Follow TV Tropes


Thou Shalt Not Kill / Comic Books

Go To

  • Superman has taken a solemn vow never to kill. Moral issues aside, there's a practical reason for his oath: a demigod who had no issues with killing would never be trusted, and would be considered a demagogue, not a hero. Several alternate versions of Superman, whether an What If? story or an alternate dimension of him, have explored a Superman who had no problems with lethal force.

    From a writing standpoint, keeping Superman an Actual Pacifist makes it a stunning Wham Shot should he actually be forced to kill, as mentioned in the very few cases where he had no alternative, and had exhausted all of the possibilities.
    • It's strongly implied — and outright used in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — that he believes that he should give up being Superman if he takes a life. (He cannot kill himself, since his oath applies to himself as well. This was shown in a number of Bronze Age stories, including one where he is caught in a hallucination that supposedly shows the future and realizes that since it shows him killing himself, it must be false.)
      Superman: I broke my oath. I killed him. Nobody has the right to kill. Not Mxyzptlk... not you... not Superman. Especially not Superman.
    • Advertisement:
    • Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow also has Bizarro go on a murderous rampage on the basis that he wants to be more closely the opposite of Superman, though he's really being manipulated into thinking that by the Big Bad. He also kills himself.
    • A Post-Crisis Superman story had the hero face such a situation when an abusive husband, whom Supes gave a deserved thrashing, later murdered his wife. Superman later caught him secretly viewing her funeral and was sorely tempted to kill him right there and then. However, the relatives of both husband and wife began to plead for Superman to spare him and kill him respectively. Superman, holding the murderer while this argument is raging, painfully realized that he was in no position to make such monumental decisions and decided to simply hand the criminal to the police so the justice system can handle the matter.
    • Advertisement:
    • Another Superman story, "What's So Funny 'Bout Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" famously had him forced to deal with the arrival of "The Elite" (a thinly-veiled copy of The Authority), superheroes with absolutely no qualms about killing villains. Over the course of the issue, he watched them become more and more popular, despite (and indeed, because of) their excessive use of force. In the end, he challenged them to a fight - and proceeded (after giving them a Hope Spot) to subdue them more or less harmlessly. Though it sure dang LOOKED like he killed them, until he revealed that he used painful-looking non-lethal techniques. The story showed not only why does Superman not kill, but just how downright scary he would be if he did. The story eventually got an Adaptation Expansion into the made for DVD movie Superman vs. the Elite.
    • Advertisement:
    • And another Superman story, The Supergirl Saga, had him actually killing (well, executing) three Kryptonians on an alternate Earth who had annihilated all life on the planet. Despite the circumstances which almost anyone else would deem it both just and necessary—as they had committed the act of planetary murder, threatened to find an way to Superman's universe and do it again, and were stronger than he was—the act haunted him for years. After he did it, he even developed a split personality and then exiled himself from Earth after he got that under control.
    • This trope is somewhat justified in another story where Superman explains to the Ultramarines, a team of superheroes known for their use of lethal force, after the Justice League has pulled them out of a situation they were unable to handle, that their "'no-nonsense' solutions just don't hold water in a complex world of jet-powered apes and Time Travel," as death apparently held less barriers for them, and in fact was more merciful, than some of the extreme incarceration punishments the League had to devise.
    • Superman has shown to be one of the most extreme examples of never killing. In one case he saved Darkseid's life (Darkseid helped him stop the threat that put him near death, granted, but come on, it's freaking Darkseid) and in another instance, he was trapped in a dimension where he was forced to go to war with demons for a thousand years, but still refused to kill them. He even initially objected to Wonder Woman killing them, but didn't have an answer when she asked him what she was supposed to do.
    • Though it's often overlooked, during his final fight with Doomsday at the end of The Death of Superman storyline, he was trying to kill him. If he hadn't, Doomsday likely would've destroyed Metropolis and everyone in it (although only in the last bit of the fight when he realized nothing else would even give the monster pause, which shocked Jimmy and Lois). It probably helps that Doomsday's mind was read a couple of times in the story, and was revealed to be nothing but rage and bloodlust. This was followed up in Hunter Prey, as Superman, after finding out that Doomsday was now far more powerful than himself, and constantly growing in might, he could come up with no other available options than letting Waverider exile the beast to the end of the universe, to let entropy consume it. Doomsday was later rescued by Brainiac, keeps coming back after being killed, and heals all other injuries instantly, so breaking his neck has the same effect as knocking a regular villain out, which, in combination with being more than Superman can handle upfront, is the reason why he can be the exception.
    • Kingdom Come revolved around the fact Superman abandoned humanity when he realized the public approved Magog's murder of The Joker. Ross and Waid even broke their backs to make the kill visually parallel JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's death at the hands of Jack Ruby, just in case anyone was thinking that maybe killing the guy who had just gassed the entire staff of the Daily Planet might not be such a bad thing.
