Warning: SPOILERS for Batman: The Grim Knight #1
Batman doesn’t kill. Besides his dead parents and his tendency to adopt orphans who look similar to himself, it’s one of the most famous aspects of his character. But DC's new Grim Knight is no ordinary Batman.
For the casual Bat-fan, Bruce Wayne’s no-kill policy can also be rather frustrating. A moral code is great... but it’s hard to ignore how much better Gotham City (or the world) would be if The Joker was put down for good. It's likely due to these criticisms that DC Comics has introduced a new villain into Batman’s rogues gallery, The Grim Knight. The Grim Knight is another, darker version of Batman from a parallel universe who not only doesn’t mind killing, he embraces it. Picture Batman if he was The Punisher, dialed up to eleven. While this might sound like a violent power fantasy the truth of The Grim Knight (and by consequence the reason why Batman needs his no kill rule) are much more sinister.
On the surface level Batman’s no kill rule is tied equally into honoring his parent’s memory and his origin story. Thomas and Martha Wayne despised violent criminals and Batman was “born” when the two were murdered. Bruce Wayne becoming a killing vigilante wouldn't be a mission that his parents would condone nor would it make Batman much of a hero. The Grim Knight introduces another reason for Batman to be non-lethal. A killer Batman would be just as bad, if not worse, than the villains he is trying to fight.
Although The Grim Knight was introduced in Scott Snyder and Jock’s miniseries The Batman Who Laughs the standalone spin-off title The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight #1, written by Snyder, is an isolated look at the new villain. The Grim Knight #1 charts this Bruce Wayne’s new origin story and mission against crime. It all begins when instead of freezing when his parents are murdered in Crime Alley, this Bruce Wayne picks up the gun shoots his parents' murderer. He doesn’t stop killing from there.
For a time The Grim Knight seems to support those fans who assert that Batman would be better if he did kill. The Grim Knight eliminates the crime families of Gotham and shortly thereafter the burgeoning supervillains. There’s no Joker in The Grim Knight’s world but Batman did kill a maniac in an Ace Chemical plant shortly into his career. The Grim Knight is so effective at his job that even the police quasi-support him, except for one. In this reality James Gordon is not Batman’s ally and friend but his arch nemesis.
Gordon is the only one who sees the writing on the wall with The Grim Knight. Even at the start of his mission Jim is afraid and disdainful of Batman and his method. Gordon’s absolutely correct. Although The Grim Knight does clean up Gotham, the order he institutes in crime's place is a nightmarish police state. The Grim Knight rules Gotham with iron and tech-heavy fist. Crime is eradicated but everyone is under constant surveillance. Batman kills those accused of crimes either in their sleep or by forcing their cars off the road. Worst of all perhaps he’s planted kill chips in people’s necks to ensure their obedience including his own butler Alfred.
Gordon eventually manages to take Batman down (with some undercover help from Alfred) but not before proving to everyone that Batman shouldn’t ever kill. It’s way too much of a slippery slope for Bruce Wayne. By not crossing the line of murder, Batman keeps himself on the right side of history. The Grim Knight proves that once that line is crossed, true madness and terror isn’t far behind for Batman. There are superheroes who can use lethal force and still be considered moral and upstanding.
Even in DC's own universe Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman have all been forced to killed. Batman just isn’t one of them. He’s far too obsessive, driven and consumed by darkness to ever cross that line.
The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight #1 is available now from DC Comics.