Ask even casual fans to describe Batman and one of his main characteristics that’ll likely be brought up is his dedication to abstaining from killing anyone. It’s a rule that several of the most well-known heroes have implemented, including Superman and Spider-Man. So many situations these characters encounter would be easier if they broke that rule, but as Peter Parker’s motto goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Batman might be from a different comic company, but he lives by the same ethos that he should be better than the villains of the world. The only problem is that he’s forgotten that rule a bunch of times.
When a character has as long a history as Batman, it’s only natural he would stray from his values at certain poinzts. But Batman killing people wasn’t some inadvertent lapse he’s had once or twice in his history. At times he’s showed an enormous disregard for the life of others, and even cruelly and deliberately murdered his adversaries. Batman calls it the one rule he’ll never break, but here are 15 Times Batman Has Killed People.
15. TIM BURTON’S BATMAN MOVIES
Batman’s first big-budget lives-action movies were going to be cause for excitement no matter what, but that doesn’t mean they were the most accurate depiction of the hero. As much as people made of how Batman was portrayed in Dawn of Justice, neglecting Bruce Wayne’s philosophy against killing was something that happened right from his movie appearances in the ’80s. Batman kills so often in Tim Burton’s movies that we could probably devote about half of these entries to such incidents, but we’ll consolidate them for the sake of covering more ground.
In Batman Returns he blatantly kills a man by shoving a bomb down the guy’s pants and shoving him into a hole to explode. In the 1989 Batman, he blows up the Joker’s factory, which is still filled with Joker’s minions. And of course at the end of the original Batman, he easily does what he struggles so much with in comics, and kills the Joker. As influential as Burton’s two films were for superhero movies, they weren’t quite the Batman we’re accustomed to in the recent comics.
14. PUNCHING A MAN INTO AN ACID VAT IN DETECTIVE COMICS #27
Even though we think of Batman’s no killing rule as fundamental to his character, it really wasn’t until later down the line that he became more concerned with the safety of criminals. Right from the start of things, in Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27, he was willing to kill people. Obviously the writers hadn’t figured out the complexities of the character yet, and maybe weren’t thinking about his values beyond that one issue. But it’s still stunning to look back at Batman’s first comic and see him so nonchalantly commit murder.
This particular incident didn’t involve any iconic characters, but it did feature a pretty common fate for criminals in Gotham. While on a catwalk straddling vats of acid, Batman punched the guy in the face and knocked him into the dangerous chemicals. Any Batman fan will recognize this outcome as one shared by the likes of the Joker (in some storylines) and Harley Quinn. Unfortunately for the guy in this issue, he didn’t get any cool hair colors or bleached skin from his acid dip. The criminal died while Batman quipped how it was “a fitting end for his kind.”
13. KNOCKS A MAN ONTO A SWORD IN DETECTIVE COMICS #37
As you’ll soon see, the early years of Batman comics were where he really accumulated his body count. To the credit of the writers, once Batman’s philosophy of not killing came into effect, his murders really did become less frequent, to the point that it is a big deal when he inevitably violates the rule now. And some of you might think it’s a bit harsh to call these murders since Batman is often stopping dangerous criminals, but incidents like this one just can’t be construed any other way.
In Detective Comics #37, a monocle-wearing count attempts to dispatch Batman by flinging a sword at him. But Batman evaded the attack by hiding behind a door. Realizing he couldn’t win, the Monopoly mascot wannabe begs Batman for mercy. Instead, Batman punches the guy in the face and knocks him into the blade pierced through the door. The man is impaled on his own weapon, leaving Batman looking more frightening than heroic.
