Batman does not kill. This is a moral maxim that is well-known to all comic books fans and as we’ve analysed in our article – it is true for the most part. Certainly, in the 80-year history of the Dark Knight, the rule was broken on several occasions, but generally speaking – Batman really does not kill. And this wouldn’t be an issue were his archenemy someone other than the Joker. The issue of Batman killing the Clown Prince of Crime is a recurring one in the comic book lore and we are going to analyse it in today’s article.
Batman has never killed the Joker in any main continuity storyline, The Killing Joke included. He has, on the other hand, killed him in alternative universe storylines, as well as in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie.
Before we dive into the main issue, we are going to give you a brief introduction to the two characters and then see where Batman actually killed his nemesis.
Who is Batman?
Batman is probably one of the most famous (if not the most famous) comic book character in history. The stories about Gotham City’s Dark Knight have been popular for decades now and have created a multimedia franchise consisting of movies, TV shows, video games and a lot of other merchandise. But, who is Batman?
Batman is the secret superhero alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a billionaire playboy based in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is the owner of Wayne Enterprises, a successful company based in Gotham City and is the heir of the Wayne estate. He lives alone in Wayne Manor, on the outskirts of Gotham, with his butler and trusted friend, Alfred Pennyworth.
Wayne’s life has been defined by a tragedy he had witnessed as a child. Namely, one night Bruce went to the movies with his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. His father decided to take a shortcut through an alley after exiting the theatre, but he did not know that an unknown mugger was standing there, waiting for his prey. The mugger attacked and ultimately killed both Thomas and Martha Wayne, but spared the life of young Bruce, who was left to the care of Alfred Pennyworth. The mystery of his parents’ murder played an important role in Bruce Wayne’s life and was a key fact in his decision to become the vigilante Batman.
Believing that criminals are a “a cowardly and superstitious lot“, Bruce Wayne decided to put on Batman’s cowl, taking inspiration for the name and the design from a childhood experience with bats.
Frank Miller’s important Batman: Year One comic book depicts Batman’s beginnings as a vigilante in Gotham and since that moment, he has become a symbol of Gotham City and a name used with fear among the city’s criminals. While fighting regular villains and members of his Rogue’s Gallery, Batman has also tried to solve the murder of his parents, ultimately finding out that they were killed by a street criminal named Joe Chill.
The Batman mythos has grown with time and with it also Batman, who has evolved from a solitary vigilante to the leader of the Batman family (or Batfamily), which includes several other superheroes like Batgirl, Batwoman, former Robins Nightwing, Red Robin, Spoiler and others. Currently, Batman is aided by his son Damian Wayne (his mother is Talia al-Ghul, Ra’s al-Ghul’s daughter), who is also the fifth and incumbent Robin.
Batman has been present in other media, as well as in the comic books. The first major adaptation was the 1960s camp TV show starring Adam West, after which there have been several animated adaptations. An important event was Tim Burton’s 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton, that launched a film series during the 1990s. In the same period, Paul Dini created Batman: The Animated Series where Batman was voiced by Kevin Conroy; the show gained a cult following and is generally praised as one of the best adaptations of Batman ever. Christopher Nolan revitalised the movies with his Dark Knight trilogy. Batman is currently a part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s response to the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Who is The Joker?
The Joker is a fictional supervillain appearing in stories published by DC Comics, primarily as the archenemy of the superhero Batman. One of the most enigmatic DC Comics characters, The Joker debuted in Batman #1 (1940) and was created Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson.
Joker’s story is full of questions and question marks. His true identity was never revealed, yet he is one of Batman’s oldest enemies. He was initially a gimmick supervillain but evolved with time to become – undoubtedly – the most twisted, crazy supervillain in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery.
