When Transgressing Isn’t

One of the more interesting aspects of writing as a craft is that there really isn’t anything that’s utterly forbidden. Just about anything can be justified in some circumstances – it’s identifying when it’s the right time to break the usual rules that’s the challenge.

This is why an engaging voice and vivid, likable characters can carry a book with serious technical problems. It’s also why being “transgressive” for the sake of transgressing rarely works well in fiction.

To start with, no matter what social norm you think you’re transgressing against, it’s guaranteed that someone, somewhere in the nether hells of fanfiction has already done that. And if you don’t have a solid grasp of craft, someone’s done it better. Hell, even if you do have a solid grasp of craft, someone’s transgressed more impressively than you have.

That’s one of a very few damn near absolute rules I’ve come across (most of them involve hard sciences). No matter how good you are, there is always someone better. And Murphy’s Law suggests that you will encounter that someone better in the most humiliating way imaginable (or not imaginable, since imagination has limits. Life tends to ignore them). It helps to remember this. (Also, if you plan to write smut, it helps a lot to remember that biology imposes certain firm limits on what can be done. Do please research these, since it really doesn’t help your cause to have readers go into fits of hysterical giggling when they try to figure out just how appendage A is going to get into orifice B without breaking something or detaching from its owner).

So yes. There is always someone better. There is always someone smarter than you, someone who knows the field better than you do. Even if you are the undisputed master of your field, you aren’t the master of any other field, and sooner or later, someone will rise to take your place in your field.

This is called life. It doesn’t usually find its way into books for the simple reason that stories tend to focus on the extremes, and the person who has been on top and is facing the rising star is, if they show up at all, usually not the protagonist (that would in most cases be the rising star). But again, even if you want to transgress against this, someone somewhere has done it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t put your own spin on it: there are a very small number of core plots (precisely how many varies depending on who you ask), and a finite number of ways to express them. This is why how you do things matters. It’s the difference between politely asking someone if they could introduce you to their parents because you know a priest who would be delighted to marry them, and shouting “You bastard!” (Of course, you can use the nature of your characters to make a point – when the normally polite person is driven to shouting, “You bastard!”, you know they’re overloaded).

But when – or if – you choose to follow the dark path of Literary Fiction and be transgressive and gender-fluid and all those other buzzwords, you’re going to find that not only have other people done nihilistic despair better than you have, nobody (or almost nobody) wants to read that. This is not because you’ve written it badly, or at least, not necessarily because you’ve written it badly.

It’s because reading to be depressed is something few people choose to do. We want some hope in our diet of misery and despair, because that’s as much a part of being human as anything else. We hope, and we look for something better, and we take our inspiration from those who overcome the horrible. As much as we might sympathize with the ones that can’t manage to escape the crab pot, we humans need to believe that there’s something to aspire to. Something worth fighting for, and yes, if necessary, dying for.

This is “worthy” works deemed by the literary establishment mostly sell like shit.

Me, I prefer to write – and read – things that leave me feeling hopeful and maybe even inspired.

126 thoughts on “When Transgressing Isn’t

        1. Autocorrupt delenda est!
          (didn’t realize that it happened until your comment.)

        2. naah worried bout the speech recognition only understanding quacks

          then i’d have to sell it to a VA doctor. *snort*

  1. The last thing I’ve written is arguably literary, told by a former slave. It’s as close to nihilism as I’ve gotten because while he takes revenge on a villain as vile as they come, he finds no peace in it. Would anyone enjoy reading it? There’s a sense of justice done, and yet . . .

    I don’t know. I’m sitting on the manuscript not knowing where to shop it. Another is waiting on a rejection from Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen seems to be an established mystery writer’s showcase now. If I wrote enough of the things to make an anthology, I’d have to place that between two more upbeat stories. There have been anthologies of stories that downbeat, but I’ve never enjoyed reading them.

    Where did this story come from? I don’t know. I’m sort of dark, anyway. It certainly wasn’t a desire to be “literary.” It just is, and it’s as if the protagonist sat there and told it.

    1. I like David Drake’s Lacey books. I may be the only person on Earth who thinks they’re his best writing. There’s not a heck of a lot of hope in those, except in the sense that what Lacey does, he does because as best he can see, there’s no better options, just terrible and even worse.
      Some of Sarah’s stuff gets pretty dark. Ganymede and Ariadne’s Skeine off the top of my head. The payoff is a zillion years later, in another book.
      Dark can be good in the right hands. It can be exactly what we need at times, because sometimes we just need that we aren’t the only people stuck in a situation, though hopefully not as bad as those stories, where there are no choices that are good choices.

      1. I said all that, and didn’t say: it’s not reading to be depressed, those sorts of stories. It’s reading because that’s where you already are and happy endings seem impossibly untrue, and you don’t want to be alone.

  2. I think there is a big difference between going off the beaten path just because you want to be “edgy” and doing it because that’s the direct line to where the story needs to go. What gave the New Wave its power wasn’t breaking rules just to be breaking them, or because the writers didn’t understand the rules, but being willing to follow the story wherever it needed to go. Sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which, though.

    1. Absolutely. If the story demands you go there, you go there, and you’ll usually have a better outcome than either wussing out or breaking rules for the sake of it.

  3. “It’s because reading to be depressed is something few people choose to do.”

    I think people read to be entertained. Any genre that aspires to make its readers want to slit their wrists is only slitting its own metaphorical ones. Successful genres have fulfilling endings, often with the heroes winning in some way, defeating the bad guy, living to fight another day, etc. The best selling genre (Romance) has a required ending — the HEA, or happily ever after (even if it’s only HEA for now). By definition, if it doesn’t have a HEA it’s not a Romance. Consumers have choices. If books in their chosen genre don’t fulfill their needs they’ll go to film or video games or another genre.

    1. One of the reasons I gave up on comics around 1986-87 was that they were just getting “slit your wrists depressing”. I’ve sampled a bit from time to time since then but have never really been motivated to go back. (I can be drawn back. The MCU demonstrates that. Just print comics haven’t done it.)

      On that note, one of the challenges with series fiction is that you have to keep the pressure on and the tension high or you don’t have a story. But if you don’t relieve the tension it starts turning into Gray Goo. Finding the balance is a challenge. As an example, I’ve been listening to the Jane Yellowrock books on Audible. At one point, as the troubles mounted for the heroine, as tension and frustration built, I was just about to the point of packing it in and was at “I’ll give it one more try”. And, in that next book several of those problems broke. We got a breather, some release of tension (and setting up of the next round of tension). That revived my interest in the series and I pressed on. And, so, I’m waiting for the next one to come out. 😉

      Damn, I wish I could write like that. 😉

      1. I’m not talking about not having tension. Tension is essential. I’m talking about having indeterminate endings like the “hero” realizes he’s not different than the “antagonist” or that there’s no difference between good and evil. Or everybody dies. Or it’s all hopeless. This is one of my big pet peeves with SF. As a genre, I don’t trust it. I trust specific authors to deliver a satisfying ending, but the “New Wave” killed the genre trust for me. In other genres whether it’s dark fantasy or dark romance you know what to expect, and that it’s a stand-alone from the genre as a whole. As a reader I look for escapism, for entertainment, not to be depressed. We have “The [bad] News” for that.

