NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Green Lanterns #16
If there's one thing you can always say about the world's opinion on glorifying violence, it's that standards, tastes, and the definition of escapism are always changing. Where Superman and Batman used to abuse or kill criminals in their earliest comics, the same being done for better reasons today is seen as blasphemous. Where Captain America once aided the war effort by fighting Nazis (guess how he did it), his modern Avengers value nothing else so much as human life... and killing the villain, since it's the only way to remove them from sequels.
We've previously explored the idea that just about every modern movie hero kills with little remorse, and how an audience's desire to criticize, or ignore such acts can vary wildly from story to story. But there's an added wrinkle to the conversation when superheroes aren't just capable of ending lives, but carrying the most effective weapon designed for just that job. While The CW's Arrow proves the exception to the rule, the modern comic book superhero sees guns - pistols, revolvers, and any other variation - as a weapon of the enemy.
The DCEU's depiction of a Batman driven to cruelty and willingness to inflict lethal harm on criminals proved divisive, but the Batman of DC's current comic universe takes a harder stance. When Bruce Wayne calls for help in Green Lanterns #16 it isn't the heroic duo's ring-slinging skills that grabs his attention - it's the gun on one of their hips.
For those curious about the case that brought two Green Lanterns into Gotham City, we've already covered the classic Batman villain who now wields the yellow light of fear. But even before Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz have learned of the exact reason Batman has requested they come to Gotham to assist him, they know it's out of the ordinary. Even if it wasn't common knowledge that Batman prefers to handle his city's problems himself, the unique brand of fear that his invitation brings with it puts battles with alien monsters to shame.
The meeting begins with Simon, Jessica, Bruce, and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon making their introductions, and giving their first thoughts on this Sinestro Corps case... but takes a sharp turn when Gordon notices the firearm Simon has in his holster. It appears that Jim's first reaction is simple confusion, since you don't see many (or any) DC superheroes carrying a service pistol as part of their costume. And since Simon is most definitely not a member of the GCPD or American law enforcement at all, Gordon states that he'll have to follow the restrictions put in place for firearms within Gotham.
It's not the first time that Simon Baz has seen his "backup" become the center of controversy. In fact, when he first debuted as the rookie Green Lantern of DC's New 52, the cover image for his #0 issue stirred up heated reactions - depicting Simon in a heroic leap, gun in hand. But where guns and grenades used to be a meaningless trope of the 1990s, intended to make superheroes "edgy," Simon's own origin story explains why he may not feel safe with only a magic ring around his finger. For starters, he's a Middle Eastern-American living in Michigan who was accidentally arrested for suspected terrorism.
It didn't take long for Simon to learn that Green Lantern rings are less than invincible constructs: they lose power, can be affected by cosmic emotional disasters,or simply be removed by an enemy. His decision to play the role of space cop - complete with a backup means of self-defense - proved effective, too, having discharged his weapon into Sinestro (although they were in an alternate state of being where they were all dead, so it had little effect). Simon made his stance clear then: if he's good enough to defend Earth, he's good enough to carry a piece in case of emergency.
Batman soon steps into the conversation, stating - as only he can - that it being Simon's first trip to Gotham affords him some understanding. But if Simon is to enter Gotham, he's not bringing yet another gun into the city with him. An all-out gun control debate is brewing, but the specifics allow readers and fans to see both their points. For Simon, having a cosmic ring glitch out and becoming even more vulnerable than an Earth cop makes little sense. Yet Batman knows that when guns flow into Gotham, they tend to make problems worse, not better.
Simon also argues from a privileged perspective, since he's standing against a man who is so brilliant, there is no problem or emergency he hasn't already planned for. Referring to his gun as "my Robin," Simon makes two points: that not every superhero has the security of a sidekick, and that he still doesn't realize he and Jessica are supposed to depend on eachother. Still, his point stands: "You've got a jet plane, and a car that shoots flames, and all sorts of scary devices in your belt. But somehow my gun is the problem?"
The panel above shows how deftly writer Sam Humphries positions the two as voicing the simplest sides of the issue of gun control in the United States. For Simon, his absolute intention to use the weapon if, and only if, he needs to in order to stop a villain or violent criminal makes it a no-brainer. Batman is no stranger to clever defense systems and lethal gadgets, but he is the only one using them, or knows how to. By contrast, a gun can be used by anyone, for any reason. Simon angrily telling Bruce to figure out when his hatred of guns began, well... the Batman's anger is understandable.
As the two reach the climax of their argument, screaming into eachother's face without any hint of persuasion or surrender, it appears as if the conflict concerning violence is going to turn violent itself. But Humphries doesn't award either hero the victory. After all, both have their reasons, both are superheroes, and both have more pressing matters at hand. It's Jessica Cruz who pops the balloon of this confrontation, uncovering the villain's actual plot while the two men stubbornly shout. The result, then, isn't a lecture - but an invitation to readers to consider whose side they're on.
Sure, a version of Gotham City without any guns on the street would be safer - but they've also got Batman patrolling them to begin with. Simon sees two solutions to two different problems: a gun makes sure he'll never be exposed without the ring, and his status as a superhero makes the gun leaving his side seem unlikely. The two heroes drop the issue to pursue their lead, showing that it truly is an ideological issue they're discussing, and Batman's claim that Simon doesn't or shouldn't need a gun can be taken as a lesson being taught. But in this issue, it looks like it will be Simon who ends up making apologies.
When you're dealing with a yellow light that can spread terror into the minds of just about anyone, looking over your shoulder is just sound advice. But Simon's confidence wins out, leaving him struck from behind, and a fear-stricken Alfred Pennyworth standing over him, gun now pointed at the hero's brain. To be fair though, it may be less a statement on who wins the moral high ground in the argument, and simply more evidence that everyone, no matter how powerful, should listen to Batman when paying a visit to Gotham City.
Green Lanterns #16 is available now.