Deeply Flawed, wish I could write more
A few minutes into the movie, we encounter the antagonists proper. And in that first scene, one of them kills a dog: It was barking at her.
It is then the movie announces it isn't really about the question of the DC-verse's fundamentally nonsensical no-kill rule. It is not here to present a thoughtful answer to the problem of the Joker Immunity
. Superman Vs The Elite
is plain old good-vs-bad, contained in a wild swing at a defenceless prop, stuffed full of straw.
Nowhere in the movie does Superman answer the simple math: Killing one superpowered, homocidal monster spares a dozen innocent bystanders the next time he escapes prison - however unlawful that execution may be.
So Manchester Black kills Atomic Skull instead.
Superman's only answer is this: To put on a Joker Grin and a savage, televised beatdown on Black, apparently killing the rest of The Elite in front of millions of viewers. Then, when people tell him not to kill Black, he says: "They saw the ugliness of violence as a solution, and it frightened them". Even though "they" saw Black blow Atomic Skull's skull apart just the other day, and cheered.
Superman considers himself a teacher, one that knows better than the great majority of the citizens about whether it's wrong or right to kill mass-murdering monsters. Incidentally, those citizens are the ones doing all the dying at the hands of said monsters in this movie. Manchester Black says it: "You don't have a clue what it means to live in fear, do you?"
The worst part is it didn't have to be this way: Superman doesn't have to be uncool. He could be interesting simply by being The iconic superpowered hero, and generally supposed to be the most powerful one in his universe. Even without the Justice League, he would have immense political and social influence. As Louis says, "The world is always watching Superman."
And if that was true, the abovementioned "ugliness" finally becomes relevant: When Superman's public persona becomes too important for him to get his hands dirty, when there are others who can do those jobs, and when the justice system isn't too completely insane to ignore the unreliability of Cardboard Prisons
, then Superman at last has a good reason not to kill. Or something. But at least address the central question of your movie with a real argument.
20th Jun 12
First off, thank you for the comment.
Secondly, this is why I "wish[ed] I could write more".
Now where do I start?
Let's begin with the subject of Strawmen, because that mess just clutters up the whole discussion: The Elite are Strawmen. The whole thing where they act like villains, declaring a show-down with Superman when he punches Manchester, is simply there to portray them as the bad guys. And the only reason they're portrayed as bad guys is to undermine the argument of killing supervillains. And that is an ad hominem
Same reason Jason Todd had to go all stupid and point the gun at Batman instead of simply pulling the trigger on Joker.
Superman Vs The Elite resorts to strawmanship, and it hurts the movie so bad. So please, let's not argue about how often Manchester twirled his moustache, cackling evilly, because that had nothing to do with the actual point of the story: Shooting Joker, or not shooting Joker.
With that out of the way (please), you say "Superman's argument is that killing without the backing of the law is wrong".
This presupposes that the law is actually right to begin with. And in this movie, the law appears to accept Atomic Skull's periodical escapes and homocidal rampages as long as the city of Metropolis can suck electricity out of him in-between. This doesn't seem right to me. It seems like something went horribly wrong in the legislative process, here.
Then you say unchecked superhumans are dangerous. Are you saying that this is why they shouldn't be allowed to kill, ever? Because if they killed Atomic Skull, then they might go on to kill whoever they feel like?
First off, assuming a law-enforcing super can apprehend a law-breaking super without risk to the lives of either, it seems sensible enough that they shouldn't kill them. That would go for regular citizens, too. It seems sensible enough. I just want to get that out of the way.
However, what happens after that is not sensible: With the collateral damage of the revolving prison door, the unchecked law poses an immediate danger. In such a world, if you had the power, would you not also have the responsibility to use it for good, and save the lives the law would otherwise condemn?
People should always think for themselves instead of relying on dogma and taboo. Especially when the law kills innocent citizens. Same too, if it came down to soldiers and innocent bystanders. If eventually the responsible superhuman becomes a mass-murderer, and killing starts coming too easy to them, then their hopefully more grounded peers should intervene.
And if the superhuman has no peers, and no one can stop them, then I may agree that they should have never been allowed to kill. But then, who would have stopped them? All you ever could have done was hope and pray.
> "Your basic solution here is that Superman kills, or allows others to kill, covertly? Because so long as no one knows you did something wrong, it's not wrong, right?"
Let's get off topic!
I was trying to think of a plausible explanation why Superman should never fry some supervillain's face off
. And what I came up with was that such imagery can ellicit strong reactions: just look at the Vietnam War and the photojournalism of that time. And if, hypothetically, the Justice League wanted to maintain a clean image despite being a very militant organisation, I'm saying Superman would be their face: Handsome, all-American, and child friendly.
