Vigilantes R Us
Yes, I know this is ridiculous. It’s time to play, Which comic book vigilante are you? This being next in the co-authored series so far including Eat hot lead, comics reader, What was the question again?, The Big Bang, and Wicked good.
Don’t be stuck up, go ahead, and tell us what you got in the comments. G’wan, g’wan.
As for us, uh, it looks like you’re reading a post by an authoritarian crypto-fascist and an exhibitionist who moonlights in rough trade.
STEVE’S JUDGE DREDD
You are a one man police force delivering your own form of justice. To those who break the law, you’ll break their jaw.
Steve: Crypto-fascist? I think I’ve been pretty open about my fascism, pal. 😉
I can handle being Dredd — though I honestly expected to get the Punisher. I have to go straight to shooting people partly for the realism reasons you cite for beating people up, and partly because it’s easier: why sweep the leg when I can just put a .22 round in the guy’s calf?
As for who my targets would be, I’d probably stick fairly close to “ traditional” criminals, but one of the things I like about Dredd is that Mega-City One’s legal code seems so vast, and his personal authority so extensive, that he can nail nearly anyone for something if he feels that’s in the best interests of Justice. So it’s a target-rich environment!
RON’S THE HUNTRESS
You may be a fully trained martial artist but from time to time it’s required that you use your ass-ets to accomplish the job. The world is your jungle and you will hunt down every last criminal and murderer the only way you know how.
Ron: I can live with that. My only dilemma in answering the questions was the guns-or-not thing … I went with “not,” but on the other hand, beating people up habitually is frankly pretty nasty, given a certain nod toward realism. They don’t just go “ow” and fall asleep – knocking someone unconscious is extremely damaging and dangerous, and rendering them helpless and/or unwilling to fight back through pain and shock is nothing less than sadistic. I guess that goes with the territory though. Since I’m not averse to guns as a thing, let’s call that my possible mod for my results.
That aside, my uh “Huntressness” is going to make sense to me only in terms of who “criminals and murderers” are. I can tell you that it’s not going to be random muggers from Central Casting – my targets might include a certain former vice-president and likely a fair number of his associates, for example. Would beating up a guy in his 80s be the point? Geez, that’s kind of a close judgment call. The image of this person’s body beaten to death and suspended from a lamppost is … not as disturbing as perhaps it should be.
Next: In Darkest Knight
Posted on February 14, 2016, in Storytalk and tagged Huntress, Judge Dredd, Steven S. Long, vigilante. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.
Mmm… I got the Huntress too, but I did chose the gun or “shoot him” every time. This, added to my loathing of everything batman-related, make me think that this test is even more random than usual for these things.
To tell the truth, the vigilante I like more is this one…
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Sigh…. why you tube video do that thing? I only wanted to post a link…
Batman, bitches! I win!
I suspect my list of suspects wouldn’t differ too much from Ron’s, though I’d also include several investment bankers who are famous enough to be known by name.
As to Steve’s comment about MegaCity One being a target-rich environment, I’m reliably told that Assistant U.S. Attorneys sometimes play a game where someone describes a perfectly ordinary event in the day, and the rest of the group has to find three federal laws / codes that are violated.
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I got Huntress? I took gun as my weapon, but I went with sneaking up on a crook to capture him. They did say “capture”. I think this test is a bit off.
In my regular vampire larp I play an undead vigilante who opens fights by dropping onto the toughest looking opponent from the rooftop, and then beats the rest unconscious with no regard for his personal safety (I mean, he’s already dead, so whatevs). No guns, no weapons, no fancy martial arts, just a red haze until there’s nobody left to punch.
I also got the Huntress. I went with guns.
I got Casey Jones. I think I read one issue of TMNT back in the Eastman and Laird days that I borrowed from a friend. I remember the turtles singing Christmas carols and the panels were interspersed with Casey Jones beating the crap out of a bunch of ninjas or something. It was a long time ago. Maybe ’88?
I love ya guys, but let’s focus on the point. Never mind whether the test is biased or didn’t do what you thought or whatever; I happened upon it at random and don’t care.
