Monday, August 23, 2010

Guns in comic books.

JovianThunderbolt notes the absence of gun-wielding comic book heroes (and the presence of many who ostentatiously do not use guns):
I just found all that interesting, having never considered it before, and it reveals a cultural undercurrent. Before comic books the hero was the iconic cowboy. And the good guys CERTAINLY packed heat along with the bad guys then. In the enterainment media and romantizations.
I think that a large part of it is because guns are perceived as fatal. You can't shoot people "just a little bit".

Comic book heroes, by and large, do not kill bad guys; they tie them up and hand them over to the cops, at least metaphorically. If your hero had a gun, all he could do with it would be to shoot guns out the bad guys' hands, and that makes him pretty much a one-trick pony, even worse than Aquaman, who can not only breathe water, but can also talk to fishes, two important skills for stopping super villains, apparently. One reason Wolverine was considered such an "edgy" character for mainstream comics when he appeared was that he killed people. (Of course that trope has been done to death now.)

The other big part is that mainstream comic book companies are creatures of the Urban Northeast, where guns are the almost exclusive province of cops and bad guys. Curtis Sliwa was a media darling and Bernie Goetz was a dangerous vigilante in that world.

48 comments:

Chris Laffoon said...

Well, The Punisher did carry guns and even released the Punisher Armory every year that went over all the guns and gear he used. I always liked him even if they did portray him as entirely unhinged.

Don Meaker said...

I grew up with Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury. There was also "The Punisher". Other than that pretty slim pickings.

Jeff the Baptist said...

The Punisher. A lot of the men of mystery carried guns. The Shadow had matching .45s. Vigilante carries two revolvers. Barb Wire had a substantial armory in the old Dark Horse universe.

The big issue is that guns are lethal weapons against normals. Heroes with codes against killing like Batman won't carry them (Year Two not withstanding). Most super-powered villains will be immune to them anyway.

Anonymous said...

What about Captain America? Wasn't he a 1911 fan, or maybe that's just what he was used to?

Again with Aquaman. Aquaman rules the waves, you know the oceans? One man controls a majority of the Earth.

Let's see Hawkman summon a squadron of blue whales.

Shootin' Buddy

John said...

In the early issues of Batman, the Dark Knight carried a gun.

Green Arrow has a bow. Does that count? Of course, his arrows have boxing gloves and knock out gas canisters on them.

JD said...

As mentioned, The Punisher, we also had Death Blow, Cable, Spawn, for all intensive purposes Cyclops had a laser gun mounted on his head...

They're out there, they just aren't the most "main stream"

Fred said...

Punisher kills the crap out of guys with all sorts of guns; Deadpool is currently running around trying to learn how to be a "good guy" and is also known for using plenty of guns to kill the crap out of guys; Black Widow (who's been on and off the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while) is generally packing some sort of heat.

If you jump over to the Ultimate Universe, the current Ultimates team (that universes version of the Avengers) has been rocking quite the arsenal, and I want to say War Machine has been running around with them (I can't remember where I stashed the last couple issues...)

Anyway, at least in Marvel books there's not a total lack of guns, just many more guys that don't use them than those that do. I'm not a DC guys, so I can't really say anything about their stuff though.

Bubblehead Les. said...

So Guns are Bad, but Concealed Adamantine Switchblades permentley grafted to your knuckles are Good? "Snickity Snick Magneto, I just sliced off your..."

staghounds said...

Dr. Death was right- the power to point the hand and strike at a distance is a power of the Gods. Once it can be bought for a week's pay, you need to move up.

Isn't the whole point of a gun that it makes even the meek and delicate able to protect themselves as though they were super heroes?

So a gun is rather beneath a super hero.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"I always liked him even if they did portray him as entirely unhinged."

And that's the key - he could get away with it because he was portrayed that way. Yeah, he fought the bad guys, but he wasn't quite a "good guy."

"What about Captain America? Wasn't he a 1911 fan, or maybe that's just what he was used to?"

It's what he was issued in WWII. I don't think he's ever carried a firearm except during wartime or when he's involved in military operations. When he's doing "ordinary" superhero stuff, he pretty much limits himself to his fists and the shield - making a clear distinction between when he is acting as a "hero" and when he is acting as a soldier - because soldiers can carry guns, but apparently heroes aren't allowed.