        1. I honestly think they do that because they suck at writing.
          It’s easier to depress people than to uplift them.
          It’s easier to write a ‘bad ending’ than to write one that will make everyone feel good.

          1. Or they don’t care about the person on the other side of the page. Some just love to have that “gotcha” ending and think they’re being clever and avant garde. Fool me once…

            1. The “gotcha” can work, but it takes a hell of a lot of skill (which I personally lack) to make one work at novel length.

              It’s forgivable to build up a short story to an obnoxious pun. I’ve never seen a novel do that in a forgivable way. In the same vein, the idea story works as a short, and not nearly so well as a novel.

          2. If you’re chasing emotional impact, sadness is much easier than happiness, yes.

        2. Lost my first reply to this (I think).

          Tension wasn’t really the right word. I was trying to use a bit of verbal shorthand but it didn’t come out as I intended.

          In fiction you basically have to drag your characters through hell. And, as a general rule, the worse, and more miserable, you make the situation along the way the stronger the story and the sweeter the eventual climax and denouement when they finally overcome all that. Of course, this can be badly done so it’s only a general thing and not an absolute rule.

          The thing where series fiction, with a continuing story (as opposed to “episodic” with stories that may have the same characters but are more self-contained), is that you need to balance keeping the “hell” going, sot the story continues, verses giving the reader some relief so they don’t just get exhausted with the whole thing.

          Jim Butcher does that very well.
          Faith Hunter does it very well indeed.
          GRRM, not so much.

          As it stands, both Butcher and Hunter have me eagerly awaiting their next book in those series long past the point where I stopped caring about Martin’s. Other examples where I stopped caring about the unrelieved misery of the stories were the “reimagined” Battlestar Galactica and, as I alluded to elsewhere here, Marvel and DC comics along about 86-87 or so.

          The truth is, for a long time I took entirely the wrong lesson from those bad examples being so afraid of the reader exhaustion bit that I was unwilling to really put the screws to my characters. I like to think I’ve gotten better at that now. Of course I’m nowhere near as good as Butcher and Hunter but I figure I’m still learning so maybe someday… 😉

          1. Different thresholds of pain, I guess. I couldn’t finish *Changes.* Read the next one, figured out what I’d missed in *Changes,* and concluded I hadn’t missed much. Haven’t seen Harry since.

            Unlike Marvel, I expect Mr. Butcher to reach a conclusion, and a satisfactory one. But I have no desire to wade through to it. Not even to see Harry and Michael and Charity and Waldo again.

        3. But even this can be done well, providing an enjoyable story and delivering catharsis.
          Fight Club being one of the foremost of examples. It checks every box. The hero discovers he’s no different than the villain, it positively revels in nihilism, and there’s no hope to be had anywhere. It’s also fun, popular, etc.

          It’s just extremely hard to do well.
          Especially if you’re a self-righteous prig with a stunted sense of humor.

            1. That thing you just did?
              It’s called virtue signaling.

              It’s very unlikely anyone actually cares whether you’ve read a specific book, or later watched a movie it was adapted into. As Tyler Durden spake: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.”

              1. Wow. Here I am having a discussion about tension and storytelling and you pipe in with nothing but attacks. You know nothing about me yet you call me a self-rightous prig with a stunted sense of humor and now a snowflake. Did you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something? Just because you found an exception to what I’m talking about doesn’t mean I need to embrace it. And it doesn’t mean I’m required to go out and waste my time with it either.

      2. The building and the releasing of tension is actually a very typical thing in quite a few of the arts. I’m studying music and music theory these days (my instructor is a former recording artist) and music is all about building and releasing tension.
        Maybe not always as dramatically as you would think at first, but if a song or a melody doesn’t resolve in the manner that our ear is accustomed to, we won’t like it. And a lot of that has to do with why keys, scales, and modes exist the way they do.
        Music is also full of ‘head fakes’, ‘tricks’, and ‘(plot) devices’ that people have been using forever.
        And like everything else, you have to know the rules before you can break them. It’s really pretty fascinating at how similar writing songs and writing stories really is.

  4. I think this is why so much of the literary military novels (and lit’rary mil-sci-fi) fail so hard for me. The never-ending nihilism, angst, and slog-through-unending-Sough-of-Despond-for-no-reason are not just depressing as h-ll, but are NOT what I’ve heard from people who were in the military, and not what I’ve read in history. Literary? Oh yeah, for certain sets of literary. But I’d rather re-read _We Were Soldiers Once, and Young_ or a Hammer’s Slammers anthology.

    I’ll send characters on an unguided tour of Dante’s Inferno and that Slough of Despond if that’s what the story calls for. But they’re going to flip Old Scratch the bird on their way out.

    1. (Nods) It’s interesting how all anyone hears about in English class is All Quiet on the Western Front, but one very rarely–if ever–hears about the pro-war novels written by men who had served in the trenches.
      Or, for more well-known examples in the SF/F world, see the difference between Tolkien, who went through the Somme–albeit for only a few months, but still–and lost most of his close friends during the war, to George RR Martin, whose closest brush with combat was working in Chicago.

      1. There lies the problem, best shown in the Shattered Vet trope that’s cropped up frequently on TV. How many are written by actual vets or those who know vets?

        The insidious thing is the notion embraced by the Left that there is no real difference between either side, thus the outcome of war is meaningless. I strongly suspect the hand of the Soviets in that mem, which curiously grew to flower during the Cold War, but it could also have come from the post WWI feeling. Notice that this is usually not wars like the American Revolution or WWII, though Catch 22 is a notable exception.

        What they fail to grasp is that war is a tool much like any other. A doctor who amputates a limb without cause is a bad one; a doctor who removes a limb rotting from gangrene does a good thing. Both are removing limbs. The difference is whether a thing bad in of itself can offset a worst thing.

        Ah, but they don’t go there because it ruins the narrative. They focus on terrible aspects of war itself, like someone observing an amputation, but never address the idea of cause. And here is why I suspect the hand of the Soviets during the Cold War: The one question that should be asked, is this war just, is never uttered, perhaps because once that causes involved are examined, the premise that all war is meaningless evaporates. And that would never do.

        1. I have a Shattered Vet in some of my stories. She only starts shattered, a goodly part of the story is her friends fixing her. It doesn’t -have- to be depressing.

