Opinion: Why Batman Doesn’t Kill

“Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”. You know, I’ve heard this a billion times, and probably asked it myself a million times. Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker, especially with what he does? I’ve read a lot of Batman comics from the various ages of comics, and I think I’ve come down to a few factors as to why Batman does not kill his villains beyond the fact it would otherwise ruin his rogue’s gallery, the fact that no one stays dead in comics, and otherwise make the character seem like a hero on the wrong side of the law like a lot of Marvel heroes are. Of the Big Three, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, only Batman has not killed someone directly, although you could argue he was definitely trying to kill Darkseid in Final Crisis. So why doesn’t he kill? Well, this is just my opinion, there’s a few reasons. This is just my opinion though, and doesn’t reflect what anyone else may think of why Batman doesn’t kill on a meta reason, like it being a bad role model, or that it’s morally wrong, etc. This is just my own personal idea on why Batman does not kill in-universe.

Justice and the Law:

Batman doesn’t kill because it would create the conflict of making an already messed up legal system in Gotham City, known for it corruptness and otherwise ineffectiveness at keeping their criminals from busting free, even more frazzled. Jim Gordon has said that if Batman ever went off the deep end and started killing, he would do nothing less than bring down the full force of the Gotham PD on him and his mission, instead of working with him like they have been. That said, the police can’t take on Batman, they couldn’t even take down a rookie Batman in Year One who barely had any gadgets or real experience in the field. It would be a never ending chase with the police completely focused on Batman, trying to take him in before he kills again. I know what you might be thinking, ‘Well, they would eventually catch him.’. Well, no. probably not. Not unless they had people that knew what Batman was capable of doing in his paranoia and full ability at avoiding people. If the Justice League were to work collectively to find him, then they could find him, but think about it. What would keep Batman locked up anymore than the Joker or any other criminal? If Batman is deemed insane, he goes to Arkham. If he’s sane he goes to Blackgate, Both places aren’t know for keeping a lot of people locked up and the whole thing starts over again. I feel like Batman realizes what would happen exactly down to the last detail if he ever went rogue, and that’s why he makes especially sure to never cross that line.

Batman knows that what he does is on the cusp of legality and that Jim Gordon works with him because Batman does not kill, and the police force can work with him as a result. Even when Joker killed his wife, Jim Gordon would not kill the Joker in cold blood. That’s saying something of both his character and commitment to the law. Batman has almost killed the Joker a few times, mostly from just the intense rage and suffering the Clown brings him. The Killing Joke, Hush, A Death In the Family, a bunch of other off handed times, Bruce has gone a little too far in how badly he beats the Joker. He pulls back because he knows if he does kill him, it will essentially let him ‘win’, a point that is brought up in the Dark Knight as well.


Batman must remain incorruptible as both a symbol for justice and to not make the legal system of Gotham come down on the masked vigilantes that are essentially keeping the city from being devoured by it’s own criminal underworld and to prove a point that law and justice can work without killing. That people don’t need to be judge, jury and executioner for criminals by themselves. Sometimes it’s the vigilantes like Bat-Family that are all that stand between the innocent and the insane, twisted monsters that live in Gotham City. A good example of that would be No Man’s Land, where law and order did not play in any capacity whatsoever into the events of that story. Batman, Huntress, Robin, Nightwing, anyone, could have killed someone and got away with it. Jim Gordon could have killed and got away with it. They didn’t. They know they have to set an example for the legal system, when it did eventually return, that their way does work. Huntress in particular took up the slack while Batman was away trying to get the United States to help Gotham City. There’s also the problem of escalation. You pull a knife, they pull a gun. If Batman starts wantonly killing, it could make things more difficult, because criminals could go to insane extremes to keep the Batman from killing them. Hostages, high tech weapons, international protection, the works. All of this and more makes killing someone more trouble than it’s worth.

Who Merits Killing?

