The Stock Superhero "One Rule", and why it's bullshit.

Gatx

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Il_Exile_lI said:
There is a line in Avatar the Last Airbender that I absolutely love. Towards the end of the series Aang (The Avatar) is trying to find a way to deal with the villain of the entire show by some means other than killing him, and seeks the wisdom of past avatar spirits. He tells them that he was taught that taking a life was never an option, and pacifism is the key to spiritual enlightenment, and in response he was told something along these lines.

"Many people have achieved spiritual enlightenment through peace and prosperity, but the Avatar can never do so. Your duty is to the world, and that may mean having to sacrifice your own enlightenment and ethics in order to save lives and maintain the greater peace."

Now, this is someone undercut by the fact that (SPOILERS)... he does find a way to defeat the villain without killing him, but I still feel like the sentiment is something that fits well with the whole superhero mythos as well. By choosing not kill out of some sense of personal ethics, these heroes are selfishly putting their own psychological well-being above the safety of innocent lives.
It's not just a personal moral code. While superheroes are masked vigilantes, they turn over the criminals to the police most of the time, and therefore are operating within the law to a certain extent. They're supposed to be role models after all. Criminals of all kind should stand trial, that's the way our society (at least America anyway) works. If Superman, who represents truth, justice, and the American way, didn't follow American laws then that kind of just misses the point then doesn't it?

This is all speaking from like, a narrative, symbolic standpoint of course.
 

Soundwave

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TheCommanders said:
...But killing someone, even if it does more good than any of the other questionable things these heroes do, is just not an option. Because it would make them feel bad. Or hurt their image. That doesn't seem like a good reason to me. And as I've said time and time again, if you don't want to kill, that's fine if you can find another option that works, but despite their flawed methodology they stoically refuse to change anything. That's where I have a problem.
I understand the thought experiment fine, I'm just arguing that you've misrepresented superman and batman in your argument. They aren't abstaining from murder for their own shallow sense of self worth, they abstain because either (in the case of superman) they've been raised to believe in their own higher morals, or out of fear of what they themselves might become (as has been mentioned before regarding batman).

While I can't imagine what it would be like to be a sociopath, surely you understand that there are differences between what is legally right and morally correct? Destroying a dangerous animal is oftentimes legal, but that doesn't mean that it's ethical.
 

TheCommanders

ohmygodimonfire
Nov 30, 2011
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Colin Murray said:
TheCommanders said:
...But killing someone, even if it does more good than any of the other questionable things these heroes do, is just not an option. Because it would make them feel bad. Or hurt their image. That doesn't seem like a good reason to me. And as I've said time and time again, if you don't want to kill, that's fine if you can find another option that works, but despite their flawed methodology they stoically refuse to change anything. That's where I have a problem.
I understand the thought experiment fine, I'm just arguing that you've misrepresented superman and batman in your argument. They aren't abstaining from murder for their own shallow sense of self worth, they abstain because either (in the case of superman) they've been raised to believe in their own higher morals, or out of fear of what they themselves might become (as has been mentioned before regarding batman).

While I can't imagine what it would be like to be a sociopath, surely you understand that there are differences between what is legally right and morally correct? Destroying a dangerous animal is oftentimes legal, but that doesn't mean that it's ethical.
To the first, if that is your view, than I would say my position is a "worse" person would do their job better.

To the second, even the finest philosophers would agree that morals are relative, not an absolute. Blood sacrifices used to be considered not only moral, but a religious obligation, even in religions now considered civilized, like Christianity and Judaism. Morals, strangely enough, are usually fairly logical relative to the time in which they are conceived. Example, if you're told the gods (or god) will be angry at you or punish you if you don't, of course it makes sense to kill a goat every month. When they are no longer logical, they are abandoned. But putting down an animal because it is a danger to others is still logical - stay with me, I know what the counter argument is. "But the animal could just be locked up!" is a common response. Sure. Putting aside for a moment that the veiled analogy is so thin it would not be considered decent attire in polite society, I give you this situation: while you and a friend are walking in a park, a dog (for whatever reason) bites your friend on the leg and starts gnawing away. You try to dislodge the dog, but it's grip is too tight. Your friend is rapidly bleeding out, and no one else is around to help in time. Do you kill the dog? If you do, do you really think there is now no difference between you and the... ahem "dog"? (As a side note, knocking a person or animal out non-lethally (without a sedative) is MUCH harder than movies and tv make it look - even the famous blood choke has a surprisingly high mortality rate)
 

