Man of Steel was a divisive film for many reasons, one of them being the third act key sequence where Superman finds himself forced to end the life of Zod who was seeking to destroy Earth and repopulate it with his own self-selected breed of Kryptonians. Superman breaks Zod's neck. Superman kills Zod.
And Superman a.k.a. Kal-El a.k.a. Clark Kent was torn up about it because he does value life. Part of the reason why Superman felt forced to kill Zod was to stop him from blasting a few Earthly civilians away with heat vision, but for some critics that didn't matter. Some diehard fans couldn't accept the idea of Superman killing, no matter the circumstance. But there's precedent for it just like there is for another hero who kills people: Batman.
Batman V Superman - which is finding itself even more controversial than its predecessor - is a killer versus killer scenario. That label is unfair and don't worry, it's not a spoiler if you read Batman comics or have seen any of the Batman movies as we'll explain but it's not inaccurate. When you see Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, you'll see a movie where director Zack Snyder doesn't hold back (much) in showing Batman ending lives. He even uses guns in one sequence (as revealed in the trailers), and for comic fans, we know Batman morally objects to gun use because it was a gun that ended the lives of his parents as a youth. The movie will remind you of that too.
But be prepared. This angered and grizzled Batman does use guns and he does shoot people. Sort of. The newest version of Batman, the one smashing into theaters played by Ben Affleck this weekend, shoots people dead. Speaking with HeyUGuys while promoting Batman V Superman in the UK, Snyder offers his justification for The Dark Knight's lethal tactics in his latest feature film.
"I tried to do it in a technical way. There’s a great YouTube video that shows all the kills in the Christopher Nolan movies even though we would perceive them as movies where he doesn’t kill anyone. I think there’s 42 potential kills that Batman does! Also, it goes back and includes even the Tim Burton Batman movies where this reputation as a guy that doesn’t kill comes from.
So, I tried to do it by proxy. Shoot the car they’re in, the car blows up or the grenade would go off in the guy’s hand, or when he shoots the tank and the guy pretty much lights the tank [himself]. I perceive it as him not killing directly, but if the bad guy’s are associated with a thing that happens to blow up, he would say that that’s not really my problem.
A little more like manslaughter than murder, although I would say that in the Frank Miller comic book that I reference, he kills all the time. There’s a scene from the graphic novel where he busts through a wall, takes the guy’s machine gun… I took that little vignette from a scene in The Dark Knight Returns, and at the end of that, he shoots the guy right between the eyes with the machine gun. One shot. Of course, I went to the gas tank, and all of the guys I work with were like, ‘You’ve gotta shoot him in the head’ because they’re all comic book dorks, and I was like, ‘I’m not gonna be the guy that does that!’"
There you have it. Batman kills in the movie just like in the classic Frank Miller comics Batman V Superman is inspired from, but Snyder actually goes out of his way to hold back on the killing compared to the source material. It's just in the nature of these modern-set battles against well-armed foes and mostly the deaths, like Snyder says, are from explosions in firefights involving Batman's vehicles. And it's happened in every live-action Batman feature film that opened in theaters:
Are you shocked? Surprised? Is this not appropriate or true to the comics in your opinion? If the idea of Batman ending lives and dare we say it, doing so with firearms, doesn't seem right, that's totally understandable. Like Superman (who has also killed - more on this later), Batman is a still a hero - a vigilante antihero perhaps, but a hero who values life and aims to protect people.
But don't go around shouting that Batman killing or using a gun isn't true to the comics, or that he would never end someone's life. Don't say that's not true to the original comics because you'd be wrong. Very wrong.
Batman's first ever appearance in 1939's Detective Comics #27 saw him punch a dude into a vat of acid before announcing it's a "fitting end" for the assailant. Five issues later, Batman shoots dead a pair of vampires using a sidearm loaded with silver bullets. A year after his debut, in Batman's first solo outing (1940's Batman #1), the caped crusader uses the Batplane to machine gun to death the henchmen of Hugo Strange. OG Batman doesn't mess around. New-age live-action Batman equally does not mess around. We've seen Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and we promise you, he kills. Especially in the Knightmare (desert Batman) sequences which we can of course give a pass to given the circumstances of those scenes, but make no mistake, DCEU Batman is an "executioner" in some respect just like producer Charles Roven let slip back in January.
So, there you have it. For many years (most years) Batman has vowed not to kill but sometimes he has to, sometimes it just happens in larger skirmishes or as a result of collateral damage. He fights the worst kind of criminals and supervillains and has for nearly 80 years. Of course there would be lots of deaths. A lot of these guys are playing for keeps. But Batman is never going out with the intention of ending lives, so like we said up top, he's not deserving of the implied connotations that come with the label of"killer." And the same goes for Superman who we wouldn't label a killer even though he has killed too.
Superman killed Zod three times. That's right, three times.
He killed Zod in Man of Steel by breaking his neck; he killed Zod by de-powering him and tossing him in a Fortress of Solitude pit in Richard Donner's 1980 Superman II cut (see below) before destroying the structure, and in the comics, John Byrne's 1988 Superman volume 2 #22 sees Supes face Zod and his two pals in a pocket universe and expose them to a lethal dose of Green Kryptonite.
That doesn't mean Superman should be defined as a killer. That's absurd. If he really wanted to kill, everyone he wanted ended would be gone.
Superhero Superman doesn't want to kill people, but like Batman who tried to shoot Darkseid in 2008's Final Crisis event with special ammunition, after decades and decades of battling villains, alien or inter-dimensional, and occasionally being manipulated by outside forces (variations of Kryptonite included), it's bound to happen. That much fighting and that many battles is bound to lead to casualties. And Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice throws audiences into a world where these characters and battles have gone on for years.
But let's not say Batman, like Superman, should never do this or that, because it depends on the story and the situations found therein. And there's no one definitive version of these characters. That was never the case. The Batman some fans claim never uses or gun or kills began his comic book career with a gun killing people. Characters evolve and are characterized differently, and that's especially true in other forms of media beyond comic book pages. Whether that works for the given story and whether you enjoy said story is another question.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25, 2016, followed by Suicide Squad on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.