When did DC & Marvel start acknowledging civilian deaths due to superhuman fights?

In some titles I’ve seen over the last few years there seems to be fairly explicit discussions between characters of how many non-combatant (ie regular people) were killed in this or that super hero-super villian fight. This never used to be the case and cities could be ripped into space and buildings get toppled with nary a casualty mentioned.

When did this change?

Well, there was Damage Control, about a company that was contracted to repair property that was trashed in the various superhero dustups. According to Wikipedia, it premiered in May 1989.

In 1990, there was a Punisher story where he confronted Belasco (one of Marvel’s Satan cutouts). Belasco taunted him by saying “Hey Frank, guess how many innocent people you’ve killed in your crossfire? I’ll give you a hint: More than ten and less than a hundred!” Mike Baron wrote it. He had a great facility with the murkiness of vigilante morality.

During the eighties there was this surge of ‘realism’ in the comic book industry, when they explicitly started aiming for more mature audiences. Part of it was the success of writers like Frank Miller or Alan Moore. Still they never really got around to dealing with collateral damage.

It sort of mutated horribly to create the nineties: basically it was all grim and gritty but again aimed at prepubescent sensibilities. Now lots of heroes shoot guns while posturing and spewing one-liners and there was a lot more deadly encounters, but the comics were not grown up enough to even think about innocent victims. Imagine Liefeld having to deal with actual emotions. shudders

A phenomenon happened during the 2000: first, the fad of Image-like artists went away, and second, trade paperbacks started selling well-- and the people who could afford them were often grown-ups who went after the smarter stuff. This led to a renaissance of really dark comics (not necessarily better, mind you) that used realistic narrative, with writers like Bendis or Millar. Even the “hot” artists tend to photorealism, like Hitch.

It’s still pretty much soap opera with self-righteous muscle heads, but now the writers deal with more adult themes that were verboten back when: drugs, sex and, yes, death of innocents. Particularly since 9/11 the whole “victims of super-terrorist attack” or “this symbolizes Iraq” is what every writer attempting to look deep will go for.

Neither Bendis or Millar have anything resembling “realistic narrative”. They’ve just abandoned the light fantasy anchor that the superhero genre has been tied to for a long time. Unfortunately without that anchor the stark unreality of their stories stands out more. Like, to use an example from the past month, when they decide a man who has publicly murdered police officers on live television in the recent past would be someone that the president would appoint to be in charge of national defense because they shoot an alien in the head. Their plots run on authorial fiat and while they’re happy to show “realistic” destruction they never have realistic developments leading to it or realistic consequences to it.

I know you’re not really defending them but you’re not the only person who I’ve seen cite their work as “realistic” when they’re just as flawed as the worst excesses of the silver age only without the camp value. I see it as an uncanny valley sort of problem: by trying to move things closer to reality they’ve made their falseness stand out even more.

And Moore never got around to showing the collateral damage in the 1980’s? There was an entire issue of Miracleman that was the most gruesome collateral damage of superhuman conflict ever put on page. Compare that work to what is being done today.

Preach it. I have a whole rant on this subject.

Sure, i expressed myself poorly. I meant “realistic” in the sense of “Gosh! Thor talks about farts!” not as in resembling reality at all.

Yes. But that was neither Marvel nor DC. It wasn’t even American.

You said it. That convinced me to abandon buying any Marvel besides a couple of the Ultimate line books. I actually got into a discussion about that with a guy at the local shop…the example I gave to him was, say Dog the Bounty Hunter, a convicted murderer, shot Osama Bin Laden on national TV. Do you think the president would then ignore his felony record and his checkered recent history and make him Secretary of Defense?
Give him a medal? Maybe, sure.
Have the CIA use him a couple times? Maybe.
Give him a public post in a presidential administration? FUCK no.


Liefeld couldn’t even deal with basic human musculature and proportion (cf. the infamous Captain America where it looks like Cap’s lungs are pregnant).

I kind of figured that the inclusion of civilian casualties was opening a can of worms for the superhero books. After all, you have characters with the power of gods who are getting into knock down drag outs in some of the most populous cities on earth.

If you are going to investigate the consequences when Nitro blows up a neighborhood, what about what happens when Thor punches the Hulk through an office building during a busy work day? Your telling me no one is ever hurt, even by shrapnel?

What about the Joker? With all of the people he has killed, aren’t there any survivors of these people who are willing to go “Jack Ruby” on laughing boy when they haul him in for one of his many trials? Even if that didn’t happen, somehow I think a city where an insane mass murderer escaped on a monthly basis to kill again would have a major issue with that.

 Now there are perfectly good reasons for the above to occur. Thor punching the Hulk through a building looks cool, the Joker is and interesting character so you can't kill him off or leave him in prison. If you bring in realism, and the concept of what the real world consequences of these things would be, that invalidates those reasons. 

