Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Superheroes’ Moral Code

Written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Jesus Saiz, issue #28 of DC’s The Brave and The Bold entitled “Firing Line” features the team-up of the Flash with the Blackhawk. In the story, both were effectively removed from their ‘territory’; Blackhawk was grounded from flight while the Flash was slowed down by a leg injury.
One of the best moments in this Eisner-nominated story is when the Flash picks up a gun and wears an army uniform determined to fight for his country even if it means that he has to kill along the way.
This presents a case on how important it is to establish the real life character of a superhero in comics. A superhero is bounded by many rules just as there are rules of war. It’s just like how there are more strict instructions that guide soldiers because they are considered deadly weapons by themselves. It’s been said that a superhero’s great power also brings with it great responsibility (cf. Spiderman).
But remove the superhero’s costume and powers and you are left with a human being. And from there you have free rein to every human instinct and emotion that one is capable of. Hence, Clark Kent can make fun of Steve Lombardi’s hairpiece in return of Lombardi’s making fun of him (see All Star Superman). Peter Parker can NOT do his homework when he is feeling lazy. Bruce Wayne can get all the women he wants. These are things that Superman, Spiderman or Batman, in character, are morally prohibited from doing.

But sometimes, being in this non-superhero character without all these moral codes can do good. The Flash is the best example of this. In the panel above, The Flash is in a moral dilemma. He has to uphold his ethos: “The Flash doesn’t kill. The Flash doesn't carry a gun.” This he resolved simply by removing The Flash’s ethics from the equation and unleashing Barry Allen.
“…But Barry Allen, American, can do those things in the uniform of his country, which is at war.”
(As an antithesis to this proposition, one can say that it is the real life character’s principles that are holding the chains of the superhero alter-ego, preventing him/her from abusing his/her power. Best example is Grant Morrison’s Batman of Zurr-en-Arrh in the Batman RIP arc, which is the Batman without Bruce Wayne. But that is a topic for another post.)

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