Modern versions of Batman have cemented the “No Killing” rule for the character. Batman is thus a member of an “elite” group of comic book superheroes (others being Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc.), who never kill their opponents, despite the circumstances. But Batman is very “old”, debuting back in 1939, so is it really true that he never killed anyone? We’ll examine this in our article.
Batman doesn’t kill. While this is true for modern versions of the character, historically and in derivative materials, Batman has indeed caused the death of other characters, whose exact number is unknown.
DC Comics, for those of you that are not familiar with the story behind the comics, is a major American comic book publisher founded back in 1934. Along with Marcel Comics, it is the most popular comic book publisher in the United States. DC Comics is a major player in the comic book business and is the “home” of many famous comic book characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and many others.
Now that we’ve given you a short introduction, let us discuss the topic of this article in more detail.
“Batman doesn’t kill”
“But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place… I’ll never come back.“– Batman, Batman #650 (2006)
The origins of the “Batman doesn’t kill” moral rule are very complex. Initially, Batman did kill, as was shown in the early comic books, but soon after the Dark Knight’s debut, a lot of things changed in during the 1940s and the editors had to tone down the violence in comic books. As Bob Kane wrote in his book: “You couldn’t kill or shoot villains anymore. DC prepared its own comics code which every artist and writer had to follow“. So, for a good while – Batman really did not kill and it lasted throughout the Golden, Silver and Bronze Ages of comic books.
Things changed during the 1980s when Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) marked the beginning – along with Moore’s Watchmen – of the Modern Age of Comic Books. Comics became increasingly darker and Batman was once again prone to killing his enemies, although he still tried to avoid it if he could. But, compared to other time periods, this is when Batman killed most people.
Things lingered in a sort of limbo during the 1990s, but during the 2000s, Batman once again reverted back to his firm “no killing” stance, which was strongly emphasized in the now-classic storyline Under the Hood, which includes the above-quoted line. Things are constantly changing in the world of comic books and, as it stands, Batman currently does not kill (although he has stated that he would kill The Batman Who Laughs), but that could also change in time.
Now, let us examine the incidents when Batman indeed did kill his enemies.
Has Batman Killed in Comic Books?
As stated above, Batman has – for most of the time – not killed and this was explicitly stated as early as 1941, in Batman #4, when Batman says to Robin that they do not kill their opponents. Still, just three issues earlier, in Batman #1 (1940), Batman did not only fly in the Batplane with one of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men tied under the plane with a noose around his neck, but he also gassed the monster and let it, as the comic states, “topple off to his doom”. Also, he was known to stab and hang people in the earlies issues, where he also kicked a criminal into a vat of chemicals (this was later retconned and combined with Joker’s origin story).
Decades have passed until Batman killed again. In the 1982 science-fiction short story “The Messiah of the Crimson Sun” from Batman Annual #8, Batman forced Ra’s al-Ghul’s spaceship into a laser beam, decimating the immortal supervillain with extreme brutality. Batman’s violence was explored by both Frank Miller (who did not make Batman a killer) and Allan Moore (who suggested that Batman killed Joker in The Killing Joker), seminal 80s writers who redefined Batman.
The 1988 story “Ten Nights of the Beast” introduced a new villain to the Batman lore – KGBeast. After four issues, the Dark Knight finally faced the KGBeast and ultimately locked him behind a metal door somewhere in the sewers. While it was suggested that Batman, controversially, let the KGBeast die of starvation, this was later retconned, turning out that Batman actually called the GCPD and informed them of the villain’s whereabouts. In 2005’s ll Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, Frank Miller described Batman kill a group of thieves by burning them to death. He has also mortally wounded Darkseid in Final Crisis, but it is debatable how killing a megalomaniac alien overlord applies to this situation.
These have been all the notable incidents when Batman killed in the comic books. Now let us see how this was interpreted in derivative materials.
Has Batman Killed in Movies and TV shows?
When it comes to on-screen adaptations of Batman, the creators of the movies and TV series have taken a much more liberal stance with the Dark Knight than comic book authors. For example, Tim Burton’s Batman has seemingly killed in both Batman (1989) – where he blew up a factory full of people and fired a Batmobile-attached machine gun around town, plus there’s also the scene where he left Joker to hand from a gargoyle, which eventually killed him – and in Batman Returns (1992) – where he strapped a bomb to a henchman’s chest and throws him in a sewer to explode and die.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman is known for saying: “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you“. Nolan analysed Batman more profoundly, his moral stances included, which is why most people consider this to be the definitive movie version of Batman. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne refuses to kill a criminal as part of his training with the League of Shadows, but later blows up their lair, certainly killing at least one (but probably a lot more) of its members. Later on, he refused to save Ra’s al-Ghul’s life when he could, letting the supervillain die, which brings us back to the line from the beginning of the paragraph. In The Dark Knight, he refused to kill the Joker, but he can be held responsible for the deaths of the people riding the garbage truck and for Harvey Dent’s death. Finally, in The Dark Knight Rises, his actions have led to the death of Talia al-Ghul.
A controversial moment came years later, when Zack Snyder confirmed that his Batman had indeed killed several people in the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As you can see, movie versions of Batman never fully respected the “no killing” rule, which cannot be said about the television versions. Adam West’s Batman is known to be notoriously kid-friendly (so no killings), while the young Bruce Wayne from Gotham openly promises to Alfred that he is never going to kill in the episode “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”.
Has Batman Killed in Video Games?
As stated, derivative materials have been much more lenient with Batman’s “no killing” rule, although they tried to adhere to it. A notable example when Batman killed – or, in this case, let someone die – was in Batman: Arkham Knight, more precisely the “Season of Infamy” DLC, when in a side quest Batman had the option to save a dying Ra’s al-Ghul. If the player chose option A, Batman wouldn’t give Ra’s the life-saving chemical, but he would also stop Nyssa from killing him, opting to take him to the GCPD to be locked up for what short time he had left to live. Ra’s said he was proud of Batman, probably referring to Batman breaking his “no killing” rule (not saving = killing, in this case), but this could also be interpreted as being an example of what Batman said in the movie Batman Begins: “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you“.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!