Mortality is what makes Batman such an enduring character. He is just a regular person, like us. Anybody could be Batman, as long as they have the wealth to support their crusade. Like any ordinary human being, Bruce Wayne can die. He can die from the same things that could cause any of to die. His skin is not bulletproof. He can’t use super-speed to dodge things. He gets sick, fatigued and struggles with human dilemmas. So it should come as no surprise that Batman has had many brushes with death over the years. Some have been the real deal while others have been ruses used to manipulate a villain or situation. But like any good comic book character, he always comes back.
The use of death for Batman has given way to a lot of great stories. It has allowed others to step into the cowl for periods of time. It has allowed villains to reflect on just how much they need Batman in their own sick ways. The stories on this list come from various media. A couple are “Elseworlds” tales that allow for a bit more permanence. Sometimes, the most compelling aspect is the reactions of all of the other characters, including the sidekicks, the villains, and even Gotham itself.
15 THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
The most well-known and iconic story of Batman’s future is found in The Dark Knight Returns. The story features a Batman in the later stages of his life making a return to crime fighting. Towards the end of the story there is a confrontation with Superman. Batman pulls out a lot of stops, employing multiple ways to attempt to stop an ultimately unstoppable force. His methods are not enough to take down the Man of Steel, however, so Batman makes a decision to end the fight in what would seem to be an unconventional way.
He fakes a poison-induced heart attack that would make Superman and the media believe he was dead. Once again, we have a ruse that allows for a future group of Batmen to protect Gotham and those in need in the future. Not quite a death, but a retirement. Well, at least until the sequels.
14 EARTH TWO BATMAN
Early in the New 52, DC started an Earth Two title that had many of the characters traditionally associated with the JSA. Having already established the main Earth of the New 52 as being one where the Justice League were the first superheroes, Earth Two gave DC a chance to shine a light on a different group of characters. In fact, they turned things on their head rather quickly.
In the first issue, featuring a cover with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, all three fail to make it out of the story alive. They fall prey to the Parademon invasion paralleling the battle with Darkseid in “Justice League: Origin.” As readers, there was hardly a chance to even get to know this Bruce Wayne, but it did make a statement that this Earth would be very different from what we knew.
13 BATMAN: BAD BLOOD ANIMATED MOVIE
This 2016 animated movie uses threads from multiple comic book storylines and streamlines them into one narrative. The movie focuses largely on Batwoman and her backstory. It also takes elements of Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. and Batman And Robin runs, as it seems Bruce Wayne perishes in an explosion fairly early in the movie while saving Batwoman. From there, Batman reappears, but this time it is Dick Grayson in the cape and cowl.
Of course, Bruce isn’t really dead, but rather he was abducted by Talia Al Ghul and influenced through Mad Hatter tech. However, the story gives the audience a chance to experience a team of heroes with Robin, Batwoman, Batwing and Grayson’s Batman being the main heroes, acting under the impression that the Dark Knight truly has died. The absence of Bruce allows for a totally different Batman and Robin dynamic and the chance to flesh out some new characters.
12 RED SON
What if Superman crashed in the communist Soviet Union instead of Smallville, Kansas? This is the question answered in Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son. The Superman in this story changes the course of the Cold War by becoming a leader of the USSR. Many other DC characters make appearances in this new world as well.
The Batman of this story is not fan of the communist regime, but knows that in order to combat it, he must manipulate things a bit. He works with Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman to take down Superman, but Batman’s plan fails. In what could possibly be the most definitive death on this list, Batman detonates a suicide bomb rather than be captured by the Comrade of Steel. Batman holds to his values no matter what.
11 BIRTH OF THE DEMON
Ra’s Al Ghul is perhaps the closest to an intellectual equal to Batman out of everyone in the Dark Knight's rogues gallery. He's immortal due to his frequent dalliances with the Lazarus pits, which has given him lots of experience and time to plan his incredible conquests. A dip inside restores his health while at least temporarily removing sanity.
Much of the Birth Of The Demon story surrounds the backstory of Ra’s Al Ghul, while in the present, Batman is fighting Ra’s by trying to take out the Lazarus Pits so that Ra’s can no longer revive himself. This gets turned on its head when Bruce is mortally injured while fighting Ra’s and has to make the decision to use a pit on himself or on both of them. Fortunately, he decided to save them both, stopping what would have been the death of two of the greatest characters in all of DC Comics.
10 GOING SANE
The Joker and his relationship with Batman is something many writers have explored. That dynamic plays a role in multiple entries on this list. One of the most unique looks at this dynamic came in “Going Sane,” a tale from the Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series. The Joker has done so many things that should kill Batman, so when one of them actually works, it sends Joker down a strange path. He becomes sane. He takes on a civilian identity and establishes relationships. He becomes just a normal guy with a skin condition.
The Joker without Batman is just a normal guy. This is a take every writer might not share, but it is what DeMatteis does very convincingly here. However, once again, the rug is pulled out from underneath the reader and it's revealed that Batman is shown to have actually survived, turning the Joker back into his old self in no time.
9 THE END OF THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY
When a Batman story is told in a self-contained fashion, it allows for the creators to actually leave endings that are open for interpretation. Comics can always have a follow-up story at some point that can change the ramifications of past stories. The Christopher Nolan Batman movies did not have a DCEU to connect to and thus could create their own story without limitations.
The final film in the Nolan trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, concludes with Alfred reflecting on what happens to Bruce after his life as Batman. In large part due to the last time we see him in a Batman costume and the explosion involved, we are left to question his survival. Alfred’s seeing Bruce and Selina in the café could insinuate multiple things. Was this just what Alfred hoped? Was it truly a happy ending for Bruce? Or is Alfred merely imagining what we he wished he could have seen instead? After all, there doesn't seem to be a logical explanation for Batman to have survived the atomic explosion.
8 EMPEROR JOKER
What happens when you mix the powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk with the insane mind of the Joker? “Emperor Joker” answers this question in a multi-part Superman crossover in the early 2000’s. While the focus is on the Superman family in much of the story, there is a moment when Superman learns the fate of Batman in this reality. It is as dark and disturbing as you might imagine.
The Joker takes the chance to kill Batman. This is not counter to other stories where it is hinted that killing Batman would ruin Joker because there is a twist: the now-omnipotent Joker is using his powers to kill Batman over and over again. He tortures Batman to death every single night, only to do it again the next day. This turns out to be Joker’s ultimate undoing though, as Superman points out that Joker, despite having godlike power, is not able to forget Batman. Batman wins again.
Many Batman writers discuss the concept of having a clearly determined death for Batman being a necessary part of writing a Batman story. In the case of recent Batman and All Star Batman scribe, Scott Snyder, he began this in a story from the New 52's Detective Comics #27 anniversary anthology (the original Detective Comics run in 1939 debuted Batman in its 27th issue), showing a future where there is still a Batman and he is Bruce Wayne.
The twist comes in that he is talking to another older Bruce Wayne. Snyder’s take is that Bruce Wayne would not allow the idea of Batman to die, and therefore created a download of his memories and skills to pass on forever through a cloning process. It’s an idea that will be fleshed out more in the upcoming finale to All Star Batman when Snyder is rejoined by the artist of this tale, Sean Murphy. There’s certainly depth to explore in the lengths Bruce will go to protect Gotham.
6 WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER?
Literary legend Neil Gaiman created a Batman story modeled after Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” The story is meant to be timeless, with no place in continuity and Batman lore from throughout history. The best parts of the story revolve around how each character sees their role in Batman’s life and possible death. Little bits like Alfred’s acting friends being all of the villains and Alfred himself being the Joker, making Bruce’s time as Batman a farce, are intriguing.
All of the characters close to Batman state their story and have some guilt. The narration throughout is clearly a dialogue between Bruce and someone else, and we learn toward the end that this is all a “This is Your Life” type of vision he is experiencing with his mother. In the end, it is about never giving up and that makes his death honorable no matter what.
Batman and Joker embody tragedy and comedy. This is what makes them perfect foils for each other. Scott Snyder brought this to the forefront of most of his arcs on Batman. In “Endgame,” the Joker is angry at how Batman responded to his scheme to show how having the Bat-family around creates what he sees are weaknesses. “Endgame” is when the Joker goes to extreme lengths to demonstrate just what he means to Batman.
Who knows, but the moral of the final battle here is that these characters are inextricably linked. They die fighting each other, in a pool of heart-shaped blood. Again, this is not a physical death, but more of a death of who they were before. It's only through a complicated deus ex machina that Batman heals himself back to life, but even that isn't without repercussions; Bruce is now a man without the memory of ever being Batman. Joker seems to be a calmer presence as well when he resurfaces on a park bench.
4 FLASHPOINT THOMAS WAYNE
Sometimes things turn out differently. What if it was Bruce who was killed that night instead of his parents? What if Martha became the Joker? In Flashpoint, that is what happened. Thomas Wayne became a more violent, corruptible Batman. A father losing a son is something nobody wants to ponder. Having your wife devolve into a psycho would be pretty difficult as well.
Having a chance to talk to that son and share your mistakes with him is like gold. Thomas Wayne had that chance in Batman #22. It was his last words before going down in battle. Could he be the one person who can truly impact Bruce’s decision to keep being Batman? In terms of pure emotional impact, this death likely packs the most punch.
3 I AM GOTHAM
Technically, this one hasn’t happened yet. But given Tom King’s Batman run thus far and its clear penchant for longterm storytelling, we can guess we will get this in some form or another before it is over. In the end of “I Am Gotham,” Gotham Girl is narrating. In one page, she informs readers that she is responsible for killing Batman. Coming on the heels of the death of her brother, the spot where he died becomes the spot where Batman does as well.
Gotham (a hero dedicated to saving the city who eventually goes mad) and Gotham Girl are supposed to be a symbol of hope for Batman, but Gotham Girl’s story is still unfolding. Batman’s humanity and its contrast with their superpowers give Batman pause in terms of how long he has to keep his mission going. Gotham Girl’s arc has a long way to go, but it is clear that Tom King followed the Morrison advice of giving Batman his own version of a death.
2 THE NIGHT BATMAN DIED
This late '70s story is a bit of a hidden gem in terms of its style and clever swerves. Divided into four parts, Catwoman, Riddler, Lex Luthor and Joker give their accounts to Ra’s Al Ghul (who is serving as a judge), explaining how they are responsible for killing Batman. The prosecutor is none other than former District Attorney Harvey Dent/ Two-Face.
It’s a fun story that has a lot of great moments and a cool mystery. Catwoman's conflicting feelings for Batman versus a life of crime are clear. Riddler impersonates Bruce Wayne after he thinks he killed Batman, having no idea of the irony. Lex Luthor's arrogance is pitch perfect. Joker's story brings the whole story together as we find out all is not as it seems and Batman knows his villains better than they know themselves.
1 BATMAN R.I.P. AND FINAL CRISIS
Another tale by Grant Morrison, it is this story that gives the greatest one-sentence description of Batman: He is prepared for every eventuality. This includes his death. The Black Glove organization and its leader, Dr. Simon Hurt, go to great lengths to both understand and ruin Batman. This is a deconstruction of Bruce through various angles. His parents are accused of being terrible people. Dr. Hurt dresses like Thomas Wayne. They bury Batman alive, though he gets out, because he’s prepared.
This culminates in Final Crisis when, just after those events, Batman encounters Darkseid. Batman even uses a gun, something he would never normally do. The gun has a radion toxin that will kill Darkseid, but he fires at the same time Darkseid fires his Omega Beams. This results in a fate worse than death. For all intents and purposes, he appears dead in the present. However, Bruce's spirit has actually been hurled into the distant past and he's living life after life with each incarnation being more difficult than the previous one.
Have you read each of these stories? Be sure to let us know in the comments which one is your favorite!