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Sunday, February 26, 2006

An Idle Thought: Killing in the DCU

I just reread Catwoman 52 and had a random thought about women in comics. Becareful, this contains major spoilers for Catwoman and Manhunter and Batgirl.

...Seriously, here be spoilers.

Okay, my first reaction to Selina and what happened with Black Mask was "Wow! That was hardcore! I can't believe she did it!"

I was delighted by the drama of the moment and worried about Selina's state. It was rather similar to how I felt when Diana snapped Max Lord's neck. That guy deserved what he got.

But then I had a weird thought. There were a lot of female heroes killing folk this month. Kate Spencer killed her father, Cassandra Cain kills Lady Shiva, Selina kills Black Mask...

Each time I understood and appeciated why it was done. Even admired how in each case the women were the ones who got to do it. To be "hardcore".

But then it occurred to many major female characters do we have that would NOT kill...would hesitate even if there was no other choice...very few.

But how many major male characters do we have that would NOT kill...would hesitate, yadda...Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, and so on and so forth. (A few of these might be debatable, I admit. But you get my point. :-))

On one hand, this could be a positive thing...women doing what's necessary...but then is it really?

What does it say that of the Trinity, the only character who's killed someone without a doubt (rather than been too late, or withdrew help) is the woman?

See, I actually think it might not be as progressive or feminist as some might take it.

See, I can't help but wonder if somehow it's more forgiveable for a woman to kill, especially a male victim (most of the time female characters kill, it's a man), because deep down we *still* have the idea of women as the weaker sex. Is it more forgiveable for a woman to kill a man because she is not expected to hold back? Where it's worse for a man because he *is*? (I can't really think of any occurance where a male hero ends up killing a woman in self defense...)

And as for the "hardcore" aspect...that gets disturbing too. Selina was "hardcore" for killing Black Mask. But Bruce is "hardcore" regardless. And he doesn't kill. And I can't think of any "hardcore" female character that doesn't kill.

Do female characters need to kill to be "hardcore"? Would we see a female character that refuses to kill to the point of leaving themselves open as often as Bruce, Clark, Kyle, Wally, or any of the multitude of others as equally as strong as they are? Or would we see them as "weak" and "emotional" sexist portrayals?

I'm not sure what I think about this. I thought Kate, Selina and Cass were very sympathetic. And I think Diana absolutely did the right thing with Max.

But I think I want to see a very openly non-killing female hero as well. Maybe a few. Just to broaden the spectrum.


  • At February 26, 2006 11:17 AM, Blogger Melchior del DariĆ©n said…

    I had a similar reaction, K. I mean, if any one merited killing, it was Black Mask. And if anyone had the right to kill him, it was Catwoman (he tortured her sister, tortured Slam Bradley, threatened to torture and kill Holly, etc.). So when I read the solicits for this issue, I was OK with CW killing him. However, I was uneasy after reading CW #52.

    Here are the "before" and "after" facts in Catwoman's case as we head into OYL. Before OYL Selina Kyle was Catwoman: assertive, self-assured, and the heroic defender of the East End. The Batman respected her talents and methods. She had a network of friends, supporters, and a protege who looked up to her. After OYL: Selina Kyle is no longer Catwoman. She questions her past heroic activites, because of a long-ago mind-wipe by the JLA. The Batman pities her for what the JLA did to her. She has killed Black Mask, and is living on the lam. She has a child.

    Though she's hardcore, it kind of looks like she's been "de-powered," doesn't it? Now, it being comic books, anything can happen, and Selina could very well be back as Catwoman. But her having killed Black Mask will certainly change the way others in the superhero community think about her. And you're right, if they do "understand", it'll be because they "excuse" her actions because she was a woman under a lot of pressure.

  • At February 26, 2006 11:27 AM, Blogger CalvinPitt said…

    I wouldn't regard a female character that doesn't kill the villain as any different than a male character that wouldn't. To me, there really isn't any difference between Black Canary beating the crap out of the Joker and taking him to jail, as opposed to Batman doing the same. When I read it, I'm still going to be thinking, "Boy, you could sure do the civilians of the DCU a favor if you went ahead and snapped his neck."