There’s also the idea, ‘Where does it end?’. Alright. Let’s hypothetically say that everyone agrees one hundred percent, that the Joker must die. Batman finally kills the Clown Prince of Crime. Now what? Does he kill other villains that are just as dangerous as he is? What counts as ‘dangerous?’. Of course Penguin and Riddler are not nearly as dangerous and irredeemable like Ra’s Al Ghul or Zsasz, but the point is, things aren’t always as clear cut as that. What villains deserve to die? The element to a lot of Batman villains is tragedy, and you’re meant to feel bad for these characters. Does Harley Quinn die because she’s in service to the Joker, when it’s clear that while dangerous, she does have some signs of being a redeemable person? Do drug dealers die because they sell dope on the streets regardless for their reasons why? I know this is a cliched argument with a million holes in it but the point stands that there are legitimate concerns on where killing criminals starts and ends on being justified. Clearly someone like the Joker should die, but what about villains like the Ventriloquist, or the Clock King? It become very hard to objectively define these things once you’ve already justify killing someone.

Batman is the world’s greatest detective, but is he smart enough to be a one man Judge, Jury, and Executioner? What about all the bad guys that eventually become Good Guys? I mean yes, Golden Age Batman went around killing people like it was no tomorrow, as well as Tim Burton’s Batman, but the point is, how does he justify killing people? What if a criminal is trying to steal to survive for his family, and Batman happens to catch him one night. All Batman sees is someone holding up a store with a gun, and stealing his money. With time, Batman could deduce whatever the man’s problem is and help him as Bruce Wayne, but in this single situation he has two courses of action. Go home and research why the man has suddenly held up a convenience store and accordingly not brutally murder him when he catches up to him, or he can execute him on the spot because this is a Batman that kills. Then you bring up the obvious point. ‘Well, what if Batman only kills people who kill? Like the Punisher?’. Again, that’s a valid point, but I must say it’s one that is a kind of flawed way of thinking.

If Batman ever killed everyone who killed another person, like a manslaughter case or a crime of passion, he’d be doing an act of injustice. Say someone kills someone in a fit of rage or insanity. According to the law, they don’t deserve immediate execution. They might be mentally ill, in a way that isn’t the Joker’s level of mentally ill, or can otherwise be redeemed. When you take a life, you take away everything that person is and will be in the future. Whereas the Joker will just keep on being the Joker, this might not be true of a lot of criminals. Again and again, the point seems to come back ‘Why not JUST kill the Joker then? We all agree he’s irredeemable, no one will miss him, and there’s justice in the action. He merits killing!’. I agree with that line of thinking, but I understand why Batman doesn’t do it beyond the fact it might open up a gateway to more killing. Or perhaps it’s exactly because of that point.

Batman Understands He’s Dangerously Close To Criminals He Locks Away

Let’s face facts, Bruce Wayne goes around every night dressed up like a Bat to scare criminals because his Parents were murdered when he was 9 years old. This isn’t a very healthy way of coping with loss. In fact it’s an insane way to deal with loss. Could you imagine spending your entire life dedicated to avenging your parent’s deaths in a way that involves becoming a masked super hero that brutalizes criminals every night? Batman is quite possibly insane. However, he uses this insane drive in a productive way instead of a negative one, which is why it’s tolerated and admired by the Super Hero community at large. Batman does not destroy with his madness, but fights to make sure no one ever loses their parents again a dark alley because no one was around to help. That said, Batman is still very, very disturbed. He broods in his cave, has terrible personal relationships, and in general does not heal his trauma. You can see the difference between him and Dick, because while their origins are exactly the same in most regards, Dick chooses to move on with his life. While he’s still a costumed vigilante, Nightwing is not consumed by it. Dick has friends and a life outside of being a super hero that isn’t a front or for his job. He has friends he constantly hangs out with in the super hero community beyond the fact they’re both heroes. He’s an otherwise healthy guy who just so happens to be a Superhero. So what does this have to do with killing? Batman isn’t well balanced or put together like Dick is and killing would only make it worse. If he started to kill, Batman would become the very thing he fights if he gives into his darker urges.

