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License to Kill

DC comic's recent mega-event, The Sinestro Corp Wars, caught my attention. This fictional war spawned a massive change in the ethos of the Green Lantern characters and, more importantly, a missed opportunity. 

The Green Lanterns are an intergalactic peace keeping force. It's like NATO, but with power rings that allow the wearer to fly across space and battle enemies. (It's a comic book universe, so go with for a second.) And because it's a comic book there are rules. Actually, it's a law. It's the Green Lantern Corps' primary law and limitation. The Green Lanterns don't kill. In fact, they can't. They incapacitate, disable, or capture but they do not kill; their ring won't allow it.

It's not necessarily a limitation, but a statement of purpose, a differentiation from the rest of the universe and a demonstration of purity. They are an intergalactic peace keeping force, not an army. The laws dictated that a Green Lantern could not take the life of an enemy. The wearer of the ring was called to be higher; to be better than the villain.  The Green Lantern is a keeper of the peace, not a taker of life. 

As is common in the comic universe, a great arch-enemy returns to wreak his vengeance upon the Green Lantern Corps. Sinestro, one of the corps' former best, rallied the worst the universe had to offer, creating his own pseudo-corps in his bid for revenge. And he was winning. The Lanterns were dying.

So those who controlled Green Lanterns (an ancient race called the Oans) changed the laws. Now they could kill. And kill they did. The Green Lantern Corps began to beat back Sinestro and his army. Where once they could only disable, they left bodies in their wake.

I don't have a problem story arc and the return of a familiar villain. Nor do I have a problem with the war or the Corp pushed to the point of losing multiple lanterns. Surprisingly enough, my problem doesn't arise from the authorization for the Green Lanterns to kill. Rather, my protest is with how quickly this new ability is taken for granted. Suddenly heroes are authorized to take life and there is no conflict.

There was an opportunity in this moment; the moment the heroes realize they can do what they dared not before. There was an opportunity for the writers to depict a conflict, a deeper philosophical question, that was missed. That question is whether a hero should kill and when. And the writer's missed it.

two comments

It is a basic law of warfare: do whatever it takes to win. Violate any principle, law, moral, ethic, if it means surviving.

This is why terrorists use women and children, and why Americans would if we were in their position. It’s how guerrilla armies operate. It’s why rules of war are so silly.

It’s why war is the opposite of civilization.

And it’s why non-violent methods will never be allowed, because they require casualties.


It’s one more attempt to modernize comics to catch up to our current culture. There was a point early in the short history of comic books when lethal enforcers like the Punisher were popular. Captain American and Batman carried guns. At some point, largely due to the influence of Stan Lee the creator of characters like Spider-man, heroes began to differentiate themselves from their enemies by their respect for all life. I just wish the change had a more drastic effect on the characters I thought I was familiar with.