I'm not saying the League would have to operate covertly when killing people. In a realistic world, it would simply go without saying that people die in real fights, like the ones the League get into. What I am saying is that the "leader figure" can't be photographed killing somebody, because it's an incredibly ugly and frightening sight. It wouldn't be good if it was Green Lantern, either, but the damage could be much better controlled, because Green Lantern wasn't the "face" so tightly associated with the League: That's Superman, the guy who catches falling planes and saves kittens.
Really though, it's just a thought experiment, but I'd love to hear other ideas.
24th Jun 12
Thank you as well for your reply.
Concerning your point on the The Elite being strawman, I think your interpreting this entirely wrong. They act like villains not because the animators wanted to undermine the argument of killing supervillains, but because of their philosophy. They consider themselves to be the highest authority and free to act upon all their whims, which is why they kill so easily. "He who has the power makes the rules". This is important, because this means that they don't kill because someone did something wrong, they kill because they feel like it. They target bad guys, yes, but the point here is that at any point, they can target who they want for any reason they choose. So, in this instance, at least, the argument isn't whether killing is wrong, but whether a person, any person, should have unchecked power. Superman believes he shouldn't, but with no one stronger than him to check him, he can only he impose upon himself the no killing rule.
It is for this reason, rather than blind belief in the law, that Superman leaves it out of his hands. He knows that there is something wrong with the law, as there always is, but that is not an excuse for him to do as he pleases. So the movies message is not actually "Killing is wrong". Remember, even Lois agreed with the Elite in so far as that bad people should die, so it's not like they are making out the Elite to be entirely mustache twirlingly evil. Rather, the message is "Who has the right to kill?" According to superman, the law. And if the law is wrong, well, that's not his problem, the people need to make it right, which he thinks they will because "good is not perfect", as he says.
Also, as a side note, I don't think the law was okay with the Atomic Skull escaping and killing people just to use him as a power source. For one, death sentences take a REALLY long time to process, with all the appeals and such. For all we know, he might have been getting a death sentence like you wanted. But using him as a power source is a better idea, imo. This way, he's actually helping the city that he has hurt, and the only thing that is uncertain is that he might escape, which he really shouldn't be able to. Any sane person would put him so far underground, under so many barriers, that it'd be virtually impossible for him to escape. I really do wish writers would spend more time justifying how all these villains keep escaping though. It's the most absurd thing in comics to me.
As for your solution in the third paragraph about seems as ineffectual as the cardboard prison, if not less. Your suggesting that superpowered heroes start killing, and if they go too far, then another superpowered hero comes to stop them? But who decides what "too far" is? What if instead of actively killing them, they just don't care and let innocents die indirectly as they fight the villain? Does that still count as them doing something wrong? What if they don't make it overt that they're killing people, and just do it stealthily, so no one can prove anything? What if the other superpowered villain is also too far gone and agrees with the mass murdering one? On top of all that, death really isn't that big a deal in comic books, in case you haven't noticed. They kill them, they come back, and thousands die once again. Honestly, I'd prefer just be able to trust superman to not go crazy and build a safe house for when the next attack comes. In both scenerios, hundreds of innocents die, but with superman atleast I know there is one superpowered guy I can rely on. In yours, I have no one.
Your other solution doesn't work because the JL doesn't care about a clean image as much as they care about an honest one. They don't just want to look like they are doing the right thing, but that they are doing the right thing. Meaning they should be able to be honest with what they are doing and the world shouldn't have a problem with that because they're doing the right thing. This includes killing someone (like how Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord, unapologetically). And if they did have a good image that they used, then that makes under the table dealings all the more tempting to do, and would make the league more suspicious if they caught a whiff of them than they would if they just dealt with things honestly.
24th Jun 12
You say the Elite act like villains because of their elitist philosophy. What I'm saying is that said philosophy was given to them to *make* them strawmen. I've based my entire review on the postulate that Superman Vs The Elite is a defence of Superman's no-kill policy: The story is not a criticism of elitist philosophy.
A superpowered individual wouldn't need to subscribe to elitism to justify a "citizens execution", so to speak: Plain old utilitarianism will do. Or Retributivism. Even if you're a nihilist, that doesn't magically make you a sociopath: You can still feel empathy, shame, guilt. You can still act according to some social contract, and not let good people suffer.
I agree that Superman *shouldn't* have to fix every problem. "The people" do need to change the law and get capital punishment back in action, because it's so plainly necessary. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the problem is not being fixed, and it won't be. And the reasons are entirely narrative, complete divorced from the science fantasy setting and how it would realistically work out.
