Ask...The Question: Why Don't Super-Villains Get the Death Penalty?

Alex Jaffe

Alex Jaffe

May 13, 2020


Hello. I’m Alex Jaffe, better known in our Community as HubCityQuestion. My personal mission: to take on any question you have about the DC Universe -- no matter how strange, granular, or obscure -- and present you with an answer. As a faithful steward of the truth, I offer my time in this weekly column to address these inquiries. If you’d like to submit one of your own, you can stop by my office at any time in our lively Community to state your case, which I will address in turn to the best of my ability. As always, I remain your vigilant detective through the comic book cosmos to discover the answers you crave. Let’s open up the file cabinet and resolve the most pressing issues of the week.





Moro asks:


“Multiverse, Metaverse, Dark Multiverse, The Source, The Source Wall, The Overvoid, The Orrery of Worlds, The Monitors, The World Forger, The New Gods. Is there a Cliff’s Notes on how all this stuff works in the DC Universe?”


Well, Cliff Steele isn’t gonna be much help here, but let me see if I can’t provide you with a little glossary.


* MULTIVERSE: The infinite collection of parallel universes where all realities exist on top of one another, at varying vibrational frequencies. First established in The Flash #123, 1961.


* METAVERSE: The central universe where most DC Comics take place was referred to by Doctor Manhattan as a “Metaverse.” Any changes made to the continuity of the metaverse ripple outward and affect every other reality in the multiverse. First established in Doomsday Clock #10, 2019.


* DARK MULTIVERSE: Existing on the “flip side” of all creation to the multiverse, this collection of ephemeral worlds are formed from the fears, anxieties, and darkest thoughts of the inhabitants of the multiverse proper; a nightmare realm of infinite possibility where worlds are born and die in the blink of an eye. The “Dark Knights” of Dark Nights: Metal are survivors of these brief realities, pulled from annihilation by the Bat-God Barbatos. First established in Batman: The Red Death #1, 2017.


* SOURCE WALL: A great barrier made from the bodies of the Old Gods which surrounds the known multiverse. What lies beyond it varies between eras. It may be the primordial soup of the Overvoid, or still more multiverses, which contain worlds and realities in the same fashion that galaxies contain stars. (This collection of multiverses is termed an “Omniverse.”) First established in The New Gods #5, 1971.


* OVERVOID: The unorganized chaos from which all of reality was created. Before anything existed, there was the Overvoid, and from that everything that has ever been was formed. It is the nothingness from which something was made. It is a field of pure whiteness, conceived of as analogous to a blank page upon which writers and artists create the comics themselves. First established in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, 2008.


* ORRERY OF WORLDS: The collection of 52 Earths which form the core of the multiverse, originally formed and overseen by the Monitors as a way of organizing the chaos of infinite possibility which the multiverse presented. First established in Final Crisis, 2008.


* MONITORS: Originally, there were only two Monitors: Mar Novu, originally known as “The” Monitor, and Mobius, who we know better as the “Anti-Monitor.” These two children of Perpetua were tasked with overseeing all of creation as it came into being and developed through time. But The Anti-Monitor became corrupted, and fought with The Monitor for the fate of reality. Both were killed during Crisis on Infinite Earths, but were reborn as the multiverse came back into being in the aftermath of 52. After 52, each universe in the Orrery of Worlds was governed and overseen by its own Monitor. Conflicts between these 52 monitors resulted in the Final Crisis. First established in New Teen Titans #21, 1982.


* WORLD FORGER: The Monitor and The Anti-Monitor had an older brother, Alpheus. At the World Forge in the heart of the Dark Multiverse, Alpheus toiled to create new universes from the thoughts and feelings of the Multiverse above. Most of these worlds would be unstable, and cease to exist shortly after they came into being. These ephemeral worlds form the Dark Multiverse. But the rare worlds which prove more stable rise to join other realities in the multiverse proper. This is how new universes are born. First established in Dark Nights: Metal #4, 2017.


* NEW GODS: Whether or not the “New Gods” are literally gods depends on who you ask. They do exist in the “Fourth World,” an extradimensional plane apart from the proper DC Universe, and each has been theorized at times to embody a particular concept- Darkseid is evil, Mister Miracle is freedom, et cetera. But more practically, the “New Gods” are simply a powerful race of beings from a metaphor-laden realm of two central planets, New Genesis and Apokolips, constantly locked in opposition. Like the conflicts between gods in pantheons of cultures long gone, this conflict often spills into our own world. But the “New Gods” have little, if anything, to do with the construction and governance of reality as gods are typically seen in modern western culture. First established in The New Gods #1, 1971.





GLCSector3295 asks:


“Here is one I have been wondering about. This question could apply to any villian… but where is the justice system in regards to sentencing our beloved villains, and why have none of these villains ever received a death sentence by the justice system, when your average criminal who murders and etc. gets such punishment? Or why are they not being put into the Phantom Zone...?”


Thanks for writing in, GL. I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight about some common misconceptions about the death penalty. First of all, execution in the United States is not nearly as common as one might assume. According to a study by the research institute at Southern Methodist University, 1,516 executions have been performed in the United States since 1976. In comparison, according to an official FBI crime report, 15,948 homicides were committed in the year 2018 alone. Even in the 28 states which still recognize the death penalty, its usage is statistically quite rare.


