Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Batman's Grave #2 by Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch and Alex Sinclair, on sale now.
The Batman's Grave is very self-aware of the criminal elements that exist in Gotham City. Batman's investigative traits have been drawn up, as have his tight view combat skills. But during the second issue of the new series, the conversation turns to the potential punishment for one of the city's villains.
The new comic focusing on the Dark Knight reveals that Gotham City doesn't have the death penalty - meaning for the villains of the city to face capital punishment, it needs to be in a different state, like California.
Batman and Commissioner James Gordon briefly discuss the death penalty while talking about the latest criminal caught by the hero. After a brutal duel, Batman is able to bring the murderer, a version of Eduardo Flamingo, to justice. He was an assassin like his more traditional form, but he was lobotomized by a former employer after a conflict. Left on the streets, he drifted across the United States and became an even more crazed cannibal, leaving a trail of (half-eaten) corpses in his wake.
Gordon and Batman discuss what will happen to him. The commissioner points out that the other cities where he committed murder in his current state are all in California, meaning if Flamingo is tried in that state, then he could be facing the death penalty. Batman argues that they should bring him to Arkham then, but Gordon seems unconcerned if a jury does eventually find him worthy of that punishment. The two quickly leave the subject behind and move onto the other crimes Batman needs to investigate.
A QUESTION OF MORALITY
It's interesting that Gotham City doesn't have the death penalty. The history of the city is full of darkness and death, so one would expect that Gotham (which has been shown taking the side of harsher) would see this as a fair practice. Before the arrival of Batman, Gotham was a hive of criminals and murderers. But the city follows the laws of the state of New York, which has always had a conflicted history with the death penalty, with the practice being abolished in the state in 2007. It draws attention to how the most prevalent location for criminals in Gotham is a hospital, nominally a place designed to rehabilitate people instead of just keep them locked up.
California is also in a surprisingly tricky philosophical question in real life that reflects that divide. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on capital punishment. This led to hundreds of inmates on death row receiving a reprieve from their sentence. The last execution in the state was over a decade ago. Newsom has long opposed capital punishment, saying "I know people think eye for eye, but if you rape, we don’t rape,” he said. “And I think if someone kills, we don’t kill. We’re better than that.” It's a very Batman rhetoric to hold.
But the state will be confronting that question early next year. In October of this year, the Hollywood Ripper was convicted of two acts of murder and one of attempted murder. The California jury recommended giving him the death penalty, despite the moratorium from earlier this year. A judge will determine his fate in February of next year. It's interesting that Batman draws attention to that possibility, especially with the question over what to do with the death penalty.