When Should a Superhero Kill?

Honestly growing up my friends and I always liked it when the hero kills the villain, there something stastifying about seeing the heros finish off a character so they don’t come back, like in naruto when they killed the sound and akastuki, when ben teneson almost killed Kevin Levin, or when the z fighters killed pretty much every villain they’ve ever faced.

As much as I loved the DCAU growing up, I never understood why the heros never killed. As I grew older I started to understand it because they’re suppose to show they can be better than the villains, and they might go crazy.

But what about the joker? He deserves to die, he’s a monster. I would understand if batman kills him.

Lex luthor is also evil, he knows how to break superman and he’s willing to do anything for that massive ego of his. I would also understand if superman kills.

But that’s not what they’re suppose to do, they don’t decided who dies. They’re not gods, but there some lives that don’t deserve more chances.

So back to the question. When should a superhero kill?


You pose an interesting question. When should a hero (or, more specifically a superhero, kill). I think the answer is never.

First, a historical perspective, in the Golden Age, Superheroes killed people all the time. In fact, if you look at the early run of Detective, Batman is pretty much a serial killer. See Batman’s Golden Age Kill Count However, at some point, there were public outcries that resulted in the creation of the Comics Code that comics publishers had to follow. And while heroes killing villains was not specifically listed, it would certainly have violated the spirit of the code. (“Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited.”) But, even before the Code, DC had a pretty firmly established a “no kill” in house rule about 2 years into Batman and Superman’s runs. As a result, while the Comics Code destroyed nearly every other Comic book genre (Archie also survived), it was the superheroes that thrived during the Silver Age. (In fact, a lot of the code was modeled after the code of standards used Archie and DC.)

There is also a practical reason why superheroes don’t kill. And that’s because comic book readers like familiarity and comic book companies like brand stability. Having an established rogues gallery helps with this and gives creators a tool box of established characters to pull from. The “no kill” rule makes sense. Comics are a world that relies on perceived continuity, where, like soap operas. sitcoms and Shakespearean comedies, ultimately the status quo must be maintained regardless of how upset the apple cart gets on the journey.

But, there is a deeper (In continuity) reason why heroes shouldn’t kill. Because if they did, they would be the villain. Heroes work, for the most part, inside the law. Their role is to police the city, jungle, world or sector. It’s not their place to be judge, jury and executioner. And ultimately, they put on a cape or a mask or a suit of armor or cape because they think they make a difference outside of the system but working with it. They think the justice system is flawed, but, at their heart superheroes have to believe the system works. Otherwise, they would be lawbreakers and not law enforcers. Ultimately, they believe the criminal justice system is ultimately fixable and desirable and work for it while they work outside of it. If a hero kill criminals instead of assisting the proper authorities in apprehending them, they are replacing the criminal justice system.

Sure, it’s easy to say that if Batman is justified in killing the Joker because it would save future lives. But, Ozymandias thought he was justified in killing millions of people because it saved billions. Where is the line? Similarly, if Superman Is justified to kill Lex Luthor, when? For what crime? Is it after his first failed land scheme in California, his attempt to steal LexCorp pensions or after he sides with Perpetua to end the multiverse? What in Superman’s background makes him the qualified person to make that call? In the first season of Arrow, there was a Huntress episode of Arrow where Ollie lectures Helena that he’s nothing like her because she’s a murderer. But, at the time, he was exactly like her. Ollie killed people who he were in his father’s book and had “failed his city” and Helena was killing people who had “failed her family”. Instead, it appeared that Ollie’s only problem was the people Helena was killing weren’t in his book of “city failures.” I think they eventually did a nice job of addressing that.

A hero has to stand for more. A hero is a person who takes the law into their own hands to make sure criminals face the legal repercussions of their actions. An antihero is a person who takes the law into their own hands to viciously murder criminals. Heroes have to believe in redemption (hell, most are trying redeem themselves). Killing removes any chance of that redemption. And while the concepts of the reformed villain is not as prevalent in DC as in Marvel, if heroes had simply killed the bad guy, we would have lost half the roster of the Avengers. (And no, I don’t think the Suicide Squad are not Superheroes :slight_smile: ). If you want to blame someone for the Joker’s future murders, it’s probably Gotham’s failed legal and penal system.

For some reason, the Heroes don’t kill rule hasn’t transferred over to movies, which is is a shame. And don’t get me started at how “I’m not going to kill you, I just don’t have to save you” is ridiculous. I could get easily get a murder 1 conviction out of that scenario. Batman creates the harm (By destroying the bridge), puts the victim in harms way (by destroying the controls), and then leaves the victim with no escape. I also think the only thing that should be snapping in a Superman movie is the dialogue.