    In Cassandra's case, I didn't regard that as "hardcore". it seemed more pragamtic to me. Cassandra wasn't acting out of anger, while I get the impression that Selina was. Cassandra understood that either she kills Shiva or vice versa, and that Shiva really wanted Cass to kill her, to become what Shiva and Cain had been hoping for. Given that, she went along with Shiva's wishes, and didn't revive her in the Lazarus Pit.

    I don't think a character has to kill to be regarded as "hardcore", at least not by me. Kyle Rayner was hardcore during the Obsidian Age, when he let his heart be cut out and used as a source of power to keep his friends souls going for 10,000 years or whatever. Cassandra got the same reaction when she took out the Brotherhood of evil in two pages. I might be confusing "hardcore" with "cool', though.

    I don't know. Maybe it's all a matter of subjective definitions.

  • At February 26, 2006 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just a random thought before I go on babbling, but didn't the 90s exhaust the idea of a male hero killing ruthlessly? With Deathstroke, Hitman, etc.

    Anyway, Diana & Cass were raised to kill. They have repressed it many times, but when it's the last resort they will kill. It was how both of them were raised, Diana an Amazon warrior - Cassandra an assassin. I mean, for Cass that was like the only way she knew how to communicate. So, for me, both of them killing doesn't really show what a kickass-hardcore-chick they are. But, you could argue that these were their origins just to show how superior they are to the male sex or something. Was it really necessary to have Batgirl, of all innocent characters, to be a trained killing machine? (Not that I'm complaining..)

    Kate Spencer just kills because she's a whacko lawyer (who I can't stop reading about) - it could be worth noting that she's the first female Manhunter, which is evident on that splash OYL final page of the issue. I think there's a bit of, "Look how kool Kate is! She killed Copperhead and smokes! And curses!"

    But, there's plenty of female DC characters that don't kill. There's Birds of Prey - Huntress doesn't even kill and her name is Huntress! Dinah didn't kill the man who tortured her for days upon days, and even let him work with her. And the female members of the JSA - Power Girl, Stargirl, Hawkgirl...the list could go on, probably.

    And there's plenty of current male DC heroes that kill (Hawkman, Aquaman, Atom Smasher, Oliver Queen[?], etc.) - so maybe this trend is just a coincidence. I mean in January the Batgirl/Manhunter issues both had their title character stabbed.

    *shrug* (just wanted to add that I just found this site a few days ago, mainly because of the Kyler Ranner love, but I have it bookmarked now and, keep up the good work! hehe)

  • At February 26, 2006 2:27 PM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    gus -- Huntress kills. She ordered a mob hit on her father. Hell, the whole Batman/Huntress not getting along mess is because she's not afraid to kill.

  • At February 26, 2006 2:46 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hey guys! Thanks for your responses!

    Melchior: Yeah, I do think they'll manage to pull it out well for OYL. But it definitely is annoying for those, like myself, that really enjoyed the redemptive aspects of the character. In retrospect, it seems like she's slipped completely back and I'm not sure I like it.

    calvin: I agree with you in one sense, but in another, you're almost proving my point. Kyle is hardcore in Obsidian Age, no doubt about it. But when does a female character get a similar sort of moment, in which blind faith and will get them past horrible circumstances and culminate in them forgiving their tormentors and accepting them like Kyle does Manitou? Would we see *her* as hardcore or a stereotype?

    gus: I agree with you, but I have to point out one thing. Deathstroke and Hitman aren't major characters. They're *important*, but they're not the ones that get name recognition from people who've never read comics in their lives.

    Cass and Diana's origins aren't the problem. Heck, either of them killing isn't the problem.

    The problem is that except for maybe Barbara Gordon, it seems like every female character that is so important that she's known to non-comic fans, like Diana and Selina, have ended up having to kill someone. And while there's a list of well-known male characters that kill...there's a list of well-known male characters that don't...and while your character list is very good (I love all of them!) those characters don't quite have the prominence that the others do.

    We need more female characters. :-)

    (And glad you're enjoying the blog.)

    Ragnell: yep.

    An addendum to my post: in a weird way, I tend to think of the women killing as an extreme example of the "do twice the work, get half the credit" phenomenon that still plagues women. The female characters regarded as hardcore, tough and intense are ones that kill. Batman, for his part, never needs to, to be regarded the same way. That annoys me a little...and I'm not completely sure why.

