Batman has one rule; he doesn’t kill.
Nowhere is that emphasized more, and subsequently made popular among the wider culture than in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, The Dark Knight.
The test of Batman’s rule, and the moral code of the citizens of Gotham is a central theme in the film. At a critical point in the plot, Joker riggs two ships to explode, then tells both sets of passengers the first to blow the other up gets to live. He attempts to show Batman who the people of the city he’s protecting really are. “You’ll see, I’ll show you, that when the chips are down, these uh… civilized people, they’ll eat each other,” a gleeful Joker tells Batman before orchestrating the following event.
But Batman, and the passengers of the two ships prove to Joker, they’re no killers.
Batman finds a way. Joker is arrested. The people are saved. And no lives are lost when justice is served under Nolan’s Batman’s watch.
Then enters Zack Snyder.
From the outset he started controversy. Man of Steel’s climax saw Superman and General Zod fight through the rubble of downtown Metropolis. Then the Man of Steel himself snapped Zod’s neck in order to save the family in the train station. A scene which caused moviegoers everywhere to collectively gasp.
And with his next film, Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, the DCEU was essentially labeled the “Murderverse.”
Moviegoers were used to Christopher Reeves Superman, the penultimate Boy Scout (who actually killed Zod in Superman II by throwing him down a bottomless pit, but people seem to forget that), and the aforementioned Dark Knight Trilogy. They wanted their heroes as they perceived they were supposed to be.
That’s why, understandably so, the wider culture was shocked when they saw Snyder’s Batman rip through several of Luthor’s goons throughout Batman Vs Superman. Moviegoers were upset because their heroes didn’t kill. At least that’s what they thought.
But the more seasoned Batman reader of comic books, and those who remember Michael Keaton’s portrayal, know although Batman has his longstanding rule about not killing, he’s also a rule-breaker.
And he’s broken his rule on several occasions.
I won’t be counting his original iteration, which really only lasted for two years. In those days, like Judge Dredd, Batman acted as Judge, Jury, and Executioner for many a foe who dared to enter the crosshairs of his pistol – or put their neck out to feel the batrope’s choke or even the deadly heel of his foot.
There are a few cases which come to mind, but most notably are his killing of KGBeast by locking him in a sealed room in the Gotham City sewers in “Batman” issue #420, and the most recent rule-breaking; the killing of Darkseid by a radion bullet Batman had crafted in Final Crisis issue #6.
And, as there are already plenty of articles written about how many times the Caped Crusader has put an end to a villain and his ways for good, I will instead focus my attention on the motivation and reasoning why Batman has broken his no-kill rule. And I want to focus on one moment in particular where he desperately wanted – but was not able – to kill the Joker.
This is when it wasn’t Bane, but Hush, who broke the Bat.
Before I go any further, if for some reason you have not read Batman: Hush, there will be spoilers. So please stop reading, avail yourself of it at your local comic book store; or if that’s not available, lament about not living close enough to one then go online and purchase the graphic novel.
Batman: Hush, written by Jeph Loeb, and drawn by one of the most talented artists in the profession, Jim Lee, is in my top five Batman comic book runs – stopping just shy of The Court of Owls, Dark Knight Returns, and The Long Halloween. By introducing a brand new villain to challenge not only Batman’s physical prowess, but also his mental fortitude.
In a defining moment of the story, Batman is chasing Harley Quinn outside of the operahouse where earlier she had attempted to rob the crowd inside.
As Batman rounded the corner he saw a familiar image which horrified him. Joker was standing over another dead victim; his childhood friend who recently saved his life, Dr. Thomas Elliot.
The perceived death of Dr. Elliot sent Batman over the edge that night.
Batman decided the Joker had lived long enough. It was time to finish this. During that scene, we read how Batman had methodically thought out killing the Joker, even going so far as to admit, “I should have killed him long ago,” as he held Joker’s neck in a death grip.
Even when confronted by Catwoman, Batman physically attacks and knocks her out in order for him to finish killing the Joker. Memories of people he knew and loved who had been killed or seriously injured by the Joker went through his mind.
The grip around the Jokers neck tightened, and the Joker was in his death throws, until a bullet grazed Batman’s right arm. Batman knew the voice of the man who pulled the trigger. A close ally and friend. And even with Gordon’s threat, Batman still pleaded with his old crime fighting partner to let him kill him.
Finally, Gordon talks Batman down – with help of the barrel of his gun.
The readers are given a glimpse into two heroes of Gotham; two heroes who have seen and felt the pain and heartache the streets of Gotham has caused in their life of fighting crime. Both bound in sorrow caused by one man – who now laid helpless, bloodied, and beaten in a back alley.
That night two heroes, two Gothamites who held to similar rules – Batman to his no-killing, and Gordon to the rule of law and due process – clashed over what to do with a man who deserved to die. One showed he was more than willing to break his rule. The other was willing to protect it, no matter the cost.
We now know that given the right motivators, Batman is able to break his rule. The only difference between Batman in Hush, and Batman in the DCEU, is when Batman is pushed to the point of killing the Joker in Hush, Gordon was there to stop him.
But somewhere along the line when Batman was pushed to the same breaking-point in the DCEU, Gordon wasn’t there.
For more reading, check out Rule-Breakers Part 2.