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The argument for superheroes to capture villains alive is that superheroes are already illegally operating as vigilantes and compensating for muggle law enforcement is all they are morally obligated. The burden of dealing with super villains permanently falls squarely on the justice system, not the the superheroes.

Super villains are domestic terrorists. All attempts at rehabilitation (other than brainwashing and lobotomies) end in failure. Keeping them in prisons and asylums they will inevitably escape only puts the public at further risk of mass death and destruction.

However, a world where governments did this would be a world where conventional superhero plots just can't happen. There needs to be a reasonable justification for why governments and the public at large are perfectly comfortable putting their lives and property at such risk every week.

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    $\begingroup$ I can't help but think that in a world where supervillains actually existed, there would be a significant number of unexplained "in custody" deaths of supervillains. $\endgroup$ – Richard Nov 14 '16 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ If we did put super villains on trial, and the public knows he's just going to escape (and probably murder their entire family), what jury in the world would convict them? X3 (see Jury Nullification) Evil will always triumph because good is dumb. $\endgroup$ – Tezra Nov 14 '16 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ Because, if they did, we wouldn't have any sequels $\endgroup$ – Mawg Nov 15 '16 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ This edit makes most of the answers into non-sequiturs. Don't do that. Ask a new question (which links to this for background), and add a link to it from this question, if you think there's a sufficiently different question to be asked. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Nov 16 '16 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for massively changing the question such that all existing answers are invalid. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Nov 17 '16 at 3:34

13 Answers 13

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Super Heroes Keep Super Villains Alive

The death penalty does not apply.

Supervillians would not come under the normal processes of the justice system in most cases (certainly not in cases where we are talking about individuals with incredible amounts of power at their disposal). An individual who can personally level a city is not a "criminal", he is a "Clear and present danger" -a national security threat. Think of him as a human sized "extinction event" meteor hurtling toward the Earth. There is simply no way any reasonable nation state could treat someone with that level of super powers as an ordinary criminal.

What does that mean? Decision making about a super villain would have to take on the same character as decisions concerning war, peace, and national survival, because it IS about national survival! So, nobody would be talking about legalities and jury selection, they would be talking about tactical strikes, drones, and aircraft carriers. Nobody would talk about what they are allowed to do with the super villain, just what is possible to do with him.

Military thinking would apply when an individual demonstrated super powers. This is because the lives of millions of regular civilians outweigh any conceivable argument about that one super villains' right to a lawyer or fair trial or whatever.

So, the only logic that could possibly compel a nation to keep them alive is national survival. It is completely logical that any nation state that captured any super villain would always kill them as soon as possible. On the other hand, in all of these kinds of stories, the nation states prove incapable of capturing the super villain. Super heroes must do this, which introduces a new and decisive player. States must maintain good relations with super heroes, because the only thing that separates a "hero" from a "villain" from the states' perspective is how they act. In either case, they are an incredibly unpredictable, ultra-powerful, uncontrollable individual with their own motivations and goals.

So states refrain from killing super villains only in order to appease the super heroes. Why? Because in the past, states that acted in perfectly rational self-interest and simply rounded up any misbehaving super individual inevitably found that the super heroes turned on them! Super heroes are in a peculiar place in society, they do not and cannot ever completely fit in with "normals", but they sympathize with their chosen homes. On the other hand, they sometimes believe themselves to know better than the constituted authorities, and they definitely do have to step in on a regular basis to save the hapless "normals". They cannot tolerate a state that starts to simply treat any super villain as the national security threat that they are because the super heroes know deep down that A: the second there are no super villains left, the normals turn on them (so they have an interest in keeping villains alive), and B: in the eyes of society the only difference between themselves and the super villains is what they did that day. If something went sideways, there was a change in government, or the super hero had a bad day, they could end up being the next "super villain". So they force the nation states to go through the pro-forma process of treating the super villains as "criminals" because it is the only way they can be assured that they would also be treated as a regular citizen with due process if things ever went bad for them.

So really, it is the super heroes and only the super heroes who keep the super villains around, both to ensure that they remain needed, and to ensure that they will continue to be given normal citizen rights despite being complete social outcasts because of their incredible powers.

