Marvel's Spider-Man

Spider-Man’s No Kill Rule

Content of the article: "Spider-Man’s No Kill Rule"

One of Peter Parker/Spider-Man's moral principles is that I want to touch upon is that he is a non-lethal crime fighter. He doesn't kill. Many superheroes have a moral code, which is that they usually don't kill. I think a lot of people gloss over because they typically think of Batman when superheroes and their moral codes are brought up, and I will actually talk about Batman's moral code later on. But Batman is not the only one who is adverse to killing. Spider-Man is also adverse to killing, and I will post a few examples of situations that Spider-Man refuses to cross that line when he easily could have gone in for the kill. There are many examples, but I will only pick a few from different continuities. I am not going to explain the context in their full detail because that would require me to post dozens of scans, and reddit doesn't allow more than 20 images. Not to mention, scan dumping can get tedious, and it's honestly better to read the stories themselves rather than listening me to saying what happened. Comics in general are mostly a "show, don't tell" kind of experience, but I will give basic summaries and allow the scans to speak for themselves. I'll start with one from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics:

Spider-Man Imposter

In the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, a criminal impersonated Spider-Man by dressing up as Spider-Man whilst robbing banks, even going as far killing a cop. This seriously damaged Spider-Man's reputation because the general public didn't know that it was an imposter. When the real Spider-Man confronted the imposter, this happened:

Source ― Ultimate Spider-Man Issue #32.

When confronting his homicidal imposter, Peter was understandably enraged and gave his imposter a brutal beating, demanding an explanation for why his imposter had the audacity would murder someone whilst dressing up as Spider-Man. Peter verbally expressed his rag and frustrations over the fact that his imposter ruined his reputation by committing robberies and murders in Spider-Man's name. The imposter screams in pain and begs for mercy, saying he only did it for the publicity. Peter continues to brutalise his imposter:

Source ― Ultimate Spider-Man Issue #32.

In a continued fit of unbridled rage, Peter not only continues to beat up his imposter, but also threatens to kill him. But Peter eventually comes to his senses and lets go his battered imposter. Then this happens:

Source ― Ultimate Spider-Man Issue #32.

Then this happens:

Peter: Dammit! I lost it! I completely lost it! I didn't even know I could get that angry. It just creeped up on me. I– I didn't even realize it was even happening. I could have killed him– killed a man with my bare hands. Then what would I be? I can't even think about it. I just have to make sure– that I can never let anything even remotely like that happen again. I have to remember why I do this in the first place. I– Uh oh…

Source ― Ultimate Spider-Man Issue #32.

Whilst reflecting on his actions against his imposter, Peter expresses remorse over the fact that he came close to killing someone. He swears that he make sure that he doesn't allow himself to do anything like that again, because it goes against his views on morality. Peter expresses remorse for nearly killing an imposter who robbed banks and murdered a cop whilst dressing up as Spider-Man, desecrating his public image by making him look like a homicidal thief, even though the reality is that Peter is just doing what he can to make his world a better place to live up to his Uncle's ideals. That says a lot about Peter's views on morality and killing. He could have easily just killed his imposter, but didn't, because it goes against what he believes in.

Now I am going to pick an example from The Amazing Spider-Man comic run that began in 1963:

The Night Gwen Stacy Died

This is a really awesome story, it's one of the most iconic and famous Spider-Man stories of all time for various seasons. One of the reasons why I like it so much is because we get to see Spider-Man on the edge, fuelled by pure anger and rage. Spider-Man is tempted to seek revenge on the Green Goblin murdering Gwen Stacy:

Spider-Man: Wrong Goblin! You murdered the only girl I'll ever love–and today's the day you're going to die!

Source ― The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #122.

They have an aerial fight over the bridge, but Peter is unable to fully vent out his rage because of the impracticality and limited freedom in aerial fights, and the Green Goblin gets away. But Peter catches up, finding Norman in his hideout:

Source ― The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #122.