Soundwave

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Obviously I would kick the dog in the face, it's not really giving me a choice. Whether it lives or dies wouldn't be my concern. But I'm not Batman or Superman. If I was, I could easily dislodge the dog with my superpowers/utility belt.
 

drh1975

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Not every superhero follows this rule. On at least three occasions, Captain America has killed someone. They were, in no particular order, the Red Skull (but he's feeling much better now), Baron Blood (true, he was a vampire, but a kill is a kill) and a terrorist whose name I can't remember from the Marvel Knights re-launch of the series.
 

TheCommanders

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drh1975 said:
Not every superhero follows this rule. On at least three occasions, Captain America has killed someone. They were, in no particular order, the Red Skull (but he's feeling much better now), Baron Blood (true, he was a vampire, but a kill is a kill) and a terrorist whose name I can't remember from the Marvel Knights re-launch of the series.
Yup. I'm talking about the heroes who ostensibly follow this rule to the letter with little regard for its intent.
 

Amir Kondori

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The fact that you don't see extra-judicial killing, which is exactly what you are talking about when you say "...killing people for fun and profit does not in any way equal killing people because they would keep killing other people for fun and profit if you didn't." means you can't be trusted as an arbiter of what is right or wrong.
The only acceptable killing in our society is done when a jury of peers finds someone guilty of a capital offense and then a Judge sentences that person to death.
 

TheCommanders

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Amir Kondori said:
The fact that you don't see extra-judicial killing, which is exactly what you are talking about when you say "...killing people for fun and profit does not in any way equal killing people because they would keep killing other people for fun and profit if you didn't." means you can't be trusted as an arbiter of what is right or wrong.
The only acceptable killing in our society is done when a jury of peers finds someone guilty of a capital offense and then a Judge sentences that person to death.
So if 13 people tell a 14th to kill someone, that's fine? Seems kind of arbitrary to me. That might sound like I'm dismissing the legal system, but all I'm trying to say is people feel better about questionable moral decisions if we write down a way to do it and then keep doing it that way. Oh, and as long as they don't need to make the decisions themselves. Put those together and suddenly it's legal. But legal doesn't not equal moral. Slavery was legal. As a matter of fact many of the people who wrote the constitution for the US (the country whose death penalty proceedings I'm assuming you're talking about) were slave owners themselves, so I don't really think they were qualified to tell us hundreds of years later what is or isn't ethical, by your transitive logic.

EDIT- In the next paragraph I'm talking about the quote of mine in question, just in case that needed clarification

From both a moral and a legal sense my argument makes sense. The moral is self evident, and as to legal, the majority of criminals in the comic book universe are committing Murder 1 or Murder 2 (more often Murder 1: premeditated). A hero killing a villain only in the instances I've been discussing in the thread, not whenever they feel like it would be a Murder 2 at worse, and if they were mearly killed as a result of the hero trying to stop the villain, it could be argued down to a manslaughter charge in court. So objectively speaking, they aren't the same.
 

Amir Kondori

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TheCommanders said:
Amir Kondori said:
The fact that you don't see extra-judicial killing, which is exactly what you are talking about when you say "...killing people for fun and profit does not in any way equal killing people because they would keep killing other people for fun and profit if you didn't." means you can't be trusted as an arbiter of what is right or wrong.
The only acceptable killing in our society is done when a jury of peers finds someone guilty of a capital offense and then a Judge sentences that person to death.
So if 13 people tell a 14th to kill someone, that's fine? Seems kind of arbitrary to me. That might sound like I'm dismissing the legal system, but all I'm trying to say is people feel better about questionable moral decisions if we write down a way to do it and then keep doing it that way. Oh, and as long as they don't need to make the decisions themselves. Put those together and suddenly it's legal. But legal doesn't not equal moral. Slavery was legal. As a matter of fact many of the people who wrote the constitution for the US (the country whose death penalty proceedings I'm assuming you're talking about) were slave owners themselves, so I don't really think they were qualified to tell us hundreds of years later what is or isn't ethical, by your transitive logic.

