Punching somebody unconscious is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do, despite what the comics say.
The Marvel and DC universes are exceedingly dangerous places to be, with major cities wiped out on a disturbingly regular basis. But they still breed ‘em tough. They can get knocked out with a shot to the jaw and get up again with a groan and a slightly sore head five minutes later.
When you get punched out in the real world, you often don’t get up again. There are lots of people out there with murder hanging on their souls because they didn't realise this.
I remember getting really angry over this idiotic hypocrisy of "bad media" in the early nineties, when something like the Evil Dead movies were seen as far too violent for anybody to handle, when the Home Alone movies were also coming out and viewed as respectable family entertainment, despite showing that people can take blows to the head and come up fine.
This was a time when the film industry quite happily produced three films in the repulsive Problem Child series, which relied on all sorts of incredibly dangerous behaviour by the obnoxious lead character for cheap laughs and was totally acceptable for young viewers, but something like Robocop was cut into incoherence before it could play on late night television.
This hypocrisy over media violence – whether it was the EC comics, or the video nasties, or the bloody Child’s Play movies – was aggravating when it was perfectly fine to sit a kid in front of an old John Wayne western in which he kills hundreds of Indians, or indulge in some harmless slapstick that involved people getting smacked in the face with blunt objects.
For any kid living in the harmless world of mainstream comic books, knocking somebody out seems just as harmless, and the thought of what it is doing to these people’s heads is nothing worth thinking about.
But there are plenty of comic characters who must be terribly damaged. As somebody who has been a member of the X-Men in some form since the very beginning, poor old Scott Summers must have suffered irreparable brain damage after being knocked out continuously while his brain was still forming. It continued well into adulthood, through at least one death and resurrection. No wonder he keeps falling for telepaths, whether they're red-heads or diamond girls or baldies, they must be the only ones holding his poor battered head together.
Green Lantern was also famously susceptible to the odd bout of unconsciousness – a tradition that dated back to the fine old Golden Age, where Alan Scott was always being knocked out by a plank of wood. (I got hit in the head with a relatively tiny piece of wood when I was a kid and it damn near killed me.)
Later on, Hal Jordan took a few knocks, which is only to be expected when you’re dealing with the only comic character that could be laid out by a bowl of custard. But this can’t be good for him. Who needs a Big Yellow Fear Monster to justify going mental when you’ve got a broken skull?
It’s fine when Batman punches out bad guys, usually because they’re murderous jerks who will probably be better members of society with a little brain damage, but what about when he laid out Guy Gardener? It’s a deservedly classic moment in eighties superhero comics - thanks to its genuine comic timing - but considering Guy had a history of severe head trauma that had already led to a change in personality, knocking him out for being a bit lippy could be incredibly dangerous.
Poor Guy! After all that, he will probably die of an aneurism before he hits fifty! Hell, even poor old Curly from The Three Stooges had a succession of minor cerebral haemorrhages before being the first stooge to shuffle off the mortal coil, blamed almost entirely on Moe’s predilection for cracking something over his skull.
Fortunately, we’ve evolved as a civilisation so that we don’t need to go around punching each other. We all have people we’d like to smack in the face, but the vast majority of us manage to get through our lives without resorting to punching. It certainly still happens, especially when we get a bit boozed up, but the dangers of hitting people in the head are well known.
The DC and Marvel universe might be more technologically advanced than our own, but they still haven’t realised the dangers of unconsciousness. Or maybe they are just a bit tougher, and head trauma is a perfectly legitimate form of psycho-therapy. Maybe that’s all Doc Samson does – slap around his patients until they’re docile and happy.
Judging by the results from the revolving door at the entrance to Arkham Asylum, it isn’t working, but it must be fun. In a universe where the Joker just keeps on coming back to unleash awful carnage, two-by-four therapy may not do him any good, but it couldn’t hurt the person holding the wood.