But in such a world, if for some realistic reason The People couldn't change this despite popular demand (depicted in the movie), and the law doesn't represent The Peoples interests, and apparently only The Superpeople can fix this, then it is their responsibility. And if Superman won't step up, the Elite are okay with that as long as he doesn't stand in their way to perpetuate the problem.
As for death not being a big a deal in comic books: I can't really argue with that. It's true, unless you're a bystander. This is narrative destiny working against them.
For the sake of my argument, I have pretty much ignored this phenomenon as part of the DC-world's workings. Because if the basis of existence is that bystanders will be killed, and the bad guys can't be defeated, then what's the point of even trying`?
As for who decides what "too far" is: Anyone can consider that question and come up with their own answer to that one, but only those with power can enforce such an answer. And whether they like it or not, the superhumans have the power, so they are the ones to ultimately decide. Even if they decide to let someone else decide, that's their decision.
This all reminds me of an episode of Witch Hunter Robin: The Villain of the Week is a doctor who can transfer sickness between people, and takes cancer from people who by all appearances are good citizens, and gives the cancer to blackmailing gangsters. The hero then comes along and says that it's not the doctor's right to *decide* who lives and who dies. And she stops him. And in doing so she *decides* that the gangster lives, and the citizen dies.
The point is that the superheroes CAN'T NOT kill, because they have so much power that their decisions, even their inaction, invariably results in someone dying. And refusing to accept this, by barring themselves from direct killing, only results in more violence and death.
I'll agree that the combination of desensitizing, repeated killing and corrupting (super)power is ominous. A killing Superman might veer toward an increasingly easy trigger-finger. But the power that corrupts might not be a factor here, because there is a society, more or less like our own, of other superhumans who can act as checks and balances.
And they do have empathy. They possess ideals. And those ideals might not be ground to dust if those particular superhumans don't have to deal with a license and responsibility to kill. And *they* would prevent the rest of the "super society" from treating humanity as slaves.
Or not. In which case, it was probably inevitably from the start.
But how about you tell me: Your suggesting that superpowered heroes don't kill. Even if thousands die from that inaction. How about millions? At which point would you consider it okay for a superhuman to commit murder, and who would decide where that point is if not the superhuman?
And now for something completely different.
I just want to make sure we're on the same page here, about my previous third paragraph. The problem I'm solving is not Superman's inability to kill. It's not another solution to the problem of letting supervillains live and kill innocent bystanders. The problem that I tried to solve is this hypothetical set-up: I have to write a story that explains, in a way that is rational and internally realistic to the DC-verse, why Superman never kills. And I do this thought experiment because that's what I see this story as: A defence of Superman's no-kill policy.
Anyway, I imagine in such a world that the superheroes would kill because I don't see a realistic way around that. I imagine they would drop a lot more bodies than the occasional Maxwell Lord. And I imagine that a lot of people would feel like you do, and not trust such a League. Even fear it. I imagine that such fear could have such consequences that it would be better for the League to play the PR game than not.
Besides, the actual dealings of the League wouldn't really matter to the propaganda machines around the world. And the League refusing to play that game would only make them easier targets. Furthermore, like killing, I imagine the League would sooner or later have to deal some dirt for the greater good.
Lastly, I actually find it very realistic that superpowered beings should be able to escape prisons quite easily. When they have powers that human technology simply can't interact with (phasing, mind control, magic), then the prison system needs to tailor creative solutions to each individual prisoner.
And nobody really knows what they're doing: The prisoner might have extra, hidden powers. Or they might be stronger than the engineers had accounted for. Some would have to be put in a drug-induced coma for the length of their incarceration, except their semi-human biology might not react favourably to those drugs and then they die from something in sleeping pills.
Everything we really know about humans, you have to simply hope is also the case for each of these. And any small overlooked detail could be a weapon for them to break out.
And that's just trying to contain the prisoners, you still haven't accounted for outside attacks, in ways you can't have prepared for, because you don't know which supervillain with which freaky powers might come knocking. Even for a single tactical approach (mind control, for example), it's going to be so difficult to make defences because there are likely also different *kinds* of mind control - electromagnetic, biochemical, parasitic, freaking magic, whatever.
In the end, you just know it would all be horribly expensive. For a system that's unlikely to work very well, too. If some corners are cut, then that's a few more escapes.
I imagine any such prison would be the most brutal and repressive environment imaginable. Something with bombs and tasers surgically attached to the inside of spines and such. That, or maybe a smoking hole in the ground that everyone has given up on rebuilding. Again.
