The internet’s been abuzz since Batman v Superman, and a lot of that has been about Batman killing. If you find yourself hung up on that more than anything else, don’t worry, you’re not being nitpicky, and it’s okay to not like Batman killing. The issue here, however, is if you decide to say it goes against the character or the source material for him to do so. Now I’m not going to be a smartass and talk about how the Golden Age Batman from the 40s murdered most of his villains, since that portrayal of Batman, while being the first, is antiquated. I will instead devote this post to Batman from the 80s and onward, but restrict myself to only mainstream depictions of Batman and not obscure Elseworlds stories (there’ve been a tonne of those where Batman kills, so that would make this too easy).
We’ve known for a long time that this version of Batman was jaded and world-weary. If you’ve seen Batman v Superman, then you know the movie gives us many hints as to what may have caused Batman to become what he is, but none more poignant than the picture above. Enough people have seen Under the Red Hood or played Batman: Arkham Knight to know that the Robin Batman loses to the Joker is Jason Todd. What these two adaptations ignored, however, was what happened to Batman immediately after Jason died.
Jason’s death haunted Bruce, where he couldn’t even get the minimal sleep he required to function. Not only in that did Jason’s death impact him, but it also made Batman become more brutal in his methods and more careless. This is ultimately why the third Robin, Tim Drake, sought him out.
Do you see the issue here? Batman in Batman v Superman doesn’t have a Tim Drake. He’s haunted by Jason Todd’s death, and then when you couple that with an alien god appearing and leveling a city inadvertently, Batman has even more reason to be brutal. We know this isn’t his default since Alfred delivers this line to him:
“powerlessness…” because Batman is just a man. Brutality and extremism are the only things that will allow him to stand up to Superman and these other alien threats that could come out of the sky at any moment and wipe out mankind. The idea is this is a persona that Batman has only recently adopted. He’s not a career killer like the internet’s echo chamber narrative has tried to make him out to be.
So that’s the context. We know Batman has only recently become extreme. Okay, now let’s go to the next point of contention: Batman using guns.
A lot of people cling to this The Dark Knight Returns image:
…. and in doing so ignore the context of the scene. Batman was telling the ex-mutant kids, now known as The Sons of Batman that going around shooting people isn’t his way. Batman isn’t a murderer, and neither are those that follow him, but there’s an asterisk attached, and it’s the same way you don’t consider a policeman a murderer for taking down a dangerous criminal to save a life. You see, the same story had Batman use a gun himself to save a life:
Batman uses a gun to kill the mutant threatening that baby. If the internet’s interpretation of Batman was correct, that means he broke his two most important rules: not killing and not using guns. Except those aren’t Batman’s most important rules. Batman’s number one rule is to save people and make sure no eight year old boy has to grow up without parents because of some punk with a gun. Batman killed that mutant with a machine gun to protect a life. This scene in the comic is directly translated to Batman v Superman, except this version of Batman didn’t actually shoot the man dead. It was the Russian’s own villainy that caused his death when the flamethrower he was brandishing to kill Martha caught fire with the gas leaking from the tank Batman shot. This is in-keeping with Zack Snyder’s view that Batman won’t directly kill, but he isn’t obligated to save villains from their own evil.
As an aside, this flamethrower-brandishing Russian is known as KGBeast in the comics, and he is also killed by Batman there, but in a much more morally-questionable way…
KGBeast, or Antoli Knaysev, was an assassin and a badass that Batman could not overcome until that page. What Batman does there is make the hard choice of trapping a man and leaving him to starve/dehydrate/asphyxiate because he could not stop him without lethal force, proving yet again that Batman will kill to save lives. When asked what happened to KGBeast, Batman’s reply was:
Eventually, some other writer retconned the fact that KGBeast was left there to die and said Batman had officers retrieve him, but it’s clear the authorial intent of the original comic was for him to have died there, trapped by Batman.
Now back to the Dark Knight Returns. If you’re a learned Batman aficionado, you might dismiss this seminal story of the Batman mythos as Frank Miller not getting Batman, and that’s okay, because I still have you covered. Let’s take a look at the much-lauded DCAU:
In that video, Batman pulled out a gun to save that woman’s life. You might say he’s disgusted with himself afterward and quits being Batman as a result, but doesn’t that just further my point? Batman doesn’t like guns, and he doesn’t like causing loss of life, but he’s willing to go to those lengths if it means protecting the innocent. The thing that makes Batman quit is not because he pulled out a gun, but because he had to. He was no longer the spry young stud of his heyday, and this made him realize it.
This, 2008’s Final Crisis, is yet another case of Batman breaking his no guns rule. Darkseid was about to consume all reality, so Batman pulls out a gun armed with a bullet capable of killing Darkseid. And yes, what you’re seeing there is Batman feeling pride in ending Darkseid. Sure he didn’t shoot him in the head to instantly kill him, but the wound is fatal and Batman knows it will kill him. I know you may be thinking that there’s a difference between killing Darkseid and killing random low-level criminals, and that’s my point. Batman will pull a gun when there is no other choice and Batman will take a life when necessary (“when necessary” usually being when he can save many lives doing so).
Some have said that Batman in Batman v Superman is pretty much the Punisher, but he really isn’t. The Punisher makes sure the people he fights are dead. When the Punisher walks into a room of bad guys, the objective is to kill everyone there. When Batman walks into a room of bad guys, the objective is to stop them from hurting people. Batman, at no point in this movie ever takes it as far as Frank Castle would. Even after someone stabs him in the chest, he never takes it that far. Batman subdued all those that fought him, or they died due to their own actions. Now, Snyder could’ve said “Did you see any of those guys die? No, they’re fine! They’ll probably be eating through a straw for the rest of their lives, but they’re fine!” That’s not the universe Zack Snyder wants to create, nor is it the one I want to see these movies in. That’s a universe that pretends there are no consequences to actions, and such a universe of superheroes already exists. There’s no reason for DC to try to emulate them to that degree.
I’d like to end with this:
In summation, it’s okay to say you don’t like a Batman that causes so many casualties, but don’t try to justify it by saying Batman doesn’t kill in the comics or that Zack Snyder doesn’t get Batman. Batman does kill when presented with absolutely no choice, and he will if it means saving lives.