    • In the pre-Crisis mini-series Phantom Zone penned by Alan Moore, Superman confronts General Zod, who laughs that Kal-El won't kill him. He's right. To quote: "I can't take your life, much as I'm tempted. But my code doesn't say a damn thing about not battering you to within an inch of it, murderer!" Once Zod is out cold for a long, long time, Superman, still holding him by the tunic, thinks "And there are times I've considered chucking that code entirely."
    • Played with in the Legion of Super-Heroes story "The Legionnaire Who Killed!" where the Legion decided whether to expel Star Boy for killing. Superman and the other Flying Bricks -Supergirl, Mon-El and Ultra Boy- voted to not expel him. The reason? Because it's easy for him, Superman, to have a code against killing when there aren't a lot of things that can hurt him, but other people may have different circumstances than him and he has no right to hold them to his code.
    • Emphasizing Superman's adherence to his code is this: in the few official crossover series that exist, Superman has even refused to kill Xenomorphs! For context, xenomorphs are a highly aggressive species of alien predators with no higher reasoning than basic animal instincts and a parasitic reproductive cycle, which are capable of causing planet-scale extinction events thanks to their voracious and insatiable need for living victims as food and hosts for their young. Even Batman, himself a noted devotee of this rule, is willing to forgo it when xenomorphs are involved, and in the Superman/Batman/Aliens crossover (yes, this exists), actually calls Superman out on his willingness to spare such dangerous animals.
    • It's not brought up much, but at the end of "Reign of the Superman" Superman outright kills Hank Henshaw (AKA Cyborg Superman) after the latter slaughtered Coast City, his reasoning being "You're dangerous, cyborg- I doubt any prison can effectively protect society from you!". Henshaw does say that he will "somehow" survive Superman literally shattering him, but Superman himself doubts this and says "if you do, Henshaw, I'll be waiting", indicating that he's fully expecting to kill Henshaw for good (or at least accepting that as one of two scenarios). Henshaw survives by storing a copy of his consciousness in a device in space and transferring it to Doomsday's body, but it doesn't change that Superman did literally kill him (terminating his vital functions), gave explicit and sound reasoning for why he did so, and was fine with him never coming back. It could be that Superman didn't see Henshaw as actually alive, but a construct of the man he saw die back in his original appearance.
    • In Our Worlds at War he helps kill both Imperiex and Brainiac 13 by sending them both back in time to the Big Bang; in Final Crisis, he is the one who finishes off Darkseid. In general his code is based on the fact that he is far more powerful than most of the villains he comes across and if he is capable of defeating them without resorting to violence, he will; on the flip-side, if you are an enemy who is as strong or stronger and you are sufficiently ruthless or dangerous enough that death is the only thing that will stop you...then yes, Superman will kill you. Helps if you aren't human, too.
    • There were at least two Bronze Age stories in which criminals tricked Superman into believing he had accidentally killed someone, so that he would hang up his cape and stop fighting crime (in one, they tricked him into thinking he had accidentally killed Lana Lang!).
    • This was the central point of the Bronze Age text novel Miracle Monday. A demon called C.W. Saturn possesses a woman and causes havoc, trying to tempt Superman into stopping him by killing her physical form. If it had succeeded, Superman's soul would have been damned. Superman refuses, of course, and defeats the demon by constantly reversing its mischief until its time on Earth runs out.
    • Superman was about to kill Mongul in For the Man Who Has Everything, but seeing the statues of his parents stays his hand, and nearly gets him killed by Mongul. Fortunately, he was saved by Jason Todd dropping the Lotus-Eater Machine on Mongul.
    • Golden Age Superman, though, subverted this. Although he didn't like killing, he wasn't above threatening criminals with death or letting them die. And during his final fight with the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths, he had to do everything to put an end to the villain's threat once and for all.
  • Supergirl also avoids killing:
    • In the New Krypton arc, Supergirl was horrified when she accidentally killed Superwoman, even though Superwoman had tried to kill her several times.
    • In the New 52 Supergirl does not know her own strength. She gets upset when her actions endanger people and is relieved once that she sees that nobody has been harmed.
    • Subverted in Red Daughter of Krypton. Supergirl is horrified when she apparently kills mass murderer and hitman Lobo after kicking him. Then he takes advantage of her distress to catch her off guard, and almost fries her brains with an ultrasonic device. Right there and then she decides he has "got it coming".
    • Subverted again at the end of that arc. She executed an artificial, genocidal body-snatching alien abomination reasoning that "This is not murder. It is the end of a terrible mistake."
    • Zigzagged in Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl. Supergirl didn't like to kill… but when she discovered that Lex Luthor murdered her cousin, she wanted to kill him. However Batgirl talked her out of it, stating that she's a hero and she mustn't drop to his level.
    • She fully intended to kill the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths, with just a brief distraction getting her killed before she can kill him.
