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Most of the superheros from comics (and now their movies) believe very strongly that they mustn't kill. They all believe in it so strongly that they go to any extent to prove that to the antagonist (who mostly believes killing is alright).

for eg: the more recent tv series involving Daredevil and Punisher. Other examples include Batman, Captain America, etc.

The same superheroes are perfectly fine beating thugs to a pulp. Most beat downs involves thugs getting their bones broken or cracked at least. Many of them are knocked out by the superhero's attack. Most of the fights happen in a one to many format which means there is only that much accuracy with which a hero can throw his punches. Many of these thugs who are not killed in action would end up eating through a straw for various reasons.

Is there any justification that comic book writers have provided around why incapacitating a person is fine while killing is not?

  • 3
    There must be a lot of unintentional killing as a result of all those punches. – user14111 Jun 6 '16 at 4:32
  • Possibly because death gives a villain no opportunity to reform . Possibly because they believe in causing the minimum harm necessary to subdue someone. I suppose it varies from person to person. – Adamant Jun 6 '16 at 4:35
  • Given thugs are thugs because they aren't really rich, they may not be able to get the right treatment for possible concussions. Which means no reform opportunity either way. He's better off dead than be an alive liability to his family. – John Jun 6 '16 at 4:53
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    That's your personal opinion, not Batman's. If you want to discuss morality with Batman, this is not the site. The latency time from Gotham to our servers is ridiculous. – Adamant Jun 6 '16 at 4:56
  • I did read the question. It seemed like you were offering your opinion, not trying to explain that of an individual superhero. Sorry if I was wrong. – Adamant Jun 6 '16 at 5:11
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It varies

Not every superhero, everywhere, all the time, has had a code against killing. Even many superheroes who are famed for their reluctance to kill their enemies have taken a life at one point or another. Some heroes aren't opposed to homicide, per se, at all. For example, Wonder Woman pointedly does not have any compunctions about taking a life (in most versions):

enter image description here

With those superheroes who do have compunctions against murder, the reasoning varies. One common justification is that it's a slippery slope. As vigilantes, they live on the edge, engaging in actions that many would consider morally gray at best. They are always at risk of going too far and intentionally taking someone's life. And then, with their skills or powers, who could say where it would end? Having a strong code of honor prevents this. As Batman says to Superman:

enter image description here

Finally, some heroes have simply opposed killing on absolute moral grounds.

This is Daredevil's reasoning in the Netflix series. From "New York's Finest":

DAREDEVIL: I don't do this to hurt people.

PUNISHER: Yeah, so what is that, just a job perk?

DAREDEVIL: I don't kill anyone.

PUNISHER: Is that why you think you're better than me?

DAREDEVIL: No.

PUNISHER: Is that why you think you're a big hero?

DAREDEVIL: It doesn't matter what I think or what I am. People don't have to die.

PUNISHER: Come on, Red. You believe that?

DAREDEVIL: I believe it's not my call, and it ain't yours either.

Notice that Daredevil has two justifications:first, that mentioned previously of opposing directly taking a life on moral grounds. He also exemplifies another common justification (perhaps one of the more realistic): that killing is unnecessary to get his job done. As he says "People don't have to die." He believes that he can stop villains without killing them, and he might be right in the somewhat more realistic world of the MCU (as opposed to Marvel Comics where any supervillain, if not any ordinary criminal, will inevitably be out of prison in short order).

Captain America also has sometimes felt similarly. In this comic, for example, he states that killing is the ultimate violation of freedom:

enter image description here

But, as the previous comic shows, when necessary, he will pick up a gun in order to save lives.

Of course, it all depends on the version of Cap that you're talking about:

enter image description here

So in truth, it is all very dependent on the superhero in question. Many superheroes have no compunction about killing the guilty, and some not even that. Many will kill for utilitarian purposes, even if they generally forgo unnecessary killing.

Among those who do forgo killing, it often is either because it is unnecessary (as is the case with the version of Captain America mentioned previously), or because they fear what they could become if they let their dark side out.

  • Lovely, that's a lot of info. Lemme process. Thanks. – John Jun 6 '16 at 7:28
  • Also, what I'm looking for is - have there been similar conversations between characters around why it is ok to put someone in coma but not kill? The dilemma that heroes face for killing, have they shown to face that when they break a bone or spine? – John Jun 6 '16 at 7:37
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    Occasionally you'll get a hero too dumb to realise that what he's doing is killing (and yes, I know this is a parody of Batman but still): youtube.com/watch?v=1byycwl8qgc – Katdragon Jun 6 '16 at 10:05

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