          I have the Hard Nosed Detective Who Has Seen Too Much too. He gets fixed as well. I’m going to give him his own book to play in, I think.

          All journeys are not the Descent Into Hell, but one would never know that by the bookshelves these days.

          1. Digging out from Hell is often a good story. And sometimes you don’t even need to “fix” the character. Just leave the impression that eventually the character will be able to fix himself/herself/itself.

            1. The problem I have is that I’m stuck there with them living through whatever in my brain. Which I need to have working right for Life (TM).

              So, as a purely selfish measure, if Bad Things happened, they happened a while ago or off screen. Because I only have the one poor old brain here.

              Maybe someday I won’t have to live through the thing I’m writing, but it doesn’t seem to work that way right now. So I’m living through a luau in space, held on a talking space ship, with a half-demonic wolf in a grass skirt, dancing to Glow by Attom. And a pig roast.

              The wolf is presently half dug out of Hell and looking to send some bad guys back there later. After the party, y’know. ~:D

          2. I have a project that I think needs a few characters who are caricatures. (I’m imitating a pattern I don’t really understand.)

            Some sort of disturbed, broken, vietnam war veteran seems to fit the criteria I think I’m using. (A Drake character would not fit.)

            I’ve a sense that I can’t get that character to work. I probably need to go back to the drawing board, and rethink what I’m actually trying to do.

            1. American Vietnam War vets are -old- now. The disturbed, broken ones died in the 1970s and 1980s. You need a Desert Storm vet or Afghanistan.

              1. Not a problem. The other candidates included a Roman centurion and a bronze age Chinese warlord whose new wife has been possessed by a fox.

                The problem is that I can understand how a Drake or Kratman veteran might tick and what they may do, but I haven’t had enough exposure to these other stereotypes to build a living breathing model from them. Not even as poor as what I would have for an ancient Chinese warlord or Roman centurion.

        2. They *can’t* go there because it all falls apart.

          If all wars are inherently unjust, then the person saying this must, by definition, be against the US entering WW2 and making the takedown of Nazi Germany possible (Yes the Soviets could perhaps have managed that without the US. They couldn’t have done it without US support via Lend Lease supplies).

          Since Nazi is their ultimate evil, that one juxtaposition breaks them. And yes, I’d guarantee heavy Soviet involvement. It stinks of their agitprop.

      2. What ‘pro war novels written by men who served in the trenches’? I’d really like to know a few of these titles so I can search them out.

        1. Unfortunately, the ones that I know exist are mostly in German.
          Edwin Dwinger’s “The Last Rider” is one example, but I know there are others.

  5. (Of course, you can use the nature of your characters to make a point – when the normally polite person is driven to shouting, “You bastard!”, you know they’re overloaded).

    Oh. That segues so nicely into some discussions I have had recently regarding Superman and the recent movie incarnations, in particular “Man of Steel.” When fans of Superman object to his callous (as they saw it) killing of Zod some would point out that the comic book Superman did the same. However, in the comics, Superman was long established as not killing. So when a situation arose in which he felt he had no choice but to kill it produced powerful drama. But in the movies, he doesn’t have that. It’s not, “individual who has dedicated his life to protecting all life, even that of his enemies finally force to actually kill” it’s “oh, this guy has killing as his ‘go to.'”

    But, apparently some folk think the Big Blue Boy Scout just isn’t “relevant” today. The individual with such immense power who uses it to protect, to save, and to inspire rather than for self-interest or to rule is “outdated.”


    And that’s why, despite being a DC comics fan from way back, I so much prefer the Marvel movies.

    It’s also why I find so much “trad published” fiction these days truly execrable.

    1. This is an untouched theme in culture these days. What do you do when you have the power to do anything?

      If you have a single brain in your head, you do -nothing-. If you can’t get away with nothing, you do as little as possible. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Very unfashionable. Plus, no one seems to know what it means.

      It means, if you use your great power, you own the results. This is something that gets impressed upon new gun license holders by old crusty bastards like me. You are responsible for every bullet that comes out of your gun. If your bullet goes through three houses and kills the old lady down the block, that killing is on -you-.

      Superman would be super fricking careful in “Real Life”(tm). The movie depicts him as some kind of seat-of-the-pants teenager. Its annoying.

      Writers should talk to a doctor sometime about the use of power. Or a blasting expert. The powerful have to watch where they step.

      1. What do you do when you have the power to do anything?

        Minor nit, Superman never has the “power to do anything”. While extremely powerful, there are things that he can’t do. 😉

        Still, that is a problem with powerful heroes like Superman especially when they are written to be “outside of the law”.

        Even somebody like Batman takes actions that a policeman (or private detective) would be in big trouble if they did them.

        With Batman, the authorities could stop him fairly easy assuming they “caught him in the act”. Of course, in the real world it might be very possible to track Batman because of his gadgets. Somebody has to be manufacturing them and since they aren’t “off-the-shelf” stuff it would be possible to track Batman down via the manufacturer.

        Stopping Superman would be harder and the events in MoS would give the authorities valid reasons to find ways to stop him. Sure he’s on “our side now” but what happens if he “goes bad”? Note, “going bad” can include “doing stuff for our own good” even if we don’t want it.

        Even in the DC comic book world with plenty of superheroes besides Superman, Superman is so powerful that even a group of superheroes would have a hard time stopping him and there would be plenty of damage done (and lives lost) before he was stopped.

        While there is no superhero as powerful as Superman in the Wearing The Cape universe, there are greater numbers of super-beings at the “top of the power scale”.

        One Atlas-type (the closest type to Superman) could cause problems on a local level but there would be plenty of Atlas-types willing to “shut him down” and there are non-Atlas-types who could cause him troubles.

        Mind you, in the Wearing The Cape universe the first superheroes were more than willing to work with the authorities to create ways that they could be useful legally.

        1. That’s why Superman makes every effort to act publicly and within the law, even submitting himself to congressional inquiry in BvS (not his fault that Lex sabotaged it) which leads to another element of the incredibly powerful hero: that he can’t control all the reprecussions of his actions, or how people will react to him. It leads to a constant internal struggle for self-control that I find very interesting.

          1. Not disagreeing with your comments about how Superman “behaves” in BvS because I haven’t seen it. 😉

            However, part of the “acting outside of the law” is that the Superhero often goes beyond the “duty/right of a citizen to react to trouble” into areas that governments would rightly see as “their job” and the Superhero doesn’t follow the rules that government (police) have to follow in doing that job.

            For example, if the police thought Joe Criminal was hiding in a private dwelling, they would have to go to a judge to get a search warrant.

            However, if Superman thought Joe Criminal was hiding in that private dwelling, he’d just “search” the dwelling with his X-Ray vision.