Sorry that I babble. ‘‘Tis what I do. I guess I had stronger feelings about this topic than I thought. I started with a short answer. :slight_smile:


When it fits the character and is in line with that characters moral compass.

The point when superheroes take a life should vary widely depending on background. Superheroes with comparatively low powerlevel needs to be more pragmatic than virtually unkillable ones. A military background, coming from a race caught in a neverending war should also often lead to a more pragmatic stance.

With that said - don’t kill characters who have been around more than a year without serious consideration. After a while readers get to love characters and character death is an overrated storytelling tool.


There are many ways to approach writing comic books and how to treat characters but I think the line of thinking you mentioned comes from treating characters like Batman and Joker as if they were real individuals rather than operatic grandiose symbols of humanity. Batman represents a certain part of humanity and Joker represents another part. Superhero comics are in a lot of ways like opera using costumes and action to tell a greater story about us as humans. So if Batman were to kill it would dilute what he represents. That being said, It depends on the series and creators and what kind of story they want to tell. Vengeance is definitely a part of stories like Batman so in that way superheroes can also innately support stories of ambiguous morality. It just depends on if the characters are treated as people or symbols.


I think it also depends on the villain. You guys can come at me over this, but Bats should have killed Joker when he did what he did in The Killing Joke. That’s, to date, some of the sickest sh*t I’ve ever seen a villain get away with.

I’m fairly supportive of the no kill rule, but not after that happened. Not with Joker.

I don’t like unnecessary violence. Joker though…


So, in general principle: If someone who was completely anonymous and couldn’t be stopped by conventional law enforcement started killing people without any higher authority to answer to, and the only reason you had to believe that the victims deserved it were the vigilante’s own word, would you call that person a hero?

Now, on a more specific case-by-case basis, I think “no killing ever” vs. “maybe just this one really bad dude” doesn’t make sense for every hero, but it has some thematic significance for the famous examples.

A lot of Superman stories are preoccupied with the ethics of power. Lex Luthor is a powerful person who abuses that power while Superman is a powerful person who behaves responsibly. It shows that Superman knows he can’t be held accountable for his actions and is willing to limit his own options as a show of good faith.

Batman stories have more to do with the ethics of justice. It’s more about what actions are wrong, who deserves to be caught and punished, and how and why to do that. Batman is motivated because he’s traumatized by witnessing a killing. So he believes that killing is, definitively, a wrong thing to do and no one “deserves” it. In his mind, it’s not about any nebulous “greater good,” you’re either violating another human being’s fundamental right to life, or you’re not.

But when you look at, for example, common themes in Wonder Woman stories (generally about seeking peace or truth), I think there’s not as much to be gained by giving her a hardline no-kill rule (I do still think she shouldn’t do it except as a very last resort, but not never). And so she doesn’t have one.

Or look at Green Arrow. He doesn’t seem to have Batman’s individualist mindset; he’s pursuing a broader social good. I think he would kill to save more lives.


I think that superheros should kill killers like in injustice when superman kills the joker l mean if I was him that’s what I would do. I am sorry if you disagree with this post


What you had a lot to say on this topic, and I do agree with the in universe explanation.

Also, I did not know that. I did not know batman killed so many people. I always thought the early comics were for kids(I know that modern day comics are for all ages)

Super villains that should be killed
The penguin
Lobo is a special case because he killed a lot of people
But in JLA rebirth Lobo did a lot of good


So should batman never kill?

What about Hal Jordan? I wouldn’t blame him if he kills Sinestro.

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If I missed anything else I would appreciate it if you made a list of villains that you think should be killed


honestly Joker should’ve been putt down like animal with rabbis.

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well thats an interesting way of looking at it.

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Yup and professor pig

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I mean professor pmy

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Sorry pgy

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so it all comes down to what the hero represents? Ok, in injustice Superman kills Joker and that is completely understandable. I had no issues with that, joker had it coming. Only problem was that Superman was manipulated by Wonder Woman, so Superman lost it. If Superman were to stop at Joker and told the world what happened I would still love him(well I do but I mean in Injustice) and I’m pretty sure most people will believe him.

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wow, I just used that as an example a few seconds ago.

And Victor Zsasz

I never read a story with penguin. What’s so bad about him?
How do you kill dark seid and Lobo?
The rest I agree 100% add lex luthor as well.

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