard for any type of media out there to approach without offending some and not others. I think comics books are in a better position then most other media types because heroes represent a lot of different things about humanity. Heroes like Spiderman represent the everyday type of guy while Superman type characters represent what the ideal we all strive for. As representations of us it would be only natural to see our morality reflected back at us through them.

Whoa. Now that the heavy thinking is out of the way it’s on to business. A few readers wrote in to give their two cents about heroes creating villains.

Atman pointed out ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ covered the same topic in one of its episodes. Being a big fan of the show his mention of it jogged my memory and I remembered more details. Basically Batman gets stuck in Arkham and since most of his villains are in there with him are clinically insane. Instead of outright killing Bats, they put him on trial for basically creating all them. Joker is the judge and most of his rogue gallery is the jury. Hilarity ensues but in the end the jury finds that they would have still been evil or bad guys if the Dark Knight hadn’t come along.

He also pointed out that in the original Batman movie the Joker killed Batman’s parents; thus Joker made Batman before Batman made the Joker. Now if remember correctly this scenario was in the comics at one point and got recanted probably during Crisis. I didn’t mention it because I believe movies are a different beast then printed comics and should be handled in separate conversations. Motivations, origins all get screwy when ideas transfer from one media to another.

Reader David wrote in and pointed out the inverse of my idea, that some heroes are in fact created by their villains. He cited examples of Rogue and Mystique, Rom the Space Knight and the PowerPuff Girls. He also points out that if the Joker created Bats he can also be contributed with indirectly creating Nightwing, a couple of Batgirls and several Robins (one of which he killed, irony much?).

Biirr from the liberty server also wrote in just to say how much he like our site and my columns. I would like to extend a thank you to him from all of use here at City of Heroes Warcry. It’s always nice to know someone appreciates your work.

With that said, thanks to all. I appreciate the feedback.

– Zameda
[email protected]
November 24, 2004

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