  • Traditionally Wonder Woman was always the most compassionate and most opposed to killing of DC's big heroes, Bats and Supes have always been more accommodating to those with the legal authority to using lethal force even if they themselves avoid it while Diana is more likely to argue against it. This has varied over the years, and modern writers often posit her as the member of the Big Three without any compunctions about killing:
    • The Post-Crisis version of Wonder Woman has trained as a classical Greek warrior with a fighting practicality of that time. That means while she is willing to control herself in combat when possible when she decides that lethal force is necessary, she will use it without any regrets as seen when she beheaded the god Deimos in order to help her friends in peril. Notably at this point it was unclear if the gods retained their Resurrective Immortality from the previous continuity.
    • In the crossover prelude to Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman cold-bloodedly executed Maxwell Lord by breaking his neck. Although some other heroes have accepted the justification (Lord had telepathic control over Superman, had killed Blue Beetle, and was at the heart of a planet-wide conspiracy), she was wanted for murder by some authorities as the act was broadcast. Might be noted that she used the Lasso of Truth on Lord and he told her she would have to kill him if she wanted to stop him, so as far as Lord himself thought at least, killing him was the only real choice.
    • Her killing of Von Bach in Kingdom Come was the climax of her Heroic Breakdown during the miniseries, and earned her a What the Hell, Hero? from Batman.
    • Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman: "Generations" includes a flashback in which a very young Diana is taught the Amazon's law of avoiding killing opponents if at all feasible, even when it endangers themselves.
    • The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016) brings Diana closer to her traditional viewpoint on this matter. She understands that soldiers kill but she herself will not even in the middle of a battle. It helps that the Duke of Deception's zombies give up the ghost upon being lassoed with the lasso of truth as whatever is animating them cannot stand the truth of their situation, which she does not see as killing them as they are not alive. While she does "kill" the Titan it is another being animated and run by spirits that are no longer housed in their original bodies and that have been twisted by being congealed together and "living" for so long.
  • In the long running independent superhero comic book, Nexus, the titular superhero kills as the very reason of his career; he periodically has agonizing dreams of the crimes of murderers that will drive him insane unless he eliminates the cause by going out to kill the criminals and he has the power to get through nearly any defense to do so.
  • In recent years comics have tended towards a greater degree of cynicism, or been more willing to engage with the ambiguities of this rule, with the result that most heroes have ended up killing at least once.
  • Batman is the poster boy for this trope. In fact, it's been heavily implied that his almost psychotic compulsion to never kill is the only thing keeping him from being one of the psychopaths he regularly fights - he has outright stated that he fears if he started, he would never stop. Famously, Batman was willing to kill in the first year of his existence. As early as Batman #4 in 1940, he was declaring "We never kill with weapons of any kind." Because of this trope, Batman Grabs a Gun is an easy way to convey just how serious a threat a villain is.
    • In the Novelization of Knightfall, Gordon in an internal monologue reveals he only tolerates Bats because he doesn't kill. The moment he crosses the line, according to Gordon, he'll be marked as a criminal like any other and his relationship with him will be over.
    • Final Crisis has finally shown us the only person so evil and dangerous Batman was willing to kill him: Darkseid. Which just makes the Superman example above even funnier. By the time Batman kills Darkseid the villain has taken several levels in badass, and was destroying the entire universe just by existing. Whereas Superman saved an alien warlord, but this point it's one life against all of time and space. It also helped Bats that he himself was going to die, so it was probably in his mind a fitting punishment for breaking his oath.
    • The Tim Burton Batman movies disregard this entirely, with Batman frequently killing both henchmen and the central villains (It's not like though he had any alternative in most cases). In The Dark Knight Trilogy Batman refuses to kill anyone, but he is generally more than happy to come scarily close to frighten someone, without actually crossing the line. This is demonstrated best during The Dark Knight.
      Salvatore Maroni: "From this height, the fall wouldn't kill me."
      Batman: "I'm counting on it."
    • Flashpoint Batman aka Thomas Wayne dispenses with this altogether and shows himself to be an exceptionally violent and uncompromising psychopath who has killed off a good portion of the villains in that timeline and threatens to use lethal force all the time.
      • Similarly, his Earth 2 counterpart is more than willing to kill, and it's what tips Lois Lane off that the Batman in front of her isn't Bruce Wayne, since the Earth 2 Lois was in on his Secret Identity and was very close to him and his wife.
    • In the Novelization of Knightfall, Batman's use of violence is explored. A monk refuses to teach Batman some of the most secret fighting techniques because he won't foreswear violence. Lady Shiva teaches Batman to fight again, but is mildly offended and amused when Batman learns how to enjoy violence again, but won't cross the line into lethal violence. Bruce has a startled, depressing Eureka Moment when he realizes that he'd always loved the violence, despite what he told himself.
      • This is sometimes used to explain why Batman is so adamant in his refusal to kill: he's afraid that he would come to enjoy the killing and become just another costumed serial killer.
    • Cassandra Cain/Batgirl III had an even deeper aversion to killing as she could read human body language perfectly. After seeing death once she vowed to never see it again and tried to save a death row inmate to uphold that oath.
    • This is so inherent to his character that it's called 'the Batman rule' by other characters, specifically Batwoman and her father.