From both a moral and a legal sense my argument makes sense. The moral is self evident, and as to legal, the majority of criminals in the comic book universe are committing Murder 1 or Murder 2 (more often Murder 1: premeditated). A hero killing a villain only in the instances I've been discussing in the thread, not whenever they feel like it would be a Murder 2 at worse, and if they were mearly killed as a result of the hero trying to stop the villain, it could be argued down to a manslaughter charge in court. So objectively speaking, they aren't the same.
There are so many flaws with your arguments I don't know where to start. The false equivalence? Your idea that because some of the men who wrote the constitution where slave owners that the constitution is meaningless?

At least a trial allows evidence to be presented and the chance to figure out if the accused is innocent. We have had more than enough examples of falsely accused to know that people don't get it right every time. So you think it is morally right to condemn a man to death and carry out that death outside of the judicial system despite the possibility of error?

There is a reason vigilantism is illegal in the developed world. People's rights get run over roughshod. We want our superheroes to represent our highest ideals, not our basest instincts. That is why the "one rule" exists.
 

TheCommanders

ohmygodimonfire
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Amir Kondori said:
So if 13 people tell a 14th to kill someone, that's fine? Seems kind of arbitrary to me. That might sound like I'm dismissing the legal system, but all I'm trying to say is people feel better about questionable moral decisions if we write down a way to do it and then keep doing it that way. Oh, and as long as they don't need to make the decisions themselves. Put those together and suddenly it's legal. But legal doesn't not equal moral. Slavery was legal. As a matter of fact many of the people who wrote the constitution for the US (the country whose death penalty proceedings I'm assuming you're talking about) were slave owners themselves, so I don't really think they were qualified to tell us hundreds of years later what is or isn't ethical, by your transitive logic.

From both a moral and a legal sense my argument makes sense. The moral is self evident, and as to legal, the majority of criminals in the comic book universe are committing Murder 1 or Murder 2 (more often Murder 1: premeditated). A hero killing a villain only in the instances I've been discussing in the thread, not whenever they feel like it would be a Murder 2 at worse, and if they were merely killed as a result of the hero trying to stop the villain, it could be argued down to a manslaughter charge in court. So objectively speaking, they aren't the same.
There are so many flaws with your arguments I don't know where to start. The false equivalence? Your idea that because some of the men who wrote the constitution where slave owners that the constitution is meaningless?

At least a trial allows evidence to be presented and the chance to figure out if the accused is innocent. We have had more than enough examples of falsely accused to know that people don't get it right every time. So you think it is morally right to condemn a man to death and carry out that death outside of the judicial system despite the possibility of error?

There is a reason vigilantism is illegal in the developed world. People's rights get run over roughshod. We want our superheroes to represent our highest ideals, not our basest instincts. That is why the "one rule" exists.
I was merely pointing out the flaw in your "one of your opinions looks fishy to me, so you don't have a right to have an opinion on anything related to that" argument. Of course the situation I presented is ridiculous, that's the point.

For Reference:

The fact that you don't see extra-judicial killing, which is exactly what you are talking about when you say "...killing people for fun and profit does not in any way equal killing people because they would keep killing other people for fun and profit if you didn't." means you can't be trusted as an arbiter of what is right or wrong.
First of all, you failed to address the actual sentence you quoted and stated was evidence of my compromised moral standards. Your problem (and correct me if I'm wrong) is with the idea of someone killing someone else without that person having the proper rights our legal system (most legal systems actually) provides them with, specifically right to a trial by a jury of their peers. The exact quote you chose is me saying there is a difference, in a moral sense, between different kinds of killing, NOT saying or even implying that either is legal. You didn't present any counterpoints, just showed one of my opinions and said: "see! you're wrong about everything!" which seems... fallacious. My counterpoint was to show an example of a group of people with 1 compromising opinion (although in their case by modern standards it's a lot less subjective than my opinion; most people agree now that slavery is bad) that doesn't affect their other decisions.

