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June 3, 2012


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Mark Desmarais

This is a little unclear in the comic and in your essay, but does the acid actually cause Sandman any discomfort or pain? I took this scene to mean that Spider-Man was threatening to let Silver Sable kill Sandman, not that Silver Sable was torturing him.

Although "threatening to let someone kill you" is probably a form of torture, and it's still a difficult moment, but it's a rather different issue than what is implied when we toss around "torture" cavalierly.

Mark D. White

Good question, Mark, thanks--if we understand torture as inflicting physical or mental suffering for the express purpose of obtaining information, then I think the expression on Sandman's face, plus the way he was facing death (the acid eating him away one grain at a time until it hit THE one that contained his consciousness), qualifies this as torture--the mental anguish was there even if the physical were not. Regardless of whether it reaches some standard, though--there is some disagreement on whether waterboarding constitutes torture--I think it still represents surprising callous behavior on Spidey's part.

Mark Desmarais

Certainly, I just wonder if the word "torture" is even the right one to be thinking about. It reminds me of when Spider-Man works work with Wolverine. When Wolverine threatens to gut a HYDRA goon, how does Spider-Man react? How should Spider-Man react?

By reframing this as "allowing Sandman to be threatened" instead of "allowing Sandman to be tortured", I think we can get a much clearer perspective.

Mark D. White

1. I don't know if it clears anything up to say Sandman was threatened rather than tortured, especially since they were threatening him by actually playing Russian roulette with his grains. They may very well have killed him before getting the information they needed, so I would say it was more than a threat--they were carrying it out, but the bullet didn't find its chamber yet.

2. I am completely with you on the "innocent bystander" trope--most all the heroes are complicit in the things Wolverine and the Punisher (among others) get away with. (In fact, several of the New Avengers, including Daredevil, stood and watched while Dr. Strange performed his torture spell, discussed in my earlier post.) This is certainly problematic as well.


The book Batman and Psychology (not Philosophy, different book) has an interesting section on the pointlessness of torture. Batman's big thing to try to get information is always to run around the seedy side of town beating people up until somebody spills, but apparently that's not really likely to work, at least not as well as other non-torturey ways of doing things.

Mark D. White

Thanks for your comment, Wookie--and I know the author of that book (can't wait to read it myself). Beating up thugs to get information may not count as torture, but I agree that it raises the same issues of efficacy--does it generate reliable information--if not the same ethical issues.

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