            Illegal Search anybody. 😀

            1. True, Superman might get that information extra-legally, but he’s unable to act on it. We’re a bit early in the DCMUniverse, but in other incarnations, there’s a running theme of Superman working with the government and police in an official capacity, and later a tension between the governments of Earth and the JLA. The exploration of that relationship is an interesting aspect of the stories.

              That was another theme in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns: how Superman has become a tool of the government.

        2. “Minor nit, Superman never has the “power to do anything”. While extremely powerful, there are things that he can’t do.”

          He can’t unscramble an egg. That we leave for magical creatures and such.

          Have you seen One Punch Man? Its hysterical!

      2. What you and LOTS of other people leave out of that equation is that you have to ALSO own the results of INACTION.

        Batman is directly responsible for every one of Joker’s victims after he knew that Joker was an incurable monster, because his first action afterward should have been to put a bullet through Joker’s head and dissolve the body. He decided not to. That decision and it’s results are now his fault.

        1. Joker’s survival is the fault of the writers.

          As even if Batman didn’t “kill the Joker”, there are plenty of people who would see the Joker as a danger and take action.

          IE “Accidents” happening to the Joker while in police custody. Various Crime Leaders putting a “hit” on the Joker.

          By the way, the writers of “The Law of Superheroes” have definitely stated that the Joker isn’t “legally insane” so could be executed for his crimes in any location that has the Death Penalty.

          1. The Joker can’t die: he sells too many books, video games and movie tickets and gets too many eyes on the TV screens.

            1. If Batman were to kill the Joker, as an execution as opposed to “things happen in fights” or self defense, then what about the next case? Sure, he’s certain of Joker’s guilt and Joker keeps getting out again, and again, and again. But would not the same be said of Killer Croc (as just one example)? Just go down his rogues gallery. Which of these people keep getting out to kill again?

              Once Batman makes the decision to decide, for himself, that “this person is too dangerous to let live” it becomes that much easier to make the same decision for the next, and the next, and the one after that. And each time it becomes that much easier to be “sure” that the person “deserves it”. And then sooner or later he’ll be wrong. And instead of executing a recidivist criminal who will surely escape to kill again, it will be the murder of someone who isn’t.

              There’s a reason for rule of law and due process before making such decisions. And there’s a reason we don’t get to go all “DIY” simply because we don’t like the results of said due process and rule of law.

              Now, an argument could be made that Bruce Wayne (vs. Batman) is at least partially at fault. The Joker is just a person. Crazy, but a person. He has no super powers. He isn’t super intelligent. He can’t turn into a mist and float through the bars of his prison. He can’t take a notepad, pen, and pencil and convert them into an explosive device to blow a hole in the wall and escape*. He’s just a person. So why hasn’t Wayne brought in an outside consultant to figure out just why the security at Arkham is so porous?

              *In the Superman novel “Last Son of Krypton” by Eliot S. Maggin, narration had that Luthor was given these items (or something similar–long time since I read it) and he could do just that–convert them into an explosive. He could, but also that he never would because the authorities would take away the pen and pad and he wouldn’t have them to jot down ideas. So, you could understand pre-Crisis Luthor escaping all the time if he needs that little to fabricate devices for escape (or, of course, has plans in place outside the prison to break him out), but Joker? By all realistic rights he should be locked up and never see daylight again.

              1. As I mentioned, as written the Joker isn’t “Legally Insane” so could be executed without problems because of his “insanity”.

                I’m sure that they’d be idiots who would still try to prevent his execution. 😦

                1. I do remember a story in the Animated/Diniverse Batman comics where some Gotham millionaire has his family killed by the Joker. He then puts a $100 million bounty on old Pasteface. So of course Batman decides to protect the Joker. Man, even Alfred was calling him a freaking idiot.

                  It ends with Batman forcing the businessman to confront the Joker and offering to let him kill the Joker. But only him. So the millionaire backs down and the Joker skips off into the night to murder more people.

                  Yeah, lousy story.

                2. In Miller’s graphic novel, there were in fact people who were doing that.
                  They’d feel right at home at Vile770.

              2. “There’s a reason for rule of law and due process before making such decisions. And there’s a reason we don’t get to go all “DIY” simply because we don’t like the results of said due process and rule of law.”

                And if you believe that, there should never ever be a vigilante character in your writing, because a vigilante, by definition, is motivated by the fact that those systems have broken down and are not providing Justice as well as Law.

                We are coming perilously close to proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that breakdown is happening in the real world in the US. It’s a goodly portion of why you got Trump, and what we’re seeing at play from our supposed civil servants is hardening that conviction still further. How many more “Milo riots” with people getting beaten and pepper sprayed with cops looking the other way do you suppose it will take?

                1. And if you believe that, there should never ever be a vigilante character in your writing

                  Why not? Do you really think that I have to agree with all my characters? Or that the worlds I write about are all ones that I think should be models for the “real world”? Something can make an interesting and exciting story without being something I’d want to see in reality.

                  Also, when people use the world “vigilante” they bring to it the connotation of the lynch mob going after someone they “know” is guilty without the benefit of things like fair trials and other due process. Then they’ll go around and use the word in a more general meaning of someone who apprehends criminals to turn over to law enforcement, which, while I can’t speak to every State is actually legal in Indiana: there is specific language in the Indiana code that permits people to use force to apprehend someone in the commission of a crime. The main difference between the law for “regular people” and the similarly worded law for sworn officers is that the latter have more leeway in when they’re allowed to use lethal force.

                  Now, a “vigilante” like Batman does break the law and the only reason that works in the story is because of writer’s favor. Batman is declared “worlds greatest detective” so he’s rarely wrong, he rarely if ever “misuses” information gathered by violating people’s privacy (which is actually admissible in court because he’s not an officer of the law), and his actions only harm “innocents” enough for the writers to allow him to properly angst over it for dramatic purposes.

                  None of that, of course, would work in the real world. But it’s fine for a story that’s from the beginning presumed to operate from different rules from our own. None of that changes that there are also justifiable reasons for Batman to draw his line where he does and to stick to it even when he’s “really sure” that it would be better “in this case” to cross that line because once crossed it becomes that much easier to cross it again. Indeed, that he crosses all kinds of other lines all the time might actually offer motivation to hold even more firmly to this one because once that’s crossed it becomes just another rule to ignore when “necessary” for “the mission” and Batman becomes every bit as much a monster as the people he’s fighting. It’s his way of saying, and meaning, “I’m not like them.”

                2. Yes, the Vigilante hero works best in a situation where there isn’t a good system of law/justice.

                  Of course, there is also the hero who is in a situation where the system of law/justice (while otherwise good) can’t handle the situation thus has to take action himself.