Peter ambushes Norman and they exchange insults. Norman mocks Peter for his feelings of loss and grief over Gwen Stacy, who Norman belittles, perceiving Gwen as a worthless waste of life. Peter is enraged by this, and fights more intensely:

Peter: You're talking about my lady, creep! Someone I loved– I mean loved–! Do you know what that means? HAVE YOU ANY IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS?? I LOVED HER, GOBLIN!! AND YOU–! YOU– TOOK– HER– AWAY! FILTHY– WORM EATING– SCUM! Good lord… What in the name of heaven am I doing! In another moment I might have killed him! I would become like him– a-a murderer!

Narrator: And, as Spider-Man drops back, disgusted with the violence that nearly consumed him– he is unaware of the reappearance of old violence– in the deadly form of the Goblin's remote controlled flyer!

Source ― The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #122.

Peter beats the crap out of Norman whilst screaming and hounding him at the same time, but stops, realizing that he could've ended up killing Norman if he continued beating him up for just another moment. Peter expresses remorse and disgust with himself, thinking that killing Norman would make him a murderer just like Norman, as the narrator expands upon this by saying Peter "drops back, disgusted with the violence that nearly consumed him" whilst Norman takes the opportunity to recuperate:

Source ― The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #122.

Norman tries to use his glider to kill Peter, but his attempts horrifically backfire and he ends up impaling himself. Peter's reaction isn't what he expected:

Peter: He's dead. Somehow… I thought it would mean more. When a man dies– even a man like the Goblin– it should mean something. It shouldn't just be an accident… A stupid, senseless accident. It's got to have a point. So it doesn't just mean… We live in vain. Funny, I thought seeing the Goblin die would make me feel better about Gwen. Instead, it just makes me feel empty… Washed out… And maybe just a little bit more alone.

Source ― The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #122.

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Peter says that he thought seeing Norman die would make him feel better about Gwen's death, but instead of that, it just made him feel empty, washed out, and maybe slightly more alone. Keep in mind that in this story, Peter had literally just witnessed Norman Osborn murder his Gwen Stacy, the first woman Peter had ever truly loved, and he failed to save Gwen. That is one of Spider-Man's most iconic failures. It's arguably his greatest failure. His powers weren't enough to prevent Gwen from being kidnapped. His powers weren't enough to save her. And Norman just laughed at Peter's loss and grief, showing no remorse, but mockery and contempt. So even when Peter had the chance to avenge Gwen and go over the edge by ending Norman once and for all, he stops. Peter refuses to cross that line, otherwise he would be a murderer just like Norman. He'd be no better than Norman in that regard. And when Norman died, it didn't make Peter feel any better, it just made him feel worse. Peter reflects on this in ASM #177:

Peter: Why are the sins of the father always revisited on the son? Despite everything that's happened… Despite all he's done… This really isn't poor Harry's fault! If anyone is to blame, it's Norman Osborn– Harry's father! And then, it wasn't really his fault either! It was an accidental chemical explosion which caused Osborn's brain damage… And transformed him into the Green Goblin– the only foe who knows my secret identity! We battled repeatedly, until that fateful day atop the George Washington bridge– when the Goblin murdered Gwen Stacy, the girl I loved! I went after the Goblin then, aching for revenge– but when Norman died as a result of his own actions… I found just how hollow vengeance can be! Unfortunately, his father's death totally unhinged Harry's already unstable mind– and he became the new Green Goblin, carrying on in his old man's footsteps… Until I finally defeated him, and the authorities carried him away… Raving like the lunatic he had become!

Source ― The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #177.

Peter says that he was "aching for revenge" when going after Norman, but "found how hollow vengeance can be" when Norman "died" as a result of his actions. Even as flawed human being, Peter's strong moral views prevented him from actually giving into his vengeful desire to kill the Green Goblin. Revenge is not what Spider-Man is about. Now I'm going to move onto another example from a retelling of Spider-Man's origin story:

The Burglar

OK, I will have to admit that I was not a fan of John Byrne's Spider-Man: Chapter One. It's probably my least favourite version of the classic Spider-Man origin story. I found it to be pretty lame and unnecessary for the most part. But one aspect I do like about it is the way the Byrne wrote this specific moment:

Burglar: Hey, don't worry, pal! I ain't gonna blow your little TV Star gig! But as long as you're gonna play cat burglar on th' side, you an' me, we could be partners! With your talent and my brains…

Peter: No! No!! I didn't even recognise you, it was all so unimportant to me! You're the one I didn't stop! And now Uncle Ben is dead!! Because of me!!! No… No… Gotta stop. Before I kill him. He's out cold. Probably since my first punch. He didn't hear anything I said. Now… There's only one thing for me to do…

Source ― Spider-Man: Chapter One.