In regard to the "point" of superheroes, they clearly aren't examples of our highest ideals. They are flawed people doing what they can to stop other people from hurting innocents. But they do so, as you point out, illegally, and with some very questionable methods; even those that don't kill will torture, threaten, assault, and otherwise behave illegally towards the villains or anyone connected with them. That's not a way people should behave, and therefore not an ideal to aspire to. They exist to serve a purpose, and their moral codes inhibit their ability to complete that purpose. That's the entire point of the thread, not that killing of all kinds is good or bad, or even legal or illegal (clearly it's illegal).

PS- If there was any doubt, the second paragraph of my previous post was also talking about the sentence you quoted, not the slavery thing, I probably should have made that more clear, but I thought it was self evident.
 

likalaruku

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I remember a few story arcs where Batman questioned whether he was making Gotham safer or worse.

1)There were no SUPER villains before he arrived on the scene. They either came after him or were somehow created by him.
2)Every person the Joker kills is on his concious because he's had numerous chances & just can't bring himself to do it.
3)Not killing is what keeps him friends with Jim Gordon & the cops; he gets the super-powered crazies the cops can't handle, or is basically the warden & janitor for Arkham, which only exists because of him.
4)Deep down he really does want to kill them. He knows he can't & he barely sleeps & he knows he can never settle down, lead a normal life, & retire his cape. It's making him slowly go insane. (They were especially keen to point this out during the Grant Morrison run, when they were trying to beat it into our heads that the Joker was a sane sociopath who was only in Arkham because he was too dangerous to keep in a normal prison & the city had no death penalty).
 

TheCommanders

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likalaruku said:
I remember a few story arcs where Batman questioned whether he was making Gotham safer or worse.

1)There were no SUPER villains before he arrived on the scene. They either came after him or were somehow created by him.
2)Every person the Joker kills is on his concious because he's had numerous chances & just can't bring himself to do it.
3)Not killing is what keeps him friends with Jim Gordon & the cops; he gets the super-powered crazies the cops can't handle, or is basically the warden & janitor for Arkham, which only exists because of him.
4)Deep down he really does want to kill them. He knows he can't & he barely sleeps & he knows he can never settle down, lead a normal life, & retire his cape. It's making him slowly go insane. (They were especially keen to point this out during the Grant Morrison run, when they were trying to beat it into our heads that the Joker was a sane sociopath who was only in Arkham because he was too dangerous to keep in a normal prison & the city had no death penalty).
Yeah, my view (clearly) is that his rule makes things worse.

By the way, I haven't read every single comic, but I'm pretty sure the Joker is canonically one of the most insane characters in the DC universe (as verified by several mind readers). If I remember correctly Martian Manhunter went so far as to try to cure him, but it didn't stick.
 

Ikasury

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hooray for things written in a time period where people actually gave a damn about morals and authority... 1930s ho~ nowadays we're so desencistised and disenfranchised we poke around at this stupid shit and call it 'wrong' when really its not, we're the ones all twisted and screwed up because of the world we live in, heroes live in an idealized world based on a time where morals were more black and white, where people gave a damn about their country and helping others, now we're all paranoid, cynical, and find more value in a 50$ bill then the person sitting next to us... we just don't give a damn, judging superheroes that DO give a damn and try doing the 'right thing' based on their original context and idealized world is a silly, silly thing to do...

we're all 'too smart' in this age and generation, we don't appreciate something as is, no we poke and pick at it, and while i'm normally all for that, it just kinda annoys me when trying to apply 'reality' to something that is obviously 'idealized', theory =/= reality, any scientist or engineer knows this, they do not mix, i don't care how much comics lately have been trying to be 'real' and 'gritty' to get new readers, to think they will EVER touch the bounds of reality, let alone something like using 'real' physics or logic is just silly...