The funny thing (pun intended) about Joker is that his story is still a complete mystery. Even after 80 years, we still don’t know his true identity, despite some derivative materials actually giving him a name and a well-defined backstory. His origin – i.e., the one generally accepted as being correct – includes him, dressed as the criminal Red Hood, falling into a chemical vat that permanently bleached his skin and turned his hair green, but also giving him a complete psychotic break and turning the John Doe into The Joker. A variation of this story was presented in Alan Moore’s cult classic comic book The Killing Joke.
Being Batman’s archenemy, the Joker has developed a very deep bond with the Dark Knight, often going to unbelievable lengths with his plans, just so he could push his opponent to his limits. Joker’s ideal vision would be to break Batman mentally, either by making him murder or by causing a psychotic break similar to his own.
He was heavily featured in derivative material, including movies, TV shows, animation and video games. On the big screen, he was portrayed by Cesar Romero, then Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto (sadly). Another iconic interpretation is Mark Hamill’s voice role from Batman: The Animated Series and the Batman: Arkham video game series. Joker’s mystery might just be revealed in Geoff Johns’ Three Jokers, where it is going to be explained that there were actually three different Jokers, but we’ll have to see how that narrative actually works out.
Has Batman ever killed the Joker?
We have now reached the section of the article where we are going to analyse the main issue – has Batmen ever killed the Joker? We are going to go over the three main groups of Batman-related material and see the answer for each of them.
In the main comic-book continuity, Batman has never killed the Joker. There were a lot of situations where Batman almost did it, even more in which he thought about it, but he never actually did it. This is a reflection of the moral code he adheres to. Even in the cult classic storyline Batman: Under the Hood, when the resurrected Jason Todd asks Batman why the Joker is still alive, naming all the monstrosities he has done, Batman refuses to become a killer, saying:
“I want him dead–maybe more than I’ve ever wanted anything. But if I allow that, if I allow myself to go down into that place… I’ll never come back.”– Batman, Batman #650 (2006)
Now, there have been two situations that are interesting to talk about – the final scene from The Killing Joke and the final fight from Batman: Endgame.
The final scene from The Killing Joke heavily implies that Batman kills the Joker. This was never officially confirmed (the original remark by artist Brian Bolland was “Batman reaches out for the Joker and then…”), but was heavily implied by both fans and (perhaps) even Moore himself. But this all happened at a later date. Originally, when The Killing Joke was published, no one implied this as it would have defeated the whole point of the comic and Batman’s own moral/psychological symbolism; by killing Joker, Batman would prove that the Clown Prince of Crime was right and that it indeed takes “only one bad day” to go from Batman to Joker. We do not believe that this was the original intention of the cult classic graphic novel and that all these “Batman did kill” theories are just ex post facto interpretations which are not facts.
As for Batman: Endgame, Batman and Joker decide to have their last fight. It was a truly epic battle what we have already talked about, ending with the assumed deaths of both Batman and the Joker. In the final scenes of that battle, the two rivals, beaten and bloodied, lay down on the floor, aware that the cave is going to crash and kill them. So yeah, the cave actually killed them, but there is a good chance that they would’ve died – both of them – even if the cave hadn’t been destroyed, so we can state that Batman could’ve been held for Joker’s death in this case, had the cave not intervened. Luckily for Batman – it did.
So no, Batman did not kill the Joker in the main narrative continuity. But, as we’ve already said, he did so on three occasions in the many alternative reality storylines from the DC Universe, and we have them for you:
- Batman: Bloodstorm (1994) – this Elseworlds story shows Batman become a vampire after defeating Count Dracula. The new monstrosity soon loses any sense of control and starts killing everyone; it’s not hard to imagine that Joker was the vampire Batman’s first victim.
- Batman: Two Faces (1998) – another Elseworld story, where Batman actually suffers from dissociative identity disorder, with his second personality being the Joker. When Batman realises that, he commits suicide and technically kills the Joker as well… sort of.
- JLA: The Nail (1998) – in this alternative universe storyline, Batman kills the Joker in a moment of rage after the Joker murders Robin and Batgirl.
