Throughout comic book history, superheroes have had a strict rule. That rule being “thou shalt not kill” which of course takes a look into the Biblical aspects of the creators that they were interjecting into the storylines (the exception may be Wonder Woman seeing how her story was based off of Greek Myth with a whole lot of feminism added for flavour… which DC has royally fucked over in recent months).
Superman and Captain America have the biggest Biblical connections. Stealing, killing, lying, being disrespectful, all of which are big no nos for them and all of which are based on the Ten Commandments from the Bible. But! They in fact do a bunch of killing, because they kill the right people (in the minds of the creators and the audience they are attempting to attract). Captain America can be somewhat discounted because of the fact he is an American soldier, so part of his job is infiltrating enemy lines by whatever means necessary and forcing an army force to surrender. Often that involves shooting a lot of bullets and killing people.
Superman, Captain America, Human Torch (who was a robot in the Second World War), Namor, The Howling Commandos, Sgt. Rock, they all managed to kill a bunch of people, yet we give a hand wave to that because those people fit into neat, little categories. Category one: Nazis. Category two: Japanese. The two main factions that the Allied Armies were fighting during the Second World War. So that brand of killing was A-OKAY. At the time, comics were a way of bolstering support for the war effort. It was a massive propaganda machine to help with public support to “Support Our Troops” and “Defeat The Nazis”. Because Nazism was evil (even though the founder happened to be a devout Christian).
During the Second World War, there was also a third group that was okay to kill, but that didn’t happen as often as did “take them into custody”. That group specifically happened to be anyone who was brown skinned. Indian “Fakirs” were either wise sages who gave the mainly white, male protagonist a wise clue at just the right time, or they were deceiving evil doers who were plotting to destroy the West (the latter happened just as often as the fight against Nazism and later Communism). Or, brown skinned people were seen as the group who needed to be saved from Nazism (and later Communism) because the West (ie; America) needs to have a group to fight, and a group to save. Often, the group needing saving happened to be a bunch of brown skinned people (rarely were those people yellow skinned, ie; Japanese or Chinese, or red skinned people, ie; First Nations or Native Americans).
“But Tim, you’re describing an aspect of racism not how the killing rule is bullshit.”
Yes, I hear you, and yes I did get a bit sidetracked.
During the era of the Second World War, there were other superheroes who came to the fore. Most who either fought Nazis oppression on American soil (almost always American soil because in comic book universes, this shit obviously didn’t happen in Mexico or Canada), or fought straight up crime with the weirdest of villains. In both cases, the minions of the said target seemed to always be disposable. Look at Joker’s henchmen. Only a few were actually named. Most were never seen again. That doesn’t mean Batman himself killed them, but he didn’t not stop their eventual death. Batman himself during his early years was shown wielding a pistol and using it. Others who were similar were the Shadow, and the Phantom. They had guns, they shot and killed people.
Fast forward to the Silver Age of comics. Things seemed much happier and brighter. But not really. The age of reason and enlightenment was coming and this time there were very different groups with which to showcase. The first was the eventual enemy that many superheroes fought: Communism. Communism had replaced Nazism. But while the label changed, there wasn’t much difference between them (in reality, Communism is a left wing ideology, whereas Nazism is a right wing ideology, also Hitler, who founded Nazism, hated Communism). The other group wasn’t a group to fight, but it was a group which could showcase was a mirror image of the Civil Rights Movement. Thus, the X-Men were born (heaven help us though, if the X-Men can’t actually be black skinned). But this didn’t stop the killing, so much as slow it down. There was still killing, because the superheroes were killing the “right people”. Again, the right people were the groups targeted as enemies of the West (or America because obviously nothing happens in Canada or Mexico).
This stuck well into the Bronze Age of comics, and even into the edge of the grim and gritty Modern Age of comics. The Modern Age did bring something with it, however. More guns, and more ways to kill people. The Modern Age gave us guns, belt pouches, jackets (with the sleeves rolled up), muscle bound steroid freaks and women with waists so tiny that you’d wonder how their vital organs would fit. But most importantly, it brought loads of killing. Punisher, Cabel, Spawn, Wildstorm, Gen 13, X-Factor, darker versions of Sandman, John Constantine, Swamp Thing, the Hawkworld, Green Arrow, the Dark Knight. Even killing off superheroes became a thing. Superman died (which became completely irrelevant when he was brought back, same with Green Arrow, and also see Batman having his back broken, and then later being killed… none of that seemed to matter at all). The heroes never die. They either come back with a renewed purpose, or come back with dark intent, blaming society and their partners for not being there to help them (see Jason Todd and Bucky Barnes).
Now comic books have evolved into movie franchises which tell an over arching story through the course of several movies (thus far Iron Man, Iron Man II, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man III, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Solder, and Guardians of the Galaxy). But the killing doesn’t stop! And the target has somewhat changed. But this time, the target has definite brown skin (though, anyone from that ethnic group who is on the side of the good guys has decidedly lighter skin than their brown skin “haters of freedom”). And there’s also aliens. Because aliens is an expendable enemy.
Sure, aliens die and it’s superheroes doing the killing (don’t try and say that’s not what’s happening). But there’s also collateral damage. Sure, Batman doesn’t directly kill anyone, and the Joker does actually kill people in devious plots and schemes. But Batman also doesn’t prevent people from dying. In Dark Knight Rises, Batman goes away (to have a self loathing whimper fest) and basically lets Bane walk into town. When Batman confronts him, Bane kicks his ass and sends him to a prison. Even in the Tim Burton Batman movies, people die indirectly because of Batman’s actions (and conversely Joker, Catwoman and the Penguin).
Side note: I have an idea for how Burton’s Batman would have been better and ultimately more awesome, but more on that later.
The same is true with the X-Men universe. Same with Spider-man. Same with Superman.
Superheroes kill. And those that supposedly don’t, well, they don’t really prevent killing from happening as a result of their actions. Also, it should be noted, killing and racism go neatly hand in hand.