                  In Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos (in the last segment) the main characters correctly believe that the government bureaucracy will tie itself in knots trying to figure-out how to handle the kidnapping from hell.

                  They take effective actions without waiting for governmental help.

                  There are other “border-line” vigilante types like the heroes of the traditional monster stories. Since the system of law/justice doesn’t know monsters actually exist and the heroes would be thought insane if they tried to involve the police, then the heroes have to act outside of the system.

                  But since this “sub-thread” was talking about super-heroes, I’d say that my taste in super-hero stories is going away from the traditional vigilante superhero.

                  The problem with super-vigilantes is they can become as dangerous as the criminals they hunt.

                  In the Wearing The Cape series universe, there were only two vigilante heroes mentioned.

                  One kept her actions low-key enough that the police (and the official superheroes) didn’t really concern themselves with her actions.

                  She later “came over” to the Light.

                  The other, later called The Hammer, was a “one shot” vigilante.

                  After a mob put out a hit on a superheroes which killed him and his family, The Hammer showed up to completely destroy that mob (as in kill them all).

                  The various US based mobs took the lesson to heart. They may kill superheroes who are acting in the line of duty but they never attack superheroes “off duty” especially if the superhero’s families are endangered.

                  1. Larry Niven once wrote a comedy of sorts (he admitted it started as a farce and then kinda changed) in which a Mike Hammer clone was headed for the classic bloodbath climax with a gangboss–and an alien anthropologist showed up and started asking him about the local customs and how they led to this kind of violence.

                    Being Larry Niven, he couldn’t make even a cheesy vigilante pretending to be a private eye that was pure cardboard, so he ended up sort of justifying the Punisher mindset within the story world. The “hero’s” position was that “Mr. Big” was (through bribery, influential friends, etc.) above the law. The only real check on him was someone willing to work *outside* the law.

                    -And what acts as a check on *you*?-

                    -I’m *outside* the law, not *above* it. I get caught, they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key. You don’t take that chance unless it’s important!-

                    It was an interesting take, at least.

    2. I thought MoS handled Superman’s struggle very well. It helped that the movie makers obviously assumed viewers were familiar with Superman and so ‘establishment’ wasn’t quite so necessary (much as BvS could show Batman’s origin in a quick moment or two) and portraying Zod as a more three dimensional villain with understandable motives helped in showing the difficulty of Supermans decision.

      1. I thought the killing itself was fairly well done in the movie – Supes could not stop Zod from killing the human family otherwise so he really didn’t have a choice.

        What I didn’t like was the way the fight destroyed the city, and the fact that Superman didn’t seem to try very hard to get Zod away from it, or didn’t seem that much affected by the destruction afterwards. Maybe, if you look at it that way, you could see him killing Zod to protect the family as sort of last straw thing, because their fight, and Zod and his accomplices, had already killed so many humans before and Superman had been unable to stop them from doing it he could no longer stand the idea of one more death, and was finally willing to kill to stop it from happening.

        Frankly, if he still HADN’T been willing to kill Zod, in spite of all those deaths Zod had caused, that would have been a big disappointment to me, and probably turned me off from this movie version of Superman completely. Because after what had happened already in the movie it would have made it look kind of as if he would have been willing to sacrifice any amount of lives as long as it meant he personally didn’t have to kill…

        But I would have preferred that movie with a bit less destruction. Especially destruction which was caused partially by Superman himself. He used to be the feel good superhero, the hero who always got there in time to stop the bad things from happening, and that movie as a whole turned the story a bit too dark for me. So, that he had to kill the bad guy was not the problem, that countless others, in the innocent bystander category, did die even if we weren’t shown much of that (except a bit in the next movie, Superman v Batman) was.

        1. I’ve got to run to an appointment, but consider this: for perhaps the first time in his mythology (I’m speaking not just of the movie itself, but of the entire history of Superman movies, which the public is surely aware of) Superman was in a situation where there was literally no way to avoid the loss of life and destruction.

          Zod had made it abundantly clear that he meant to wipe out the entire human race. He wouldn’t have pursued Superman if he tried to lead him away. Zod would immediately fly back to any populated area and force Superman to follow HIM there.

          For every minute Zod is still active, the body count rises.

          So for the first time in his mythology, Superman is in a situation where he has to go all out with everything he has, no matter that there are people who are the consistency of tissue paper compared to him all around, because Zod needs to be put down at all costs otherwise the body count wont stop rising. Go all out and do it now, or face the exponentially higher death toll that will come with doing it later.

          And that tore Superman apart.

          It’s a tricky line to walk: putting a hero in a situation where he has no choice but to ignore or violate his principles, but the way to navigate it and make for good writing is to make it clear that while he’s VIOLATING those principles out of necessity, he hasn’t ABANDONED those principles, which we see in BvS with his efforts redress the damage and protect the innocent.

        2. What I didn’t like was the way the fight destroyed the city, and the fact that Superman didn’t seem to try very hard to get Zod away from it, or didn’t seem that much affected by the destruction afterwards.

          That’s why the first Avengers movie was a huge difference; and the way that the deaths they couldn’t prevent was used as a knife to twist in the gut was just pure manipulative cruelty. They tried their damndest to keep the body count and the area of destruction down and yes, people died, lots of people died.

          I’m one of those people who thought “they tried to minimize it and there is no zero casualty battle zone. But they tried to save as much as they could.” Couldn’t fault them for that.

          1. Lex manipulated Superman in much the same way in BvS, along with Batman, and with much more malevolence and maliciousness.

            At least with the Avengers you get that the government kind of has a point: government oversight and the Avengers acting as an official arm of the law would have benefits.

            In either case, it speaks to the good conscious of the heroes that they would allow themselves to be manipulated so.

      2. The problem was it was this Superman’s first outing. He has no long established code against killing. In killing Zod, he’s not being driven past his established limits. This is where they’re establishing the limits. If it had been something like a third movie, where they’d established Superman as the Big Blue Boy Scout in the first two.

        Maybe they had the idea that people would “transfer” the comic book (and Reeve’s) Superman’s character to this one and realize that this indicates just how far Superman was pushed. What he got was people reacting to this and saying that this was not the Superman they loved. The “good guy” who is totally serious when he says he’s fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way isn’t established in this character. He’s basically Miller’s Dark Knight in a red and blue body suit.

        And, given Zack Snyder’s complaining about people “clinging to Reeve’s version”, in so many words, indicates that that was exactly what he was doing. His Superman wasn’t the Boy Scout pushed beyond limits. His Superman was a darker, more violent Superman that, frankly, people are right not to trust.

        1. Even Miller’s Dark Knight stuck to his “no killing” rule. Note that the Joker’s final trick is breaking his own neck to frame Batman for murder.