- Dark Nights: The Batman Who Laughs (2018) – on Earth-22, in the Dark Multiverse, Joker learns Batman’s true identity and launches a final attack on his allies and the city, intending to transform the citizens into Joker/Batman hybrids with his toxin. Batman grapples the Joker and kills him, but ultimately becomes exposed to the toxin himself, thus becoming The Batman Who Laughs.
None of these stories are considered canon and they remain the only times when the Dark Knight actually killed his great rival. The only catch with #4 is that this alternative universe Batman (The Batman Who Laughs) came to the main narrative universe and became a part of it, although his origins are still from an alternative narrative reality.
Movies and TV shows
As far as television series are concerned – both animated and live-action – Batman has never killed the Joker. The animated series rarely featured deaths, so it’s understandable that it never happened. As for the live-action series, Gotham did feature the Valeskas dying, but it is debatable whether they even were the Joker in the first place; Titans, on the other hand, did feature a scene where Batman killed the Joker, but it turned out to be Robin’s hallucination.
As for the live-action movies, the Joker is alive and well in Nolan’s trilogy (as a novelization revealed) and in the DCEU, but he has died in Burton’s 1989 film. The Jack Nicholson version of the characters is one of the most iconic interpretations ever and Burton decided to kill the Joker in his debut appearance.
In one of the final scenes of the movie, Batman confronts the Joker and saves Vicki Vale. After the Joker tries to escape, Batman launches his grapple and ties Joker’s foot to a large gargoyle, thereby preventing him from climbing up the ladder into his rescue helicopter. Unable to climb up, Joker soon loses his grip and falls down from the top of Gotham Cathedral and dies. Whether or not this can be considered as Batman actually killing Joker is debatable, but he had a role in the Clown Prince of Crime’s death and even he himself later stated that he actually did kill him.
As for the video games, we don’t really have much material to talk about, except the Arkham series, because no other Batman game focused the conflict between the two to such a degree.
The Joker appeared in all four instalments of the series, despite dying in Batman: Arkham City. Namely, after being exposed to the Titan formula, Joker’s blood got poisoned and, as Batman discovered, he was on the verge of death, using Clayface to impersonate him in his videos. Later on, he transfused some of his blood into Batman in order to force the Dark Knight to search for a cure to save them both. Batman ultimately did find the cure and he took it himself, but he hesitated in giving it to Joker. Crazy as he is, Joker attacked Batman, who accidentally dropped the antidote on the floor, which ultimately led to Joker’s death.
Ironically, Batman would’ve saved Joker’s life in Arkham City, but the Joker ultimately killed himself by attacking Batman. So no, despite witnessing his death, Batman did not kill the Joker in Arkham City, nor in any other video game for that matter.
Has the Joker ever killed Batman?
Now that you know everything from Batman’s point of view, you might be wondering – has the Joker ever killed Batman? Well, before we finish out article, we are going to answer that question for you as well.
Since Batman and Joker have a really special relationship in the sense that the Joker perceives himself as an integral part of Batman’s existence, Joker would – at least we think so and it has been heavily implied to be true – never kill Batman. In fact, he himself would “die” without the Dark Knight, which was confirmed in The Dark Knight Returns, where Joker was in a catatonic state after Batman’s retirement.
Still, in an alternative reality – presented in the story Superman: Emperor Joker (2000) – where Joker obtained Mister Mxyzptlk’s powers, he continually tortured and killed his adversary, Batman, every day, only to bring him back to life and do it over and over again – as could be expected Emperor Joker took extra pride in these particular killings due to the unique relationship the two characters continued to share. Superman later used Batman – who was the Emperor Joker’s only weakness – to defeat the omnipotent supervillain and wiped Batman’s memories so that the Dark Knight could lead a normal life once more.
Luckily, this was just an alternative reality story and is not considered to be canon.
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!