Vigilante Justice


"You know you're one bad day away from being me." — Frank Castle, "Daredevil"

Marvel's "Daredevil" unveiled its second season on March 18, and by now many — myself included — have devoured the 13 episodes. Some have called it an uneven season, which may be true, but I was fascinated by the battle between Daredevil and The Punisher.

No, not the physical battle, though that was often impressive. It was their ideological battle that drove the series. Since the beginning, Matt Murdock has been a hero plagued by guilt. He's frequently visited a priest and tried to come to grips with his mission and his faith. He is trying to do good, but he's afraid of doing evil.

Frank Castle has no such fear. After his family was gunned down, he took it upon himself to rid the city of the gangsters that are a blight upon it. He had no moral qualms with killing scores of men in the name of justice. That set him and Daredevil at odds. Daredevil might beat people up and hurt people, but he doesn't kill. He still wants to believe in the justice system — despite the fact he's a criminal himself. It's a paradox.

"Daredevil" is hardly the first superhero story to grapple with these questions — in fact, it's becoming all, too common. Just last weekend, in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," that argument was front and center. Superman took issue with Batman, and his brand of street justice. Batman — and even some members of the government — took issue with Superman, and the destruction his work to safeguard the people caused.

It was what set the heroes at odds. And it is a reasonable question. Do we want a hero who is going to be judge, jury, and executioner? Do we want a hero that destroys cities in the name of defending them?

These questions aren't new, either. Batman and Superman have been around since the 1930s. But it feels like in our culture these questions about the nature of what it means to be a hero are bubbling more to the surface in our entertainment. We live in an era of unprecedented skepticism about those who would seek to "save" us. People don't trust the police. They don't trust the government. And, largely, they don't believe in God.

That cynicism is breaking into our art, as well. Last weekend "Superman" was labeled a false God. Batman was labeled a criminal. Daredevil and The Punisher are hunted by the authorities. And in May, Ironman and Captain America will go to war over these same issues. After destroying major cities in both Avengers films, the government wants more control over these "heroes." Captain America isn't having it, leading to a rift among those meant to protect us.

We go to the movies and watch TV to escape reality. Superhero stories — flights of fantasy about heroes saving us — are usually a great place for that. But more and more these grim stories are looking like the world's their meant to divert us from. And there may be no going back.

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