The point is to examine what variables are consequential to comic-book vigilante construction. There are at least a dozen, but some of them may be important to what a vigilante character is or means, whereas some of them may not. Maybe none of them are important and “vigilantes are all alike.” Maybe all of them are, thus producing a matrix of intensely loaded interactions in which (e.g.) having a mask or not changes the whole character’s relative position.
Think with me for a moment, OK? Let’s get out of internet-headspace in which the test becomes its own focus, like the “look at the moon not the finger” issue.Even if the finger doesn’t point at the moon, at least we’re looking up and can find the thing anyway.
mask or no mask
gun or no gun
superhero-type costume or not
kill or never-kill
sane or bonkers
veteran/military or not
police ally or criminal
crimefighter or not
bright/primary colors or not
frequent/important association with superheroes or not
… probably some others, right?
Some of these could be graded (mountain of corpses, kills, might kill, never-kills), and some might be deconstructions (the Question’s mask), but that’s not my point either. My question is, do these variables matter at all?
I’m Batman. Woo!
I think the willingness to kill — for murder to be seen by the character as a viable solution to “the problem” — is absolutely essential. Granted, I may also think that because that’s a pretty classic trope, i.e., the no-kill vigilante facing off against the will-kill vigilante, and thus questioning where and why one draws the line.
That, and I just watched the trailer for Daredevil season 2, which is exactly this (Daredevil vs. Punisher).
But … hardly any of them do. Even Rorschach’s killings are either in self-defense or directed toward the most appalling human monsters (and I believe that particular n=1). Textually, the Punisher typically kills when in a pitched-battle gunfight with mooks, or in that action-movie way in which a spiked fence or a shark suddenly-released by the bad guy’s own bullets (I’m not kidding) coincidentally deliver the goods. Straight-up naming, judging, and flatly executing the target is incredibly rare … and that’s for the designated lethal characters. Are you sure you’re not being seduced by the “he kills! he’s a real bad-ass! he really kills!” hype? Are you sure you’re willing to eliminate Batman, Daredevil, Moon Knight, the Question, and many others from being designated vigilantes?
I guess I totally misunderstood the question, then. I mean, most superheroes are vigilantes, right? They fight crime without state sanction.
I think it really boils down to whether one is fighting crime — criminals specifically — or whether one is helping people. Superman helps people, which often involves punching villains into buildings, but is also inclusive of getting cats out of trees. Batman has no time for cats (well, save for one); he’s too busy hunting the Joker or exposing Marcone’s latest scam.
So, really it’s about having a self-imposed, criminal-focused *mission*, I think.
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You ask: ” I mean, most superheroes are vigilantes, right? They fight crime without state sanction.”
It’s true that, technically speaking, most superheroes are vigilantes. But in the context of this series of columns, we’re using “vigilante” to mean a specific subset of these heroes, primarily ones that either ( a ) routinely use, or are depicted as using, lethal force to combat crime (even if, as with the Punisher, they’re rarely shown actually gunning people down); and ( b ) a few related heroes, like Batman, Daredevil, and Moon Knight, who fall into the “have no or few actual superheroes, but use skills, weapons, and non-superscience gear to fight street crime.” We’ll make a few exceptions here and there (e.g., the Foolkiller has a laser pistol), but I think that encapsulates it pretty well.
So for purposes of these columns, Spider-Man, the Avengers (pre-government sanction), and Dr. Strange do not qualify as “vigilantes.” But your point about “mission” is worth considering, regardless of technical definitions.
I do understand the context; I was just stating the obvious to help make a point that the different between a “vigilante” and a “Vigilante” is a chicken-or-the-egg thing, Namely, the difference between superheroes who get their costumes and powers first, and then decide to use them to fight crime, among other things, (Superman, Spider-Man), and superheroes who first decide to fight crime, and then figure out that powers and a costume might be a good way to do that (Batman, Punisher).
Granted, there are grey-zone characters like Daredevil, who while Spider-Man-like in origin is much more in the Vigilante camp.
Really,y it probably just comes down to marketing. A Vigilante is a Vigilante when the publisher says they are.
