Why Batman Shouldn’t Kill (VIDEO)
This is going to be a short video about why Batman shouldn’t be portrayed as a killer. As such I have to briefly refer to the movie Batman v Superman. I don’t really have an issue with Batman killing in this movie as it is established, albeit poorly, that he’s been broken down by the death of Robin and so on. In the comics Batman is stopped from avenging Robin’s death by Superman, who isn’t in his life at that point of the DCEU. So it is fine with me. I also did once write an article called ‘Martha’ about why perhaps some people didn’t engage with the character work that does actually exist in BvS, but also how it could do much better to engage with an audience. Link in the description.
One of the main reasons I hear people throwing about to justify Batman killing is that he has done before in comics. Some cite Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns because BvS director Zack Snyder does so. However Batman never kills in TDKR and Snyder cited a set of panels without understanding them. This is a comic where the Joker gets so frustrated that Batman won’t kill him, he kills himself.
Other people cite instances from very distant comics, especially when Batman was murder-happy in the early Golden Age stories in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. It’s true that Batman stopped killing because of government ordained content restrictions. But over time that no-kill rule stuck. Batman is a superhero. He is a symbol of certain values. Not killing has been one of those certain values for decades and decades now. Sure, there are still some exceptions in the Silver Age, but that was hardly an era known for character consistency across titles and the kills were usually in extreme situations of necessity. The modern age has only had Batman ‘kill’ characters such as Darkseid and KGBeast, who we, and likely Batman, know aren’t really staying down.
Batman is a character that shifts constantly in his depictions, but some things remain the same. Modern Rebirth era Batman does not kill and neither did the ‘60s TV show version. Do you really want to see Adam West snap someone’s neck?
Killing also doesn’t make sense to the genesis of Batman in Bruce Wayne’s mind. Child Bruce Wayne had a real bad day. It started with him falling into a well full of Bats. Then to cheer him up his parents took him to see a Zorro movie. On the way out his parents were shot to death in front of him. In that moment when Bruce’s mind fractured from the trauma, everything from that day poured into that fracture in a warped attempt at a coping mechanism. He became a Bat-themed Zorro who hates killing and guns because his parents were shot to death. Some will argue that he took on the Bat-theme because a bat flew through his window after his failed first night on the crime beat, however the moment is more about him taking the cue from the bat to accept something that’s been long gestating in the back of his psyche. If one accepts that a Bat-based persona is a reaction to his parent’s death, his opposition to killing follows logically.
Batman also doesn’t kill because of the law. Now obviously Batman is at least initially a criminal, before he has Justice League membership. He is a vigilante. However, most Batman continuities begin with Batman taking on organised crime. Usually he does this because the criminal organisations are supported by a deeply corrupt Gotham Police Force. Batman usually seeks out Jim Gordon as a partner early on. Then given that Batman does usually believe in a fair trial and prison it is safe to say Batman tries to exist to supplement the law. He isn’t Green Arrow, he isn’t a rebel against all injustices. Batman believes in law and order, he just has to support it in a city where law and order is in short supply.
The right to kill is something in most societies that we only bestow upon a special few. People who take oaths and have training. People still who have many limitations placed upon them, at least where I live, about when they can kill. Gotham has not bestowed the right to take the lives of its criminal citizens upon Batman. It is worth noting that in both DC and Marvel comics, superheroes really only kill when in non-vigilante situations, such as being at war. It’s generally only during government supported anti-terrorist or open conflict scenarios. Tony Stark isn’t blowing away muggers.
Batman killing his nemeses would be unsettling given how many of them spend most of their time residing in a mental health hospital. As horrific as their crimes are, the Riddler, the Joker, Scarecrow and so on, are human beings with mental health problems. Where I’m from you help the sick and when they endanger others you remove them from those environments to ones where you can treat or at least contain them. It’s also worth noting real life statistics about just how many criminals have mental health problems. If one feels Batman should kill the Joker for the sake of the victim’s families that’s a moral debate quagmire I don’t really want to get into. For now I’ll just say that the extremely mentally ill don’t really understand the weight of their actions and to treat them as beings with full agency is disingenuous.
It’d also make Batman like Ra’s Al Ghul. And if there is nothing separating Batman morally from one of his villains, then there is nothing to stop them being the same. Bruce Wayne is an extremely rich white man. As Batman he fights the mentally ill and their often poor henchman who have to turn to crime due to poverty. So if a rich white man goes out into the world without the permissions of a democratically elected government to start murdering the mentally ill and the poor and anyone else he decides needs to die…what do we call that? I believe we call that fascism. I understand YouTube has its quotient of people who want to play devil’s advocate in regards to discussing fascism. If any of those people are watching they’ll accuse me of denying the debate over whether fascism is bad or not, so I’ll just point out that I’d rather deny a chance for debate than deny the right of certain peoples to exist. Batman isn’t a fascist, no one should be a fascist, fuck off now please.
ANYWAY. That is all why killing isn’t right for Batman and nor is it heroic. Superheroes are supposed to often be symbols of greater virtues. They do things that humans wish we could achieve. They save lives in ways we never could. There is a reason The Punisher and his trigger-happy approach to criminals is depicted as unbalanced and deranged. On a final note I shall deal with a less mature argument. The argument put forward by the immature is that Batman killing is, ahem, ‘badass’.
Batman is wealthy. He has access to a global array of crime fighting apparatus. Not killing is arguably his only restriction. If Batman suddenly has access to sniper rifles and drone strikes whilst being rich enough to deploy such techniques on a wide scale, where is the narrative tension? How will his best villains survive?
And fighting dozens of men hand-to-hand without killing them is badass. It’s more badass than killing them is. Imagine having to hit a man hard enough to put him down, but careful enough to not kill him. Then imagine having to do that every half a second to many different men you are surrounded by. Look at this footage I am playing. Imagine doing that without killing. You have to be pumped up enough to be in the fight and not die, but thinking enough to not go too far and keep track of everything you’re doing, which threatens the cohesion of the instincts you’re drawing on to fight in the first place. Now that is badass.