          1. Too many people have this ‘all or nothing’ mindset. Either its Spiderman, who refuses to take a sentient life under any circumstances, even a mad dog like Carnage who needs to be put down, or a take-no-prisoners killer like Punisher.

            That’s why I love the Ben Affleck Batman: he’ll bring the bad guys in if at all possible, but wont shy from engaging in lethal force in a pitched fight.

        2. My own response was that this Superman meshed well with the versions I grew up with, both Reeve and in the Superman and Justice League animated series and even Smallville, and I never saw him engage in any violence that wasn’t strictly necessary.

          And in Justice League and Smallville Superman’s had his dark moments, so MoS didn’t come out of the blue (red white and blue, so to speak)

          The only real flaw I saw in the MoS movie that the Reeve movie did better was the death of Jonathan Kent. The MoS father death was pointless: there was no reason for Clark not to save him, and he could’ve done so easily, moving too swiftly too be seen.

          The Reeve movie was much better: a heart attack, showing that no matter how powerful Superman was, there are some things he just can’t control.

          But then the Reeves movie completely ruined it with that circling-the-planet time reversing thing, but let’s not talk about that.

          1. this Superman meshed well with the versions I grew up with

            The problem is that they were taking the kind of things that were exceptional cases from the existing Superman mythos and making them the standard. And this was a deliberate change from “Reeve’s Superman” (given Zack Snyder’s complaint about people clinging to Reeve’s version). It’s one thing when you have a character with a long established and deeply held code against killing (something someone with the power of Superman can get away with under circumstances that us ordinary folk can’t) and then drive them to the point where they have to break that code. It’s quite another when that’s the standard for the new version of the character.

            Also consider the collateral damage. Note Superman II (Reeve’s again). A re-powered Superman engages Zod & Co. After a brief fight in Metropolis, Superman notes the growing collateral damage. His response? To “run away”, in reality change the venue to avoid more harm to innocents. (Again, not always an option to us mortal types.) In MoS, he’s more interested in beating the opponent than in protecting the innocent.

            I’m just not seeing the kindness and compassion that, fully as much as his powers, is a defining characteristic of Superman.

            I just cannot see Snyder’s Superman being the Superman from, say, “Superman and the Jumper”:

            As just one example.

            1. I could see the Snyder Superman in Superman and the Jumper.

              And I’d disagree that this is the new standard: Yes, the Reeve Superman could turn away and leave the field to Zod, but if the Snyder Superman had fled, Zod would have killed everyone. He wouldn’t have happily waited until every last human being was dead, then saved Superman himself for last.

              In that case, the only way to save innocent people WAS to focus on beating Zod here and now at all costs.

              And true: it’s a scenario Snyder deliberately set up, but I found that it developed organically and it was a scenario I’d never seen in any other Superman movie

              And I disagree that it’s the new standard: the prevailing theme of BvS was the need for Superman to redress this and earn the trust of the people, as well as the unintended consequences of creating an enemy in Batman, and the only way Batman came close to killing Superman was that Superman kept trying to reason with him when he could have easily squashed Batman like a bug, and so gave Batman the opportunity to use his Kryptonite weapons.

              As Superman said to Lois in the extended version: “No one stays good,” and that’s the challenge he has to overcome, and he does! Not only for himself, but inspiring Batman too!

              1. And I’d disagree that this is the new standard

                We’re not going to agree on that because Snyder, in complaining about people “clinging to Reeve’s version” essentially admitted that it is. Somebody may come later and decide to take it back to late silver age, early bronze age, Christopher Reeve’s version of Superman but that will be a retcon if not an out and out reboot.

        3. They had to make Lex Luthor much less interesting as a direct result.
          (Also, to minimize “not so different” of well-intentioned extremists Luthor and Batman.)
          If Superman’s actions are not entirely above reproach, then the stock Luthor of the current age has a very valid point.

            1. If self-reliance is a virtue, then Lex Luthor is well-intentioned.
              If proactively dealing with likely threats is virtuous, then Luthor is virtuous in this specific regard.

              If there is the slightest hint of darkness to Superman, then he really is a major threat to humanity. Especially so once people and institutions begin relying on him.
              And the Utilitarian ethos of the movie is chock full of darkness.

              Lex Luthor became such a compelling character because (at least in his modern incarnation) he has a valid point. And much of what he does can legitimately be argued to be for the benefit of mankind. It’s the means, not necessarily the ends, that make him a villain.

              1. Ehh. His motive rant to Lois deconstructs his motivations pretty thoroughly–and did his character a grave disservice, IMO. Turning him from someone with legitimate concerns who goes way too far into a ranting madman took away from the point of the movie.

                1. The concerns might have been legitimate, but in none of his incarnations in any medium has Lex ever genuinely held these concerns. They were only ways to trick other people into helping him against Superman. His motive has always been hatred of anything more powerful and beloved than himself.

                  1. I don’t remember that sentiment ever being expressed by the character, it seems to be merely your interpretation of the character’s motives.

                    Your interpretation fits The Riddler perfectly, but you’ve never seen him lending the heroes an unexpected hand at a critical moment. Luthor has. On many, many occasions.

                    1. Never? I’ve seen him express that sentiment often in several mediums, particularly in cases where he works with the government and Amanda Waller, and when he does help the heroes, it’s always self-preservation, the ability to get some profit to himself, and he lends his aid in ways that show everyone how great he is.

                    2. Nod.

                      In the comics, Luthor once gave Superman some Kryptonite to deal with a Kryptonian god after he tried to get her on his side.

                      She made it clear to Luthor that she didn’t like him so Luthor decided to aid Superman.

                    3. Luthor, like Doom for Marvel, has often been written as smart enough to realize that it’s sometimes appropriate to work with his “enemies” in order to deal with a worse (from his perspective, for whatever reason) problem.

              2. Lex’s motive was hubris and envy. He wanted ‘God’ to bow before him, and then to kill ‘God.’ Everything else: his justifications and rationalizations about the ‘threat’ of Superman, were just that: justifications and rationalizations to get otherwise good people on his side.

                If he really considered Superman a threat and was afraid of what he might do, then why go to the risk of framing him for deaths and pushing him and provoking him like Lex does.

                The most telling element: Lex knows that threatening innocent people and people that he loves is the best way to get to Superman, and that the only way Batman can stand a chance against Superman is Superman’s unwillingness to kill him. At no point in the fight did Superman really try to kill Batman, he was trying to reason with him and tell him the truth all the way through.

                1. You’re bringing the movie into this, despite my explicitly stating that they had to make Luthor much less interesting in the movie to accommodate a flawed Superman?

                  I don’t think that’s a good way to convince people of your stance.

