Yesterday DC Comics released the third issue of Justice League: Cry For Justice, James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli’s miniseries about Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Green Arrow Oliver Queen forming their own, more aggressive and proactive Justice League team.
This issue contains a scene in which the superheroes capture the villain Prometheus, and torture him for information. The scene was among the pages that DC released as a preview earlier in the week.
It’s a perfect example of why I hate seeing serious, real-world issues injected into super-comics.
Make no mistake, I don’t think there are any topics that DC and Marvel should forbid their writers from ever exploring under any circumstances, but when they address topics as serious as torturing prisoners, and whether it’s moral, ethical or effective, a topic that is the source of very important debate in our country right now, then they damn well better do a good job of it. It can’t just be something tossed off between the normal men-in-tights melodrama and punching and exploding.
The problem with superheroes is that they automatically make any topic they address at least somewhat ridiculous. Regardless of the age the majority of their audience now, or the people creating their stories, they were created as children’s characters and they will always be, at least on some level, cartoon characters.
Sure, Geoff Johns has done really great work on the Green Lantern monthly, and it’s definitely a comic by and for adults now, but that doesn’t mean Hal Jordan isn’t also the character from that goofy Super Friends cartoon. Adding dead-serious elements like torture into a story featuring him almost inevitably makes it seem as if a writer is making light of those elements. Unless it’s a really, really well-written comic which can skillfully avoid the inherent difficulties of Justice Leaguers Hal Jordan, Ollie Queen and Ray “The Atom” Palmer resorting to torture.
And Robinson clearly isn’t ignorant of this. He does have a character ask if hurting Prometheus until he agrees to talk is torture, and if it’s crossing a line. That character is then rebuffed by others saying it’s okay to torture a murderer because it’s more fair than killing them, or if they hurt your feelings badly enough.
One could argue that it’s realistic to have heroes torture villains for information once in a while because hey, it happens in real life. That argument never sounded very convincing to me. Just look at who’s standing around in that room: A resurrected guy with an alien magic wishing ring, his resurrected friend, teenage alien girl, a guy who can shrink to the size of an atom, and a guy who gets the powers of mythological characters when he says a magic word. Heck, flip a few pages and check out the scene with the talking gorilla. But beyond the fact that the DC Universe (like the Marvel Universe and any other fictional superhero universe) is an inherently ridiculous, unrealistic place, a scene like this just doesn’t even make any logical sense within the context of that ridiculous, realistic place.
Hal Jordan needs information from a bad guy who doesn’t want to talk, huh? Hmm. Well, he could torture the bad guy, or he could just call up his friend who just so happens to have a magical lasso specifically designed to make bad guys truthfully confess information. Torture this dude, call Wonder Woman, torture this dude, call Wonder Woman…tough call!
As depressing as it is to see so-called superheroes taking Dick Cheney’s side in the torture debate, it’s even more so when you realize their position is even more reprehensible than Cheney’s—after all, it’s not like the CIA have Wonder Woman and her magic lasso on speed dial but chose not to give her a call.
Yes, I’m aware of the fact that in JLA #17, Wonder Woman’s mom threatens to use the lasso on Prometheus and he responds that he can resist its magic. “I promise you I’ll resist until my mind is in ruins,” he says, “I can do it, Wonder Woman. And you still won’t get what you need.” Does that mean Prometheus is immune to Wonder Woman’s lasso?
Well, a couple of things. He might have been bluffing (in that same story, he bluffed The Flash into sitting the fight out by telling him if he used super-speed, it would trigger hidden bombs). Jordan and Queen were dead at the time and Palmer retired, so none of them would have known of Prometheus’ boast. Even if the lasso did leave his mind “in ruins,” they’d essentially be mentally torturing him, which isn’t any worse than physically torturing him, is it? (In both cases, the goal would be to break him). And obviously he wouldn’t have resisted that long anyway, if he gave in so quickly to torture here.
And yeah, I also know that (SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!) that’s not really Prometheus that they’re torturing, which is another weakness with the story entirely, so let’s not get into that here. (But jeez, you’d think the Atom would notice if he was inside the guy, right?)