Mike Gold: The Superhero Ideal
Because his parents were shot down? Really? I mean… really?
That’s weak. Even for an obsessive-compulsive who’s borderline psychotic, that’s just silly. He’s got a belt full of lethal weapons, he’s got more in his car, and even more in his cave. And, speaking of OCD, they all have the same first name.
So, why doesn’t Batman use a gun?
Because it’s boring. It’s visually boring, and comics is a visual storytelling medium.
If the Joker comes running at him, he can whip out his Batgun and splatter the walls with green hair. Or he can start off a nifty three-page fight sequence.
Well, he can also whip out his Batarang and separate the crown from the clown, but that’s just one long panel. It might be entertaining if we were in one of those once-every-generation 3-D fads, but those fads never last long.
Let’s try it again.
The Red Skull is out after Captain America. Cap whips around and:
A) Shoots him, obviously in self-defense and likely saving the lives of dozens if not hundreds of innocents to come, or
B) Frisbees his mighty shield across the page and leaps upon the evil bastard and pummels the poo out of the guy, who even in defeat, manages to escape.
Yeah. What would Jack Kirby do?
Superheroes are not anti-gun because they are possessed by the liberal media. Superheroes don’t use guns because it’s unexciting storytelling. Gunplay in superhero comics is visually boring.
Police use guns because they are not paid by the panel and they have some concern over what their spouses are making for dinner. Taking the longer view, our military uses guns for much the same reason. In their world, visual excitement will likely get them killed.
You know who else uses guns?
Gun nuts. But that’s only in the real world.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases
I like the last sentence, though I disagree with the premise. I believe until perhaps the last decade or two, comic book writers wanted to present heroes whom readers could look up to and use as role models. What made Superman, Batman, the FF, and Captain America unrealistic, but highly admirable was their conscientious restraint from killing their foes. Sure it lead to innocent deaths in the long run, but our heroes truly believed in the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and preferred locking up their enemies to terminating them. Besides, that way led to more potential storylines. Apart from Dick Tracy, a hero that simply shot and killed his enemy would have been considered immoral until the 1990’s.
If gun usage in superhero comics would have made for boring stories as Mike Gold claims, then why were there so many exciting Western, Crime, and War comics? I used to love reading Sgt. Fury and believe me they used a great deal of guns, grenades, and tanks. They also had recurring villains though with less frequency than the typical super-villain. What made those stories exciting was character interplay, culture clashes, and class conflicts, and the deadly situations in which our heroes found themselves and had to self-extricate or die trying. Likewise, Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD which introduced the most intricate and deadly of weapons was exciting for the same reasons as its WWII counterpart.
Besides, plenty of superheroes did use weapons; they just didn’t use them to kill. Think of Green Arrow and Green Lantern for starters. The Batman of the early sixties employed his fair share of guns – they just didn’t shoot bullets. And comics that took place on other worlds (Adam Strange) or in the future (Legion) featured plenty of ray-gun usage. Even the original Star Trek had guns – but to avoid unnecessary killing, phasers could and were often set to “stun”.
My point is that heroes using guns in comic books would not be automatically boring. We’ve even seen in books like Hitman, Incognito, and The Boys that excessive, gory, and senseless killing is not necessarily boring. It’s just another kind of story. (I believe) Kirby preferred that Captain America throw a shield rather than fire a gun, not because it made for more exciting stories, but because he believed in morally righteous heroes. That’s also why Superman doesn’t simply crush, burn, suffocate, or dismember his enemies, though he certainly has the ability to do all that damage and much, much more.
The heroes of the pulps killed with abandon, and heroes in non-superhero stories too, like Steven said. I believe the “superheroes gotta be super-role models” idea developed later as justification, but the real reason is a little bit different.
The “human” heroes like Doc Savage and Tarzan could kill because they didn’t have a big chance of appearing menacing to a reader that was ready to identify with them. But when we think of Superman, we often forget that before his introduction, superpowered freaks in science fiction novels were almost always figures of menace, conquering overmen, enemies of what is “natural”.
In short, the view that ordinary citizens have of the X-Men was the default in stories about superpowered beings. The mutant was likely to be the villain, or at least seen as one. The hero of the novel Gladiator, that inspired Superman, was viewed with suspicion by ordinary citizens and killed by a lightning strike by God Himself.
A superpowered protagonist that fought primarily normal human enemies, like the Golden Age heroes did, would have appeared too sinister to the readers of the time if he also killed them.
That in the Golden Age. By the time the Silver Age rolled around, the reasons were political. The 1950s, Wertham, the Comics Code, etc. The people doing superhero comics were playing safe. And later still, it became a “tradition”, like so many other things in the genre.
Rene, as the Golden Age progressed gunplay in superhero comics waned — perhaps to the realities of World War II. The pulp heroes (and The Spider and The Shadow are my favorites; to paraphrase Mel Brooks, The Spider killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille — in any one issue!) left visualizing the action almost entirely to the reader. The visuals weren’t tossed into the readers’ laps.
I quite agree, taking on “ordinary” citizens with firearms seems a bit unfair, but also perhaps unnecessary. Again, sloppy writing. My favorite, though, was Superman flying bad guys up to where they should have passed out to lack of oxygen or frozen to death and threatened to drop them if they didn’t rat out their boss. There was a lot going on there.
I thought it was funny. Go know.
Bravo. And I’d suggest that the rise of gun-utilizing “heroes” in comics strangely coincides with the exponentially dwindling success of the medium.