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The Moral Imperatives of Wonder Woman

For those looking for my next Infinite Crisis speculation post, I'm afraid that you're going to have to wait until Sunday or Monday. A combination of Rosh Hashana and the Ig Nobel Award Ceremony made it difficult for me to read through all the tie-in comics deeply enough to make further speculations. (Although I am amazed at the revelation of Donna Troy's status as the Anti-Harbinger.) So to give everyone something to think about while waiting for my final speculation before Infinite Crisis #1 hits the stores next week, I thought I'd open up a discussion about the recent choice made by Wonder Woman.

To recap, as part of the events surrounding The OMAC Project, Maxwell Lord took control of Superman's mind, fooling him into almost killing Batman by making him think Batman was one of many villains threatening Lois's life. When Wonder Woman finally confronted Lord, he told her that the only way to make him give up control of Superman would be by killing him.

And so she killed him.

The repurcussions are being felt throughout the other comics. In Wonder Woman #221, released this week, the world finds out what she did before she has a chance to turn herself in to an international tribunal, and people's loss of trust in her becomes evident. Although both Superman and Batman benefited from her actions, they have distanced themselves from her. Diana has become that one thing a superhero never should become: a killer.

But is she a murderer?

Wonder Woman has often viewed herself as a soldier in a war. Soldiers in war kill without committing murder; it's entirely possible that one could justify her actions under that perspective. Even Superman seemed intent on killing Doomsday when there appeared to be no other choice.

On the other hand...she did have other options. She could have brought Lord to Zatanna for a magical lobotomy. Or she could have found a way to keep him unconscious until they had a chance to figure out a form of safe incarceration. From that perspective, her actions might be considered morally repugnant, saved only by the defense that she killed him in the heat of the moment, without really having a chance to ponder her other options.

So...was Wonder Woman justified? Were her actions moral?

What do you think?

Comments

Since you're a writer, and since it's an issue of clarifying the meaning, I trust it's OK to nitpick this:
she has a chance to turn herself into an international tribunal


That should be "turn herself in to an international tribunal," shouldn't it?
Fixed. Now let's see some discussion of the question...
Here's the problem: super-heroes don't kill. Why? Because killing is wrong. Which is it. Except that cops kill in the line of duty when necessary. And soldiers kill. The distinction between hero and everyone else doesn't really ring true sometimes. No, I don't want all the heroes to emulate the Punisher. But it makes no sense for all of them to think this way.

(OK, the real reason heroes don't kill is that they are not deputized by the law, and thus their actions would be murder - or at least manslaughter - under the law. As silly as the Trial of the Flash was back in 1984, it wasn't entirely wrong to assume that a hero could be tried for such actions. But let's ignore that for now.)

So I can live with Wonder Woman killing Max Lord. It's not murder. She IS a soldier. To be honest, I think that this should have been a source of conflict between her and the rest of the heroic community for years. And as a soldier, she did what whe thought was needed. Max was a threat. Now he's dead, and that's it for the threat. And I have to say, I think that any other alternative might have come up short, given how powerful Max's mind control got, and how ineffective mind-wiping seems to be.

What I can't live with is the holier-than-thou attitudes given to Supes and Batman about this. Anyone else remember Batman clsoing the door on the KGBeast int he semi-classic "Ten Nights of the Beast"? Anyone else remember Supes killing the Pocket Universe's Zod and friends?

At the very least, the three should try to talk it out like adults. The tension between the Big Three feels artificial. The one problem I have with the build-up to the Crisis is that everyone is acting this way, with maybe the execptions of Wally West and Hal Jordan.

I will accept that Batman holds the idea of not killing as sacred in most cases. There was a great Denny O'Neil story about 15 years ago in Legends of the Dark Knight which explored that idea. In it, Bats said that it might be the one thing he truly believes in. And there is even evidence that Bats opposes the death penalty (though I don't buy that). And he does tend to hold everyone to his standards. But I still don't buy how absolutely cold he's been to WW about this.

Then again, I never quite bought that the current versions of these heroes were that close, let alone capable of having feelings for each other. Again, the characters are forced to act a certain way by the writers and editors, and then forced to act another way by the next writers and editors.

