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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Comics and Morality

How do we know who the heroes are in the comics we read?   Is it because we are told by the writer or do we gauge characters by our own moral compass?  While any character may at some time make compromises to their own code of conduct, the following series turn the entire concept of morality on its head, forcing readers to ask serious questions of the characters and themselves.

1. MW - Michio Yuki
The two main characters of this series are both despicable in their own right.  As murderers, extortionist, and sex offenders, they are not easy to sympathize with.  Regarded as the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka is one of the few who can make you.  While reading this series, you often question who to blame; Michio for his horrific actions, Garai for allowing them, or the government responsible for chemical weapon Michio is exposed to, leaving him amoral and apathetic.  It seems all of Michio's heinous crimes are committed for the sake of getting revenge against those responsible for the death of an entire island.  This is one of the most raw presentations of "the end justifies the means" you can find.  Read it and decide who you can forgive in a story with no heroes.

2. Death Note - Light Yagami
Do you believe in the death penalty?  What gives one person the right to measure another by their own moral compass?  Light believes very strongly in justice and law, so when he obtains a death god's notebook, he uses its power to kill off the world's most wanted criminals.  Murder is still murder, so Light is pitted against L, the world's greatest detective.  While L may not be killing criminals wholesale, he certainly violates civil and privacy rights. Both characters justify their actions through their own moral code.  A character who damns him/herself for the sake of others is still damned.  What is left is to decide whether or not their sacrifice helped or hurt the world.

3. Walking Dead - Rick Grimes

When society had crumbled, what rules still apply?  As a lawman before the zombie apocalypse, Rick Grimes must decide whether survival today or the laws of yesterday are more important.  While he wants to always do the right thing, Rick is quick to learn the old rules don't necessarily apply. He is constantly making moral compromises which slowly darken his soul. With the new way of the world, someone else's secrets could kill you.  Rick's optimism at the beginning of the story slowly (and understandably) erodes with the events that transpire.  When readers look back on the series when it's finished,have to decide if Rick is a hero and if his moral lapses are necessary and forgivable.

4. Full Metal Alchemist - Roy Mustang (secondary character)
After helping participate in an act of genocide, Colonel Mustang has been regarded as a war hero by some and a "dog of the military" by others.  He feels great remorse for what took place and resolves to create change from within the system.  Mustang dedicates his life to working his way up in the military to a position where he can dictate change.  He vows to protect those working under him and asks they only protect those who are under them and so on.  It all sounds well and good, but in a nation under a military dictatorship, how truly noble is his goal?  Can we forgive an act of genocide because he was "following orders"? 

5. Battle RoyaleShuyu Nanahara
"Kill or be killed."  That is the guideline given to any class of junior high students unlucky enough to be selected to participate in The Program.  Contestants on this reality show are placed on an island with a survival pack and a random weapon (anything from a coat hanger to an uzi) after being equipped with a radio collar (fatally combustible) for movement tracking.  Shu, being an eternal optimist, believes his classmates can unite and refuse to compete. His outlook is tested to it's limit as the students begin slaughtering each other at a record setting pace.  Shu must decide how long he can hold onto his personal ideology while protecting himself and the girl he's sworn to rescue from The Program.

- Ryan

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