Comic books, whether they be DC or Marvel or any imprint in between, have been utilizing their ability to discuss hot button topics to the greater population. From DC comics tackling drug habits with the Green Lantern/Green Arrow story arc of Snowbirds Don’t Fly, to Iron Man’s Demon In A Bottle story arc from Marvel which tackles alcoholism and its effects, to the most recent Marvel event Civil War 2; comics have brought everyday struggles to the forefront. Probably the most recurring theme in comics, besides the struggle between good and evil, is the making of ethically and morally grey choices. Each company has made characters that toe this line as a profession: Red Hood, Punisher, Rorschach, Deadpool, Moon Knight, and Wolverine to just name a few.
One of the most prevalent examples of this kind of choice comes from the Remender run on Uncanny X-Force. In this run the X-Force is tasked with killing the reincarnated version of Apocalypse, one of their big bads. The problem with this mission, the reincarnated Apocalypse is just a small boy named Evan. When the team finally learns all of the facts surrounding their mission it divides them down the middle. Half of them believe that the child has done nothing wrong and therefore doesn’t deserve death, the other half believe that the mere fact he is capable of such evil is enough to warrant the hit. An argument breaks out between Deadpool and Wolverine on what should be done. During the argument, team member Fantomex, “takes care of the problem” as he puts it so nobody else would have to deal with that on their conscience. Deadpool is understandably upset and admits that he is a soulless, money hungry, good for nothing mercenary but he also adds ” I’ve never killed a kid”.
The guilt weighs on Fantomex so much that without the team knowing he clones Evan and raises him on a secret farm. When Fantomex dies on a mission the team finds the farm and the reincarnated Evan. While Evan did have some close calls with the darkness within him he ultimately held on to the teachings of his “father”, enough so to earn him an acceptance to the School for Gifted Mutants. Deadpool visits Evan in his dorm room and they have a very heart to heart chat. Deadpool tells Evan to stop referring to himself as Apocalypse because that’s not who is. Evan thanks Deadpool and tells him that ” at my lowest point.. you were the hero that showed up to save me”, this comment leaves Deadpool at a loss for words because nobody has ever called him a hero before. Deadpool ends the encounter in a fashion that only he could, by stealing the meditation book recommended by Wolverine and leaving porno mags as he shouts ” I left you something you’ll get more use out of!”
This type of dilemma is becoming more and more mainstream in comics as more and more laws are being questioned in our own societies. The arc from Civil War 2 by Marvel deals with preemptive strikes as well as their consequences. A brief rundown of the Bendis run is as follows: A new Inhuman named Ulysses is given the power of foresight. Nobody knows how accurate his visions are but Ms. Marvel and a group of fellow Avengers don’t want to take that chance, so they use the visions to launch a counter attack. Their first strike puts them against Thanos, the big bad that the MCU has been alluding to for the past 5 years, and it does not go the way they want it to. It ends with She-Hulk taking a rocket to the chest and ending up in a coma and War Machine getting punched full force by Thanos and severing his spine. Despite the casualties the team prevails and defeats Thanos. This doesn’t bode well with Iron Man as his best friend has been murdered on an unsanctioned mission. The entire event comes out of the statement Steve Rogers made when shown project Insight in the Winter Soldier movie “I thought the punishment came after the crime”. Iron Man and his side believe that Ulysses powers are too untested to use as a preemptive strike tool and Ms. Marvel and her side don’t want to risk innocent lives if something can be stopped before it starts.
An example of a dilemma experienced by a singular character would be the instance where Daredevil had the choice to shoot Punisher in the head or let the Punisher kill a gang of criminals. This hit hard for Daredevil because, as one of the most religious and conflicted characters in comics, he has a strict policy of no killing. To say he is a little messed up is an understatement, he is devoutly catholic but runs around in a red devil themed suit beating on criminals… Putting that aside, this stands as one of the biggest moments for the character of Daredevil. He has the chance to stop the Punisher with one pull of a trigger, but it would compromise everything he has come to know and believe in his entire life. Netflix’s Daredevil show did a great job of illustrating this interaction in Season 2. The interaction from the show comes with a line that will echo with Daredevil for the rest of his career through his numerous moments of doubting whether he is making a difference and if he should give in like the Punisher has. The line is delivered by the Punisher as he is preparing for an assault on the Dogs of Hell, he says ” …the difference between you and me is that when you hit them they get back up; when I hit them they stay down!”; to add insult to injury he then sits down and stares at Daredevil saying ” You’re one bad day away from being me”. This alone causes Daredevil to questions his methods and his impact on the city he so much loves and is willing to die to protect.
There are so many examples of ethically ambiguous choices in comics that I can’t hope to mention them all, but rest assured that most of them causing some sort of title wide event that will change their respective universes at its conclusion.