    • He came very close to breaking his oath in Batman: No Man's Land. After the Joker murdered Gordon's wife, Batman still refused to kill him, but told Jim he would not stop him from doing so. (And Jim almost did, restraining himself only because there had been too much death already.)
    • Batman will often take this trope to extremes. Not only will he avoid killing his enemies, if his enemies are dying of natural causes or of a Hoist by Their Own Petard situation, if he can, he'll save them, even villains as bad as The Joker.
    • This is the basis of Jean-Paul Valley's tenure as Batman during Knightquest as he would be lost within the System and constantly battling between acting like Batman and acting like Azrael. It's only when he allows Abattoir to die that everyone decides to shut him down.
    • During a non-canon fight between Batman and Deadpool, Deadpool mocks that Batman can't beat him because he can't be killed. Batman snaps, "I'm counting on that." Cue Batmobile twin rocket launchers turning Deadpool into Ludicrous Gibs. After Bats leaves with Catwoman, Deadpool's head is mildly annoyed, chiefly because he has the munchies and Bats left before he could ask him to buy him chimichangas as consolation.
    • In fact, Batman hates to see anyone die. It's the crux of Kingdom Come when Superman tells him the one thing they both had in common was they saved people. Heck, in JLA/Avengers, while Plastic Man is amused by The Punisher killing drug dealers in a firefight, Batman immediately goes to beat the everliving crap out of Frank, to save said dealers.
    • Batman's rule sometimes goes into Stupid Good territory, like in a Judge Dredd crossover when he expressed sorrow for (seemingly) destroying the zombified monster Judge Death. Dredd has to remind him that they're not even alive to begin with.
    • Out of the Robins:
      • Dick Grayson (Robin I/Nightwing) followed this rule to a T during his tenure as Robin and as Nightwing is normally a firm believer and follower of this rule, however he did beat the Joker to death in rage when taunted about Robin's death (he was revived immediately).
      • Jason Todd (Robin II/Red Hood) kept to this rule save for one ambiguous interaction with a rapist who fell to his death until he returned from the dead and very much subverted it.
      • Tim Drake (Robin III/Red Robin) has followed his mentor's rule, though at one point he set up a test for himself to see if he would kill his father's murderer by setting up a death trap for Captain Boomerang; in the end, he saved him.
      • In Knightfall, Tim remains shaken by Abbatoir's death, saying he would never forget how he died in front of him thanks to Jean-Paul. Bruce approves sadly, telling him to never forget that feeling. Once he loses that feeling, he will have lost some part of his humanity.
      • Stephanie Brown (Spoiler/Batgirl IV) had trouble with this rule when she first started out as Spoiler but Tim Drake and her experiences as a crimefighter convinced her early on to adopt Batman's no killing policy.
      • Damian Wayne (Robin V) was raised as a killer before he met his father and has some trouble with this rule initially during his tenure as Robin.
  • The bylaws of the Legion of Super-Heroes firmly forbid killing any sentient - unsurprising, since they were created during the Silver Age. The tradition has been retained throughout the Legion's various continuities; even in the Darker and Edgier Legion Lost limited series, Live Wire officially resigned from the Legion before performing a Heroic Sacrifice to kill the Progenitor, an Omnicidal Maniac with the power to control matter on a cosmic scale, in order to allow his teammates to escape without the Progenitor following them back and taking over their universe.
    • The Legion Constitution was once published in the comics, in its entirety. The section in question says that "[n]o Legionnaire shall take the life of any sapient being, save as a provable only alternative to the death of the Legionnaire, or the deaths of other sapient beings." The writers usually have the Legionnaires treat the question of lethal force more strictly than their constitution actually requires.
  • Lampshaded in Invincible. After the JLA-analogue repels the same Alien Invasion for a second time (by destroying the devices that allow them to safely exist in our universe), Invincible, as the Naïve Newcomer, wonders at the wisdom of just letting them go again:
    Robot: Keeping them here would be a death sentence. Hopefully they've learned their lesson.
    Invincible: Right... and I'm supposed to be the new guy.
    Robot: It is not mathematically inconceivable that at some point we encounter an adversary that realizes the error of their ways and gives up their plans for revenge.
    Invincible: I hope you're right.
  • In the WildStorm imprint, in one issue of The Authority, it was mentioned that an alternate earth was essentially destroyed when the Hero refused to kill their enemies no matter what, and the villains killed every single one of them. They attacked the Authority's Earth, and were quickly killed, much to their surprise, saying "Superheroes don't kill". Unfortunately for them, The Authority did. This universe in general, and The Authority especially, fall on the cynical side.
  • In Astro City, the Street Angel, a Batman-like vigilante who had recently become Darker and Edgier but who still refused to kill, receives a nice bit of smack-talk from murderous antiheroine Black Velvet. She notes that, although he still claims that he never kills, he leaves an awful lot of people with severe internal injuries without actually checking to see whether they survive or receive medical attention. (After she says this, a Beat Panel follows as this sinks in...)
