Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Does Batman Kill His Enemies?

Is Batman a killer? Has Batman killed? Would he? The answer depends on your perspective. There are certainly stories that show Bruce Wayne, in his guise as Batman, willingly ending the
 life of an enemy. In other cases, his actions lead to the death of an enemy, and we can wonder if he regrets the death or not. However, it is not absolutely clear which stories from before Infinite Crisis are in continuity. Obviously, many or most stories from the distant past do not fit in with current continuity.

Before Robin

There were 11 Batman stories that preceded Robin's debut. In no fewer than nine out of those eleven, at least one of his enemies dies or appears to die. Additionally, there is a story in Batman #1 which followed the debut of Robin but did not feature the Boy Wonder, and in that story, Batman willingly takes the life of enemies.

Each of the deaths has some mitigating factor. Some are accidents. Many are portrayed as the only way to stop the criminal. In some cases, villains kill one another. In yet another case, the victim is a vampire. In no instance did Batman kill a human opponent who had already been subdued. But he did threaten some captured criminals with death in Detective #29, and there's nothing in the story to indicate that he didn't mean it (he kills another enemy in the same story with a kick to the neck).

Clearly these stories have the hallmarks of another era. The mood began to lighten when Robin appeared. But not immediately -- in Robin's first story, the Boy Wonder kicks a man off a girder to a sure death below.

Summary: How the bad guys die
Detective 27: falls to death in fight
Detective 28: thrown screaming off roof
Detective 29: lassoed by neck (implied in next issue to be dead)
Detective 30: neck snapped by kick
Detective 31: car crashes into tree
Detective 31: vampire shot with silver bullets
Detective 33: "blown up" by explosion caused by gunshot
Detective 33: leader dies in plane crash
Detective 34: falls to death in car
Detective 35: splash page (not story) shows Batman with smoking gun
Detective 35: hurled by punch back onto sword
Detective 35: falls to death
Detective 36: hurled by punch back onto sword (two issues in a row! Batman comments that it's better that the villain die than his many future victims)
Detective 38: kicked off a girder at great height by Robin
Batman 1: truck of henchmen shot from airplane (Batman comments "As much as I hate to take human life, I'm afraid this time it's necessary.")

Since Infinite Crisis

To skip ahead 35 years, we should focus on the years since Infinite Crisis. IC altered some of the details of DC continuity, so you can't be absolutely certain that something happened if it didn't happen after Infinite Crisis, or receive corroborating mention since then, it may not be part of current continuity.

There are three cases worthy of mention. These were all written by Grant Morrison.

A panel in Batman #682 shows Batman firing a machine gun from his plane at a red dirigible. This scene is a confound between two old stories: Detective #33, when a red dirigible menaces Gotham, and Batman downs it by crashing his own plane into it; and, Batman #1, when Batman fires machine guns from his plane into a truck. Does this panel show Batman killing? We have no evidence of that -- we can't see who if anyone is piloting the dirigible, and perhaps there would be some way for them to survive even if the dirigible was piloted. Additionally, this scene is a memory experienced while Batman was in a "psycho-merge" with the Lump. We can't be sure that it even took place. My guess would be that it did take place, but that to be consistent with the rest of Batman's post-IC history, no villain died.

Batman #673 shows a momentous retelling of the encounter between the adult Bruce Wayne and the man who killed his parents. In this story, as in the original telling in Batman #47, Joe Chill does not come away from the encounter alive. (The way other criminals reacted to the news that he made Batman is illustrated at left.) But in Batman #673, a significant new element is introduced: Batman hands Chill a loaded gun -- the same one used to kill the Waynes -- and gleefully leaves Chill to commit suicide after he contemplates what the other criminals would do to him when they found out. This is a legal if not moral gray area: Batman doesn't actually pull the trigger, but he certainly causes Chill's death. This event is, like the dirigible scene also a flashback experienced by an unconscious Batman. It may not have taken place, or perhaps not quite as depicted, but nothing has yet contradicted that it took place.

