The Difference Between a "Killer" and a "Killing"

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09/04/10Difference Between a "Killer" and a "Killing," The(Blog) (Forum)Punisher(Back) (Next)

In my last blog, Death Nor Consequences: Taking the "Hero" Out of "Superhero," I listed some characters that I think aren't being written as very heroic right now, and talked about some of the things that make them unheroic. I made the comment that characters like Punisher, Jason Todd and Wolverine are killers, and therefore not heroes. I received this comment:

"...I disagree about "A killer is not a hero". Evil much of the time is a matter of perspective and it's really a matter of opinion so I won't argue it but I'm sure there are plenty of soldiers who've killed that are also heroes."

Essentially, I think we're probably operating on different definitions for "killer." I wouldn't consider soldiers or cops "killers," just because someone dies at their hands in the line of duty. I'm talking about the cold, remorseless taking of another human life. Soldiers are trained to kill in battle situations, if fighting cannot be avoided. Cops are trained to kill as an absolute last resort. Punisher and Jason Todd see killing as the best way to get the job done. Wolverine varies from writer to writer, but basically sees killing as just another skill set - "I'm the best there is at what I do, and what I do isn't very nice." Some writers make it his last resort, and some make it his first option. When killing is the first and/or best option in a character's eyes, that character is a killer, not a hero with a gun. One real life example...

My dad's a retired police officer. When I was in the last of my teen years, a guy I'd grown up with - let's call him "Buck" - was throwing a loud party across the street, late into the night. My dad wanted to let it go. My cousin had dated Buck's brother, and then another brother, and there were some hard feelings between mine and Buck's families, because of it. Dad didn't want to appear to be taking the opportunity to throw his weight around. Being the neighborhood cop though, a few neighbors finally complained directly to dad, and he was forced to handle it, off-duty. Uniformed officers arrived on scene also, but let dad lead, because he knew my friend.

Stupidly, Buck came out on the deck drunk, and carrying a shotgun. Things escalated verbally until he demanded everyone get off of his property, and he levelled the shotgun at my dad. My dad drew his weapon as well, and while staring down the barrel of the shotgun from across the yard, gave Buck another chance to put the gun down, or he'd be forced to fire. Buck hesitated, but sobered enough to see that my dad was serious, and he put the shotgun down. He was then arrested for drunk and disorderly (when it could have been threatening a police officer, or maybe even attempted murder [he leveled the gun at my dad]) and later said it was the best thing that could have happened to him, as far as straightening him out.

Would my dad have pulled the trigger on my friend? You betcha. Would he have carried that weight around the rest of his life? Yes, but he would have carried it knowing that he exhausted all other possibilities before he fired. Would I have thought of my dad as a killer? Not in the least. What Buck did was stupid. My dad wasn't the only cop there. Buck's lucky one of the cops not staring directly at his gun didn't drop him as soon as he levelled it. Nevermind that my dad didn't fire at him to protect himself.

That's the difference between someone trained to kill and a killer. The scene I just described, had it become lethal, would have been "killing" - the act of someone trained to kill, if necessary. That is not a cold, remorseless "killer," who "shoots first and asks questions later," or just "shoots and asks no questions." Punisher, Jason Todd, and at times Wolverine, do not operate the same way as my dad. They are not looking to lethal force as the last resort. They are using it as the first, best option. They're killers, not heroes who happen to kill when the situation demands it.

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