comics, and other medium like them that tell a story about whoever supposed to teach us right from wrong in the latest interesting way, are effectively just the new bible, in a hundred years there will be the Kryptonian religion, where Kal'el has his apsotles, Batman the doubter, WonderWoman the optimist (*laughs whole heartedly*) and etc. etc. with his extended jesus-esque family and in 300 years people will be claiming to be the 'Last True Son of Krypton' and eventually we'll have stupid things like people trying to actually PROVE it not remembering it was all just a comic/book meant to give us moral guidance...

seriously, we all KNOW 'killing is bad', but who here actually believes that? would actually go out of their damn way to NOT kill someone who threatened them? who wouldn't give a damn when they actually did and claim it was for the 'good of all'? people don't care about intent, they care about a spectacle... Superman is the ultimate boyscout, always has been, always will be, it is part of the 'flaw' of his character to be this perfect human ideal, thus the appeal of totally fucking that nowadays just to see how much it will make him crack... and to think it wouldn't 'change' him is silly, it would, stuff like that always does no matter how people act or claim or think, its why the whole 'slippery slope' gambit is a real and often overused thing with alternate universes, The Justice Lords, Red Son, so on and so on...

Batman is fucking crazy, WonderWoman really has no valid reason for NOT killing everyone, same as every Alien member of the Justice League, they're not FROM Earth and often with greater powers and tech, why do they care? especially those from supposed 'warrior races' like the Thanigarians or the Tamaranians? why aren't Hawkgirl and Starfire just going around KILLING EVERYONE? because from what we've learned of their cultures, that's totally fine? Superman, even if he's Kryptonian, at least makes some sense since he was raised in perfect USA, where everyone knows everyone and its all morally right ._.

i mean part of Huntress' baggage as a character is that she ACTUALLY KILLED A MOBSTER, at least in the old stuff, and they kept ripping her on that and pretty much using her as the example of 'when heroes do wrong' etc. etc. etc. the league didn't want her for the bad PR? screw that she's damn effective, no... you killed some normal evil human being... and that's bad... ._.

its all really... really silly when you think about it... i'm going to stop before i get into WHY THE HELL DOES RAVEN GIVE A DAMN?! want a morality case? there!! daughter of the intergalactic devil not even raised on earth... WHY THE HELL DOES SHE CARE?! heroes are heroes because they, theoretically, don't do what's 'easy'... that's the basic gist of it... killing is easy, but wrong, so they don't intentionally... because that's 'bad'...
 

Xanadu84

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I think the, "Does not kill rule" is a sort of abstract thing, less a real moral guideline that is actually appropriate, and more a bit of parable about the value of solving problems non-violently, or at least non-lethally. On top of that, it serves to teach the value of all lives, even the villains. But I agree that the trope is overused. I think what the world needs these days is examples of heroes who are more realistic and rational, ones who balance cost, risk, and benefit. Id like to see a hero at some point make his big, grand gesture of not killing a villain, and then have one of his loved ones die, as that hero realizes that his no-killing moralizing was really just his own personal arrogance and inability to make difficult choices, preferring to get people killed to having to sacrifice his own sense of self-worth. Or even better, have the showdown between the no-killing hero, and the person willing to sacrifice lives for a greater good who always gets portrayed as a well-intentioned extremist, end with the person looking for the greater good come out as the hero, and the inflexible hero in the wrong.I'm not saying the no kill trope is bad, but its overused, and it should be reserved for stories that arn't meant to be realistic.
 

TheCommanders

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Xanadu84 said:
I think the, "Does not kill rule" is a sort of abstract thing, less a real moral guideline that is actually appropriate, and more a bit of parable about the value of solving problems non-violently, or at least non-lethally. On top of that, it serves to teach the value of all lives, even the villains. But I agree that the trope is overused. I think what the world needs these days is examples of heroes who are more realistic and rational, ones who balance cost, risk, and benefit. Id like to see a hero at some point make his big, grand gesture of not killing a villain, and then have one of his loved ones die, as that hero realizes that his no-killing moralizing was really just his own personal arrogance and inability to make difficult choices, preferring to get people killed to having to sacrifice his own sense of self-worth. Or even better, have the showdown between the no-killing hero, and the person willing to sacrifice lives for a greater good who always gets portrayed as a well-intentioned extremist, end with the person looking for the greater good come out as the hero, and the inflexible hero in the wrong.I'm not saying the no kill trope is bad, but its overused, and it should be reserved for stories that arn't meant to be realistic.
To be fair, the number of heroes who do their jobs non-violently is... very low.

