If there’s one thing I’ve always loved about comics, it’s the insane level of violence they contain. Or—to put it another way—that they don’t contain.
Superheroes are tough. They have to be. Those landings alone are seriously bad for the knees. If you count the number of times they get stunned, shot, knocked unconscious, it shows that they have to be made of stern stuff. Actually, forget it, they are pretty much all dead. At least the "regular humans" among them.
One of my favourite comics of all time is "DareDevil #7" where a blind lawyer in red pyjamas slugs it out with Prince Namor, the Submariner. Or rather—doesn’t. He hops around a bit while Namor uses him for a punching bag. He flattens Murdoch with cranes and a lamppost. In the final scene, Matt goes back to his office with a delicate plaster on one cheek, like he cut himself shaving, rather than being pummelled senseless by the strongest living creature under the sea—who can juggle Whales.
What happens when a football player gets knocked unconscious? Do they just shake their head and get up again? No, of course they don’t. They go to the hospital for all sorts of scans and it can be a long time until they go back on the pitch. Even getting hit in the head repeatedly (the kind of thing that Batman would shrug off as "a glancing blow") can lead to the death of white cells and—hey, why not Parkinson’s disease? In the UK, even footballers are now realising that their frequent mood swings and violent behaviour can be a result of just heading a football enough!
So the line-up of the DCU should really be Superman pushing Batman in a wheelchair, while WonderWoman helps Green Arrow remember where he left his trousers.
For the real super-types like The Man of Steel, things are obviously different. And I don’t think anyone is going to notice if the Hulk becomes moody and depressed. The problem with them is the effect they have on the rest of us. For instance, strong heroes will often punch people hard enough to go through plate glass windows or walls. That’s kind of death, really. And what about the Flash, going flat out through the middle of a city, creating a sonic boom and showering all the normal people with razor shards of glass? In real life, Donald Trump would have been setting up fights and then buying the destroyed blocks afterwards at knock-down prices. Maybe that’s actually how Bruce Wayne stays so rich?
And then there’s the incredible restraint that the heroes manage to show. There they are, in a down-and-out slugfest. Someone throws an energy bolt at them. They have the self-restraint to respond with just enough force. Or they punch someone with enough energy to send them a mile across New York but that’s okay, because they will just land in the river. You know why they tell people not to jump off high bridges into water? Because it’s like landing on concrete, that’s why! And in all the comics I’ve read, no hero has accidentally vaporised some low-powered hanger-on because he looked tougher than he actually was.
Hell, if I was a villain, I’d dress half a dozen orphans up like me and let the good guys deal with the emotional meltdown of having fried them.
Same thing with Wolverine. Okay. Wolverine kills people. Villains have come back at him angry because they have mechanical replacement parts. But he’s a massively strong dude with an Adamantium skeleton and razor sharp claws. Getting a headbutt from Wolverine should pulverize your cranium. And he should be slicing straight through people like butter. Every—single—time. Does it happen? Nope. Because he hangs out with a bunch of people who have a real thing about protecting life, not taking it. Heroes who throw fireballs, cause explosions, and throw out vast doses of radiation manage the same thing—somehow they can restrain their powers from doing any permanent harm.
My favourite example? Back in "Defender 30#," the team (which included Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, and the goddam HULK) were menaced by an old song-and-dance man called Tapping Tommy. He had a top hat, a sword stick, and gas grenades against… Okay, mismatch, overpowered, like Thor vs Gene Kelly. In the end, Hulk—so well known for restraining his temper—settles matters by giving Tommy a headbutt, and knocking him out. Just knocking him out. Not making his whole skull explode like an overripe pimple.
At least The Midnighter kills fools. Or he did, until he ended up in the New 52. Now he’s in the same universe as the Big Blue Schoolboy, so will he ever again get a bad guy to kneel down so he can kick his head off over the rooftops? I’m still waiting for the first "you’re not worth killing" comment. Because with great power comes great responsibility, and not drinking, or smoking, or leaving the Batmobile in a handicapped space, or even using X-ray vision to look at the other sex undressing (yeah, Supergirl, we know you’ve thought about it…)
It makes you wonder what the point is of having those powers at all, really.