The way Peter's confrontation with his Uncle's killer goes down differently than in Amazing Fantasy #15, Ultimate Spider-Man Issue #5 and Spider-Man: Season One. In those versions of the classic origin story, Peter incapacitates his Uncle's killer with a punch, and only realises the identity of his Uncle's killer when getting a closer look at his face, who is incapacitated. In this version, it's the opposite; Peter realizes the identity of his Uncle's killer immediately, and then proceeds to beating him up in a fit of rage and grief. But Peter eventually restrains himself, realizing that he needs to stop, otherwise he'll end up killing him. Bear in mind that this is the man who killed Uncle Ben. Peter already knows who is, and even when he gives him a beating in a fit of unbridled rage, Peter demonstrates enough self discipline and strong moral views to force himself to stop himself from killing the man who murdered his surrogate father. And last, but certaintly not least, I'm going to move onto another example from a Marvel/DC Comics crossover…

The Joker

I saved this example for the last because even though it's from a Marvel/DC comics crossover, it's the best example in my opinion, because anyone who know the Joker should how evil and homicidal this guy is. Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds is the first crossover between Batman and Spider-Man. I won't go into much detail about what happens in the story, but Spider-Man and Batman team up to fight Carnage and the Joker. This story was published in 1995, written by J. M. DeMatteis, who has authored many Batman and Spider-Man comics. The story itself features the Earth 616 versions of Spider-Man and Carnage, and the Post Crisis versions of Batman and the Joker. So even though it takes place outside of the mainstream Marvel and DC universes due being a crossover, it's supposed to be an accurate representation of how these characters would interact with each other if they met. Towards the end of the story, Spider-Man has a confrontation with the Joker, and it goes like this:

Joker: Run away… Run away… Kill again another– day..?! A spider signal?! I hope Commisioner Gordon doesn't hear about this!

Peter: YOU! You spit on everything that's decent in this world!

Joker: But of course!

Peter: You murder hope! You trample goodness! You suck it all down into the chaos!

Joker: We aim t'please!

Peter: The only way to stop a sneering animal like you — IS TO KILL YOU!

Joker: Then go ahead– do it! It'll be hilarious, don't you think? A goody two-shoes like you — murdering a stinker like? Come one, I dare you! I double dare you! HAHAHAHAHA

Peter: What am I doing? Dear god– what am I doing?

Joker: Too bad. I thought he had the makings of a decent lunatic! Ah well– once I unleash my vi– Rus–

Peter: Sorry, Joker — I could never you… Or anyone. You see, I've got an example to live up to. A faith I'll never betray. That may not be very funny– but it's true.

Source ― Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds.

When Spider-Man confronts the Joker, he is tempted to kill the Joker, and even threatens to kill the Joker, knowing fully well how evil Joker is, saying that the Joker murders hope, tramples goodness, sucking it all down into chaos. Spider-Man declares to the Joker that the only way to stop "a sneering animal" like the Joker is to kill him. The Joker however, isn't even afraid of Spider-Man, but only encourages Spider-Man to give into his darker impulses, finding that the prospect of a "goody two-shoes" like Spider-Man murdering "a stinker like" the Joker is hilarious. But Spider-Man calms down, realizing how violent and vindictive it would be to kill the Joker. The Joker appears to express slight disappointment, but shrugs it off because he has other plans, but before he can finish talking, Spider-Man punches the Joker so hard, that the clown prince of crime is rendered unconscious. Spider-Man talks to the incapacitated Joker, saying that he could never bring himself to kill the Joker and anyone else for that matter because he has an example to live up to. A faith he'll never betray. This is likely a reference to Uncle Ben and the moral values he taught Peter, which may not be funny to the Joker, but it's true.