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    $\begingroup$ This has the advantage of realism. Does anyone really think that if a super starts destroying property and killing people on a mass scale and proving immune to civil law enforcement's equipment and procedures that there won't be an executive order designating the super as a national threat rather than a person with the usual rights? Only the presence of supers in law enforcement could prevent that. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ So far the only answer that really made sense here. And I actually think this was kinda played with in some comics, where suddenly, villains and heroes ended on the same side when goverment decided they all are to be destroyed. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 15 '16 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ @TomášZato, I think both X-Men and Watchmen got into this idea (and probably a lot of other comics I am not aware of too). $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Nov 15 '16 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck, there was a story in the news a few years ago in Los Angeles. Some idiot got into a military base and carjacked an M1 Abrams tank. He then took it on a joy ride down the freeway. Now, in almost any normal case, the cops will not just immediately shoot to kill someone who is taking a joy ride in a stolen car, right? You know what they did with this guy? When he got his tank stuck trying to get over a concrete barrier, they climbed onto the top of the tank, got the hatch open, and shot him dead. Why? He was IN A TANK! -and he'd shown a willingness to flaunt law and order. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Nov 16 '16 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Twinkles: I studied the scenario. They killed an at-that-point helpless person whom could have been arrested easily. Even for a multiple murderer we ought to be better. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Nov 17 '16 at 21:54
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I'll assume we're talking about the US since most Superhero stories seem to focus in and around it.

Because Capital Punishment Is Unpopular

While most states allow capital punishment...

States that allow capital punishment

Only a few actually execute criminals to any appreciable numbers:

Executions by State

Note that's a 36-year span. Some states only executed a single person.

And because Death Row Isn't Swift

Even if the super villain is sentenced to capital punishment, and we can assume the court case will be extremely swift (it won't be) he or she will have a long, long time to sit on death row:

Time between sentencing and execution

And during those 15 years (on average) the criminal will have time to escape in his dastardly, supervillain manner. Assuming he has means to escape, being on death row is no different for him than serving life in prison.

Exaggerate either of these issues in favor of the super villain for our fictional superhero world, and the villain having time to escape is the natural assumption.

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    $\begingroup$ I have to admit that I don't have an alternative, but this answer seems really weak to me. Yes, capital punishment is unpopular...in the United States, in 2016, when there's extensive controversy about it being misapplied. How long would that opinion really last after the Joker's second escape and killing spree, or after Magneto tears apart a city centre? Capital punishment is unpopular because it's perceived as unnecessary; make it necessary, and all bets are off. $\endgroup$ – Werrf Nov 14 '16 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ I think that citizens are more likely to want capital punishment if the criminal kills a large number of people, and has a high-likelihood of escape. $\endgroup$ – LukeN Nov 14 '16 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @NexTerren And how many breakout/dead children/recaptured cycles do you really think people would accept before the amount of time someone spends on Death Row is drastically reduced? $\endgroup$ – Werrf Nov 14 '16 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ @NexTerren After all, the reason Death Row waits are so long is due to the complex appeals process; how difficult would it really be, after the Joker has escaped and blown up a few school buses, before his appeals become strictly pro forma exercises that a few judges can blow through in a day and his execution is scheduled? $\endgroup$ – Werrf Nov 14 '16 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ A certain class of supervillain is not just a prolific criminal but a threat to national security. Should one of these supervillains appear, they would pose a threat on the order of a national disaster. Without the means by which such an individual could be apprehended and contained, it would be in the interests of the state to not only sentence such an individual to death, but to issue an executive order to execute the sentence on-sight, i.e. a "Wanted: Dead Only" notice. The popularity of the death sentence is irrelevant when someone with the powers of Superman starts levelling cities. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 1:17
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1. Crimes don't usually warrant capital punishment - The types of crimes that super villains usually commit are mostly limited to glorified robbery, illegal possession of weapons / scientific equipment, kidnapping and such. The usual punishment for such stuff would be some years of jail time. It's not common for them to be involved in crimes (like mass murder) that warrant execution. Law is equal for all and they should not get punished more for the same crime than a normal person.

2. They're criminally insane - They're basically unfortunate men and woman who don't know what they're doing. This is true for many of Batman villains and the ones that are involved in mass murder and such. There's a clear argument that what they need is therapy because there is always a possibility of them being cured and able to live normal lives.