12. THE LEAGUE OF SHADOWS
This is one of the more debated incidents involving Batman and murder, but many fans interpret this as him killing a lot of people, so we have to at least address that perspective. It starts with Batman Begins, when Bruce is being trained by the League of Shadows and must kill a prisoner as his final test. Since Bruce doesn’t believe killing people is the answer, he refuses… and proceeds to set the League of Shadows’ base on fire and make it explode, which surely killed some of the assassins inside. Sure, Bruce didn’t end anyone’s life with his own hands, but that beam that crushed the fake Ra’s al Ghul and the explosions that had to have killed many of the League’s assassins? He set all that in motion when he deliberately setting everything on fire.
The other big incident in Batman Begins is the climactic battle on the train between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul. Fans who defend this scene will point out that Bruce simply did exactly what he said: he didn’t kill Ra’s, he just didn’t save him. Other fans will argue that Bruce is responsible, since he instructed James Gordon to destroy the supports for the train and then left Ra’s on board, knowing it couldn’t be stopped. Some might say that’s equivalent to cutting the brake lines on a person’s car.
11. THE ABATTOIR
With someone who has been around as long as Batman, it’s inevitable that people other than Bruce Wayne would take up the mantle. Most who received the honor did so with Bruce’s approval because he knew they would uphold his values. This has led to well-suited successors like Dick Grayson and Terry McGinnis. But it has also led to missteps like Jean-Paul Valley, AKA Azrael.
Many close to Bruce were baffled by his decision to pass his identity to Jean-Paul, and those doubts quickly proved well founded. Jean-Paul updated the Batsuit with increasingly brutal weaponry more fit for maiming and killing than subduing. This questionable upgrade ultimately culminated in this new Batman leaving the villainous Abattoir dangling over a vat of liquefied metal. Rather than save the man, Batman allowed the murderer to plunge to his Terminator-style death. Afterwards, Bruce decided to take back his superhero title before Jean-Paul gave it any more of a bad name.
10. SNAPPING A GUY’S NECK IN DETECTIVE COMICS # 30
We have already covered the fact that, during his formative years under the cowl, Batman was capable of killing by utilizing the dangerous circumstances around him. With vats of acid or swords around during prior incidents, maybe you could say those weren’t environments that were exactly conducive to the safety of the criminals. But in Detective Comics # 30, Batman proved he doesn’t even need anything hazardous laying around to lethally end a fight.
In this specific situation, a criminal is attempting to shoot Batman, but the Dark Knight is too quick and gets out of the guy’s sight. The gunman looks out the window to try and spot Batman, but doesn’t realize the hero is actually above him. Batman swings down on a line and kicks the criminal in the head, snapping his neck. He probably just could have kicked the gun out of his hands to subdue the guy, but breaking someone’s neck works too.
Azrael was a bust as Batman, but that doesn’t mean Bruce couldn’t trust anyone to take over the role again. You’d think any of his closest allies would be great for the part, so just imagine how good Bruce’s own family would be as Batman. No, we don’t mean Damian. We’re talking about an alternate reality storyline where Bruce’s parents never died, but Bruce did. So in this timeline it was Bruce’s father Thomas who became Batman to stop others from suffering his son’s fate.
We’ve already established that Bruce was pretty brutal in his early days in comics, but Thomas took that ruthlessness to another level. Not only did he have no qualms about killing people, he even used guns. In the events of Flashpoint Paradox, Batman got even more hands-on when he killed the Reverse-Flash by stabbing him through the back with a sword. We already covered how Bruce killed someone with a sword too, so apparently it’s like father, like son.
8. THE WAREHOUSE SCENE IN DAWN OF JUSTICE
Honestly the entirety of Batman v Superman made it clear that Zack Snyder did not have much interest in adhering to either of the titular heroes’ values. As different as Batman and Superman are, they both pride themselves on not taking life. But in Dawn of Justice, Batman in particular just doesn’t seem to care. We’re only focusing on his biggest scene in the movie, but the entire film shows him displaying little regard for the lives of the people he’s trying to stop.