Ron you’re right: the Punisher has remarkably clean hands for a vigilante; the stories are contrived in such a way that he very rarely commits murder, or even manslaughter.
But in at least a few of those late 70’s / early 80’s Punisher appearances, the dude is straight-up liable for attempted murder. Gun pointed from a great sniper position, bad guy’s head in the cross-hairs, all it takes is to pull the trigger…. UGH BILLY CLUB TO MY FACE / WEBBING ON MY GUN.
It’s *this* that sets the Punisher apart, I think. Even toying with killing a bad guy in cold blood–much less getting 99% of the way there–is a moral line that Daredevil, Spider-Man, or Batman would almost never be tempted to cross. Obviously the 1960’s Question didn’t have this problem, nor did Foolkiller; I don’t know enough about Moon Knight.
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Moon Knight is one shade scarier than Daredevil in this variable, mainly because of his pre-costumed past, and he never actually disavows or swears against either guns or killing. However, during the period we’re discussing, it’s one firm shade and no more. He’s written to prefer to suppress that past and makes a point of more Batman/Daredevil style beatdowns. His little crescent moon throwing-weapons are very sharp and although the Almighty Plot usually has them bounce guns out of bad guys’ hands, he’ll put one through the hand once in a while instead – but never into a throat or eye.
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Gun or no gun, kill or not, sane or not, it’s the mask and costume that define a comic book vigilante. Without those, you’re just an *ordinary* vigilante; a criminal taking the law into your own hands. The other parameters are just window-dressing.
A mask or a thematic costume separates the character from the tawdry reality of violent and illegal vengeance. Those elements provide enough fantasy to separate things from the “real world”, and let us happily indulge in revenge fantasies of seeing the people we consider to be bad guys get their (usually bloody) comeuppance. They let us kid ourselves into thinking that costumed vigilantes enforcing their own personal ethical beliefs on society are a good thing.
The only thing that makes the Punisher more than a murderous, revenge-driven felon is a tee-shirt with a skull on it. That tells us that he’s in the category of “superhero” despite not being super and not being all that heroic. Casey Jones’ hockey mask is even more minimalist, but does the same thing. It gives us permission to cheer him on, instead of hoping that he gets locked up.
We think Batman is cool, but isn’t Wayne Industries providing contract law-enforcement the way Blackwater provided military contractors–with no government oversight? (Commissioner Gordon doesn’t count as oversight; he’s allowing a vigilante to operate outside the law he’s supposed to enforce, and is therefore complicit.) The difference between CEO Bruce Wayne and CEO Erik Prince is that Bruce wears a cape and a cowl. He’s wrapped in enough fantasy that we never confront the legal and social implications of what he does with his spare time.
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I would argue that a costume can be optional, though the only example I could come up with is Angel from the Buffyverse, unless you want to count his long black coat, and only if you want to consider what he does vigilantism (since he fights faces the police cannot). But, I mean, he’s totally Batman.
Dain, those are some good points. The question is, I think, what an individual is supposed to do when “what’s legal” deviates from “what’s moral.”
In a situation of social oppression, American South in the 50’s and 60’s–men and women of extraordinary moral courage committed crimes in name of moral justice, and a large number of them died for their beliefs, and in the context of the American Civil Rights movement, a number of people were maimed, hurt, or even killed over what amounted to petty crimes. (Fire hoses & dogs, to the ’68 Convention, to Kent State.)
I won’t presume to know your politics. But I hope you can see that some people might be disturbed by the increasing militarization of police forces, their (seeming) increased willingness to use lethal violence against unarmed black men, and then the prosecutors failing to prosecute officers in those cases.
The State’s monopoly on the use of violence, depends on the *legitimacy* of that violence.
If the State can’t be relied upon to use violence against those who deserve to be hurt, or uses violence against the innocent, something’s deeply screwed up. At that point I don’t think one can condemn vigilantism quite so easily.
Still, I would concede that vigilantism under those circumstances is pretty much pointless. Gandhi’s major insight as to civil disobedience was, “If everyone comes to see the State’s violence as illegitimate, they’ll reform the State.” That’s probably a much more sensible way to better society than simply incapacitating an infinitesimally small percentage of Bad Dudes.
