The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recently got audiences talking when its new Captain America, John Walker, did the unthinkable. No one really expected the guy representing America to straight-up decapitate a terrorist using the shield that helped win World War II, and there's been a good deal of discussion about the moment since it happened.
It's worth noting that while this moment was weird in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's not that crazy in the world of Marvel Comics. Characters like John Walker, Deadpool and even The Punisher do things that are morally reprehensible, and yet they still hold the status of hero in spite of their questionable decisions. It has me thinking that as characters like Deadpool prepare for their MCU debut and Walker makes a splash in the franchise, and maybe it's high time the brand gets used to more morally gray heroes.
Marvel's heroes came from a lot of different places and were raised under a lot of different backgrounds. We all envision the idealized hero who beats up the bad guys fair and square without having to cross too many lines in the process. They also usually bring that bad guy in for confinement, more often than not, so they can face a fairer sort of justice than they ever would've delivered on their own.
Let's be honest though, it's unrealistic to believe that out of all the heroes in the Marvel universe, all of them are on the same page when it comes to what's justice. Canonically, we know there are heroes, like Deadpool, who are absolutely fine with killing someone provided they deserve it.
It's the type of nuance that's a part of human existence. We all live on this Earth and co-exist, and we all each have our own different set of morals. It's realistic to have heroes with very different stances on a lot of things and to go head-to-head on them. Perhaps it doesn't make some of these heroes the best role models, but it definitely makes them all more human.
I think it's telling that someone can say that John Walker is a monster for killing one person, and yet talk about how psyched they are to see the upcoming Loki series on Disney+. Keep in mind that it's not even the Loki who had a solid redemption arc over the course of several films. This Loki is fresh off his defeat in The Avengers, during which time we saw him carve a dude's eye out.
Marvel Studios has done a great job humanizing its villains over the years, to the point that even if you don't agree with their motives, you can at least understand why they did what they did. That's the kind of understanding I'd like for our heroes, though more often than not, heroes like Deadpool get looks of horror from fellow heroes.
Let's be honest though, it's a privilege to be a hero who chooses not to kill that when they can take 10x the damage of the average street enforcer. Not every hero has that luxury, and as such, they have to make some hard choices on whether they live to fight another day or die due to an exceptional moral code. It's easy not to kill when you're Captain Marvel, but it's definitely a lot harder when you're Hawkeye or Black Widow.
To pull from a very recent example, I found it very interesting that Bucky and Sam had such a huge problem with John Walker killing that Flag-Smasher, especially considering their fight in the freight yard back in Madripoor. I don't care if it was intentional or not, there were far too many explosions in that escape for either of them to assume they didn't kill a person in that exchange.
And even if they didn't, there's plenty of examples in the MCU in which a Marvel hero killed a human or sentient species without much regret or even a second thought. Even the Infinity Saga's arguably greatest hero, Iron Man, used his unibeam at point-blank range to kill a terrorist in a plane that was going down. Sure, it was so that he could break free and save the President and others who'd fallen out, but it was a cold-blooded murder all the same.
Of course, it's more than fair to say that intent plays a role. It's certainly a worse look when Deadpool killed a surrendering victim or when John Walker killed a defenseless terrorist compared to when Iron Man nuked an entire invading Chitauri army. Even if their body counts are minuscule in comparison; heroes who kill for vengeance will always be shed in a bad light in comparison because there has to be a line drawn somewhere. Otherwise, we'd all kind of have to admit that heroes largely act as judge, jury, and executioner most of the time, with small exceptions made in the case of the vilest of villains.
I don't bring this up to make the argument that all Marvel heroes are monsters, but rather to justify that heroes who kill are still heroes. In fact, most heroes kill. One can't just say, "Oh, John Walker's not Captain America because he kills," because Steve Rogers Captain America has also killed. If there were more self-aware, morally gray heroes in the MCU, perhaps they could point out this hypocrisy and allow some of the less savory ones to catch a break every so often. This is basically the perfect subject for Deadpool to tackle, so perhaps he can just go on a row about this in his debut MCU appearance.
All I'm saying is that we need some morally gray heroes to help keep the MCU interesting and create some actual tension between heroes to help keep things interesting in Phase 4 and beyond.
Would you like to see more morally gray characters in the MCU?