                  1. I’m pointing out that his core motivation remains the same. I’m saying Lex has always behaved that way in all of his incarnations. He has consistently tried to frame Superman for crimes and provoke him into committing crimes, and he’s got to know that he wouldn’t be able to manipulate Superman as he does if Superman didn’t try his best to hold to his principles, thus Lex understands that his own proclaimed reasons are without basis.

  6. Hear hear!

    If I wanted to be depressed, is read the news. I want to see the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and to be entertained along the way.

      1. Exactly. I don’t read news for relaxation. I read fiction for that and if I’m relaxing I don’t want misery and horrible things.

  7. I’ve actually put off books that are heavy or I know will be depressing because I have to be in particular mood to read depressing. Most of the time, I need my happy ending. I’m actually the same in writing. I can write very depressing stories, but most of them are short. My long form stories, even the ones that are very dark throughout the story, tend to end on an optimistic note. I don’t mind torturing characters, but with few exceptions, I hate leaving them depressed.

    1. Torturing characters is acceptable. No hope at all… not so much.

      I can’t read depressing books any more. I had to donate my Stephen Donaldson books because I simply couldn’t force myself to look at them.

      Of course, I *was* deep in Angsty Teen when I first read them. That kind of thing leaves a mark

  8. I can confirm done before and better on the fanfic front. Ranma fanfiction is one reason why I haven’t been at all impressed by the gender shocking to be shocking stuff.

    I’ve been rereading one of my favorites, and had some inspiration for a project of my own. I don’t understand how to give that project tension and problems, without grimdarking and grey gooing it. It is either something I can figure out how to address, or I baked flaws deep into the core assumptions.

    Try many times, perhaps fail many times, but learn from failures.

    Not like I don’t have other things to fix.

    1. Oh yeah. Fanfic transgresses EVERYTHING. Sometimes all at once. In the same fic. With the same character.

  9. There is a market for slit-your-wrists depressing. My mother-in-law seems to favor it; if she talks about a movie she likes, I’m pretty much guaranteed to hate it for that reason.

    I don’t really *get* it–but it’s sincere and I accept that.

    (Meanwhile, folk seem to frequently dislike what I favor as goofy and shallow. But I’m entirely all right with being seen as childish.)

    1. People vary in their emotional range, and in what emotion a given stimulus will evoke.

      I don’t read Horror to be frightened, I’ve always been able to do that fine on my own. Horror can work for me if I can read it as another genre.

      Something that is super depressing for a lot of people likely has a narrow market.

      1. Heh. I like horror – when it has a happy ending, the monster gets defeated, the end of the world is avoided, the hero saves the girl or the girl the hero and they have their HEA…

        LIke it used to be, way more often, before. There was maybe lots of “everybody dies and the monster prevails” stories, but there were happy endings stories too.

        Unfortunately now a bad ending seems to be a requirement for horror, most or everybody dies and so on. Even if it seems to end well there is usually that “BUT…” moment added in the end. Worse with movies, but happens too often with novels too, even indie. What gets called dark fantasy can be a bit better when it comes to endings, but not often enough.

        So I guess I should say I would like horror, if only it was just a bit different. Fortunately there are now again at least some stories, like Ringo’s Black Tide universe ones. 🙂

        1. When it’s more adventure than horror, I’m good with it.

          *True* horror is bloody hard, though. I recall reading something from Stephen King a long time ago, about writing when he talked about the difference between horror, terror, and gross-out. A hell of a lot of what’s marketed as horror is actually gross-out or terror.

          1. We tried to watch The Cell lately, and as soon as the horrible parts happened, I realized something so horrible, I couldn’t help but gasp

            “How many children died?”

            How many children were being videotaped by their families, how many were being Skyped, how many kids were talking to friends, how many babies and small children were suddenly picked up by what had been adoring mothers and fathers or grandparents and beaten into a pulp, bitten to death, eaten alive, smashed against walls?

            My husband picked up on my horror right there and then, and said “I’m done.” Because as soon as I said it, he saw the same things I did.

            We stopped watching it. And haven’t been able to watch the movie since. I can watch movies like Resident Evil, or read books like I Don’t Want To Kill You or watch a series like Dexter fine – because the evil isn’t banal. The sociopath has lines he doesn’t cross.

            1. Don’t ever watch the Torchwood series Children of Earth. Damned well-written, and they don’t shy away from the total horror of the situation, but the worst part is how the (U.K.) government decides to basically sacrifice the children of the poor to save their worthless backsides.

              I maintain that it is excellently done. I will never watch it again.

          2. One of my favorite actual “horror” books is the Dracula novel. The violence is more implied than directly depicted, it used mood more than gore to set the stage. Stoker’s Dracula was, in many ways a lot more dangerous than most movie depictions. Stoker really understood the power of the try-fail cycle. But the real thing I liked was that it wasn’t an “idiot plot” like so many “horror” stories are. Sure, the characters made mistakes, but they were reasonable mistakes given the time and place. (“Protecting” Mina by keeping her out of their counsels was the biggest one in that vein.) And in the end, despite the mistakes but based on just, plain, good solid effort the good guys won. Unlike movies where they pull a Deus Ex Machina to have the vampire go off into the sunrise unscathed, or only slightly scathed. (I’m looking at you 1979 version.)

            But the thing I really liked about it, and something I only appreciated on my recent reread and not when I first read it so many years ago, was the masterful way Stoker had his characters operating with incomplete information and the consequences of that incomplete information. And the reasons for that incomplete information make sense to the story. Jonathan doesn’t recognize what’s happening to Mina after Dracula got invited into the building by Renfield because he didn’t see what happened to Lucy. But the others, who did see what happened to Lucy, don’t see Mina because she was excluded from their counsels to “protect” her. That was a whole lot more impressive writing than I gave it credit for.

            And I’ve wandered away from my original topic. It was a solid story, with a satisfying ending, and not the gorefest or despairfest that so much “horror” is these days.

            1. Yes, it was. Most of the movies – to coin a phrase – sucked. The one that came closest in my opinion was the execrable one with Gary Oldman as Dracula. It might have had more mistakes than a dog has fleas, but it did a damn good job of keeping the mood of the book and the characters (mostly) doing their best with flawed/incomplete information.

              1. I’m most partial to the Hammer version with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Because Christopher Lee.

                1. Lee is always amazing, though I also enjoy the 1931 Lugosi version and Murnau’s Nosferatu. I prefer my vampires as monsters. Tragic monsters, but monsters.

          3. What’s interesting to me is how often effective horror writers are really sweet and gentle souls when you meet them face to face. I’ve heard a lot of good things about King, as well as Ray Bradbury and Gene Wolfe. it makes sense: to create characters you care about and put them through hell, the writers themselves have to care.

            Perhaps that’s the reason why self-proclaimed nihilists rarely evoke much emotion from me.

