Tuesday, July 1, 2014

To Kill A Villain: Introduction

I recently saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the fifth time. As I watched the Lemurian Star sequence—near the very beginning—I appreciated for the first time that Captain America straight up kills a lot of bad guys.

Admittedly most of these guys aren't dead, if any. Still a cool scene.

At the time I didn’t think much about it, other than to really appreciate it. Steve Rogers felt like a breath of fresh air among superheroes, someone who isn’t angsting over whether or not bad guys should die. Steve Rogers doesn’t worry about whether or not the Red Skull should be imprisoned. He worries about how many innocents the Red Skull will kill if he lives. (Yes, I know that’s from the first movie, but I didn’t want to open with spoilers for The Winter Soldier.)

Other than appreciating it, I didn’t think much more beyond it, until the other night when on tumblr when the-cellist-in-portland described Steve Rogers as “a precious, goofy, awkward death machine who no doubt makes the best waffles ever.”

I really enjoyed her comment. I still think it’s one of the greatest descriptions of Steve Rogers I have ever seen. And I have no doubt Steve makes fantastic waffles. It was also awesome to see someone else who appreciated that Steve Rogers is a killing machine. (Seriously, re-watch the Lemurian Star sequence sometime. There is no mercy there what so ever.)

So I responded with: “Speaking of Death Machine, it wasn’t until I saw CA: TWS for the fifth time this weekend, that I truly appreciated the fact that Steve just effing kills people. He doesn’t angst over it like Superman and Batman. He just does his freaking job and gets rid of the bad guys. If Steve Rogers was up against the Joker, that dude would be dead. None of this put him in jail just to have him escape in the next movie business. THANK GOODNESS FOR STEVE ROGERS.”

The-cellist-in-portland responded: He does get the job done. Damn yes, we need to let him loose in the DC Universe and let him host seminars on ‘How to Get Rid of the Bad Guy…Permanently and Without Angst’.”

At this point I was prepared to end the discussion with an “Amen, sister” and a fun gif, never to think about it again. But then a-long-way-from-here brought up the following, amazingly excellent point: “I feel like Steve Rogers doesn’t have to have all the angst about killing bad guys because y’know he is a soldier for a worldwide recognized government/institution. If Batman kills a guy he goes on trial for murder.”

My gut reaction was “Well, Batman is a vigilante. He’s already going to jail, what more is murder?” Then I realized all DC heroes are vigilantes and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) heroes are not. I started thinking if that was the difference on their views of killing people, and then I realized it was so much deeper than that.

In the end it comes down to three factors: how the person was raised (upbringing), what made the person a “hero” (origins), and whether or not the hero has a higher authority they’re answering to (vigilantism). To explore this idea, I’m going to use two examples from the Marvel movies and two examples from the DC movies: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Clark Kent, and Bruce Wayne.

Why these four characters? I chose them because they are counterparts to each other in the different universes. Steve Rogers and Clark Kent are both the virtuous leaders of their respective superhero organizations, and while it’s true that Steve cannot match Clark’s power, they both stand for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are almost perfectly matched in every way, except in how they go about their superheroing. Both are men whose only super powers are their wealth and intelligence. Comparing such similar characters will hopefully allow us to understand how Marvel and DC have ended up with such incredibly different views on whether it’s okay for a hero to kill a villain.

For the sake of simplifying this discussion, I am going to limit my discussion of the characters mainly to movie canon. For Batman I am going to specifically reference Christopher Nolan’s Trilogy. For Superman, I will reference Man of Steel. For any Marvel characters, I will stick to the MCU. But basically, for the sake of this argument, the true Steve Rogers is movie Steve Rogers. 

Let me be clear about something. This is not a discussion of whether it is actually the correct action for a hero to kill a villain. This is not a discussion on whether we want our superheroes killing villains. Clearly I have already expressed my admiration for Steve Rogers for doing so, but my feelings are neither here nor there. This is ultimately going to be a discussion on how these different characters feel about killing and why they feel that way. And if we’re lucky we perhaps might be able to draw some conclusions about the differences between Marvel and DC, and why these movies appeal to the people they do.

Note: Read the next installment here! It's a study of the upbringings of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, specifically focusing on how deeply their fathers impacted them!

Comments? Anyone have any opening thoughts? Or do you think there are more than three factors that affect whether or not a superhero is okay with killing a villain? Also since I already expressed my opinion on admiring Steve Rogers for his willingness to kill, what do you guys think about that? Are you okay with superheroes killing their villains?

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