Superhero Psychology: Villain Killing


Let me start off by saying that I know I am putting more thought into this topic than I should. I thought it was interesting though. I am not a big comic book fan, but I am a big superhero fan. One thing about superheroes has always stood out to me though. Instead of locking away their villains, why don’t they just kill them? And why don’t villains ever get the death penalty?

I am not really including movies in my depiction here. I understand that comic books and animation are typically geared towards a younger audience, but in the past they have had no issue addressing topics such as race, feminism, substance abuse, etc. I also understand that superheroes are meant to represent more ideal humans, but isn’t there a place for some realism? Superheroes have killed before, but given how many villains they have, do they kill enough? No. All of the criminals in comic books and animation either go to jail or get put in asylums. Occasionally, they get vanished to another dimension, only to return at a later date. In the real world, superheroes would kill the villains or the villains would receive the death penalty. To bypass this, I am surprised that comic book writers don’t allow the villains to win more battles.

I believe part of the reason superheroes don’t kill villains is out of narcissism. My theory is that superheroes feel their existence would be meaningless without the villains they fight. They know and expect villains to break out of the prisons and asylums, yet they refuse to kill them anyways. Why is that? I believe it is because superheroes love receiving praise for their good deeds. They love the admiration they receive from the public. Without villains, superheroes would have nothing to do. They would just be people in silly costumes doing general police duties. They don’t want that. They want to be recognized as “heroes” and “superheroes”. It is how they view themselves. Realistically, they do view themselves as above the law and government. That is why they are not employed by any specific law enforcement organization most of the time.

I am not calling for writers to go on a villain killing spree. I just think they could do a better job of writing how villains are defeated. The prisons and asylums in comic books and animation are pathetic. If a superhero really wanted to make a difference, one of them should become a security guard and stop the villains from breaking out all of the time. Again, they probably feel such a job would be beneath them. They need a purpose in life. That purpose is to fight villains. It is not to protect the public and save lives. Superheroes would protect more people and save more lives if villains were dead. It all comes down to the psychology of a superhero. No villain, means no hero.

Why doesn’t the government step in and issue the death penalty for villains than? This is trickier psychology or rationale, so bear with me. The government has laws and procedures to follow. Even in reality, we do not give a huge number of people the death penalty. We just give them life in prison, with no parole. Reality’s prisons are much more secure though. The comic book and animation government’s policy is to try to cure or treat the villains. They want to be able to rehabilitate them, to show they are able to do something that superheroes cannot. These villains are different though. They are basically terrorists. They are okay with blowing up cities and killing hundreds of people. Don’t those kind of villains deserve the death penalty? Yes, but if no villains, means no superheroes, I believe the government is afraid to do something their heroes will not do. They are afraid to kill villains out of fear of how a superhero might react. A superhero could potentially get upset and become a villain or a superhero could get mad and incite a riot amongst the public. The possibilities are endless. The government does not give villains the death penalty, because they want the heroes to remain heroes. It is better to fight one enemy than two.

What does this all mean though? It means that superheroes and villains and the government all have a very symbiotic relationship. They all need each other for their universe to exist and to have some semblance of order. That order may involve chaos every once in a while, but things eventually sort themselves out when a hero saves the day. It also means that without villains, there would be no stories for comic book and animation writers to tell. They are just trying to keep a job and entertain their readers. Knowing that, I guess this really means I probably put too much thought into this. Oh well.

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