Friday, January 23, 2009

What Would Spider-Man Do?

Something that always disappointed me in the Tim Burton Batman movies was that they would have the hero killing the villains (in the case of Batman Returns, somewhat ruthlessly). For me, this was something that really got away from the heart of the character, and most superheroes in general. Pretty much every one of them, including Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, etcetera, all had a strict "no killing" policy. Why? Because that was the thing that separated them from their oponents. It's what made them better than the villains, as the heroes weren't willing to stoop to their level. Of course, there were some odd exceptions like The Punisher, but most folks probably don't know that he started out as an antagonist for Spider-Man and Daredevil before he got so popular that he earned his own series. (And this is ultimately why a Punisher movie will probably never really work - he's not a hero, but they keep trying to make him into one.)

Of course, this isn't exactly a realistic way of looking at the world. If somebody breaks into your house and is trying to kill you, you are well within your rights to try and kill them first. That would hardly count as stooping to their level. However, if you're looking at superhero stories for realism, then you've somehow gotten everything wrong. Still, there is some truth to that lesson though, and that is that you don't lower yourself to defeat an enemy.

That's a lesson that pretty much stuck with me. I once heard the author Harlan Ellison say that a lot of kids learned their values from comic book superheroes. While I credit my parents as being the biggest influence on my values, I'd have to say that right after them comes Spider-Man, Batman, etcetera. Don't get me wrong, it's not like life values are the reason why one should read comics (or The Bible, for that matter), but they're still in there, and they definitely can rub off on us.

Over the past eight years under George W. Bush, I feel as though this country has been a bit more like The Punisher than Spider-Man. Sure, we're on the right side, but we didn't always seem to be acting like the good guys should. What with pre-emptive invasion, torture, and secret prisons, it seems more like we were doing the sorts of things that the bad guys do.

I realize that much of it may very well be symbolic, but I'm starting to feel good about being an American again with Barack Obama putting a stop to torture (or whatever euphamism is currently in fashion for it). Let's forget about the fact that the information we get from torture isn't reliable for a moment. For me, it's a line that we just don't cross. That's what the Saddam Husseins of the world do - not us. And don't give me that scenario where the bomb is about to go off and the only way to find out the location is by torturing a guy. Perhaps I read too many comic books, but if you think that's really going to happen, then you watch too much TV. Also, I'm glad that Obama is closing down Guantanamo. Again, it might be symbolic, but that's been the skull emblem on our chest under the Bush regime. Perhaps it's time to replace it with something that's more fitting the good guys.

And here's the thing - I mentioned before in my blog how cool I thought it was that Obama is a collector of Spider-Man comics. I'll be honest with you; I'm not entirely sure how much I trust that particular story. The source seems to be somewhat dubious. However, I really don't care if it's not true. It's a harmless myth along the lines of George Washington admitting that he chopped down the cherry tree (and unlike the myth of weapons of mass destruction). And the bottom line is, it's what Spider-Man would do.

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