        2. Way too many people have fallen for HP Lovecraft and his “style” without realizing that he was profoundly depressed and not a role model.

          1. When I did “Big Blue” it was deliberately set out as kaiju vs. Lovecraftian Horror. Only on the Lovecraftian side, my characters kept insisting on finding ways to take effective action.

            I may believe in the no-win scenario, but I don’t believe in the “give up” scenario. 😉

      2. A lot of what I can best describe as dark fantasy in a real-world setting with detective elements gets mistakenly classified as horror.

        For me, there’s ‘fun’ horror, and there’s ‘horror’ horror.

        Fun horror is thrilling and sometimes has a sense of wonder to it.

        Horror horror makes you want to slit your wrists afterward because you don’t want to exist in a world where such things are possible. Or makes you root for the destruction of said world and all it’s wretched inhabitants.

        And the story usually involves little kids and/or animals.

        One really effective example of horror is Gene Wolfe’s “The Death of Doctor Island.” By the time you get to the end, the realization of what this sci fi future world values and requires of its inhabitants made me recoil on a visceral level.

        1. There’s the Lovecraftian type horror- there’s horrible things out there, best if you don’t look too close, because the scope of the dangers will drive you insane. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

  10. “It’s because reading to be depressed is something few people choose to do.”
    Not to mention you will never but never beat history and the news when it comes to reading to be depressed.

    1. That. Very much. Bad endings, or things in general going badly is what I EXPECT. Because that’s the way it too often seems to go in real world. So when it comes to stories – I need the release of getting the unexpected in the end. The win. The HEA. Especially when the story has managed to rise the tension successfully before. Even when I KNOW I’m reading, or watching, something which most likely, or even almost certainly will have the uplifting ending it is still, always, a bit of a surprise, a good one, for me.

      1. There is a difference between “weepies” written for catharsis wallows, bleak stories written for the interest of hitting out at theworld, and your truly depressing stuff.

        1. Hoo yeah. Catharsis wallowing has a place and can be found in plenty in fanfic feels-fests. Ditto the “fuck you world, you’ll miss me when I’m gone”. The truly depressing stuff is just… bleah.

          Still, if that’s someone’s thing, they’re welcome to it. (I rather suspect at least part of the appeal is the “it’s not happening to ME” factor). Just don’t try to infest me with it.

          1. It also seems to be what people whose lives have, so far, been pretty easy sometimes seem to like. The kind of teen thing, when what happens to them can seem pretty small and insignificant to an adult, but world shattering to them simply because they haven’t gotten used to bad stuff happening yet. Those ones who have been perhaps overprotected by their parents, and have now gotten to the age where their parents can no longer fully protect them from their failures or from the reality of the world in general.

            And the depressing stories seem to seem profound to them simply because they are depressing, and so fit with their recent discovery that the life of an adult is not always so easy, horrible things do happen and bad people often don’t get punished at all.

            Some grow out of it and discover the meaning of hope, others get stuck and never really seem to get past that stage, and keep on believing that nihilistic is the grown-up thing, and everybody who isn’t is just being naive.

  11. My observation is that a lot of work that is currently trumpeted as “transgressive”, “daring”, “innovative” and all that plus a bag of chips is, well, usually a rehash of something that someone had already done earlier, and often times far better in the past.

      1. If all you got is “epater les bourgeoisie”, you kind of eventually run out of ways to shock people.

  12. Slightly off topic but does involve “transgressing”.

    Basically, I have some thoughts on “Heroes who kill”.

    Generally, I have no problems with story heroes who “kill in the line of duty”.

    IE Soldiers especially, Policemen who have to take down dangerous criminals, and even civilians who get caught up in dangerous situations.

    The problem is with the Vigilante, which applies to almost all superheroes.

    Now I understand the appeal for the Vigilante. The person/persons who deals with “bad guys” in ways that official law-enforcement people can’t. Who here didn’t like Charles Bronson’s character in “Death Wish”?

    Yet, the Vigilante can very easily “go bad”.

    One of the implied reasons IMO that society turned to official law-enforcement to deal with violators of laws/social norms was to prevent “private justice where the wrong people were killed” or “private justice that goes too far”.

    It’s one thing for Charles Bronson’s character to put himself into situations where a mugger might attempt to rob him and to kill the attempted mugger but another thing if Charles Bronson’s character walked the streets at night and shot people he “thought were muggers”. Of course, if the character saw potential muggers and followed them until they attempted to rob people, then killing the muggers might be better. 😉

    As a character, Batman is also a “great detective” so he would be fairly sure that the person he “deals with” is an actual criminal whose crimes haven’t been discovered.

    Yet, what if he’s wrong?

    We don’t allow Police Detectives to execute criminals that they have good reasons to believe are guilty so why would we allow Batman to execute criminals?

    Of course, if Batman is actively fighting the Joker and the Joker gets killed in the fight, I doubt that many here would think worse of Batman.

    But do we really want a Bat-Assassin who goes around executing people he believes is guilty?

    It’s one thing if the hero has little choice between killing or being killed especially if innocents are involved, but I think heroes should not be the “judge and jury” to decide that somebody deserves to die.

    The problem gets worse IMO when the hero has “powers beyond mortal men”.

    The Flash could “quickly” kill every major leader of organized crime in his city but should we allow him to do so?

    And where does the “hero” stop?

    The superhero is traditionally bound only by his moral code, but what happens if his moral code is twisted either from the beginning of his career or as he goes along in his career?

    I had a fictional assassin (non-super) who started out bound by a code that he would only assassinate somebody that somebody else thought “deserved to die” and he thought “deserved to die”.

    He quit being an assassin after he killed an innocent that the person who hired him “just wanted out of the way”.

    He realized that he was getting addicted to the “thrill of killing” so after providing proof of who hired him to the appropriate authorities (without identifying himself), he retired from the assassination game.

    1. It’s a difficult question, which is what makes stories about it interesting.

      The eventual solution in my universe (only about 1M words from where I am now) is voluntary conditioning and there is a tribe of them to keep an eye on each other. Not all that different than the Valdemar Heralds, but without the magic horses.

      1. The Lensmen were something like that. The selection process was incredibly rigorous (Kinnison was part of a graduating class of–what, ten?–out of ten thousand freshmen. If you got past the second year, you were guaranteed a position in the Patrol.) After they’d washed out everyone they could break, they started washing out everyone they could get to compromise. Including putting them in the way of honey traps and bribery attempts by billionaires. You only got a Lens if you’d *proven* you couldn’t be bribed, couldn’t be seduced, couldn’t be intimidated, and wouldn’t back down on your principles.

        And they found out even that wasn’t enough. The look on the Admiral’s face when Kinnison deduced that the Arisians had been “disappearing” Lensman candidates that were actually Boskonian plants…

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