[spoken as if wrapping up a speech] In conclusion, Mahatma Gandhi was the real Punisher. Thank you.
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I agree, “legal” doesn’t mean “right”. The crimes committed in the name of moral justice you mention were seldom vigilantism, though. Nobody went out hunting down and killing the racists who were burning black churches, for example. Civil disobedience is a different thing. Prior to the start of the Civil Rights movement, though, there were actual costumed vigilantes roaming the South, “putting right what the law won’t”–the KKK. They were enforcing their own narrow-minded moral code of racial superiority on society–and many people who were equally narrow-minded considered them to be heroes.
As a group, we don’t all agree on what is right and proper. The idea behind democracy is that we get together and figure out a set of rules for behavior that we can all at least tolerate, so that as a society we all get along. When issues come up (and they always do), we hash it out in the courts and find what seems to be an equitable solution. A vigilante, *even one I agree with*, short-cuts all of that and enforces with violence their own personal moral code on society, without the members of that society getting any say in it at all.
V for Vendetta is a great story, and I cheer V on; but in the real world, is blowing stuff up really a force for positive social change?
I’m deeply disturbed by the militarization of American police. I’m even more deeply disturbed by the use of balaclava masks and tinted helmets by SWAT officers to conceal their identities, and the removal of name tags by the cops in Ferguson and elsewhere. The police claim it’s to prevent gang reprisals against those officer’s families and loved ones–the same reasoning used by superheroes to justify their masks. But it makes it impossible to hold anyone accountable for their actions or excesses, because their identities are concealed.
In the comics, Tony Stark got away with hiding behind his Iron Man identity for years. Whenever he went too far, did something * really* illegal, or just went on a drunken bender while suited up, Tony Stark publicly apologized for “his employee’s” actions, and “fired Iron Man”. The presumption was that he then hired a new guy to wear the suit and do the heroing. I hate that modern police forces can now pull the same stunt.
I’m against the use of lethal force against unarmed black men, I’m against the policy of letting police officers who do get off with barely a slap on their wrists, and I’m against the “us against them” culture that pervades law enforcement. But if I decide to become a vigilante and take the law into my own hands, to hunt down murderous cops and punish the “truly guilty”, I’ve become part of the problem, not part of the solution. As you and Gandhi said, the better answer is to work to reform the state.
Dain, I’m in full agreement on all of these points, and the KKK & Ferguson thing were meant to be understood though unspoken. And obviously I agree with your points about democracy–especially a democracy whose powers are limited by a set of “this far and no further” type rules. Frankly I find V pretty reprehensible, even within the context of the story. All he knows how to do is destroy.
The problem with super hero genre is that, to justify his existence, the protagonist has to perform a job the regular police either cannot do (“Who can defeat the tentacled terror that is Doctor Octopus?!?”) or will not do (“The commissioner says hello, Mr. Fisk”).
Personally I think a lot of the historical cruft that goes with super heroes–especially the contrivance of the secret identity, which has to be the weirdest genre convention–is more suited to the “police will not do” end of the spectrum. This makes sense in the pulp detective stories that the Golden Age comics rose out of: these were stories where entire cities were run by newly organized crime syndicates. The War changed a lot of that by focusing criticism outward, and Post-War society was a very different beast. But in the 1930’s if you got on the wrong side of the mob, you were done for, and couldn’t really count on the police for a whole lot of protection.
You guys are nicer than me. I tend to take a Deacons for Defense position, which is to say, when the KKK shoots at us, we shoot back. The Deacons ran covert security for those peace marches – meaning, they were not unarmed, utterly pacifist events. And I don’t think they would have survived a day if they had been. The few but very important moments when a Deacon shot some armed fool who rushed a parade are conveniently scrubbed from the modern narratives of King did this and King did that.
Another way to put it is, a vote only counts if somewhere, somehow, indirectly if not directly, maybe under the control of someone crazier than the voters, it’s backed by a gun. I think of voting as a good way to try to keep the guns from voting directly. I also think that when the U.S. Left (the real one, not the wussy thing people call “left” these days) lost its crazies, and the Right kept theirs, is when the mainstream went Right-lite in its rhetoric and support, and became ineffective in every way to keep the Right-hard from doing whatever it wants.