The good guy isn't allowed to kill the Red Skull to prevent him from massacring thousands. Because, you know, that would be wrong.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

The Punisher is not a good guy. He cares little about innocent people he kills while getting his revenge against bad guys. You sort of have to Protect the Innocent to make your bones as a good guy.

Themadlemming said...

Actually, there's quite a few issues where The Punisher avoided a hit because innocents are near. On a different note, the current aptain America, Bucky Barnes, carries a pistol along with the shield.

wolfwalker said...

When superheroes first appeared in the thirties, they did sometimes kill their enemies. Early stories of both Superman and The Bat-Man (to give him his original and proper name) often had them killing, or threatening to kill, the bad guy. They've gotten more PC over the years. Likewise Hawkman, The Flash, the Green Lantern, and probably others I don't know about. All of them had early versions in the thirties, then went away for a while, then returned under the aegis of DC Comics. In all cases the earlier version was much nastier.

Superheroes that carry lethal weapons -- how is it that nobody's mentioned Iron Man yet? The Shadow always packed heat; so did The Phantom. Ghost Rider didn't kill very often, but one can argue he did worse with his soul-fire (original) and penance stare (revised version).

Several stories have featured superheroes who take Bad Guy's weapons and turn them against him. Does that count?

If you're willing to accept graphic novels as "comic books," and psi-powered nonhumans as "superheroes," then ElfQuest completely shatters this particular trope. If you've never read the original ElfQuest, then don't be fooled by the name. It's nasty, and violent, and raunchy too. The elves carry swords, spears, bows, knives, and (in some cases) offensive psi-powers, and aren't afraid to use any of them to maim and kill.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't read to much politics into it. Guns are a "common" weapon, it that most people are familiar with them. Super extraordinary heroes need super extraordinary weapons.

Using a weapon the everyone else uses would make him less "super."

Zendo Deb said...

You're thinking mostly of the comic books of the 60s, 70s and 80s, with maybe a bit of the 90s. Lately, things have changed. Even Captain America is armed again. (Not that I'm an expert.)

By the time you get to Frank Miller, and Sin City, (Yes, Marv really was a hero - with a few psychologocal problems) the rules had changed.

Punisher was just a slightly extreme version of Batman (without the high-budget toys) mostly as a response to the fact that Batman had been so completely sanitized as to be insane.

The Comedian - from Watchmen - carried various guns. Can't remember if any of the other Watchmen were armed or not.

DirtCrashr said...

Even back when in the late 60's hand-guns had gotten pretty limited visibility. Sgt. Rock and the other Wartime characters had them, and rifles, tommy-guns, grenades and flamethrowers too, but most Civilian superheros didn't or didn't use 'em. The Phantom had a brace of pistols but he lived in some Faraway Exotic Place with Tribal Natives and elephants and stuff, and he wore *purple* and rode a horse which was starting to get weird...

Anonymous said...

Jon Sable: Freelance from the early to mid 80s was a broomhandle Mauser-weilding vigilante for hire. He occasionally left his enemies secured to a fire ant tree with a bowie through their hands when he wasn't shooting them with his .375 H&H magnum rifle.

Rather than Marvel and DC, independent comics have always had edgier characters and heroes with much more gray than white hats. Often times better art, too.

Matt
St Paul

Themadlemming said...

Another thing to consider was the Comic's Code that limited shown violence in comics. The major publishers followed the Code from the 60's though the 80's, but in the mid 90's they began to stray further and further from it.

McVee said...

Judge Dredd from the 2000AD comics.
I also recall the Sgt. Furry comics too growing up.

Tam (remotely) said...

McVee,

"...Sgt. Furry comics..."

There's a mental picture I'll be a long time forgetting.

Ken said...

@Matt from St. Paul, Jon Sable was a Mike Grell creation. When he took over Green Arrow for a spell, the boxing glove arrows went (literally) into the trash can, replaced by broadheads.

Reuben Flagg (American Flagg!), one of Sable's stablemates at First! Comics back in the '80s, used to shoot some guys.

AF was a heartfelt, if muddle-headed, attempt to do American exceptionalist patriotism from the left. I remember Howard Chaykin's notes in the first issue: "If you're looking for symbolic speech, don't burn the flag -- wash it!" Interesting idea, sabotaged by the author's philosophical contradictions and short attention span -- the issues with Mark Badger and J.M. DeMatteis are horrible, and unfortunately also constitute most of the run.