3. We can't kill them if the problem lies with our system - The reasoning that we should kill them because they'll escape and commit crimes again is not sound. We should be building better/stronger prisons not start killing the prisoners because we leave the gates open.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't you mean 'Clinically insane'? However, the supervillains who are sufficiently insane to start destroying property and committing murder on a mass scale aren't going to be treated as people with human rights, they're going to be declared a threat to national security by executive order and eliminated as expeditiously as possible - possibly even nuked if leaving them alive would - or could - lead to more deaths. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree, if they are a big threat for everyone and there were no superheroes around to stop them. The OP seems to be talking more about executing Supervillains after they've been neutralized by the heroes and are no longer a threat (until they escape). $\endgroup$ – Achilles Nov 15 '16 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild If your government has a way to mark someone as no longer a human being, it's a dictature and human rights are a joke. And the point of this answer is that, save a few exceptions, super villains weren't such a threat themselves. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 15 '16 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ The idea that Batman villains don't go to jail for their crimes is a made-up idea for the comics. This does not happen in the same way in real life. psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-heroes-and-villains/201211/… $\endgroup$ – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Nov 15 '16 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck I agree. Imho, super-people with WMD levels of powers would be allowed to go free only if they can't be (safely) captured by humans but that discussion digresses from the question. If Superman existed in the real world, he'd be wise to watch his back for a while. But if he can't be captured, then as years pass by without him ever misusing his powers, people will lose interest. Supervillains with WMD levels of power would be captured with superman's help and locked up. In real world, super-people would either enslave humanity or become apathetic like Dr. Manhattan. $\endgroup$ – Achilles Nov 16 '16 at 7:31
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A government would not want to execute supervillains because they need them...

(1) Secrets: Supervillains have some vital secrets that the government wants. Maybe their secret lair or weapon is set to self-destruct; maybe there are hostages kept somewhere... In this scenario the government would likely invest in advanced interrogation techniques.

(2) Experimentation: Supervillains have powers that need to be researched and understood. The government would conduct numerous experiments on captured villains, probably furthering their hatred of the establishment.

(3) Potential common enemy: There are worse things out there. Most supervillains would fight against larger, existential threats if necessary. If there is a threat of a more powerful villain showing up, then the government would keep contained supervillains alive in case of emergencies.

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    $\begingroup$ Too iffy - Supervillains may not know anything of use, and even if they do, the threat they pose short-term may outweigh the long-term benefit of interrogating or studying them. To use an analogy, you don't start researching levees after the waterway has already broken its banks - either you've already built them, or you start evacuating. Supers loyal to the government would amount to just such levees. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ I assume that the government has a good assumption that they'll be able to safely contain the supervillains. As the chance of containment falls close to zero, people would begin asking for the death penalty. $\endgroup$ – LukeN Nov 15 '16 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ This would only apply to people with powers. Those with tech and lairs can be dealt with via a bomb squad and other things. Hostages are a short-term issue. More than 2 or 3 days and the hostage would die of dehydration. $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Nov 16 '16 at 3:13
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What is the difference between a Supervillain and a Superhero?

Supervillains wreak havoc and kill people. Superheroes wreak havoc and don't kill people if they can help it. Superheroes are the good guys. If Supervillains surrender, the Superheroes are not allowed to kill them, or they would be Supervillains themselves.

Of course there will be Superheroes who enter the sliding scale to Supervillain status. At first true heros will look down on them, snub them in decent society. When it gets worse, true heroes will start to hunt them down.

(Side note, most comic Supervillains are not terrorists, domestic or otherwise. A terrorist has an agenda to change society and influence the political process.)

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    $\begingroup$ I like the answer. It is believable that the years and years of bureaucracy required to execute a lay-criminal would be replicated for super-criminals if the laws had to apply to all superhumans equally. The appeals process has to be designed so we don't accidentally execute superman for collateral damage. $\endgroup$ – Daron Nov 14 '16 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ this is a great answer , many if not most superheroes have criminal backgrounds so the line is really blurry and rehabilitation can yield big returns. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 14 '16 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ A super might be a criminal without being a super-villain. Using superpowers to perpetrate crimes on a normal human scale is criminal, but not necessarily a matter of national security. However, using superpowers to harm people or destroy property en-masse should be the act by which a super-powered individual would transition from being a mere criminal to being a supervillain, at which point, being a threat to national security, they would be declared a clear and present danger, and stopped immediately - by any means necessary, including summary execution accompanied by collateral damage. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild, I see a fundamental difference between a summary execution and the use of lethal force to stop a crime in progress. One is punishment without legal safeguards, the other is defensive. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 15 '16 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ I just don't see how does this answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 15 '16 at 18:29
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The dangerous part of executing villains could be less from the law aspect and more from the villainous backlash from that decision.