One of the reasons I really liked Watchmen (specifically the movie right now) is that the person who stuck to his own code no matter what (even though it was a different code than most heroes) loses, and the "hero" (YMMV) who made a sacrifice for the greater good won. And we're not even told this is a bad thing. It's not exactly endorsed either, but the parable is interesting none-the-less.
 

ISearchForTraps

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shrekfan246 said:
I feel like 'the rule' originally came about just so the writers wouldn't have to keep Houdini-ing villains back to life and could recycle them over and over again every few years.

Of course, that didn't stop them from killing off and bringing back every hero and villain multiple times, but it's still a more convenient in-universe reason for why Batman and the Joker are always at odds.

Then the rule got taken and warped by the consumer-base, and has since become part of some weird ambiguous "Hero's Moral Code" checklist that must be adhered to in every adaptation of every superhero ever or else they're not really a hero.
Maybe, I just assumed 'the rule' came about because of Moral Guardians insisting the heroes their children looked up too should not be allowed to kill anyone, even irredeemable villains. Kids are impressionable and may grow up into little psychopaths because they saw killing people had no consequences and was considered morally okay. Of course that's my theory. Batman used to kill criminals all the time, but then Robin came along to appeal to younger readers, and I imagine the violence was toned down once the parents complained about their kids reading about Batman killing thugs and getting away with it.

Plus in the real, civilized world, we're raised to believe killing is wrong. It's why we freak out of cops kill someone without due reason, we are socially engineered to not accept those in power being allowed to take life when it suits them. This extends to fiction, if the hero kills the villain when he could have taken him alive, it's barbaric to us. We're used to how justice is served in the real, civilized world, with a court finding the perpetrator guilty and then sentencing them, rather than allowing those who protect and serve us to pass the judgement for us. If you give someone the power of life and death, they may abuse that power.

But that's just my opinion.
 

WhiteFangofWhoa

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Note: Haven't watched Man of Steel.

You stalk well-trodden ground. Indeed the entirety of the DCverse has this going on due to their two most iconic heroes both adopting the do-not-kill code early in their careers and influencing or even outright forcing newer heroes into following it.

Cases in-universe for and against this code are common material, with both sides of the debate offering persuasive arguments. Several people have already brought up Kingdom Come, or the more recent Superman vs. The Elite and Under the Red Hood. One lesser-known Batman comic I remember had a rich senator seek to avenge his son's death by posting an enormous bounty on the Joker's head, and ended with the senator given a gun, a tied-up Joker and the opportunity to shoot him right in the head... which he could not do, not with his own hands. Easy to say 'just kill all the bad guys', not so much to actually perform the deed if you're a good person at heart. The Punisher makes the argument that maybe that's why we need one 'bad person' to take care of the rest. Speaking of Marvel, Spider-Man has faced this dilemma with Carnage a few times too, but never followed through.

Though at the time it was considered an excuse for a weak performance throughout the first two seasons, in Justice League Supes admits to carefully holding himself back so his punches don't just take people's heads off and blow up cities with every hit. Only against non-human entities more terrible and deadly than the most sociopathic of humans does he lift this restraint, deciding that a) the collerateral damage is nothing compared to what they would do to Earth and b) they're strong enough to survive it. Perhaps a slight amendment to the code is in order for him, merely forbidding him from killing humans. Lucky for him someone invented the Phantom Zone to deal with enemies that no other prison could contain.

It's not a deal-breaker for me either way, considering the preliminary suspension of disbelief that the prisons of each city keep having to let some of these psychos go due to the insanity plea/bail. I suppose in that aspect it's very much like real life.