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Granted, the story doesn't make it clear whether Peter knows the full history of the Joker's atrocities, but I would assume he has a hunch. But regardless of Peter knows or doesn't know about the Joker, it's still a very awesome moment to the reader when you take into consideration of what the Joker has done. Yeah I know this isn't a Batman subreddit, but I would still like to talk about the Joker has done a lot of terrible things to Batman. This guy crippled Barbara Gordon (The Killing Joke), murdered Jason Todd (A Death in the Family), murdered Sarah Essen (No Man's Land) and has done various other terrible things. So the fact that Spider-Man demonstrated enough willpower and strong moral views to resist the urge to kill the Joker, is a great moment. I'm not sure if this has actually been confirmed in any Spider-Man story, but I belive that the reason why Peter has a moral code is because he thinks Uncle Ben would be ashamed of him if he became a killer. It just seems like the sort of thing he would believe in, considering how his career as a superhero is driven by living up to his Uncle's ideals and beliefs. Batman however, has very different reasons for his moral code, which I will now touch upon:

Batman's Moral Code

One of the most core elements of Post Crisis Batman's character are that he has a moral code i.e. no killing and no guns, which is part of what makes him a very psychologically fascinating character. I am not going to comment about what I think whether Batman's moral code is right or wrong, I'm just going to explain why he has it. A lot of people bitch and moan about Batman's moral code all the time even though Batman isn't the only superhero who refuses to kill because Spider-Man, Daredevil, Superman and the Flash (Barry Allen) are also against killing, but I've never seen anyone ask why Spider-Man doesn't kill the Green Goblin or Carnage for example. Perhaps they would prefer Batman being more like the Punisher. There are many reasons why Batman has a moral code. These reasons are primarily psychological. Batman has a no guns rule because a man with a gun killed his parents, so he naturally harbors a lot of hatred for guns. As for his no kill rule, he explains it to the Joker:

Joker: Will you do it? Kill me? Release the burden that torments both of us?

Batman: No. Oh, I want to — I've never wanted anything so much. But I won't. Because if I did, I'd be violating a belief that has sustained me all these years. I believe in the absolute sacredness of human life. I may not really believe in anything else. There's more. If I did as you ask, I'd be no better than my enemies — I'd be the insane avenger some people are certain I already am.

Source — Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #1.

Page 54

As explained in the scan above, Batman has a moral code because he believes in "the absolute sacredness of human life." Life is sacred to Batman because he has witnessed the power of taking a life when he saw Joe Chill murder his parents, and he doesn't want to become the kind of man that killed his parents. Anyone can take a life if they really wanted to, but the sheer ramifications of taking a life is so monumental, and Batman knows this with every fiber of his being. What also makes life so sacred to Batman is that he believes in second chances and redemption. That's why he apprehends criminals rather than just killing them. Apprehending them gives them a chance to rethink their lives and turn away from a life of crime. Not all criminals in Gotham are homicidal psychopaths, some criminals commit petty crimes because they're desperate and crime is the only way they can get money because Gotham is that corrupt. So to Batman, there's always a chance they could get reformed. Not only does taking away the life of a criminal take away any chance of redemption, it could also impact the lives of other people because some criminals have people that love them i.e. family. Robbing them of the person they care about is going to cause them the same pain that Batman went through as a child. One of the ways that Batman fights crime is that he tries to help criminals get reformed as Bruce Wayne by using the Wayne Foundation to address the social issues that encourage crime in Gotham, so he doesn't just put them behind bars to help them get reformed.

Another good instance of Batman explaining his moral code is when a resurrected Jason Todd tries to entice Batman into killing the Joker:

Bruce: You don't understand. I don't think you ever did.

Jason: What? Your moral code just won't allow for that? It's too hard to "cross that line"?