  • At February 26, 2006 2:52 PM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    (Funny you have me pointing out the positives after you've posted on the negatives, isn't it Kali?)

    I think the interesting part here is that those examples represent a range of motives and emotional states.

    Diana's killing was cool and rational. She attempted every other option, but had to kill in defense of a friend. It was a desperation killing.

    Diana has a history of killing in battle.

    Kate's is intentional. She sets out with death in mind and aims for it. She's cool and rational, also. ("I consider it overtime.")

    Cassandra's is twofold here. She was a child who killed before she knew what would happen. Her first was an innocent action.
    Her second, however, was out of need. She was reluctant, but Shiva was a remorseless serial killer. She'd inadvertantly caused the deaths of 48 people by not killing Shiva earlier. She shows a realism that Batman doesn't, actually, and will probably not only get a pass, but lauded for this.

    Selina's is the only one I have't read, so I'll take the word of those here who state that it's out of anger.

    Now, let's compare that to some male heroes who've killed.

    Sand has killed twice. He accidentally killed a supervillain (Johnny Sorrow -- who's the only one who won't give Sandy a pass on this one) and during the followup to Creature from the Velvet Cage where Sandy actually gets cured, he causes an Earthquake and kills the villain. Both of these fall under the innocent realm of Cassandra's first death. It was accidental/didn't know what would happen. Sand, like Cass, gets forgiven easily.

    How about his fellow JSAer Jack Knight, then? Jack's killed in battle. He killed in a war, and he also fried his brother's murderer the first time out the gate. He was acquitted. He doesn't have a direct parallel in the above post, but he is forgiven pretty easily for starting his career off with blood on his hands.

    Then we get to Superman (Diana's not the only member with a body count). Superman killed three Kryptonian criminals to prevent future death. He killed them after they had had their powers permanently removed but who's to nitpick? Anyway, he gets an instant pass because he's Superman while Batman gets cranky with Wonder Woman. Seems like the opposite prejudice here to me, actually. But what Superman did is comparable to Cass and Shiva.

    And finally, the big comparison to Diana -- the Flash. Meaning, of course, Barry Allen. He kills Professor Zoom to prevent Zoom from killing his fiance, and everyone turns on him. He's put on trial and ends up running to the future. And it's justifiable homicide!

    So you are on to something with the sexism here. Selina's anger killing, something which would cause a male hero to be ostracized, will likely get a pass because of stress.

    Kate's we have no way of knowing for sure, as I don't think (I may have missed the issue though) the rest of the community knows that she is going out with intent to kill. And it's possible that OYL her brand of justice will be more acceptable. It's possible that Manhunter will be a villain book. And again, she's not killing out of emotion or stress. This is her normal MO, and a conscious life-decision on her part. Hell, she even tried the alternative of sending them to prison for a while. It didn't work, this was the logical next move for her.

    And, despite being DC's Punisher, she's nowhere near as emotional and reckless as I've seen Frank Castle. She's not even suffering from the "You touched my stuff" motivation. And it'll take a while to rack up a similar body count.

    The other two have male equivalents who got similar treatment. They're also both calm and rational killings, made after weighing the options carefully and attempting alternatives.

    If anything, these three are more of the women clean up after men stereotype. They have to fix a mess caused by standard superheroics, and make the solution last.

    Selina's going to get forgiven for a moment of weakness, though.

    (Oh, and Huntress had to work her ass off to get accepted after killing people)

  • At February 26, 2006 3:02 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ragnell: *gasp* My evil plot revealed! :-)

    And I don't disagree really. But the distribution annoys me a little. It seems like a much heavier proportion of women who kill than men.

    A problem solved, like most, with a greater variety/more female heroes I bet. :-)

  • At February 27, 2006 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    All I have to say is, bullseye. Your post articulates something I've been seenig in books in the DCU for quite a while now.

  • At March 01, 2006 9:22 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    dan: thanks. :-) Just my perception though. Shelly over at Shelly's Comic Shelf has a nice counter-perspective that's definitely worth reading too. :-)


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