Anyway, I don't condemn Wonder Woman for this action. I just feel sorry for her, in that it's costing her her reputation and her friends.
It's interesting that you brought up Superman killing General Zod of the pocket universe. That's exactly what I keep thinking about every time Superman seems to waver on whether he should condemn Wonder Woman for her actions. I hope the writers have actually remembered to keep this piece of his history in mind when exploring his reaction.
(Although I am amazed at the revelation of Donna Troy's status as the Anti-Harbinger.)

guh?
Briefly - apparently a version of Donna Troy was Dark Angel, who served the Anti-Monitor by cataloguing Multiverse history, in the same way Harbinger did for the Monitor.

Or so we are told in DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #4.
Well, according to what Max said under the effect of the lasso (and thus, we must assume that it was what he saw as the truth), as long as he lived Superman would be subject to his control - it was impossible to remove his vulnerability to him, because the "work" he did on his mind was too extensive.

Of course, that doesn't preclude, say, keeping Max in perpetual coma, dissasembling him as Superman did to Doomsday during the Doomsday Wars, or some other thing, but

1. That would only work as long as Max was kept unconcious, so, for all intents and purposes, he'd have to be dead at least until Superman died. [I'm assuming that it's impossible to "strip" him of his powers; and that's also its own ethical dilemma... maybe?]

2. Any slippage, any rescue, any recovery of his conciousness, and you have a worldwide disaster in your hand. Also, you have a person (Superman) lose his freedom in a pretty disturbing way.

Was it an ethically sound move? In my book, yes. Max wasn't crazy, was attempting genocide (he was trying to kill _all_ metahumans, remember - even the nice lady across the street that just happened to be mildly telekinetic), and had access to a night-unstopabble human weapon that could not be taken away from him. The *risk* in keeping alive until an international tribunal offed him was huge.

Also, remember: Diana killed Max in Europe (I think?), and she's *not* an US citizen - she's an ambassador with (one assumes) full diplomatic inmunity. Max was an US citizen, but, at worst, this is a case for a three-way diplomatic row, but not a clear-cut case of an US citizen violating US law. Arguably, it was a meta killing somebody willing and able to kill all metas - self defense.

Of course, none of this is the issue, right? It's the fact that the leaguers (specially the big ones), are so powerful as to be almost outside, or outside any system of checks and balances - technically, they *can* do pretty much anything they want, and it's only the *way* in which they excercise their powers, the trust and love they get from the people, what makes them societally acceptable. Diana killing Max raises too many obvious questions - we've all seen where that might lead in "A better world".





Your first point is a good one. If the only way to keep Maxwell Lord from threatening the world would be to keep him unconscious forever...isn't that the same as killing him?

I remember once reading a critique of one of the early Straczynski Spider-Man stories, where Spider-Man defeats a guy in combat who is far too dangerous to let live, but what can he do? And of course, some other guy who the villain had upset killed him before Spider-Man had a chance to stop him, thus taking the decision out of his hands.

What was "A better world"?

(Anonymous)

DC's been so cavalier with continuity that it wouldn't surprise me is they'd retconned away the entire Pocket Universe. And failed to think through all the wretched continuity problems that creates. Considering the whole General Zod thing was a significant (though badly handled) issue in the excreable Our Worlds at War. Not to mention the Peter David Supergirl, or the Legion of Super-Heroes (although that's been rebooted about 27 times since then, so continuity is particularly meaningless there).

As for Wonder Woman's justification for killing, I think it's clear she's justified in this situation. Sure, there are always options, but from the character's position it's a snap judgement they have to live with--us readers get to sit around and debate the options and formulate opinions over the ensuing days or weeks. It's easy to come up with a Rube Goldberg solution that makes everything OK if you have enough time to spend on the problem.

