Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
I once had a debate with a smart man about whether Batman should kill or not. Their argument boiled down too â€œIf there is a hole in a bucket, pouring water into it will not solve anything since water will escapeâ€. Replace â€œbucketâ€ with â€œArkham Asylumâ€ and â€œholeâ€ with â€œa gap in the security systemâ€ and â€œwaterâ€ with â€œa sociopathic clown character that kills hundreds of peopleâ€ and a few other words so that the sentence makes coherent sense. So because Batman doesn’t kill the bad guys, they get free to go out and kill more people. A valid criticism, but a somewhat flawed one for a few simple reasons.
Firstly, when someone escapes from the prison in our world, do we blame the police officer that arrested him? No, we blame the prison guards for not looking after the security properly. When someone breaks out of jail do we berate the policemen for not shooting the guy when they had in him his custody? No, because that would be a gross violation of the law. And to quote a somewhat famous comic book character inspired by Batman, Batman is the LAW! Or, at least, he is JUSTICE!
See, Batman is the ultimate symbol of Justice over Chaos. It is the theme of Nolan’s second Batman film and countless Batman comics like The Killing Joke. For us to understand why Batman shouldn’t kill the Joker, first we must comprehend the man behind the Bat.
Batman has one rule: Thou shalt not kill. Now why would a man have this rule in place? For the simple reason that if he is corrupted, what stops Superman doing the same? Batman sees the Joker’s death as the ends justifying the means and thus does so. Superman then reasons “Well people would be a lot safer if I took over the world and stopped ineffectual presidents from leading the country”. Aquaman then reasons “Well that Japan is causing us trouble, I’ll just flood the entire country to send them a message”. Various other superheroes go “The ends justify the means.”
To Batman, this is unacceptable. The ends never, ever justify the means. In a world full of super-powered individuals, one man needs to stand tall. Stand uncorrupted. He has created contingency plans if and when the League go rouge, knowing full well that they’d stop him if he goes rouge. But until that moment he needs to stand uncorrupted so that the others don’t corrupt.
But that’s getting into the wider DCU. Lets look solely at Batman’s universe. As you said, Gotham is like a bucket of water with a hole in it. No matter what the Dark Knight does, it’d be squat unless he fills up that hole. So does that mean he should resort to killing?
Believe it or not Batman has thought about killing the Joker. There are two examples that probably show him coming the closest: The Killing Joke and Hush. In the former Barbara Gordon (who is both Batgirl and Jim Gordon’s daughter) is shot and paralysed, with Jim himself tortured in an attempt to make him insane. In the latter the Joker has apparently killed Thomas Elliot, Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend. In both those incidents Batman is fully ready to kill the Joker.
But he is stopped by the one man perhaps braver then Batman himself. The man that goes up to Batman and says “No, we have to show him that our way works.” That man is Jim Gordon.
Jim Gordon is, for a want of a better word, Batman’s conscience. Batman represents Justice, yes, but he knows that he must respect the law. He knows he could easily go out there and kill all the bad guys, but that would solve nothing. All it would do would be proving to the Joker that yes, he is right. That deep down we are nothing more then mindless animals.
That is the apex of The Killing Joke. The Joker argues we’re all one bad day away from insanity and thus we’re all scum. The Dark Knight film gives the Joker the same philosophy. That deep down we’re all monsters. But Batman still doesn’t kill him. Why? To prove a point. That no, we’re not monsters. We are good people, we can be strong in adversity. We’re not as sick and twisted as him.
But bringing it right back to the beginning, why doesn’t Batman kill to solve the problem? Because as horrible as the Joker is, he’s predictable. He’s going to do a joke-themed murder in a pattern that is predictable. Wouldn’t it be worst if there was just a random serial killer that didn’t have a pattern, just killed indiscriminately and thus was unstoppable? At least Batman knows what his villains are going to do and counter it before it happens. At least he can recognize the pattern.
Batman is Justice, and Justice doesn’t kill. Justice is designed to protect and serve the innocent, not kill the guilty because it can. We can not blame Batman for any Arkham escapees, since that would be like blaming the man filling up the bucket rather then the one that put the hole in it. We can not let him prove the Joker right by being a monster. We can not let Batman fall and lead the way for the Superhero Apocalypse.
Batman must stand uncorrupted, or he doesn’t stand at all.
Also something my criminology friend added: The villains are actively attempting to do something with their killing, whereas batman would simply be killing for disposal (a never ending disposal) and that would make him worse in my book. The villains usually want to achieve something. If they are killing for an ideological reason then they have a personal justification. Batman, by being a detective, would know that killing criminals doesn’t actually reduce crime and therefore would understand that the activity is pointless… not even ideologically. So at that point he is simply a murderer: killing people who piss him off. Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul might be killers however they see an end game: the concept of sacrifice for a common good. With Batman there would be no end game: just pest disposal in a termite infested house but killing the termites one at a time. All in all totally ineffective.
So there you have it. A rather rambley look at why Batman shouldn’t kill. A very brief look too. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.