  • Daredevil used to have a typical view of killing, claiming that it wasn't his place to pass judgment. During Frank Miller's run, which redefined the character, Daredevil eventually went against his principles when he tried to kill his archenemy Bullseye. He's killed people several times, and he hasn't tormented himself for issues on end because of it, perhaps the only "regular" superhero who can make this claim.
    • However, despite the occasional team up he is frequently at odds with The Punisher for his blatant disregard of the no-kill rule, to the point where the latter might qualify as a member of Daredevil's Rogues Gallery. Though their enmity has softened somewhat ever since Punisher rescued Matt from prison and helped him keep his secret identity, Daredevil was probably the hero most devoted to locking Frank Castle up, even more than Spider-Man who only sporadically puts serious effort into catching him. Murdock was known to organize hero teams for the sole purpose of hunting The Punisher down.
      • However, Daredevil teaming up with other heroes to capture the Punisher usually backfires with Frank throwing their (to him) noble intentions right back in their faces. Every time Frank has been sent to prison, he simply kills every criminal he can until he escapes. Daredevil knows this, so in a way, he's partly responsible for those deaths. Once, when Daredevil enlisted Spider-Man and Wolverine to help take down the Punisher, Frank hit him with this: "You want to send me back to prison? That's crazy. All I'm going to do is kill every single person in there with me. There's only one way you can stop me, and if you haven't got the guts to do that, stop wasting my time." The story ended with Frank definitely not behind bars.
      • The key word here being "blatant." Daredevil has killed when the situation called for it. And when the situation has called for it, he has hated but not regretted doing it. That said, he does not endorse wholesale murder as the answer to his, or anyone else's, problems.
    • Well and truly averted after he finally killed Bullseye.
  • Black Panther is not averse to killing, though he usually tries to use non-lethal means if at all possible. During his run as the protector of Hell's Kitchen, he notably told a thug that as a warrior first and foremost, he did not share Daredevil's no-kill rule.
    • And in the first arc of the third New Avengers series, he tells Namor that once their mission is over, he's going to kill him for the innocent Wakandans that were drowned during Avengers vs. X-Men.
  • In The Avengers, there is (was?) a very strong policy against killing, to the point that one of their mottoes was "Avengers don't kill." This has been brought to attention several times, with Hawkeye almost getting separated from his wife because he heard that she allowed her rapist to fall to his death.
    • Their later divorce was specifically built on the tension caused by this incident. Notably, however, all the Avengers who heard Mockingbird's side of the story (Hawkeye heard about it from the ghost of the dead man, who significantly downplayed his actions) sympathized with her, because her circumstances were considerably different from that of their usual fights.
    • These days, they are a little more flexible about this rule.
    • Specifically, it's a bit of Characterization Marches On. After Scarlet Witch killed Hawkeye, Ant-Man and The Vision during Avengers Disassembled, Iron Man came to the conclusion that it was unethical and dangerous to completely take killing off the table. He asked Wolverine to join the Avengers precisely because he wanted a hero who wouldn't hesitate to use lethal force if a situation ever called for it.
    • This was continued in Secret Avengers. In one instance, Beast was forced to kill a group of terrorists in order to save the populations of two large cities. He was understandably upset by this, and Captain America comforted him by telling him not to dwell on the few lives he'd taken, but the millions he'd saved.
  • Spider-Man is also strongly against killing anyone. He's the most pacifistic person of the Marvel Heroes due to his kindness and nobility, valuing every life and taking responsibility for every action. He takes this to a massive extreme after the Spider-Slayer murders J. Jonah Jameson's wife and, haunted by it all, declares no more lives will be lost if he's around.
    • In Spider-Man: Noir, Peter carries a revolver in his masked identity, and uses it to kill the Vulture when he threatens Aunt May. The fact May is as horrified by him as the Vulture is what convinces him to adopt his mainstream counterpart's morals.
    • In Superior Spider-Man, Massacre is executed by Spider-Man (secretly Otto Octavius) after going on a bloody killing spree. Wolverine defends Spider-Man's actions by noting that Massacre was a particularly vile and depraved villain, and that most of the Avengers have used deadly force at one point or another.
    • This ended up being a problem during Spider-Verse as the Inheritors were dropping Spiders left and right and there was a problem between the Amazing and Superior Spider-Men with the idea of killing. In fact, many Spiders with them, including Spider-Man: Noir and the Scarlet Spider, could and would kill and the Superior Spider-Man was pretty much counting on it.
    • By the time of All-New, All-Different Marvel, Spider-Man has abandoned the 'no more lives will be lost when he is around' line of thinking, telling Mockingbird that it was an "impossible dream" and that he'll just try to save those he can when he can. However he still generally avoids lethal force personally.
  • That being said, this line of thinking does definitely not apply to Symbiotes, since Peter's negative experience with the race has caused him to view them as Always Chaotic Evil monsters, often crossing the line into Fantastic Racism. On one occasion, Peter even advocated killing off all Symbiotes of an invading force just to save the people of Earth, despite the fact the Symbiotes were used as weapons entirely against their will.