Joe in PNG said...

-Zendo Deb:

Funny you should mention Watchmen, as I just finished re-reading it.

-Nightowl II carried a pocket laser, but likely didn't use it directly against criminals.

-The second Silk Specter picked up a gun late in the issue, and thought it would be a good idea to carry one regularly.

-Of course the last thing Dr. Manhattan would ever need is a gun.

Mike said...

Jonah Hex, and Vigilante from the DC Universe spring to mind, as well as Sgt. Rock and the combat happy joes of Easy Company, Nick Fury and his Howlin Commandos (and later SHIELD), and of course the Phantom were all gun guys in my youth.

Anonymous said...

I read The Shadow in paper back. many years ago. I recall he caried six 1911s duel weilding. My favorite was when he wanted to contact one of his secret informants, The Shadow walks into a seedy dive and begins shooting bad guys holstering empty pistols and drawing fresh ones with both hands while his informant seemingly retuning fire is realy providing cover fire. It was Dad's favorite raidio program as a boy. I did not realize how violent it was untill reading the books. Good stuff.

alath said...

< because soldiers can carry guns, but apparently heroes aren't allowed. >

Which fits in neatly with the prevailing view that guns are inherently Evil, unless they are carried by an Officially Sanctioned Governmental Authority - the magical ability of government bureaucracy to transform Evil into Good.


Interesting re, the Shadow carrying .45s, because the radio show Shadow (Orson Welles) did not use firearms. The bad guys often died, and the Shadow often tricked or misled them into killing themselves, but I don't remember him actually actively killing anyone himself.

Anonymous said...

New Jovian Thunderbolt,

Even at his extreme mature version (writer Garth Ennis) the Punisher do save innocent lives, via killing all the bad guys.

Both Marvel and DC does have a number of characters that use firearms. For a time DC version of the Punisher was titled Hitman. Two misfitted buddies killing other misfitted bad guys. Even at their most brutal phase they do their best to avoid getting innocents killed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitman_%28comics%29

100 bullets was another DC mature comic line that has a lot of gun plays.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_Bullets

Both Hitman and 100 bullets are highly recommended.

For non-gun mature comic book, Lucifer is highly recommended. It deals with his relationship with his brothers and father. Basically a modern day dysfunctional family.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer_%28DC_Comics%29

Anonymous said...

I don't guess Jesse Custer would count specifically as a superhero... (Super anti-hero? I dunno) Of course, fatal gunshot wounds are at the cleaner end of things in Preacher.

Just a personal observation on the subject, but I can't count the times I've been in comic shops and seen a Mom looking uncomfortably around at all the "violent" posters and stuff with a boy at her side profusely explaining how (Insert comic here) is alright for hin to have because (protagonist) never kills anyone. I never dared to bring my mom in a comic shop but from witnessing it in the stores, that plea seems to work for our current generation of boys with overprotective helicopter moms.

Ken said...

@alath, I used to have some of the Orson Welles Shadow tapes (Blue Coal, BF Goodrich Silvertown Cords), and you're right -- the violence of the novels was toned down considerably for the radio plays. Allegedly (if I remember right), the novels were said to have too much "blood and thunder" for the radio; Maxwell Grant fired back that the radio plays had too much "thud and blunder."

Interestingly (for given values of interestingly), the comic adaptation of Disney's Zorro featured somewhat related arguments between the Disney TV folks and the great Alex Toth, who tried to cut dialogue and add more action to the comics. I have a Dark Horse trade paper of Toth's Zorro work; poorly plotted and paced, but brilliantly drawn and inked. As much as I liked Jack Kirby, only Will Eisner was better than Alex Toth.

Anonymous said...

Kenichi Sonoda's GUNSMITH CATS is a gun-oriented comic writtten by a gun enthusiast. It's distributed by Dark Horse. If you decide to give it a read, save some money and pick up the trade paperback versions.

Likewise with Masamune Shirow's APPLESEED, another comic series written by a gun enthusiast, and also available collected in trade paperbacks (vols 1 - 4).

BoxStockRacer

McVee said...

@ Tam:

""...Sgt. Furry comics..."

There's a mental picture I'll be a long time forgetting."

Sorry, sticky R!

:)

Anonymous said...

The Elektra: Assassin books, far from the Jennifer Garner movie, were incredibly violent Marvel books in the 90s, I think.