Bruce: No. God almighty… No. It'd be too damned easy. All I have ever wanted to do is kill him. For years a day hasn't gone by where I haven't envisioned taking him… Taking him and spending an entire month putting him through the most horrendous, mind boggling forms of torture. All of it building to an end with him broken, butchered and maimed… Pleasing — screaming — in the worst kind of agony as he careens into a monstrous death. I want him dead — maybe more than I've ever wanted anything. But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place… I'll never come back.

Source — Batman (1940) Issue #650.

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As Batman says here, it would just be "too damned easy" to kill. He's worried that he might not be able to stop killing if he goes down the path of being an executioner. Part of what motivates Batman to fight crime is a desire for vengeance. He witnessed his parents get brutally murdered by a man with a gun when he was only 8 years old, so he has deep rooted feelings of anger and rage towards the criminal underworld for taking his parents and childhood away from him. Batman uses a strict moral code to control and restrain his desires for violence and revenge. Self discipline is one of Batman's most defining traits. Self discipline is why he follows his moral code very strictly. Alfred has even made a remark on it:

Dick: Besides, what's the use of keeping my strength up? Bruce has probably already put out a want ad for a new partner!

Alfred: That's hardly fair, master Dick. His foremost concern is for your welfare.

Dick: Aw, I know. It's just that he's so — so darn tough!

Alfred: He's more strict with himself than with anyone else.

Source — Batman: Full Circle.

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Alfred describes Bruce as being "more strict with himself than with anyone else" to Dick Grayson in a conversation about why Bruce forced Dick to stay at home whilst Bruce is out as Batman.

Granted, these aforementioned reasons for Batman's moral code are psychological in nature, but they're not the only reasons why Batman has a moral code. Batman's moral code are one of the only reasons why the GCPD permit his crusade against crime:

Batman: I don't kill, Zsasz.

Zsasz: Ah yes, your "saving grace" — the one factor that allows the zombies to sanction your actions… That and your choice of victims of course. But you'd like to kill them, if only they'd let you get away with it… Because it would make your work so much easier, wouldn't it?… And ever so much more satisfying.

Source — Batman (1940) Issue #493.

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Batman is already breaking the law by simply being a vigilante, but the GCPD still permit him to operate because they need him. The only reasons they approve of Batman's crusade is because he specifically targets criminals and doesn't kill them. Jim Gordon would never approve of Batman if he was an executioner. If Batman didn't have a moral code, Jim Gordon would condemn him and lead the entire GCPD to apprehend him, and he's more than capable of deducing Batman is Bruce Wayne because deep down, Jim already knows who Batman is. It would take nothing more than 20 minutes of honest detective work to confirm his suspicion that Batman is Bruce Wayne, the only reason why he hasn't is because he doesn't care. Jim respects Batman's privacy because they're friends, and Batman's identity doesn't matter to Jim because it's relevant, what's matters to Jim is that Gotham is salvageable.

Of course, one could still argue that even superheroes like Batman should make exceptions to their no kill rules because certain people just can't be reformed, such as the Joker. Part of why so many people give Batman a lot of heat for his moral code is that he refuses to kill the Joker because he's too dangerous to be kept alive, but what these people forget is that even Batman has made the Joker an exception at least twice. Batman has tried to kill the Joker in A Death in the Family and Batman: Hush, but several people stopped him. In the former instance, Batman tries to kill the Joker for murdering Jason Todd, but gets stopped. In the latter instance, Batman tries to kill the Joker for seemingly murdering Thomas Elliott (among other things), but also gets stopped. I'm not going to explain everything in those situations in full detail, because it'd be better to read the stories themselves. The latter instance of Batman trying to kill the Joker has been posted on YouTube, with great voice over:

Batman: Hush – Batman Almost Kills The Joker

I don't want to delve too much into the "should Batman kill the Joker?" shenanigans because that's ultimately just another tiresome discussion on moral issues. Killing the Joker isn't even contingent on Batman breaking his moral code because there are other people who could also do it. Perhaps Jim Gordon should do it. He's a cop, he has killed people, he is among the people who have been affected the most by the Joker's atrocities, and yet he never gets any heat for this. As for those who would prefer a Batman to be more like the Punisher, he does exist; he's called the Grim Knight.

Well, that marks the end of this post, hope you liked reading it.


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