11th Jul 12
This argument is getting too tiresome to follow. With it's multiple points, it takes me quite a long time to reply to every one and I'm way too old for this level of prolonged mental excersize. When I was a young boy, I could go on for days, but now...ah, well anyway, this will probably be my last reply.
I think your forcing your interpretation of the story onto them in order to call them strawmen. There is more support that it's an examination of the idea of a killing hero in general. Is it really better or not? The fact is, the idea of killing super villains wasn't entirely laughed off as absurd. Lois herself, superman's own loving girlfriend, considered that maybe the Elite are right in that some guys just should be killed. If they were as determined to make the idea of a killing hero as repulsive via strawmen, then they wouldn't have bothered showing that and just had all the good guys disagree with them no matter what. The Elite make too many good points that Superman does not easily refute to say that the writers presented a one sided argument. As I said, I think the point the movie was making who should kill. Definitely not the Elite. And superman doesn't want to do it on principle because he generally doesn't need to. That leaves the common people who I will talk about in a moment. But as for the movie, the most I can say is that the story would make much more sense if you let go of your presumption that reinforcing superman's no kill policy was what the writers intended. You don't have to take my interpretation, but the one you have is only supported if you ignore several parts of the story that explicitly give credence to the idea of a killing hero.
As for your comments that a person doesn't have to be a sociopath to kill, I completely, entirely, fully agree with you in that regard. However, that doesn't make it a safe practice. It's very easy to slip and just kill out of misplaced anger if your used to feeling it whenever you execute a villain that truly deserves it. It is, as they say, a slippery slope. You point to the other superheroes as the checks and balances against that sort of behavior, but I don't consider that to be anywhere near sufficient, because they are undergoing the same practice as the superhero in question. People are too easily corrupted by that level of power to make that anywhere near a reliable enough system. At best, your relying on the vast majority to never make any kind of slip, because anything less than that will cause a cataclysmic battle between the superpowers that will wreak devastating collateral damage. Are there some heroes who can go on killing their entire lives without losing control or going off the deep end? Sure, but that's still a gamble and I wouldn't want to take it. Aside from that, your also presuming that they can't hide it somehow, that they simply aren't more powerful than the other heroes who try to stop them, that they, or even if they made a mistake and actually killed off a hero that hasn't gone off the deep end but was made to seem like he has. No way, I'll still take my bunker and rest easy I can atleast rely on people like superman. That or just move to someplace more rural. Generally speaking, supervillains only seem to attack cities, so that seems like the most obvious solution.
As to your question of the law, the short answer is...No. Just...no. The fact is the legal system here is dependent on the people, the exact people that are being routinely slaughtered every single time that there is a villain rampaging, are voting in the next poltician that can alter the laws to their liking. This is a huge glaring oversight in terms of the story and argument. There is no reason why this should not be working. The system in Metropolis isn't corrupt and nobody wants the villains to live. So why isn't it working? Simply saying 'for whatever reason' isn't enough. The only possible explanation I can think of is that the people don't want to bother handling the problem themselves because they just want superman to take care of it for them, so they demand that they kill him. If this is actually the case, if I were superman, I would not kill supervillains for JUST this reason alone. If they honestly feel that killing the supervillains is the best option but are somehow unwilling to pull the trigger themselves, then I would be content to sit back and continue saving as many as I can, knowing some will slip through my grasp, as long as it takes until they learn to stand on their own feet and take charge of their own lives instead of waiting around for me to bail them out. Forcing someone to transgress their principles because they are too cowardly to carry out their own is nothing short of despicable. If your going to say people are dying through inaction, it's their inaction, not superman's. Superheros are there to help the people achieve their goals, NOT to be the functioning force behind their society and the moment society starts asking that they do is the moment the hero should drop them like a rock. On the other hand, if there is some kind of corruption, then it is the superheroes job to eradicate it. If the people in the movie are simply a vocal minority and the majority of the people still don't want to kill supervillains then, whether I disagree or agree, that is their decision as humanity and they have to live with it. In any case, none of that necessitates superman killing any supervillain.
Moving forward, you suggest prison cells would be impractical for supervillains. If that is true, and I'm not sure it is, the movie atleast doesn't portray this. Contrived writing more than anything else is what let Atomic Skull out of his cell. The guy was COMPLETELY trapped until there was a power outage that somehow shut EVERYTHING down instantly and had no back up generators and no safeguards to stop him if he made it past the glass window. That is nothing short of absurd. Honestly, this qualifies as too dumb to live on part of whoever designed the prison, and if deaths through inaction is a valid philosophy here, than that engineer is far more culpable than superman is. The likes of Darkseid, I admit, can't be held by human prison, but this atomic skull guy clearly could were it not for the worst prison designer ever. Barring that, the DCU is far more advanced than we are, and it's a place where an ordinary man like Batman (well, he's not ordinary, but any person who has the sufficient willpower can train to become him. Hence, Batman Inc) can beat the tar out of Superman and even the entire justice league if he wanted to. The governing bodies aren't nearly as helpless as you seem to think. In Young Justice alone, they developed collars that suppress any and all powers a person has, regardless of their origin or type. That alone makes a prison for supervillains a feasible concept. And if your still unconvinced, know that when I made that remark, I was thinking more about Batman's rouges, who are tough, but otherwise ordinary humans that escape escape from their prison more often than any other rouges. With all this in mind, I think it is safe to say that the high power levels of the villains are not that huge a factor.
But on the subject of whether inaction leads to death, your looking at it wrong. Superheroes don't take inaction. They stop the villain and then constrain them in some way so that they won't escape. Which they'll break free of. And they will and go back to doing crime. It is as unrealistic that they escape prisons as they would be returning from death (for reasons stated in the above paragraph). The good guys are just as unstoppable as the bad guys. As you called it, Narrative destiny bids that they do battle and nothing in the world is going to stop them from doing so. You say you ignore the fact that killing the villains won't be any better than imprisoning them in your argument, but the entirety of your justification for killing hinges on the fact that there is simply no other choice and that people will die as long as they live. If we're too look at it realistically, we have to admit that 1. the decision to end the life of a supervillain should rest in societies hands, not the superhero's hands and 2. there should really be no need to kill the supervillains except maybe as an act retributive justice (which I personally don't believe in at all. It's such a useless concept. In the case of Atomic Skull, it's better that he make millions of people's lives easier for years to come than that he die for killing....what, 3 people in his first rampage in the movie?). 3. This is also ignoring the alternatives alternatives. This is another weak point of the movie. Superman ends the film by making sure the Elite are never a threat again, not by killing them, but by taking away their powers. It makes me wonder why he doesn't do that for Electric skull. His robots/fortress of solitude has ability to take away bioelectricity, magical hellpowers, and....whatever the hell you call the lizard lady's powers, and make a precision cut from a distance to Manchester's brain. In essense, this is the same as killing them because it serves the same purpose: Make sure they are a never threat again. Why can't he do the same to his other rogue gallery? It seem arbitrary if he can just do that by looking at some files. Anyway, if it is a situation that you honestly HAVE to kill the villain to save an innocent, then yes, I can agree with that. The end of Dark Knight comes to mind, where Batman did kill Harvey Dent in order save Gordon's son, and he didn't even do that on purpose. Still, I won't argue in any way that that was the right move, even if he had meant to kill him, because there was honestly no other way to prevent the death of an innocent. I do not believe that is the case with the majority of conflicts between heroes and villains here.
Also, for the record, the doctor in your example could have avoided all this by just transferring the diseases to animals, or someone who is about to die from something else (like a bullet wound or something).
Lastly, on the subject of a realistic portrayal of the justice league. You have to realize that the justice league does not NEED the world to see them in a good light. It's not at all necessary. Look at the Justice Lords episode of Justice League. They're open tyrants and they give no shit. If they wanted a killing policy, it's right there for the taking, and there are no consequences to people disliking or fearing them. The reason they don't want people to fear them or view them as villains is because they aren't and they want the world to believe them for their own sake. If they killed in secret and just tried to maintain PR, it'd be useless to them because they lost their integrity. THEY'D know that they were frauds and that people would and should fear them, and they don't want that. So your hypothetical fails because it's very concept goes against what the JL wants to be. They don't want to look good. They want to BE good. And they feel that a no kill policy is one of the ways to do that.
As my closing thoughts on this argument, I will say this: I get why you think killing might be a good idea, and in the real world, you might be right. But that just isn't he way things work in comics. Blame it perhaps as a fault of the medium, but death is no more final than the prisons they are sent to, and there is a far greater risk to having our heroes turn into villains that I'd take a chance at killing one. The counter measures that you provided against that risk are no where near enough in my opinion. And while I will completely agree that the movie is deeply flawed in it's portrayal of the morality involved in the mechanics of how a situation like this would go down, I don't think the Elite are set up as strawman because the point of the movie isn't that killing is bad (the idea is given support in more than a few ways), but rather that killing is a very serious business and we need to be very careful about who we give the right to kills. Surely you agree with that much.
11th Jul 12
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10th Jun 13
Did I say I didn't believe in Superman? My comment was about what I thought the movie was doing. I am a fan of Superman, and I am still trying to find the part of my comment that says I don't believe in that character.
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