If Batman starts killing, he would never stop. That’s what I truly believe. I think in a way to vent his own darkness and anger, his aggression towards criminals would give way to the darkness in his own heart and consume the man. He’d never stop killing, and would become something like the Punisher, if not worse. Bruce Wayne is unhinged in a lot of was, and the only reason he’s not a nutcase is that he has an insane amount of discipline and control. Batman’s willpower is probably as great or greater than a Green Lanterns, but there’s a very good reason why he can’t really operate a Green Lantern Ring. His will, focus and drive are all tainted by keeping himself in control and focusing on the loss of his parents. Loss is what drives him rather than a lack of fear, and his own desire to help people stems from that. It wouldn’t be as tainted as it is if Bruce could come to terms with the loss of his loved ones, but he is not like Dick Grayson, he just can’t. Killing the Joker would be the amount of catharsis Bruce would need to finally let go and finally just putting an end to everyone who he deems to be worth killing. Batman is not the insane madman part of the equation though, it’s Bruce Wayne. I cite a few things as examples, one being that arc in JLA where the super heroes were separated by their secret identities.

Batman and Bruce Wayne become separate people and Batman essentially just stops talking and mostly moving by the end because he has nothing to drive him. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne becomes a dangerous raging sociopath that assaults people over little things because he has no way of venting his own anger and rage. Batman is his method of coping so that he can continued to live a semi-normal life. Another example would be in Under the Hood, where Jason asked the old question ‘Why on God’s Earth is still Alive?”. Bruce can only respond that he has thought about killing him every single day, in the most brutal and painful ways possible but he can’t do it because it would drag him to a dark place he could never escape from. It would destroy whatever was good in him to finally cross the line and end the control he’s had over himself his whole life. When Batman came dangerously close to killing Alexander Luthor in Infinite Crisis with a gun after he thought Nightwing died, he realized he had to reinvent Batman or he would lose it. He had to exercise his demons which is why we have the more mentally balanced and well put together Batman in the Morrison run and One Year Later. Killing Joker would create a monster even greater than the Joker. It would unleash someone like Batman who knows all these secrets of the super human community, his own natural skills and prowess, with nothing left to lose. I think deep down, Bruce feels that he is kind of a monster, but he is a productive monster. It’s hinted at the he feels that even he can become something else if he surrounds himself by people he can love again, which is why Dick Grayson has saved his life and perhaps even his soul. Giving him something to focus on that was positive.

Killing and The Batman

There’s only two characters I’ll ever probably say ‘”Yeah, I think it’s okay for Batman to kill him”. Final Crisis Darkseid or Emperor Joker. Not regular Joker. These are two living Gods, who embody everything wrong and evil in the universe. Darkseid is literally a New God who’s very existence was destroying reality. You can’t lock him up or put him in the Source Wall, he has to die if the universe is to exist. That’s why I think it’s poetic that Batman gets to shoot Evil with a Gun at the end of Final Crisis, just like Evil got to shoot his parents with one. The other is Emperor Joker, who’s The Joker with the powers of a 5th dimensional being. This is a Joker that can not be stopped, and even if he is,he can not be allowed to lived with everything he’s done. not to mention everything he’s learned with his omnipotence. He is a Joker that is at his most nihilistic and evil, capable of destroying everything. This isn’t just the same clown terrorist who does things because it amuses him on a city or perhaps even a world level at times. This is a Joker with the power to end all that is and ever was. That’s when Batman should be allowed to kill. When the situation is of such universe destroying important and the ability to leave the villain alive is impossible, that’s when it’s okay for Bruce to finally let loose. ‘Well, what if he goes on killing again because he’s done it once?’. This is a situation where the was no other choice and Batman can never again justify a normal killing. It’s like comparing Apples and Oranges. That’s like saying if Superman would kill someone again after the whole Doomsday incident where they mutually kill the other. It’s really a once in a life time event and I can’t ever see Batman saying ‘Well if I killed the God of Evil or Joker with God-Like Powers, I can kill this guy in the alleyway.” An incredibly specific kill to justify saving existence is the only way I could see Batman take a life and not have it destroy him from the inside out.

This is just what I think. Do you think Batman can kill without it destroying him? Why do you think he doesn’t kill? Is the better question “Why doesn’t someone who DOES kill, kill the Joker?”

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