When you surround the enemy

Always allow them an escape route

They must see that there is

An alternative to death.

  • Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

The lack of major threat to life and limb posed by heroes and the justice system provides a "safety net" for villains. As long as they don't go too far, a villain is relatively safe from permanent harm, and should be able to break out of holding without undue fuss. This means that the villains have little incentive to fight all-out, as killing a hero or causing massive collateral damage is liable to cause one of those heroes to decide you might be better off in a coma. And if you lose, hey, you're back on the streets inside of a month, so it doesn't cost you anything to hold back.

Implementing villain execution removes that safety net; each fight is now one that could potentially cause their death, and if they anger a hero badly enough for them to cross a line, that's no more dangerous than being caught in the first place, so they have little to lose and a lot to gain by, say, taking an orphanage hostage, or assassinating a hero.

This doesn't necessarily seem like something that the heroes couldn't deal with; a short period of unrest as the villains are put down, and then a peace once they're gone. However, there's a very important thing that overlooks.

Normally, supervillains are loners, sometimes working in short-lived coalitions for a single task, or in longer-lived pair groups of villains with a personal or professional connection. They sometimes spend more time fighting each other than the heroes! It's fairly rare that you get a significant group of villains all working together over and extended period, and even rarer that they're looking out for each other. This means that in general, superhero teams will have a greater concentration of force than villains will. This ensures that most villains are outmatched by their opposition and so will rarely get to execute plans that will cause harm on a mass scale.

However, by implementing villain execution, it would not be out of the question for villains to see this as a declaration of war. With a charismatic leader or rabble-rouser at the forefront, you could very well see a massive coalition of villains form with the sole purpose of making certain that the government will never be able to enforce their sentence, whether by threats of unspeakable violence if the sentence is passed, or simply by obliterating pieces of the governmental engine until it is unwilling or unable to follow through.

So in short, never back your enemy into a corner, and take that doubly seriously when you're talking about a population of superpowered criminals.

I'd also like to acknowledge part #3 of LukeN's answer. There are some threats so vast that you might need the villains' help to defeat; Imperiex comes to mind, or the Endbringers from Worm.

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  • $\begingroup$ This works as long as there are supers in law enforcement sufficient to deal with the threat of super villains. I agree that with legal recognition of super powers and equal human rights that the death penalty or summary execution could frequently be avoided, but in such an environment there could also be more executions than it seems, i.e. suicide by (super)cop - "He wouldn't stop any other way, so I had to kill him". $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 1:53
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1. It's too dangerous, or impossible

A supervillain containing untold amounts of power (who is, by providence of plot convenience, still restrainable) might swear vengeance if a state attempts to execute them, releasing all their power and destroying the planet. Or, it could just be that their supertough hide is stronger than steel and every hypodermic needle just gets bent against it.

2. The supervillains are supervillainous

A supervillain who is interested in still being dastardly in the future would make all sorts of concessions in the interest of staying alive, such as joining a team of rakes (a la Suicide Squad or Thunderbolts), or being subjected to scientific study, if it meant that they had a small chance at escape. These bargains are often seen as mutually beneficial, or at least one-sided in favor of the state... Until the villainous plan reaches fruition. Hindsight is 20-20, so these arrangements could be seen as unavoidable.

3. Superpowers are super-normalized

The number of superheroes and supervillains is small but nonzero, and always growing. And in a multiverse where contact with cosmic entities and multiversal powers is more common than it is in ours, any one supervillain with dreams of world domination can quickly look sympathetic in comparison. Indeed, in a world where Joe and Jane Everymen can get superpowers and battle on a cosmic scale, the public could be capable of humanizing a supervillain by the same merit.

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    $\begingroup$ #1 doesn't sound too convincing, why would a government say "those terrorists are kinda dangerous, better not enrage them"? (really like your second point, btw). $\endgroup$ – user8808 Nov 14 '16 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Roux The Hulk can't even kill himself! $\endgroup$ – Ross Nov 14 '16 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ 1: For every defense, there is typically an attack which will defeat it. 2: A supervillain may be so villainous that they wouldn't be able to concede their way out of a death sentence or a terminate-on-sight executive order. 3: No degree of sympathy for a supervillain as a person would save them if the only way to curb their villainy - and save thousands or millions of lives - was to kill them. Only the presence of state-sanctioned superheroes could mitigate the threat a supervillain might pose to the point where killing them on sight is no longer the most sensible course of action. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Roux that may be true, but if the supervillain has power equivalent to that of a supernova is it even reasonable? Perhaps killing them releases all the energy in a massive explosion. Consider Doomsday's death in the recent movie. Was there not a massive release of energy? A being with that much power must either draw energy from the cosmos, be blessed by some cursed deity, or be a literal walking time bomb. Killing them might release that in a massive kaboom. $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Nov 16 '16 at 3:24
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It might simply be because they have super-powers. People rarely consider the nature and mechanisms necessary for anyone to have super-powers. This could have a major impact on whether supervillains are executed or not.