  • In X-Men, the rule against killing is partially due to the usual reasons, and partially due to human/mutant relations. Mutants have a hard enough time without Wolverine carving people up on the six o'clock news, so you'd better stifle any Darker and Edgier tendencies, especially while wearing an X. However, it's not as absolute as it is with Batman or Superman, as individual members can fall anywhere from The Cape to '90s Anti-Hero, and most X-teams will defend themselves or others lethally if it's the only way. A few of their main villains also have Joker Immunity.
    • In general, Xavier has a personal no-killing policy, and he does his best to enforce it on teams he leads. But there have been many different leaders of the X-Men over the years, and many teams affiliated with them but not actually accepting Xavier's authority.
    • In one issue, Cyclops explicitly refutes this trope with regard to villains over Storm's objections when they're looking for a villain who may have perished in a fight with the team; he states that he doesn't take killing lightly, but at the same time isn't going to waste any tears over someone who poses a clear risk to his team and students and has no compunction about attacking and killing them.
    • Wolverine is one of the most glaring subversions in comic books as he won't hesitate to cross the line so threats can be put down and he will go so far as to hunt down those who have done horrific things even long after the fact. His own views on the subject lean towards Pragmatic Hero - he doesn't want cutting people up to be his first response, but equally he's not going to wait for a clear threat to make the first move. In one comic he tells Kitty he's never killed anyone who hadn't attacked first, or clearly and unequivocally demonstrated their intention to kill him, innocents or people he cared about. Unfortunately, thanks to be a natural berserker, this is occasionally harder for him.
    • In the Chris Claremont era, Storm was the only character to have an iron-clad policy of not killing anybody, which caused consternation among her teammates when she abandoned it for a more pragmatic attitude to go with her new punk look. Colossus, the most good-hearted of the team, was also very against killing enemies, to the point where the times he does kill someone either means they've crossed the Godzilla Threshold or someone's gotten the generally sweet-natured guy genuinely mad. Notably, he killed Moira McTaggart's psychopathic, god-like son Proteus, and during the Mutant Massacre story, snapped the Marauder Riptide's neck for killing innocent mutants, and nearly killing his good friend and teammate Nightcrawler.
    • Nineties anti-hero Cable (an amazingly powerful telekinetic infected by a nano-technological virus who used huge guns... no, really) had no qualms about killing and invariably racked up a huge body county every issue. Always without any ramifications. And in his most recent shared series, he came across as the good partner. The other guy was Deadpool.
    • A move towards this has actually become one of the significant driving arcs for X-23: She was bred and trained from birth to be the perfect assassin, and even after first joining the X-Men she was a ruthless killer who may have been even more efficient at it than Wolverine, with Matthew Risman telling her she was "bred for murder." However X herself hated what she was, and has increasingly tried to avoid resorting to lethal force. By the time of All-New Wolverine she has sworn off killing entirely. She does make a very specific exception for Kimura, the woman who tortured and brainwashed her into a living weapon in the first place. Knowing that Kimura will never change and will always view her as property, Laura proceeds to drown her.
  • Invoked to an almost headache-inducing degree in the early 2000s run of Justice Society of America. Black Adam, having gotten utterly fed up with villains who don't give a damn about the lives of people being allowed to go free again and again, gathers up a small crew of like-minded people and goes off to smash the brutally dictatorial regime that's set itself up in his home country. Even though one (one) JSA member acknowledges that they and the U.S. government had turned a blind eye to the fact that these people had been conducting murder sprees and enslaving children, the entire team nonetheless goes after Adam's crew for taking them out. And then when Hawkman's methods for dealing with Black Adam's allies proves too brutal for their taste, they turn on him. All in about five issues.
  • The Green Lantern Corps used to follow this policy. The Guardians revoked it during the Sinestro Corps War. Apparently this was Sinestro's goal all along. Whether the Sinestros won or lost, a more lethal and fearsome Corps would be policing the cosmos. Part of the writers' reasoning was that real-life police are permitted to shoot to kill; Space Police shouldn't be any different. The next few issues after the event explored the morality of giving the Lanterns this authority. Some Green Lanterns are against it, some are all for it, but neither side is presented as wrong and the ones against killing can't deny that being able to kill was the main reason they won the war. (Though needless murder is right out.)
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog comic has something like this: in one issue Dr. Eggman, still insane after the events of issue #200, is locked up in New Mobotropolis. A character asks Sonic why he's showing mercy to Eggman. Sonic admits he doesn't know for sure, and guesses he moves too fast to get hung up on revenge. The character isn't sure if Sonic has a Zen state of mind or is foolish, but he's impressed either way.
    • In issue #225, Eggman mocks Sally for showing mercy on all the times she could've finished him, as doing so allowed him to stay a threat. A few pages later, he seemingly killed her, then reset the Universe.
  • During Dark Reign, the Thunderbolts team observed that, despite being Osborn's hit squad, they almost never killed anybody. In fact they completed one assassination without taking any lives.
