What could be more heroic than Luke Skywalker igniting a lightsaber, Aragorn charging the Black Gates with Andúril drawn and ready, or Iron Man blasting his way through the minions of the Ten Rings? What is more heart-stirring than watching Neo dodge bullets or Asuka kick the crap outta some Angels?
But what if you long for something else? Like a hero who eschews violence where possible—one who finds a way to save the day without fists or swords. I’ve gathered five heroes who may not always avoid a well-timed punch or kick, but tend to pick non-violent tools as their “weapon” of choice.
The Doctor often needs to save the day, or at least save as many people as they can from the evils of brute force and cynicism. But they don’t do this through violence or weaponry—cause that would undercut the point. Again and again, the Doctor stakes their own life and those of their companions on intellect and romance. Obviously a hero like that isn’t going to reach for a gun (The Doctor’s hatred of guns was actually ironclad during Russell T. Davies’ run on the show) but they need something other than jellybabies to wield, right? Enter the Sonic Screwdriver. It can do many things (maybe a few too many extremely convenient things) but it is, at its heart, a tool rather than a weapon. The Doctor uses to open doors both physical and metaphorical, and to build solutions creatively rather than lashing out with anger.
Captain America is a super soldier, and he does use the shield as a projectile weapon on plenty of occasions, along with his fists. However, it’s significant that when his creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby thought up an image of the representative of the U.S., they sent him against the forces of fascism even before his country declared war. And even more importantly they decided to make his most iconic weapon not a gun or sword, but a symbol of protection. Especially in the MCU’s version of the character, Cap’s sense of justice was expressed in his fighting style, which focused on protecting the helpless and assisting his teammates, rather than attacking evildoers. And even when he does fight, he does his best to stop villains, not kill them—a far cry from Iron Man blasting missiles at every threat.
Lasso of Truth—Wonder Woman
While Diana is trained in many different forms of combat, and uses many weapons, the one that is most closely associated with her is the Lasso of Truth. Like Cap’s shield, it’s not used to kill but to stop, to incapacitate villains long enough to protect the innocent, or to bind them until they can face the kind of calm, reasonable justice that’s impossible on a battlefield. The Lasso is itself a powerful symbol. What could stand more starkly in opposition to violence than the idea of a tool that will tell you the absolute truth? Obviously, it’s coercive, and used by anyone with less of a moral compass than Diana Prince could be an instrument of pure torture. But when she uses the Lasso she’s affirming the idea that, if only we could find the truth in a situation we would be able to do the right thing, to make the right choice. It might be impossible, but it tells you everything about Diana that she’ll fight with knowledge rather than force whenever she can.
The latest movie version of Spider-Man has a suit with an instant kill feature, but Friendly Neighborhood Cold-Blooded Murderer doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, so Peter does his best to avoid that setting. Given the choice, rather than using his super strength to pummel people or his fantastic brain to think up weaponry, Spidey creates webbing so he can more easily swoop through New York helping people, and, when necessary, uses it to capture villains and leave them for the police to deal with. And while things got a bit more intense when he helped out in the battle against Thanos, it’s worth remembering that Tom Holland’s take on the character actually saves his first real nemesis, dragging The Vulture away from a fire mere moments after the man tried to kill him, and tries to subdue Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio without hurting him too much. And truly, whomst among us would not subdue Jake Gyllenhaal, given the chance?
When Steven Universe began, it tricked us into thinking it was a cute show about a boy going on fun adventures with his alien guardians, The Crystal Gems. But it soon revealed it’s true purpose: telling a knotty coming-of-age story about identity and empathy. And as if that wasn’t enough, it complicated Steven’s relationship with the memory of his mother, and dug into the aftereffects of trauma with extraordinary nuance and care. But before all of that, in Season One Steven needed to prove that he was a true member of the Crystal Gems, and in order to do that he needed to find his weapon. All the Gems are able to generate their weapons: Garnet has gauntlets, Pearl has a spear, and Amethyst has a whip. Steven’s mother, Rose Quartz, had a mighty pink sword. But the Gems are also thousands of years old, and waiting for Steven to hit superhero puberty is a halting process. When he finally draws his own weapon, however, it’s not a sword, but a shield, and he doesn’t draw it because he’s in battlehe draws it because he’s singing the jingle for his favorite ice cream sandwich, Cookie Cat, and it makes him really, really happy. From then on, all of Steven’s powers, whether drawing the shield, creating defensive bubbles, or healing corrupted Gems with his magical spit (it works in context) are based on helping people rather than hurting them.