Greg Rucka's recent Queen and Country series (and the spinoff novels) were great stores about a woman MI6 operative and very adult and violent.

There's another independent title I can't think of, set in post-apocalypse SF with some very graphic sex and violence among superheroes and deformed villains. I'm too lazy to go downstairs and dig through my boxes to find it.

I have a couple of issues of American Flagg! as well, but it never really caught my interest like Sable did.

Matt
St Paul

McVee said...

@Matt; maybe the Vaughn Bode cobalt 60 character?

Best,
McVee

Ken said...

@Matt: Could you be referring to Marshal Law? Another interesting idea sort of went off the rails.

To be sure, Marshal Law shot some guys. And kicked them. And dropped cars on them. And...

Crucis said...

Don't forget The Phantom carries dual Colt .45 autos.

Andy said...

I good bit of the current Image universe (and, since the Choi and Lee really kicked things up in the 90's) are either extremely well armed... or completely do not need guns.

Or a combination of the two (i.e, Team 7 members).

For that matter.... the population of the earth in that universe recently shrank to about 650M. Violently. It's almost to the point of a Steve Martin cameo singing about death, misery and destruction on the banjo.

Zendo Deb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zendo Deb said...

The Japanese have a different take....

"Noir" wasn't a manga before it was anime, but it is full of guns. (Mireille and Kirika are part of anime's "girls with guns")

Cowboy Bebop (only watch the movie with subtitles - the English dub is awful). Also not a manga. Also all about guns.

"Hellsing" is all about guns. (and it was a manga before it was an anime.)

Read or Die - somewhat.

But "Ghost in the Shell" (which did start as a manga) is classic. The Japanese title translates as "Mobile Armed Riot Police." They use everything from .50-caliber sniper rifles to GLOCK pistols and everything in between. One character uses a Mateba semi-auto revolver (and gets grief for using an antique). And "Section 9" doesn't have any qualms about shooting first, once they know who the bad guy is. (The opening scene of the 1st movie says it all.) Of course they are part of the government....

Joe in PNG said...

Hey Zendo,

Don't forget "Black Lagoon". Another great shoot em up anime based on a gun nut manga.

Great English dub too.

Zendo Deb said...

I can't believe I forgot Tank Girl.

And yes, the Lori Petty movie is funny.

Zendo Deb said...

And because a lot of you won't watch anime if you have to look for it.

Here is my favorite scene from
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie.

And the opening from Ghost in the Shell (Though only the first 4 minutes are to the point.)

Anonymous said...

I like Gunsmith Cats. Cowboy Bebop is also a great Anime.

High School of the Damn Anime is now being aired in Japan. Can't beat post apocalyptic zombie infested Japan. Lots of gun play starting after episode 6.

Leit said...

Don't forget Adam Warren's Empowered. At one point the main character's (non-powered) boyfriend hides her super-suit and goes out to cover for her with a .50 cal, because she's ill. And later has a conversation with the "heroes" about the relative merits of different manufacturers' offerings...

Also, a hero called Single-action. Will mention no more, but that one goes to a pretty funny place.

Zendo Deb said...

Not a fan of "Desert Punk" (I've seen less than 10 minutes of the anime...) but he is always - or almost - pictured with a shotgun.

Zendo Deb said...

Hellboy, in addition to being big, red, mostly indestructible and possessing incredible strength also carries a really big gun.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Superhero cites post Silver Age are sorta irrelevent and I addressed that comics have become edgier and broken free of many tropes post 1980. Exceptions pre-1980 sorta prove the rule, as they are such a small outlier.

Anonymous said...

McVee & Ken, I think it was Marshal Law; quite an adult book to be selling to someone under sixteen (or something like that) and quite a change from GI Joe and The Nam...

Matt
St Paul

wecrosscreek said...

Helpful link about Batman and guns. Lots of images from over the years. Another one not to forget is the Shadow. With his two 1911s. Also Dominic Fortune carried a Luger. Which I always considered pretty cool.

Link to the Batman-gun site...
http://sacomics.blogspot.com/2005/08/batman-and-guns.html

Rollerlocked said...

Dominic Fortune is carrying a Broomhandle with a 20 round magazine in the current Hawkeye and Mockingbird title. Probably not a Schnellfeuer since he hasn't been firing full-auto bursts.
Mockingbird carries two Desert Eagles, and a short-barreled shotgun for breaching doors.