Speaking of states: in a previous column, I addressed the probable locations of each major American city in the DC Universe. The two cities with the most prevalent Super-Villain activity, Gotham City and Metropolis, are typically located in the vicinity of New Jersey and Delaware, respectively. Neither of these states recognize the death penalty.


Cross-referencing my list of DC cities with death penalty states, the only major area of DC’s America where the option remains viable would be around Central and Keystone City -- which typically use Iron Heights Pentientiary to house their Super-Criminal element.


Even supposing that a super-criminal is charged with the death penalty, the sentencing is far from instantaneous. As of 2017, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the average felon sentenced to death spends 243 months on death row before the execution is carried out -- just over 20 years. In the world of comics, it’s practically unheard of for any villain to stay in one place for that long. But if you’re wondering where some obscure baddie is who hasn’t shown up since 1999… you may have your answer.


As for the Phantom Zone, Superman’s relationship to the extradimensional prison founded by his father has always been a complex one. Since the Silver Age, Superman’s goal hasn’t been putting additional criminals in these cruel and unusual conditions, but rehabilitating them so they might navigate a second chance at life. One of the underlying themes of Dan Jurgens’ “Oz Effect” story arc was Superman coming to terms with the inherent cruelty of Phantom Zone incarceration, and a dedication to undoing the injustices committed by Jor-El’s black and white punitive politics.





LooseNate asks:


“My question is what legacy character carried the mantle longest? I know it’s probably Wally West but if not him then who? And who else has seen significant time pulling the weight in someone else’s book?”


Like many questions asked in this column, the answer really depends on where you set the parameters for the key terms. Who exactly is a “legacy character?”


Barry Allen, for instance, has been considered the primary Flash for so long that many often forget he, too, may be counted as a legacy character. Originally, Barry was inspired to become The Flash after reading a Golden Age comic book about Jay Garrick -- who he would later meet as The Flash of a different Earth. Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jay Garrick and his JSA compatriots were retroactively written into the history of the DC Universe as the direct predecessors of the modern day heroes.


Barry Allen debuted as The Flash in 1956, a role which he held for 30 years until the Crisis -- and which he resumed in 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth, for a total of 41 years and counting. Wally West, on the other hand, was The Flash for only 22 years from his Post-Crisis debut in the role until 2011, and then followed it up with another 3 years as The Flash in the modern era for a total of 25. So at 41 years, Barry Allen has actually held the legacy title nearly twice as long as his successor!


The Flash’s Silver Age contemporary, Hal Jordan, has held that claim for even longer. Similarly inspired by his Golden Age predecessor Alan Scott, Jordan’s first stint as Green Lantern spanned from 1959 to 1994, when he fell to Parallax in the “Emerald Twilight” storyline. Hal returned as the Green Lantern 10 years later in Green Lantern: Rebirth, and has maintained the title ever since… putting him at 51 years in the legacy role.


Another Silver Age legacy hero, Ray Palmer, took up the role of The Atom from the JSA’s Al Pratt in 1961, but spent the 12 years between Identity Crisis and Rebirth in semi-retirement -- donning the red and blue tights again for only the most pressing of crises. That puts him at 47 years, just shy of Hal Jordan.


Red Tornado, too, is a legacy hero with a gap in his career. After taking the name from the JSA’s “Ma” Hunkel in 1968, Tornado took a break over the New 52 for the role to be inhabited by… Earth 2’s Lois Lane. The robotic Red Tornado we know and love returned in 2016’s Legends of Tomorrow anthology series. That’s 46 years altogether, which is still pretty good!


But not every Silver Age legacy hero has taken time off. There’s one who stands fishnetted legs above all others, touring the world doing 8 shows a week. Our reigning champ: the mistress of Magic, Zatanna Zatara -- who’s been holding her father’s legacy down since 1964, a total of 56 years.


Speaking of fishnets, one curious case is that of Black Canary. Originally one hero, the “modern” Black Canary was divided into a mother-daughter legacy in 1983 of Dinah Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance, retroactively attributing the escapades of the heroine from 1969 and onward to the daughter. Following 2011’s Flashpoint, these two heroes were reconsolidated into a single entity -- though with the re-emergence of the JSA following Doomsday Clock, it remains to be seen whether that’s still the case. Black Canary, then, could be said to have been her own legacy hero for 28 years… or even 42, if you accept the revision of history.


And while we’re revising history, it should be noted that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have all had stories about a parent taking on a hero identity which inspired them, in turn. Robin, too, was a mantle initially held by a young Bruce Wayne, according to certain versions of continuity. But these revisionist accounts only qualify for the wisest of wiseacres.


I mean, if we want to get really nuts, the answer is probably Hawkman. As the reincarnation of Prince Khufu, Hawkman has been a legacy hero since the day he debuted in 1940. And in-universe, thanks to countless millennia of inescapable cycles of death and rebirth, Hawkman has been operating as a legacy hero longer than any hero who has ever lived.


As for me, my own legacy is assured by the answers I bring to you, my wanting public, every week in this column. To be a part of it, all you need to do is drop into our community with all the quandaries of the DC Universe which plague your wrinkled mind. It’s a simple task to ASK… THE QUESTION.


NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.