  • Used for great dramatic effect in ElfQuest. The main tribe of the story, the Wolfriders, have one simple rule: elves don't kill elves. It's a concept so ingrained in their culture, killing others of their kind would not even occur to them. Until one elf from a different tribe, Kureel from the Gliders, ends up kidnapping a young Wolfrider and threatens to kill him. The boy's father (the tribe's archer) shoots and kills Kureel. He goes into a complete Heroic BSoD until he's finally able to ask Kureel's spirit for forgiveness many months later. As it was, since Kureel's spirit was at peace and barely remembered the circumstances of his demise anyway, he granted that forgiveness without hesitation
    • Interestingly, at the very start of the series, the Wolfriders seem to treat death much more casually, briefly considering killing Rayek because he looks at them funny. This is, however, shortly after the humans burnt down their home and the trolls betrayed them and left them to die in the desert, and while they were still figuring out what to make of these strange new elves who walked around in broad daylight, had huts, and actually cooked their meat just like their old human enemies did. (It's telling that the Wolfriders decided to 'introduce' themselves to the Sun Village by raiding it for food rather than just walking up and saying hello. Thankfully for both sides, that didn't last long.)
    • Also interestingly, in the very early days of the Wolfrider tribe, there were many elves born with wolf-blood and just as many wolves born with elf-blood (it's not as icky as it sounds - the first elves were shapeshifters lost on a low-magic planet. Mating with the local fauna was their way of bonding with the new land). Timmorn, the first Chief and first mix between elf and wolf, took on the task of deciding what was elf, what was wolf, and what should just be killed instantly.
    • Two-Spear didn't have too many qualms either about killing his own daughter. But (a) Two-Spear tried to be more wolf than elf, using the pack's way of life as an excuse to act violently insane, and (b) the story in which he thinks he's killed his daughter was a case of Running the Asylum anyway.
  • Obviously, The Punisher has no business with the standard version of this. However, he will absolutely under no circumstances ever kill someone who isn't a criminal or otherwise corrupt. He'll go out of his way to prevent bystander casualties and will even let a bad guy slip if he has to. (Depending on the Writer. At least one issue has him willingly allow a woman to be killed in order to stop a criminal who is banking on his "Doesn't allow innocents to be harmed" schtick.)
    • He also doesn't like people other than himself doing it, because they don't put nearly as much thought and planning as he does (one story says he always scopes out a place for 4 days before attacking). Thus his reaction to the Watchdogs (an axe-murderer priest, a masked WASP shooting drug dealers and Mexicans in his neighborhood and a disgruntled employee with heavy weapons) was to kill them (for being insane, for being a Nazi, and for shooting an innocent cleaning lady during his More Dakka moment).
    • He usually spares Jigsaw, if only because letting him live (after messing up his face yet again) is a Cruel Mercy.
  • With the exceptions of truly mindless incarnations of the character, the Incredible Hulk rarely kills anyone intentionally. Most deaths caused by his rampages are accidental and the result of property damage, that—to be perfectly fair—could result from most superhero battles (admittedly, the Hulk tends to cause more damage than most superheroes). Even then, deaths are fairly rare. In one issue, where Bruce Banner admits to murdering his abusive father and making it look like an accident while defending himself, he stated that as the Hulk, he had leveled entire cities without killing a single person. All of this being said, it isn't clear just how much of this is intentional and how much is coincidental; in some cases the Hulk clearly intends to kill an enemy, with them happening to meet a Karmic Death during the course of the battle.
    • This is averted when it comes to the Immortal Hulk, who has no issue killing his enemies.
  • In Empowered, this is played utterly straight with the title character; even her most powerful energy blasts have never been seen to do worse than knock someone out cold. The rest of the cast (including, from the look of things, her costume) averts it, especially Thugboy. In volume 6, she does leave Deathmonger to be disintegrated by a nuclear blast... but he's not only an enslaver of the walking dead, but a walking dead man himself.
    • Averted in volume 9 when she kills Fleshmaster.
  • Birds of Prey member Huntress had no time for this early in her vigilante career. She's getting better, but she still doesn't seem to have too much of a problem with killing criminals. It's the main reason Batman doesn't trust her. Oracle, being more forgiving and willing to offer second chances, does trust her. Oracle does, however, use this excuse to treat her like crap.
  • Green Arrow is a big believer in this. It's why he uses so many trick arrows, like the infamous boxing glove arrow, instead of actual arrows. The downward spiral that culminated in his first death started the night he actually killed someone. He made an exception for Prometheus after the latter attacked Star City with a Kill Sat and killed thousands, including his granddaughter Lian Harper.
    • Seriously averted during Mike Grell's run, where Green Arrow began using lethal force regularly after killing a man who was torturing Black Canary. The series flip flopped on how he felt about killing, sometimes doing it casually and other times feeling remorseful about it. Once his series ended, the events and characterization have been ignored.