The warehouse scene was a spectacle to watch, but it also showcased a very brutal Batman who didn’t resemble his modern image from the comics very much. He forces criminals to fire their guns at each other, knocks people into a hallway with a grenade that’s about to explode, uses his grappling hook to hurl a large crate at a man’s head, and even stabs people. Some fans of the movie have tried to rationalize reasons that these deaths don’t count, but no one is buying it. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Dawn of Justice, but you’ve just got to accept that the Batman portrayed in it has a lot of blood on his hands.
7. HANGING A MENTAL PATIENT IN BATMAN #1
You could make the argument that the writers were still figuring out Batman as a character when they had him kill in his debut issue in Detective Comics, but apparently they were still learning a year later when Batman #1 came out. Batman wastes no time in getting back to his murderous ways in this issue, and arguably even kills an innocent person this time.
The scenario was that a group of mental patients had been transformed into monsters by having chemicals administered to them. Today’s Batman would probably try to cure the patients since they were put into this situation against their will. But in this case, Batman shot up the truck transporting one of the mental patients to stop it from introducing the threat to an area filled with innocent people. After the truck driver had been stopped and likely killed, the mental patient was loose outside and Batman lassoed him around the neck with a line from the Batplane. Batman didn’t do this to restrain the guy, but rather caught the man around the throat in a noose and flew off with the plane to hang the man. Again, Batman wasn’t even remorseful as the man died, simply stating, “He’s probably better off this way.”
6. THE KGBEAST
In so many of his battles with the Joker, fans and characters alike have questioned why Batman does not simply put an end to the never ending conflict by killing the Joker. Time and again Batman has responded with some variation of how he does not want to sink to that level. And yet, when it came to the KGBeast, apparently Batman didn’t care as much. After clashing with the stereotypical villain numerous times, Batman got sick of it and finally decided to ensure it wouldn’t keep happening.
In a fight that spills into the sewers, the KGBeast suggests he and Batman settle their conflict as comic book characters typically do; by having a climactic battle. But Batman was basically just like “nah, I’m good” and shut the door on the KGBeast, locking him in a room, and barricading it so the villain couldn’t get out. Then Batman simply walks away, apparently leaving KGBeast to die. Now this would attempt to be retconned in the future by Batman claiming he’d called the police and told them where to get KGBeast. That wasn’t fooling any readers though. In the issue where Batman abandoned KGBeast, he specifically tells a man “you needn’t worry about him anymore” while the man stares at Batman with a look of shock. It’s pretty obvious that the implication was KGBeast stayed locked in that sewer until he starved to death.
5. BURNS CRIMINALS ALIVE IN ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN
As much praise as Frank Miller receives for creating The Dark Knight Returns and helping to shape the modern darker image of Batman, that bright spot could not save Miller from the massive criticism his other Batman comics would receive. The Dark Knight Strikes Again was bad enough, but the pièce de résistance of Miller’s handling of Batman was in the All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder comic series. The series had so many terrible moments that it became a laughingstock among comic fans, but we’re focusing on the specific incident that fits with the theme of this article.
We already know Miller’s vision of Batman is a more brutal figure than what we typically think of, but in this case Batman even seemed to take pleasure in his actions. While fighting a group of criminals, he elected to light them on fire by throwing a Molotov cocktail directly at them, causing them to burst into flames. Presumably these men were dying at this point– when Black Canary happens by and apparently finds this display of murder quite arousing. So with the romantic aroma of burning flesh in the air, the two heroes decided to celebrate Batman’s murderous ways by lying down on the dirty ground and having sex with their costumes on—because it’s “better that way.”
4. GREEN ARROW
If you think Batman killing villains is bad, he really upped the ante when he started killing his former allies. The Dark Knight is no stranger to fighting other heroes, but an alternate reality version of Batman really showcased how different from the original he was when he began killing the world’s protectors as well. Even worse news for the heroes of this timeline was that Superman was also evil, making a powerful evil duo out of two of DC’s most dangerous characters.