The real crux of the issue, however, which I think everyone is overlooking, is the fact that Max should never, ever have been in that situation--or put Wonder Woman in that situation--were DC and the writers paying any attention to character or continuity. Vril Dox of L.E.G.I.O.N. wouldn't be above this kind of behavior. Max, though smug and manipulative, has never been such a vile character. Back in the day he genuinely cared for for "his" Leaguers, even though he was often at odds with them. Not to mention that Brainiac's never found it that easy to control Superman, but now Maxwell "The Amazing Wombat Man" Lord--who got major nosebleeds whenever he simply tried to "push" a character towards making a particular decision--is capable of turning Superman into a murdering super-weapon? Please.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke
I don't think it's a question of retconning away the pocket universe as simply forgetting about it. After all, as you said, it's become almost irrelevent to the current stories, given the Legion reboots and the new version of Supergirl.

Max Lord does seem to be more powerful than he ever was before, doesn't he?
Hell, yeah. But I've never liked the superheroes-don't-kill thing anyway.
I'm not quite sure what you mean. Do you feel that superheroes should be able to make the decisions themselves as to whether or not a particular villain is too dangerous to live?

That was the crux of what happened in Kingdom Come. A future Superman arrests a new hero, Magog, who killed the Joker for murdering Lois Lane. Magog is put on trial for murder...and the Metropolis jury acquits him, since the Joker was far too dangerous to leave alive.
I'm going to agree with the poster way above me, she did the right thing, but i cant stand the way Batman and Superman are treating her. In fact I can't stand the way all three of them are being writen lately.

Batman is being portrayed as a selfish parniod freak, who does whatever he feels like with no concern to others. Which, yes he is all those things to a point, but he still is human. He isn't the extreme of all those things. And now they have pushed him there. As far as I am concerend he and Diana have a very deep friendship, they are at odds, but its there and deep. And I excpected him to understand. Though granted since the relvelation he is worried about his feelings for Selena and her return and I can see some of his actions.

Then there is Superman. He is self rightoues toward her. She saved your life, the life of your wife and your friends life. He doesn't try to understand, he flees. He has been a coward toward this. The marytr is how I have grown to see him recently. Which is probably why I have grown to dislike him, which is very sad.

Then there is Diana. Can we not go back to the days of Trinity or A League of One. That was Diana in herself. She was a warior, but she strove for the truth. She never did anything unless she was sure, and even then she felt guilt. (Superman's reaction to what she did at the end of League of One irked me to) Diana is an Amazong, they value life above all things. She doesn't just throw things away. She did what she had to do because there was no other way. I trust that because her actions in the past speak that. It kills me to see the trust taken from her. How fickle is the trust between the Justice League? How strong can it really be? Who are true friends? They are the Justice League for heaven's sake they should trust each other! What hope does the world have when they can't work out thier own differences?

I know the name of my blog is "Gay For Rucka", but I really like the way Wonder Woman is being written. It's my favorite comic each month, and I do a Snoopy Happy Dance when it comes out.

Wonder Woman

I think Wonder Woman did exactly the right thing.

First I feel I should address the point that she "became the one thing a superhero should never become: a killer."

I don't necessarily agree with that. I've found that there's a pretty black and white division in comics as far as characters who kill go: either they're like Superman, who are against killing an enemy under any circumstances what so ever, or they're the Wolverine and Punisher characters, who almost seem to kill regardless of the situation. This has to do a great deal, I feel, with the way comics matured. Kept in pre-adolescence by our own comics McCarthy era, and the implementation of the Comics Code, it wasn't until the eighties when things became "grim and gritty", and we skipped over adolescence as a form and hopped right into this faux adult hood, where everything was over-sexed and over-violenced. With the exception of very early Steve Ditko Question stories, Wonder Woman is the first character I've seen take a very well thought out approach to killing (And even in the early Question stories, the character absolved himself of any responsibility thanks to his very unusual ethical code). When the threat is big enough, and someone, in this case a hero, is in the position to act to prevent that threat from ever rearing up again, the only moral or ethical thing to do is to kill.

When thinking about Wonder Woman herself, we have to remember that Diana is not a regular person who was bitten by a radioactive spider, or a regular person who uses a magic word to become super. She’s unlike Superman, too, who isn't from Earth but was still raised by the all-American family. Diana was brought up in a culture completely removed from almost any other on Earth, with different views on love, religion, and yes, the sanctity of life. They are warriors, primarily, and while I'm sure life is respected on Paradise Island, I doubt the concept of having to take a life in battle was taboo. If there's no other choice to reach victory in battle (and why fight if it's not a matter of life-and-death anyway?), then killing is wholly acceptable.