  • Enforced in Quantum and Woody by Quantum's heroic idealism. This proves problematic when the duo attacks Terrence Magnum's private mercenary army and Quantum has loaded Woody's rifle with rubber bullets.
  • In one issue of Alpha Flight, the writer says "Some armchair moralists would hold superheroes to an impossible standard, requiring them to routinely face opponents who use lethal force while denying themselves the same option." This punctuated a series of panels in which the members of the team agree - reluctantly and with much debate - that the particular foe they're facing cannot be contained, controlled, or made anything remotely resembling safe. You can guess what comes next.
  • In Antarctic Press' Gold Digger, the giant superheroine Crush is adamant about this - mainly because, during a brief period during which she was being blackmailed by a supervillain, she killed a bunch of gang members... and, coincidentally, an undercover cop.
  • Moon Knight is a strange case. Being Batman wearing white and an obsession with Egyptian moon gods of vengeance, he has a disdain towards killing. However, it's not so much he doesn't want to be like the people he fights, it's that he is extremely tempted, to the point of addiction, to killing, and wants to fight it. Doesn't stop him from torture, maiming, and cutting off a guy's face and wearing it for the sake of the moment.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, being ninja, were pretty much trained to kill from their first appearance in order to avenge Splinter's owner via his death from The Shredder. It varies from incarnation to incarnation with some versions vowing never to kill, but for the ones that do it's made apparent that none of them really relish having to kill anyone period, but if it comes down to survival or saving someone they will take that step.
  • Discussed in Issue 9 of The Shade (2011). The Shade is about to kill a villain before he brings up this trope. The Shade outright denies being something so "average". The villain then talks to Silverfin, a friend of The Shade's and a true hero. Silverfin then responds that, as a hero, he only fights for what he perceives as good, citing no superhero rulebook. And if letting this villain die is a good thing, then he'll let it happen.
  • Subverted in Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel. Guiv subdues a lion which attacks him in the mountains. Kneeling over the lion, he lifts his sword, then has a thought and says, "No one gave me the power to take life." As he walks away, the lion gets up and charges at him, and he quickly turns and slashes it to death.
    Turul: No one gave you the power to spare life, yaaahr.
  • This attitude causes some trouble for Batman in The Ultimate Riddle, as he isn't willing to murder those who are trying to kill him. This is contrasted against the more pragmatic Dredd, who has no moral qualms with lawful killing, though he isn't pleased to be doing so for someone else's amusement.
  • Subverted in Lucky Luke: The Tenderfoot. The titular character, Waldo Badminton, challenges the Big Bad to a Ten Paces and Turn duel. The latter panics, still manages to shoot first but misses, then begs a stoic Waldo for mercy, offering him his estates and promising to never return; Waldo accepts. Whem Lucky Luke later asks him why he didn't shoot, Waldo reveals that he couldn't because the shot had hit him in the arm.
    • Zigzagged with Luke himself, who while clearly preferring to catch his enemies alive (he's not the poster-boy for Blasting It Out of Their Hands for nothing after all), he had in the past killed some particularly evil outlaws like Bob Dalton and Mad Jim and isn't shocked by the prospect of some villain dying by the hands of a friend, though he is still not very fond of lynchings and hangings.
  • Mocked by Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass:
    Kick-Ass: "No way. I'm not going to kill anybody. I'm supposed to be a fucking superhero."
    Hit-Girl: "Oh, kiss my ass. What is this, the Silver Age? I'm afraid we forgot our magic fucking hypno-ring that turns bad guys into good guys."
  • In Convergence, our heroes from the mainstream universes keep running with this, incapacitating those they're forced to fight with and getting them to join them in their dome in some capacity.
  • When The Flash thought he killed Godspeed, whom he'd been insisting that real heroes never kill:
    The Flash: (depressed) Heroes don't kill. We find a better way.
  • Originally and for most of her career, Ms. Marvel was a kind (if not precisely gentle) heroine who always attempted to avoid any loss of life if at all possible. In one Avengers story arc (involving a rampant Kang the Conqueror) she broke this rule, for which she felt sufficiently bad to demand an actual court-martial inquiry for murder.
  • Played straight in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Shattered Grid. In the second to last part, Rita Repulsa of the "Prime" universe uses the Green Candle on Lord Drakkon and prepares to kill him as he is helpless and losing his powers. Before she can do so, Zordon and Anubis Cruger tell her to stop, that killing him wasn't part of their deal. While she's telling them off for it, it allows Finster-5 to sneak in and take them out.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Discussed by Hawkeye, to Reed Richards, when boarding the Kree vessel. He kills, Tony kills, Marh almost certainly kills, but Reed and Sue do not. Later on, Nick mentions that Johnny and Ben only beat up the Kree soldiers they fought, as opposed to everyone else. So he'll have them burnt once the Fantastic Four aren't looking.
    • Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra: Daredevil and Elektra discussed this when she intended to kill the bully and he stopped her.
    • Vision has a fluid programming, but this rule is fixed. Even non-lethal fighting is troublesome for her.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: