Batman, as a character, is pretty famous for being adamantly anti-killing. Ben Affleck’s Batman murder spree is one of the major reasons Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice caught so much flak. Of course, some readers will be unable to restrain themselves and chime in with a citation from the Golden Age where he was pretty ruthless and killed regularly, and how Zack Snyder’s farts are actually the pinnacle of cinema and how we just didn’t “get it.” To those readers, we say “no.” This article isn’t about Golden Age Batman.
The common myth about Batman is that he was pretty cavalier about killing people until the Silver Age, or when the Comics Code Authority was introduced, or when Frederick Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent. But really, Batman made his vow as early as Batman #4 in 1940, when Bill Finger and Bob Kane decided to take the character in a more kid-friendly direction, away from the Shadow knockoff they initially started out with. This list is about all the times he killed after making his vow. We’ll be pulling from more than just the comics for this one, and looking at a few alternate-universe Batmen who broke their vow for whatever reason. SPOILERS, of course, will follow.
15. DARKSEID (FINAL CRISIS)
Probably the most famous example from recent comics, Batman shooting Darkseid at the climax of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis was also a mid-point climax of his larger run on Batman. As Darkseid’s physical body continued to deteriorate, his death began to drag the entire DC Multiverse down with him, into the black hole at the center of all things that is also Darkseid’s heart (it’s complicated).
Through a combined effort with Flash and Superman, Batman aids in the killing of Darkseid by breaking his vows to never kill (and never use a gun) by shooting Darkseid with a god-killing bullet, before meeting his own “demise” (he was fine) from the Omega Sanction, aka, “The Death That Is Life.” Fittingly, his physical death follows his metaphorical one, as, to Morrison’s mind, a Batman who kills isn’t Batman at all.
14. RA’S AL-GHUL AND THE LEAGUE OF SHADOWS (BATMAN BEGINS)
Someone is probably going to quibble with this one, arguing the distinction between killing and not saving. At the very least, some ninjas probably died along with the fake Ra’s al-Ghul when not-yet-Batman Bruce Wayne blew up the League of Shadow’s mountain hideout, and those deaths should definitely be on his tally.
Technically, Jim Gordon blew out the bridge that would eventually lead to the train Ra’s was riding on crashing and exploding. Also, Ra’s probably could’ve saved himself, but chose not to because Bruce had surpassed him. But at the end of the day, Batman made an active decision to let another person die. It could be argued that this was his galvanizing factor for being less flexible about his rule on killing, as in The Dark Knight he chooses to save the Joker.
13. JOSE GARZONAS (BATMAN #425)
Who the heck is Jose Garzonas? Good question! He’s a drug-smuggling ambassador from a fictionalized version of Colombia called Bogatago, whose son may or may not have been killed by Robin (Jason Todd) in their last case. He takes Commissioner Gordon hostage, and demands that Robin be brought to him. Batman decides to rescue Gordon alone, and confronts Garzonas and his goons in a junkyard.
After a tense standoff, where Batman exchanges his life for Gordon’s, Robin appears and distracts Garzonas, while Gordon escapes. A chase ensues between Garzonas and Batman, ending when Batman climbs a tower of junked cars, which then collapses and crushes Garzonas. This again brings up the debate of killing versus not saving, as Batman isn’t really at fault for Garzonas’s death. At the same time, however, Batman does recognize that Garzonas is about to die and chooses not to save him.
12. JOKER (BATMAN)
Tim Burton’s Batman basically re-popularized Batman in the eyes of the public, and cemented what Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller had started in the comics, i.e. a darker, grimmer Batman. The first movie in 1989 revolved around the classic conflict between Batman and the Joker, with a less classic ending.
Batman outright says “I’ll kill you” to Joker, then proceeds to toss him off a building (which he unexpectedly survives), then Bat-ropes him to a gargoyle as he tries escape, which finally causes him to plummet to his death. There are, of course, as always, some technicalities to be argued over, like “it’s the fall that killed him” or “it’s not the fall, it’s the landing,” but Batman definitely went in there with the full intention of killing the Joker, and you don’t really throw people off of buildings intentionally unless you want to kill them.
11. A WHOLE LOT OF CROOKS (ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN)
Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is, depending on who you ask, the worst piece of garbage ever to bear the Batman name, or one of the finest pieces of satire ever written (only one of these opinions is correct, and it’s not the first one). In it, Batman is an absolute raving lunatic, played so incredibly over-the-top that it can only be a blatant parody of the kind of edgy ’90s anti-hero that grew out of Miller’s own The Dark Knight Returns. But that’s not what this list is about.
Issue #7 opens with Batman opening up a can of hurt on (seemingly) random crooks, selling bleach for whatever reason. He cooks up a homemade incendiary bomb with the bleach and thermite he just happened to be carrying, and ignites a whole lot of them. Then Black Canary shows up and they make out while the crooks burn to death in the background. It’s a wild ride.
10. A GIANT PENGUIN GOON (BATMAN RETURNS)
Tim Burton’s second outing in his Batman universe is rather fondly remembered as one of the better entries, following up Jack Nicholson’s Joker with two stellar performances from Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. While Batman wasn’t quite as bloodthirsty with the two main villains as he was with Joker, he still wasn’t squeamish about killing nameless mooks.
During a confrontation with Penguin’s circus gang, he is faced with a large strongman-ish guy who, to Batman’s consternation, doesn’t go down with one punch. So naturally, Batman’s solution is to stuff a Penguin bomb (dynamite connected to an alarm clock) down the goon’s pants and throw him down a manhole. While smiling about it. And then the bomb explodes and Batman totally killed that guy — no real getting around that.
9. REVERSE-FLASH (FLASHPOINT)
Flashpoint is the endpoint of DC’s post-Crisis continuity, and the beginning of the New 52. In it, Barry Allen goes back in time to stop his mother from dying, but in doing so, screws up the entire timeline. Now Bruce Wayne is the one who died in the alley, his mother is the Joker, and his father is a gun-toting Batman.
The story follows Flash as he attempts to navigate this new, harsher reality, and tries to find a way to fix things while keeping his mother alive. Unfortunately the Reverse-Flash shows up, and nearly kills Barry, but Batman stabs him through the chest with Wonder Woman’s sword. While Flashpoint-Earth Batman obviously isn’t a “real” Batman, it’s interesting to see what would cause any version of the Bat to develop with a different moral code.
8. BANE (ARKHAM ORIGINS)
This one is a big technicality. Arkham Origins is the story of Batman and Joker’s first encounter in the Arkham Asylum video game universe. Batman is running a gauntlet of foes set up by Joker, all trying to kill him or force Batman to kill. Eventually, Batman reaches the Joker, who has set up a final gambit along with Bane. Joker straps himself to an electric chair, while Bane is attached to a heart monitor. For each beat of Bane’s heart, the electric chair is charged until it eventually kills Joker. This presents Batman with the impossible choice of either killing Bane to save Joker, or sparing Bane but killing Joker in the process.
Of course, Batman, being Batman, finds a loophole. He stops Bane’s heart with zappy gauntlets he acquires earlier in the game, which tricks the Joker. After he’s gone, Batman restarts Bane’s heart with the same zappy gauntlets. So technically it’s a kill, and although he did it with every intention of reviving him, there is no guarantee that defibrillation will restart a stopped heart.
7. HARVEY KRUDEN (DETECTIVE COMICS #613)
Detective Comics #613 is about, of all things, a conflict between two garbage collectors that Batman finds himself involved in. Harvey Kruden is the leader of the “bad” garbage collectors, who attempt to intimidate a rival collector before Batman intervenes. This leads to a car chase and an eventual brawl in a junkyard.
Batman tussles with Kruden, but in an unfortunate turn of events, kicks him into another minion, and the two topple together into a garbage truck’s crusher, which is turned on for some reason. Not exactly an intentional killing, and a set of convenient circumstances lead to the death more than anything. But intentional or not, Batman kicked a guy into a garbage crusher, and he doesn’t seem that broken up about it.
6. KGBEAST AND 20 OTHER GOONS (BATMAN V. SUPERMAN)
Zack Snyder’s Batman is one of the most brutal Batmen on this list, racking up an impressive kill count throughout the film. Starting with blowing up several occupied cars with his Batmobile that apparently fires live ammunition, he goes on to attempt to kill Superman (only to be stopped by a bizarre naming happenstance). During his rescue attempt of Superman’s mother, he throws henchmen into hallways with live grenades, stabs people, forces them to fire their guns at their allies, and bashes one guys skull open with a giant crate.