Finally, in Final Crisis #6, Batman fires a gun at Darkseid, using the same bullet that Darkseid used to kill Orion. We know that the bullet is toxic to gods. Is he killing Darkseid? Or Dan Turpin? It's never clear. Maybe he's just exorcising Darkseid from Dan Turpin. And Batman shouldn't have known that Turpin was in there anyway. (I know; he's Batman... he would know, somehow.)


  1. Rik
    Good Post , Just One Error I Think You Made.
    In FC2 In Bludhaven , Before Bruces Mind Is Tortured By The " Dark Empire " , There Is a Line or atleast a statement when Turpin says There Is Something or someone in his head . So Batman could have deduced That Turpin was being taken Over By DarkSeid ?
    What Say You

  2. The last thing Batman says before going under is to tell Turpin to warn the remaining heroes about what's happening. Obviously, he considers that worthwhile.

    I would say that Darkseid leaves no recognizable traces of Turpin (Superman sees Turpin's DNA, but Batman can't pull that trick), and it's simply beyond Batman to conclude any such thing from a sheer lack of information.

    Yes, Turpin made that comment, but there's no indication that he will physically transform into anyone, much less into Darkseid.

    Batman did have the parallel example that "Kraken" was actually Granny, but that's actually a different case: That was Granny's mind in Kraken's body. I don't see how Batman would even have the raw data that Turpin turning into Darkseid was possible, much less likely, much less certain.

    I'll add that when Morrison wrote the Club of Heroes story (which was a detective story), his rendition of Batman drew sharp (and ultimately correct) conclusions that he had seemingly no basis for making. One way to write the world's greatest detective is to let him say correct things with no apparent path to the conclusion, and let us marvel at how he did it. (With the author perhaps having no such idea, either!)

  3. This is a little late, but I just discovered your blog and have to nitpick a bit: in Batman #1, Batman doesn't shoot up a truck of henchmen. He kills the "monster men" that Hugo Strange genetically engineers. First in a warehouse he goads one into attacking another, then they eventually all beat each other to death while Batman escapes. There are two on the loose, so for the first one he hangs a noose from the Batplane and kills it with it. The second monster man death is the one involving the machine gunfire and is done King Kong style. As I recall from The Complete History of Batman, it was at this point that DC decided Batman shouldn't kill or use guns to avoid something as disturbing as that issue.

  4. Hi John,
    The deaths I mentioned in the blog are most definitely in the story, starting on the ninth page. Each of the two final Monster Men are being transported in trucks, and in two separate incidents, Batman aims machine gun fire at the trucks, causing them to crash. In particular, we see a conversation between two normal human henchmen in the front seat of the first truck. We aren't told directly that the henchman perish, but the guns of Batman's plane are "spitting death" and Batman says the "human life" line as he begins shooting the truck. Despite the lack of autopsy photos, I think the deaths of the drivers has to be presumed. I don't know how a plane flying at the front of a car could aim machine guns at it with the intent to stop the car and avoid hitting the drivers. The "human life" line clinches what Batman is doing; there's nothing about hitting the tires to spare the drivers.

  5. Take note of where Batman shoots Turpin/Darkseid. It is not a kill shot. The theotoxic bullet is deadly to gods, but not as deadly to humans. Batman is exorcising Darkseid from the human host. In this way, he is not so much killing a living being, but attempting to banish the self-aware idea that is Darkseid. Also consider how hard it was to finally "kill" Darkseid AFTER Bruce shot him. Darkseid existed as a collective consciousness in everyone at that point. Wonder Woman had to use her lasso on him, the Flashes had to bring the Black Racer to him, and finally, Superman had to banish his astral form with the frequency of the multiverse and the miracle machine. To say that Batman is "killing" Darkseid or Turpin here is not even close to accurate.