Wonder Woman has made these views clear on several occasions in recent comics. Her advice to Superman about how to handle Ruin was to "put him down" over in Adventures of Superman. And in her own book, earlier this year, she was fought Medusa threatening turning an entire world to stone through television, and faced with a mass murderer, she beheaded her. Medusa may have looked like a monster, but she was no less alive than Max Lord. No one said anything about the morality behind her death.

Maxwell Lord had the single most powerful being on earth, and he made him a weapon. This weapon was not only a living being, not only one of Diana's closest friends, but also the greatest hero the world has ever known. She had to stop him, and her options were to either take away the weapon, or keep Max from pulling the trigger ever again. Instead of killing or exiling Superman, the best option was to kill Max, take away his ability to hurt everyone ever again. The word EVERYONE is important here, because Max isn’t some crazed lunatic, who could simply kill a few people with his bare hands… he was using Superman in a way that could cause destruction on a level unimaginable to us, a death toll that would take years to count.

CONTINUED

Re: Wonder Woman

I’ve heard a lot of talk about putting Max in a coma, or mind-wiping him. Both of those options, in recent comics, have not worked out terribly well. Zoom II, over in The Flash, was in a coma for about a year before he got up and began tearing the Flash’s life apart again. There’s also the moral issue of putting someone forcibly into a coma, and how different from that is death if you never intend to let him or her awaken. As for option two, I don’t think I really need to say anything about mind wiping and how well that works out.

I don’t think that Diana did this as a snap judgment. All of the other possibilities and options were considered, and killing him was the only one where she could be sure that the world was safe from Maxwell Lord. It’s easy to see her speed, her strength, and her flight, but one of Wonder Woman’s powers is to see with the wisdom of Athena. She made a decision, there is a panel in 119, where this all happens, where Wonder Woman looks at Max, makes the decision and does what needs to be done in the quickest most humane way possible, and she feels no guilt over it.

I’m sure there is a great deal of regret she feels. I’m sure it would have been easier to use one of those other options to stop Max, and it would have made her feel better. Wonder Woman doesn’t serve herself, she serves the world, and what was best for the world was for Maxwell Lord not to be in it. It could be argued that Batman’s views are incredibly selfish, considering the number of times he could have killed the Joker and saved hundreds of lives, but doesn’t in order to be able to sleep during the day.

Wonder Woman did the only moral, ethical thing she could do by killing Max Lord, and put the good of the world above her own feelings.

Okay.

I so *totally* need to read these books.

Where do I start?

As for the question -- without having read the issues -- I would certainly think she could claim diplomatic immunity for the murder -- although I'm murky on the law in that instance. Can one *actually* claim diplomatic immunity for murder? At the very least, she'd be sent home. And her immunity probably revoked.

She is, however, a princess in her own right as well as a warrior/soldier and it is possibly to justify her actions on those grounds. Furthermore, her mandate from her *own* people might have even required such an action, which would certainly therefore justify her actions.

Re: Okay.

Well, she also wasn't on American Soil, so I don't know if diplomatic immunity applies.

If you want to start reading these books, then I would wait until they collect The Omac project in trade format, coming out either later this month or next. It'll have Countdown to Infinite Crisis, Omac 1-6 and Wonder Woman 119 in it.

If you can't wait, the relevent issues are numerous, reply and I or someone else can hook you up.
I think her action was totally justified, and in character. Don't forget that Superman was attacking her full-out (and had beaten Batman almost to death), and she just managed to delay him long enough to get to Max. Then she put Max in the lasso, which required him to tell the truth, and the truth was that the only way to free Superman was by killing Max. She didn't enjoy it but she recognized that it was necessary.

I hate the position she's been put in now because of the Brother Eye announcement. Especially since she was drawn in those panels without all the burns and wounds from her fight with Superman - if she was obviously injured, people might be more willing to accept that it was self-defense.
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