So yeah, you can have superheros, and megabattles, or you can have realism, but remember that too much of one will invalidate the other. It’s like having a bottle with oil and water in it. You can put both in, but they won’t mix, and if you put more oil in, you have to decrease the amount of water out of necessity.

The Joker has a charmed life. Every single time someone takes it into their head to deal with the Joker permanently, it backfires on them. Either the Joker himself takes them out, the Batman is forced to save the Joker, or something else happens. He was saved from the electric chair (for a murder he actually didn’t commit) at the last second. He once tried to nuke a ciity, and he finally came under federal/ national security jurisdiction. He should either be dead or down a hole with a grate welded over the top. But he’s friggin’ immortal. The Joker himself maintains that his continued existence is one of the universe’s sickest jokes.

Garth Ennis wrote a one-shot for Marvel called “The Punisher kills the Marvel Universe”.

In it, the Punisher’s family are killed not in a mob shoot-out but in a fight between aliens and the X-men and some Avengers. The Punisher, upon seeing his family killed, does what any self-respecting villan should have done a thousand times, pulls out his gun and shoots the lot of them. Killing the likes of Cyclops instantly.

Perhaps my favourite secne even in comics. Not because I hate Cyclops but because it shows collateral damage and a superhero with not obvious protection being killed. Seriously, about 50% of the superhero population in both universes could be killed in a matter of moments.

It’s a personal peeve which is why I can’t stand Batman etc.

A very worthy mention. It’s issue #15. Here’s a scan of the splash page:

Didn’t they use to say that “The Hulk’s never hurt anyone.” I knew that was BS the first moment I read it. No way that big bugger jumps around and fights the Army and no one dies or gets killed.

As for “The Punisher kills the Marvel Universe”, I always took that as “well, my dad can beat up your dad”. And he’d get his clock cleaned in DC in half a minute because the heroes are too powerful. Never liked him.

They did, then they retracted it, and now they’re back to saying it again.

Personally I don’t have a problem with a Hulk who has accidentally caused civilian deaths but I understand why the powers that be might like to gloss over that. It does radically change the character dynamic and central conflict.

I think that especially in light of the WWII-era origins of the superhero genre, the lack of collateral civilian death should be counted as an integral part of the fantasy, not just a form of prudish politeness. The ability to not only use tremendous force, but to use it cleanly, was what set superheroes apart from ordinary humans. (Any jerk with a bazooka can punch through a wall.) So I think it’s a mistake to inject this sort of “realism” into the mix, and tends to undermine the whole concept.

Robert Kirkman’s Invincible handles this really well. When the titular character confronts [not going to spoil it] buildings and subway systems topple, and the point is clearly made that thousands died. AND this effects the hero/public dynamic throughout the series to this point - fortysome issues later.

I think the idea of collateral damage crossed over from the independants. Back in the eighties you had titles like The Elementals or The American showing superhero battles with more realistic casualties. Readers got used to seeing this and eventually it crossed over to DC and Marvel.

I was just reminiscing about the X-Men/et.al. “Fall of the Mutants” crossover from back in 1988 this past week…in the X-Factor storyline, the last issue of the the crossover (#26) was entitled Casualties and it dealt with X-Factor dealing with the effects that their battle with Apocalypse in the previous issue had on Manhattan…and this included acknowledging civilian deaths…however, all blame went to the bad guy in this case. No “friendly fire”.

I think they’re back to “He does kill people” again–the whole “Planet Hulk” thing was based on the idea that he was too dangerous to leave wandering around.

Of course, that makes Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Captain America, Doc Strange, Professor X, Black Panther and every other hero who’s ever helped Bruce Banner get away from the cops/military into an accomplice for who-knows-how-many homicides (not to mention them looking like total idiots) .

Frankly, Hulk works only if either:

  1. From day one, EVERYONE is hunting the Hulk–yeah, they may feel sorry for Bruce, but them’s the breaks–of course this contradicts every Hulk crossover from ~1961-2002 (including pretty much a 150 issue run of Defenders), but hey, this is a universe where Satan can change history, so it’s not that much of a stretch to assume that this is yet another side effect of Satan making everyone forget that Peter is Spidey (along with Harry coming back to life and several other non-sequiters)


  1. Bruce exerts enough control over even a truly pissed-off Hulk that Hulk doesn’t do collateral damage. I prefer this one as it then makes sense as to why Reed and all the other heroes have let Bruce go–beyond the simple humanity/compassion thing, what would Hulk be like if Bruce lost hope and STOPPED reigning him in? This one worked for something like 40 years before Bendis(?) decided it would be “kewl” if Hulk not only collateral damaged, but deliberately killed.