Assume that anyone gaining super-powers either becomes invulnerable or their body stores huge amounts of mass-energy to enable them to exhibit super-powers.

Having super-powers definitely requires the person to be invulnerable. In fact, invulnerability might be the default super-power every super possesses irrespective of the level of their other super-powers even if you only have enough psychokinesis to levitate paper clips you have the invulnerability of a Superman.

Why is invulnerability necessary as the default super-power? If you had super-strength and flexed a muscle you wouldn't want to break the bones in your arm. if you had heat vision and could melt holes in ten centimetre thick steel plates at one hundred metres you wouldn't want your eyeballs exploding, now would you?

Let's allow there's an upper bound to how invulnerable can be, and assume this is the equivalent of a five megaton thermonuclear weapon at point blank range. So if you want execute a supervillain, any supervillain including that nasty paper clip thief, they have be bound to a five megaton thermonuclear weapon.

At least, there won't be much left afterwards. However, this does make it difficult, expensive, and extremely dangerous to execute supervillains. Also, there have to be a lot of five megaton nukes lying around, and people, er um, freedom fighters, er um, terrorists who are likely to steal them and sue them for bad purposes. Also, smart governments are likely to hire any detained supervillains to participate their black ops programs.

The other default condition related to the nature of super-powers is the distinct possibility that will need to store truly vast amounts of mass energy in their bodies to be enable to express their super-powers. In this case, executing a supervillain could release all that stored energy in massive pulse of destructive power.

Now taking supervillains to geographically remote locations and executing them there is a possibility. In fact, taking a whole bunch of heinous supervillains to somewhere far away and executing them together might be the way to go. But bringing too many supervillains into one single location might be fraught with hazards to say the least. Also, the detonations accompanying a supervillain execution might release dangerous levels of radioactivity or malign mystic energies or catastrophic cosmic forces.

Super-power mechanisms with drawbacks like these might be the reasons why superheroes and superheroines don't slay their evil opponents. It can also explain why governments don't execute the supervillains they have languishing in their supervillain containment and detainment facilities. Either supremely powerful energies have to be used to destroy them such as powerful nuclear weapons or when they are executed the energies released are catastrophically destructive in their own right.

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Why kill them when you can benefit more from keeping them alive?

In a world where superpowers are a thing, scientists are going to want to find out how they work. But human experimentation raises a whole bunch of ethical issues, so they're not going to be able to experiment on superheroes. Supervillains, on the other hand, are much less sympathetic. Can you imagine the benefits humanity might reap if they could understand or duplicate the powers of, say, Magneto? Infinite energy for virtually no cost! Scientists are going to want to study that.

If they can be pressured into community service, that's also a huge benefit. Forcing them into fighting threats to humanity (i.e. Suicide Squad) is a risky venture due to the likelihood of them going rogue in a chaotic situation, but there are other, safer ways of utilizing their powers. Can you hook them up to a generator? Get them to transport goods? People have joked about the idea that if Superman really wanted to help humanity, he'd get a job that let people harness his energy instead of wasting his time fighting mundane crooks. But you can't exactly force a citizen into powering a generator seven days a week, superpowered or not. But if they're a criminal...

Basically, if the benefits of keeping a supervillain alive are significant enough, and they think they can keep them under control, the government will want to keep them alive.

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One major concern most people seem to overlook is the power you give to the vigilante heroes who are fighting these supervillains. Right now, the law says that alleged criminals get arrested, are tried and then get sentenced to some number of years in prison. On rare occasions, they may get the death sentence but it's uncommon enough that it's by no means a certainty. Therefore, even though they are technically acting outside the law by being vigilantes, heroes are allowed to operate as long as they follow the law in these other regards.

