The Law Is A Ass # 301: Wonder Woman: If Lookers Could Kill
Or so we learned in “Sacrifice,” the four-part story that started in Superman #219, then crossed-over through Action Comics #829, Adventures of Superman #642, and Wonder Woman #219. I thought the “sacrifice,” would be Superman’s. Silly me. Turns out the sacrifice was mine, in reading the story.
And after I tell you that –
no discussion of “Sacrifice” is possible without my telling you the ending of the story, so if you’re waiting for trade paperback to read it, you should stop reading this column. Now.
I’ll also tell you that the story starts with Superman looking at blood on his hands and wondering what he did. Then, long story short, the JLA told him that he attacked Batman and nearly beat the Dark Knight to death. Only problem is Superman didn’t remember beating Batman. He remembered fighting Brainiac, then Darkseid, and then Ruin.
Superman and the JLA realized that some mental manipulation had been taking place so J’onn J’onzz used the Vulcan mind meld on Superman to learn what’s been going on. Okay, they didn’t call it the Vulcan mind meld, but let’s face it, Mr. Spock had a copyright on that whole “My thoughts to your thoughts” thing years before anyone exploited Martian telepathy.
J’onn learned that Maxwell Lord, former head of the JLA during that period when Monty Python complained that the team was being “too silly” and currently head of the government espionage group Checkmate, perfected his nascent mind control. And gone evil. Max used his mind control to make Superman believe Batman was a super-villain so that Superman would beat Batman almost to death.
Superman rushed off to confront Max and Wonder Woman chased him. Max made Superman think Wonder Woman was Doomsday. They fought until Wonder Woman captured Max in her lasso and ordered him to release Superman. Max gloated that Wonder Woman couldn’t keep him in the lasso forever. And as soon as she released him, he’d use his mind power to regain control over Superman. No one in the world would be safe. Wonder Woman asked Max if there was anything she could do to stop him. As Max was compelled to tell the truth, he told Wonder Woman that she had to kill him.
And she did.
Snapped his neck as easily as dried kindling, like Max were every expendable security guard in every action movie you’ve ever seen.
Wonder Woman planned to turn herself in and can stand trial. Said so right in Wonder Woman # 221. She just never got the chance. All those preludes to Infinite Crisis kept interrupting. Should be an interesting trial.
Wonder Woman will argue self-defense, claiming Max Lord’s turning Superman into his personal weapon of mass destruction posed a threat to everyone on Earth. And I’m confident a jury, properly-instructed on self-defense, will have no problem in finding Wonder Woman not guilty.
Just as I’m equally sure that it shouldn’t.
Let’s review the ground rules. You may act in self-defense, when you believe someone else poses a clear and immediate danger of inflicting death or serious bodily harm on you. Or on someone else. The law, nice law that it is, doesn’t require you to stand idly by while someone kills another person, you’re allowed to prevent that death. Although Max’s ability to control Superman did pose a danger to inflict death or serious bodily harm on everyone on the planet, that’s not the only factor to be considered in self-defense.
You didn’t think I put the italics on “immediate” for nothing, did you?
Yes, the threat must be immediate. That means that the person who intends to kill must be capable of doing it that precise moment. You can’t kill in self-defense now, because you fear someone is going to kill you tomorrow. No peremptory self-defense first strikes allowed.
Max wasn’t going to kill anyone at the moment Wonder Woman introduced his neck to one-third of the Rice Krispies elves. He was bound by Wonder Woman’s lasso and under her control. He even told her that as long as he was bound by her lasso, he couldn’t do anything. So Wonder Woman could have taken Max to the authorities while still bound. She didn’t have to kill him because Max wasn’t immediately capable of killing her or anyone else.
But what about after they took Max out of the lasso? He’d have Superman kill people then. Well, yeah, that could happen. If the authorities were stupid. See, they’ve established that the DC Universe has mind-dampening devices which prevent super-villains from using mental powers whenever they’re in Belle Reve, Iron Heights, Arkham Asylum, or anyplace else they send captured super-villains – if there is anyplace else they send captured super-villains in the DCU. So, if the authorities didn’t lock one of dampeners on Max before Wonder Woman took him out of the lasso, they’d be idiots.
Of course, if they did forget then as soon as Wonder Woman took the lasso off of Max, he’d be an immediate threat again, and Wonder Woman would be free to kill him. Which is what, it seems, she wanted to do.
Which is also what bothers me about this story, Wonder Woman seemed all to willing and eager to kill. Oh, sure, she was remorseful about it afterwards, running around asking everyone for their forgiveness while simultaneously claiming she didn’t have any other choice. But at the moment she acted, she was all to eager to kill.
Silly me, I expect better from my heroes.
However, the fact that Wonder Woman wanted to kill isn’t what bothered most about “Sacrifice.” I’ve heard some of the current comic-book writers and editors asking older writers (you know people like me and my generation) what would Superman do if he were in a situation where he either had to kill Luthor or the world would be destroyed? Our answer is, invariably, he’d find another way. Those current creators – and I’m not saying all of them, but some of them – call this a cop-out. What they don’t seem to understand is that super-heroes – well, the iconical ones such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman – don’t kill. They always find another way. That’s what makes them heroes. That’s why they’re better than us and serve as role models for what we should strive to be, because they always find another way
And when the current creators decry that’s a cop-out, they need to remember something else. It’s a story. It’s made up. Every parameter of the situation was created out of whole cloth by the writers. Any life-or-death situation the writers put Superman or Wonder Woman into could have an escape clause built in it, if they chose to write one. If they can’t have Wonder Woman think of another way, it’s because they didn’t want her to. It’s because they wanted Wonder Woman to kill in the first place.
And that’s what bothered me most about “Sacrifice,” not that Wonder Woman wanted to kill, but that the creators wanted her to.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you hadn’t already guessed, this is another one of the columns that I wrote several years ago for Comics Buyer’s Guide that they never got a chance to print before changing formats. It’s about a story from long before the “New 52.” I updated it, a little. And resisted every temptation to put in some references to the movie Man Of Steel.