There’s a potentially interesting distinction between extra-governmental use of force as protection vs. the same force as retribution. I remember reading a bit about the Deacons for Defense a decade or so back, after watching a made-for-cable movie about them. Googling just now, I found an article (http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/did-civil-rights-need-deacons-for-defense/) claiming “there are no recorded instances of them [the Deacons] attacking whites for previous assaults on blacks.” I think it also (maybe rightly?) sees ‘money-as-power’ instead of ‘the gun’ as the key strategic leverage tool, and (more certainly rightly, to my eye) identifies the ‘what if escalation happens?’ problem – both of which can show up as issues in vigilante stories.
Is ‘extra-governmental use of force as protection only’ even vigilantism? Even if it’s not, isn’t that a tough line to walk? And what happens when there are also folks over that line? Does it matter how far over that line they are?
(to Gordon) Whether something is vigilantism may depend greatly upon who’s currently talking.
As you report from the documentary about the Deacons, they did not go running off into the night and commit retributive acts. They did, however, (i) network to rally to the defense of community members being attacked, often returning gunfire in doing so; (ii) physically coerce business owners to comply with boycotts; and (iii) fire upon and bring down assailants who charged peace marches with guns.
I’ll bet you whatever you like that they were considered vigilantes by both their local law enforcement community and (in-)justice system, as well as by the federal authorities including the FBI, which itself was dedicated to suppressing Southern black people indefinitely.
For those who aren’t familiar with the organization, contrary to recent popularized versions of the Civil Rights struggle in the South, the Deacons were not a bunch of young hotheads who were cooled off by King’s wise guidance; they were older, often WWII veterans, and often business owners who worked the long game of armed resistance before, during, and after the more visible Freedom Rides and early-60s marches.
Without them and similar groups, universally local rather than imported from the North, I don’t think that the Northern efforts would have been effective or that the popular support for the Klan would have been broken.
Oh, definitely no bet – no doubt the vast majority of local/federal enforcement/”justice” officials considered ’em vigilantes. But allowing myself to generalize (i.e., ignoring the ‘who the hell am I to judge?’ issue), I do find it useful to have EVERYONE ask “do *I* consider this vigilantism? Maybe ‘justified’? Where are the lines?” Within your i, ii, and iii – I find myself pretty comfortable with i and iii, no so sure on ii. To quote the linked article, “The pacifist James Farmer, then leader of CORE, made a public statement saying he was not about to offer a moral challenge to local people for accepting the protection of the Deacons.”
But in the context of a vigilante story, isn’t the moral challenge (or lack thereof) the point? The linked article attributes success not to the Deacons/etc., but to turning the local business interests against the KKK – “the use of the segregationists’ violence against their own privilege.” On the other hand, it acknowledges (unusually and thankfully, I’d say) that the Deacons’ actions were effective – people WERE protected. On the OTHER other hand, I think it claims HUGE importance to the Deacons remaining a “sideshow” in the overall effort – and that human tendencies to escalation could have easily moved it center-stage, and that would have been very bad.
Which makes me think – which comic vigilantes would be comfortable remaining a sideshow? Which have impulses that push them to take center-stage, and do the stories show consequences to that? That’d be an interesting “which vigilante are you?” question … “Can you remain forever a minor (though maybe important) actor in whatever larger story is playing out?”
The analysis about how-important (how in both degree and detail) were the Deacons is less settled for me than it seems to be for you, but these definitely do seem to be compelling and consequential issues regarding vigilantism.
The question I looked at as a result of the post/quiz (Huntress, or Dredd if I said “Just shoot” with my crossbow) was this: why is it that some not-that-important details change my gut reaction to the idea of a particular vigilante? Why do I find Batman and Huntress at least possibly-cool, and Punisher and Dredd probably not-so-much? Granted, I know WAY too little about any of those characters save Batman to reach a meaningful conclusion … still, I’m enjoying examining the question.
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