In order to legally execute a dangerous villain before they have a chance to escape, the law would need to be amended to allow the courts to declare someone a dangerous villain, prevent any possible chance at appeal and allow for a summary execution. This opens up the possibility of heroes now having the legal and moral leeway to kill their villain instead of simply capturing them. Sure, public officials might frown on heroes doing the killing but I'm sure public opinion will be OK with it as it saves taxpayer dollars on a trial that most people would consider to be a mere formality.

Once you give your heroes that kind of power, you're essentially giving them the legal authority to make their own rules. If they can choose who is dangerous and should die and who isn't, what's to stop them from killing the US President or any other world leader? What's preventing them from essentially taking over all governments and ruling the world as they see fit?

In short, the standards we set for ourselves as normal people must reflect the standards we wish to hold our heroes to. Just imagine if Superman had landed in a world where such summary execution was legal and he grew up with that as his baseline for justice. Would he still be the hero we know him to be or would he be more like his alternative universe counterparts we see depicted in games such as Injustice: Gods Among Us?

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  • $\begingroup$ Realistically, in an environment with long-established superpowers, vigilantes should still not be tolerated. Only in the time gap between the appearance of superpowers in members of the population and the legal recognition of said superpowers could a superhero-vigilante be tolerable. However, even during that time, superhero-vigilantes could be deputised by executive order to eliminate the threat of supervillains, and such executive orders should typically include immunity from prosecution for causing the death of the supervillain(s) it concerns. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ The law could be amended to declare super-villains outlaws. An outlaw is someone who is no longer by law. if you steal from an outlaw it's not a crime. Similarly killing an outlaw isn't murder. Superhero-viligantes or mad scientists armed anti-super death-rays could kill a supervillain outlaw with impunity. If supervillains were too powerful, like Superman powerful, declaring them outlaws might have highly detrimental consequences. With nothing to lose, they might go the rampage. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 15 '16 at 4:46
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Good and Evil

When you get superheros you need supervillains to counteract them. When this starts to happen, the shades of grey that exist in the world start to fade away, people are either good or evil. There's no such thing as necessary evil, just evil. There's no let up for being fond of (long haired white) cats, you're evil.

This leaves you with a problem. To kill someone, or permanently restrain them is an act of evil. We might call it a necessary evil but once good and evil become black and white, necessary evil ceases to be an available option. You can't stop the Joker's reign of terror by killing him, that would be an evil act, which makes you no better than the Joker himself. It's what he's trying to get you to do, he's trying to commit suicide by Batman.

To remain good, you cannot kill.

You cannot deliberately kill anyone, under any circumstances. You may only capture and contain.

Once you start killing, where do you stop?

That one was really evil, the next was evil but not quite so evil, the last down the line considerably less evil, but by this point you've killed more than they have. Are you evil? Basically yes.

In a time when everything is black and white, you cannot be a shade of grey or you'll be all by yourself with enemies on both sides. Too far to the left for the right and too far to the right for the left.

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Because (in the case of walking power-houses) what would happen when they die?

Consider the following scenario. Supernova Man has the power to unleash fire balls, solar radiation, and even blow up entire cities with the force of a nuclear bomb. The government successfully captures him with the help of a superhero and they consider whether to execute or jail him. The one thing the scientists with the government say though after finding a way that would kill him is, "Where will all that energy go when he dies? The effect on the ecosystem will be immeasurable. It might even be enough energy to fracture the planet.".

Basically, killing a supervillain means all the energy behind their powers has to go somewhere and the last thing anyone wants is the neighborhood jail routinely blowing half the continent to kingdom come because they executed a villain with cosmic powers.

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Like Nex Terren says, capital punishment is not very popular in many parts of the country. Also keep in mind that most comic books and movies based on them are targeted toward young audiences so the direct implication of death is often (not in all cases) avoided. However, what I think to be one of the most important reasons why governments in fictional universes do not outright execute super-villains is so that we have the opportunity for villains to escape and become reoccurring adversaries to the hero, allowing the characters to develop relationships with each other and their audience.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a reason why the execution of supervillains is not depicted in popular media, but is not a valid reason why in a realistic human society that is presented with supervillain threats that persons posing such threats would not be summarily terminated, let alone tried, sentenced, allowed to appeal (all during which an escape might take place) and finally executed. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 15 '16 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ The main reason supervillains aren't executed in comic books is the writers & the comic book publisher would have to keep inventing new supervillains endlessly. Better to stick with few old favourites. Reality would be less forgiving. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 15 '16 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ of course this is the same reason supervillains don't often get rehabilitated, writing people who change is hard. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 17 '16 at 1:39

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