All of those, some will argue, are potentially survivable. Not so with his blatant murder of KGBeast, who is carrying around a flamethrower with a massive fuel tank strapped to his back. In a misguided homage to The Dark Knight Returns, Batman shoots the tank with an M60 and causes it to explode, killing KGBeast. Of course, anyone who has actually read The Dark Knight Returns would know that Batman is pretty adamantly anti-killing in it, so to homage it by having Batman kill someone almost completely misses the point. So about par for the course with Zack Snyder.
5. KGBEAST (BATMAN #420)
In the storyline “Ten Nights of the Beast,” KGB operative KGBeast is going on a killing spree to cripple America’s Strategic Defense Initiative (the infamous “Star Wars” program). Over the course of 10 days in Gotham, KGBeast kills more than 100 people tied to the program, with his final target being President Ronald Reagan. Batman, of course, pursues him, but is unable to save the targets beyond Reagan.
After cornering KGBeast through a fight in the sewers in an underground compartment, he comes to the realization that even if KGBeast is captured, he won’t face justice, instead being delivered to the Russian government to kill again. After coming to this conclusion, he declines Beast’s challenge to a final battle, and instead closes and locks the chamber door, leaving Beast to a certain death.
4. JOKER (THE KILLING JOKE)
This one is entirely open to interpretation. At the end of Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, and John Higgins’ controversial classic, The Killing Joke, Joker and Batman are sharing a laugh about a joke as the police arrive. In the joke, two not-so-bright criminals are trying to cross a gap between buildings. One suggests that they use a flashlight to create a bridge out of a beam of light, but the other says “What do you think I am? Crazy?! You’ll turn it off when I’m halfway across!”
As the two laugh, with Batman’s hand on Joker’s shoulder, they are separated by a beam of light. Joker’s laughter stops, replaced only by the whine of the police siren. In the final panel, the beam of light vanishes. Like we said, open to interpretation.
3. RANDOM HENCHMAN (DETECTIVE COMICS #572)
Detective Comics #572 was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Detective Comics, featuring a five-part story starring Slam Bradley, the Elongated Man, Sherlock Holmes, and of course, Batman. The story follows a century-spanning mystery involving a plot by Professor Moriarty and his descendants to kill the Queen of England, and at the very end led to the first and only meeting of Batman and a miraculously-still-alive Sherlock Holmes.
In one of the many confrontations with Moriarty’s henchmen, one opens fire on Batman, who grabs another conveniently placed henchman, and uses him as a human shield. While we are not explicitly shown the henchman’s death, he sure takes a lot of bullets, and Batman doesn’t really seem concerned with the man’s ongoing medical treatment.
2. LORD DEATH MAN (BATMAN INCORPORATED #2)
Yet another technicality, Lord Death Man is a Japanese supervillain who is immortal. In Batman Incorporated, Batman is freshly returned from his death in Final Crisis and beginning his new initiative to bring Batman to the world. So naturally, he starts in Japan. There he faces Lord Death Man, who has begun enacting a plan to kill all of Japan’s superheroes.
Fortunately, his plans are stopped with the help of Jiro Osamu, who becomes the Batman of Tokyo as Mr. Unknown. As to Lord Death Man, he’s locked inside a safe, then put inside a satellite and launched into space without air, leaving him to spend an apparent eternity forever suffocating to death and reviving repeatedly. So, it’s technically not murder since he always comes back, but dang, Batman, that’s kind of harsh.
1. EVERY VILLAIN IN GOTHAM (BATMAN: THE RED DEATH #1)
The most recent example, this comes as an alternate universe Bruce Wayne in a tie-in to DC’s first Rebirth event, Dark Nights: Metal. In it, there are 7 alternate Batmen from doomed Earths, each of whom has merged with some aspect of another Justice League member. The first to receive a tie-in, Red Death, forcibly merges with the Flash in an attempt to save his Earth with the power of the Speed Force. Upon merging, he immediately slaughters every villain in Gotham, although he fails to save his Earth.
He then takes over Central City on Prime Earth, and will likely continue his killing spree. Although the second tie-in, Murder Machine, doesn’t kill anyone on-panel, it is safe to assume that he, along with the other dark Batmen, are all pretty bloodthirsty, especially given what tidbits of previews we’ve seen (The Drowned flooding a major city, for example).
Can you think of any other time in modern history that Batman killed? Let us know in the comments!
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