In this case, Green Arrow bore the brunt of his former friends’ brutality. It was Superman’s birthday, and Batman was serving up an opportunity to eliminate Arrow as a present. Oliver Queen was prepared for what he deemed “the Hitler twins“, even managing to knock Superman into space and seemingly incapacitate him. Batman didn’t respond kindly, proceeding to beat down Queen in an alleyway and leave him in a heap. Superman then returned and delivered the finishing blow with his heat vision, but Batman obviously wasn’t letting Arrow walk away from this fight, so you can chalk this up to a team kill.
3. BANE IN ARKHAM ORIGINS
All of the Arkham series of Batman games have been extremely focused on the Joker, and Origins was no different. Near the climax of the game the Joker subjects Batman to a plan that will force him to break his rule against killing others. The Joker hooks himself up to an electric chair while handing Bane a heart monitor. With Bane wearing the monitor, each beat of his heart charges the battery of the chair until it will finally electrocute Joker. So Batman either stops the chair from activating by killing Bane, or spares Bane only for the Joker to die.
As Bane tells Batman, “One of us is going to die. You, me, or the clown. The question of which one of us it is, is in your hands.” As is often the case, Batman finds a way out of the seemingly unwinnable situation. Using a pair of shock gloves, Batman stops Bane’s heart and leads the Joker into believing Batman has been forced to break his rule. But after the Joker gets away, Batman uses those same shock gloves like defibrillator paddles to restart Bane’s heart after over a minute of the big man being clinically dead. And Bane shows his gratitude by immediately attacking Batman after regaining consciousness.
Final Crisis is too big of a story to sum up in its entirety here, but the gist of it was that Darkseid was posing a threat to the universe– as he usually does whenever he’s involved. And also as is typical, it fell to the Justice League to try and stop him. You’d think Batman wouldn’t stand a chance against someone as powerful as Darkseid, but the Dark Knight did what he does best and assessed his opponent to find a weakness. The solution he found was a Radion bullet, a weapon that even someone as powerful as Darkseid could not withstand.
With gun in hand, Batman stood before Darkseid in a standoff. Which would be faster, the Radion bullet, or Darkseid’s Omega beams? Batman took the chance and his bullet just barely hit Darkseid before the Omega beams would have killed Bruce. However, Darkseid survived the shot and quickly killed Batman. But even though the initial shot wasn’t fatal, Darkseid was already doomed to die from the Radion now in his body. The rest of the Justice League finished off Darkseid before then, but even if they had failed, Batman had ensured Darkseid would not live on.
1. THE JOKER IN THE KILLING JOKE
This is a highly debated case of whether or not Batman actually killed someone, but with how many people view this as Batman breaking his one rule, we couldn’t just not mention it. The Killing Joke comic as a whole is famous for its role in redefining the character of the Joker and transitioning him into a darker villain than we had ever seen before. That goes hand-in-hand with the other reason the comic is well-known—its treatment of Barbara Gordon. Many people disliked Batgirl being paralyzed, including Alana Moore himself when talking about his writing in retrospect. But the question was whether Batman’s friends being tormented could be enough to drive him to kill.
Ultimately, it depends on who you ask. The comic ambiguously ends with Batman sharing a laugh at one of the Joker’s jokes. Batman realizes he and the Joker can never just put aside their grudge, and he clutches his arch enemy’s shoulders to hold himself up as he laughs at the futility of it all. Then the perspective shifts to the ground and the laughter stops. The story ends with a close up of a beam of light, just like in the Joker’s story. And the last panel is the light going out and the laughter gone, leading many to believe Batman snapped the Joker’s neck here.
No one knows for sure. It could just be the Joker got sent back to prison again. But since the story is named The Killing Joke, and both characters have just acknowledged there will never be peace between them, it’s easy to see the argument for this being the moment where Batman gave up on his rule.
Does it bother you that Batman broke his rule against killing so often? Or do you think it would make sense if he got rid of the rule for good? Share your thoughts on the topic in the comments!
Justice League will be in theaters on November 17, 2017.