189 – Gray Morality

The Mythcreant Podcast

Sometimes it’s obvious who’s right and who’s wrong. The hero is kind and good, while the villain is cruel and evil. But what if that’s not the case? What happens when morality isn’t black and white but rather a shade of gray? That’s what we’re talking about this week. Gray morality is very popular among storytellers, but it has some serious pitfalls. After all, if no one is good or evil, do we even care who wins? Why don’t the characters just compromise? We’ll discuss ways to avoid this problem, plus another look at the weird idea that there should be a balance between good and evil.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Star Trek Discovery

Star Trek The Original Series

Jade City

Legend of the Five Rings

Star Wars



Devising Conflict Between Protagonists

Captain America: Civil War

Darker Shade of Magic

Jekyll and Hyde

The Dark Crystal

Skin of Evil

The Enemy Within


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  1. Cay Reet

    You could also take a look at the Brian Helsing series. There’s a lot more actual compromising with supernatural creatures in the series than you’d expect from ‘the Helsing’ whose only calling it is to hunt (and normally kill) monsters.

  2. SunlessNick

    I think Civil War would have been better off without the Accords at all. The only purpose they served was to get a bunch of world leaders in one place, and any summit could have done that. After the attack the driving question was what to do about Bucky, and that’s quite enough conflict by itself.

    Another thing that doesn’t get brought up a lot is the other Winter Soldiers, who are all murdered in their sleep. But Steve doesn’t seem to care about that, which undermines his position that Bucky is a victim of brainwashing in favour of Bucky just being his friend.
    (We’re clearly meant to see the others as worse than Bucky because they turn on their handlers in the flashback while Bucky protects his – but their handlers are Hydra agents who intend to use them to keep the world unstable and ripe for takeover, so turning on them doesn’t go far to make the other WS’s look worse).

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I think about this a lot, and I do think they needed something like the Accords, since while they could build conflict between Tony and Steve over Bucky, getting everyone else involved would have been a challenge. At the same time, coming up with a good explanation for them all to be fighting would be difficult.

  3. Tiamate

    I would offer a different analysis of the Civil War conflict: collective wisdom vs individual accountability.

    And in that light, I think *both* characters’ positions make sense. Let me explain. Tony has a history of making wrong decisions for the right reasons: his weapons helped soldiers but ultimately went to terrorists, he wanted to create a ‘shield around the world’ and ended up creating Ultron; and so I think that Tony is now very scared of himself (just look at Scarlet Witch’s telepathic attack against him: Earth and all his friends die because of him). So it makes perfect sense that he would want someone else to give him boundaries, and take decisions in his stead.

    On the other side, Captain America came to be by fighting *Nazis*, and as a European, I can tell you, one of the reasons National Socialism in Germany rose out of control was dilution of responsability: Hitler was properly elected (also died before he could be tried, so tribunals had to look elsewhere for accountability), soldiers manning concentration camps “were just following orders”, civilians who sold out jews were just looking out for themselves; no one was individually responsible except everyone was responsible. In addition: in Winter Soldier, SHIELD–the *government* agency who saved him–turned out to be controlled by HYDRA and Steve had to shut them down. All in all, Steve Rogers has faced multiple official groups, created with the best intentions, who turned out untrustworthy. So it also makes sense that, more than any other Avenger, he would not want to give the power of decision over to government officials with other agendas who would make decisions from a distance.

    It’s not that Captain America thinks the Avengers should be above the law, in fact I’d say he thinks the Avengers should be held accountable for the mistakes, but they should be their mistakes to make.

    In other words, Tony’s afraid of the mistakes he might make with the nuclear launch codes (the Avengers) and wants to submit them to collective wisdom, whereas Steve doesn’t want to hand over responsibility of the nuclear launch codes to a group who might turn out untrustworthy or corrupted by personal agendas (dilution of individual accountability).

    And I think that also explains why the film makes Steve ‘right’ and Tony ‘wrong’: because in MCU, government groups being untrustworthy is a significant possibility.

    • Bellis

      Oh wow, I really wish the movie had been like that! I love your arguments here, and it would have been properly “grey” as in, everyone has a legitimate point to make and understandable reasons for arriving at it.

      But that’s not what I got from watching the movie, instead – to use some polarising phrasing – it seemed like US propaganda to justify being the “world police”. The first Avengers movie already made me super angry by seeming to be blatant pro-US-military propaganda. So it’s quite likely I watched Civil War with that particular lens and had some confirmation bias.

      Maybe I should rewatch Civil War with your interpretation in mind!

  4. Alejandro A Zarate

    Re: Civil War, the character whose position makes more sense is Black Widow. Seriously: she accepts the Accords like any reasonable person, yet she sides with Cap when it becomes evident to her that an injustice is being committed. #TeamNatasha

  5. Jason Duncan

    In the comics, as well as in the movie although the movie did not elaborate well, the underlying issue is not about sanctioning the Avengers, but rather about forcing people with powers to identify, publicize, and register. Cap’s issue is with making a class of individuals register and self identify. History has had a lot of problems with registering classes of people. Spiderman is arguably a vigilante and criminal, but Peter Parker should not have to register himself.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I haven’t read the comic, but IIRC in the movie, the choices were either sign the accords or stop being an Avenger and doing all the violent crime stopping. While forcing people to register just for existing is pretty clearly bad, registering for the right to do violent crime stopping seems pretty reasonable.

  6. Quin Callahan

    I have to admit I was surprised you guys didn’t talk about the fact that in Civil War, the accords would essentially make heroes a military arm of the UN, with no guarantee they would be permitted to interfere in very serious political situations that still have a clear “good” side, such as the real world problems of powerful nations often not all that accountable for war crimes. Putting aside the fact it apparently lets supers be held indefinitely without trial if they are believed to break the law.

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