Batman murders? "Sure..." you're thinking. In fact, it was the talk of many critics of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Ben Affleck's older, more cynical, and brutally violent version of the Caped Crusader went through a number of bad guys on his way to offing the Man of Steel (or seeming to, anyway...). We’re expecting more of the same when Affleck reprises the role in Justice League, opening on November 17, 2017. We'll add to that toll many more dead bad guys from the old Tim Burton movies, including a scene in Batman Returns where he kills a crook by shoving a bomb down his pants.
But that's just the big screen, you say, where Hollywood types play fast and loose with DC canon. In the comic book world, Bruce Wayne stuck to his ideals. The fact that not killing anyone was part of his code of operation was what defined Batman, you say.
As a point of fact, Batman's recent turn to a more violent mode actually goes back to his roots in the early 20th century, as you’ll find on our list. Whatever his ironclad code of conduct is supposed to be, we'll just note that he falls off of that pedestal every now and then – and probably more often than you think.
15 Batman Lets Thieves Burn While He Gets Busy With Black Canary In All-Star Batman and Robin No. 7 (2007)
We get that Black Canary is hot... but still. This story seriously shows Batman in over-the-top mode. Frank Miller has been widely criticized for his insistence on portraying the darker side of the Dark Knight in comics, and that characterization reaches its peak in this issue. Batman is after a gang of armed crooks who are stealing a shipment of bleach. (Don’t ask – it’s Gotham, remember). Batman grabs a bottle of bleach and adds thermite, a compound used in pyrotechnics, from his utility belt. He tosses the flammable liquid into the crowd of crooks, presumably splashing them all with it. The crooks burst into flames and naturally panic. Our hero? He adds insult to injury by kicking a few of them in the face. At this moment, Black Canary, who is part of the Justice League, drops by to watch. She then tells the Bat that the sight of all those flaming criminals is turning her on... and the two of them get it on down on the pavement while the crooks burn away into oblivion in the background.
14 Batman Hangs A Mental Patient In Batman No. 1 (1940)
That’s right – your favorite Gotham superhero murdered the innocent victim of a sinister plot in the very first-ever solo Batman comic, which came out in 1940. Hugo Strange, an evil scientist has cooked up a plot to turn mental patients into physically buffed, violent, and hyper-aggressive supermen. Strange’s gang is on the way to deliver one of the mutant monsters downtown, with the idea of letting him run amok in front of a bank to create a diversion while the criminals clean out the vaults. Batman’s in pursuit in the Batplane, which has a machine gun mounted on the front. Batman shoots at the car and kills the driver. The car then crashes into a tree, and the muscular, but confused, mentally ill person falls out. Batman immediately slips a noose made of steel around his neck and strings him up. He then fires up the Batplane and dangles the unfortunate monster until he chokes to death. And, he’s been practicing his hanging technique on the homeless!
13 Crushing Drug Dealers In Batman No. 425 (1988)
In an issue ironically subtitled “Consequences,” Batman is forced to deal with a situation caused by Robin's actions. Robin killed a drug dealer’s brother by dropping him from a building, and the crook is out for revenge. He’s kidnapped James Gordon, and he’s also out for both Batman's and Robin’s blood. After giving Robin a sanctimonious lecture about not killing people, Batman ends up chasing – and being chased – by the crook through a junkyard. The Dark Knight’s solution? Drop a load of junk cars on his head. Whoops! The crook doesn’t put up much of a fight, but there you are – dead criminal, problem solved. Consequences? Schmonsequences!
12 Kicked Into A Trash Grinder In Detective Comics No. 613 (1990)
Batman takes care of two crooks permanently in this violent issue. Gotham City is being terrorized by criminal elements in the garbage disposal biz. There’s some kind of turf war going on, and the Caped Crusader's trying to get to the bottom of it. At the peak of the action, the Bat's in a junkyard battling crooks. One of them's about to clock Batman with a chair, WWE-style, when Batman lays a side kick on him. The thug is knocked back into a second crook, and then both of them fall into a trash grinder, which is in operation at the moment. You get the idea. Accidental? We’re not seeing any remorse on his face as he walks up to the grinder to peer inside.
11 Impaled On A Sword In Detective Comics No. 37 (1940)
It has to be said – 1940 was a violent year for Batman in the comic book world. To be fair, it was a time when his creators were still working out the details of his persona, and his anti-killing stance wasn’t really formulated yet. Still, he was supposed to be the hero, wasn’t he? In the story dubbed “The Screaming House,” Batman finds himself up against a gang of foreign agents when he answers the screams of a US spy he hears while driving by. The mob boss is disguising himself as a European count, complete with a monocle. There’s a plot to blow up a ship and divert the blame to another country as a way of ramping up international tensions – remember, this was during WWII. They end up in a one-on-one battle in the count’s lair. The count throws a sword at Batman, who cleverly evades the blow by opening a door, the sword becoming impaled. Batman punches the count in the face and then hits him so hard he backs up towards the door, the sword running through his neck. Batman isn’t sorry; in fact, he says it’s for the best because it saved thousands of people. Wartime is hell.
10 Batman Locks A Villain In The Sewer To Die In Batman No. 420 (1988)
It was the 1980s, and the Russians were the enemy. Enter KGBeast, the embodiment of Soviet-era evil. He and Batman clash over several stories before meeting up for this fateful issue. In a story called “Ten Nights of the Beast - Part 4,” Batman is trying to protect President Reagan from the KGBeast threat. First, Robin kills a terrorist assassin by kicking him off the building (it's his thing). After a tussle with a traitorous federal agent, FBI backup appears, and KGBeast runs down the sewer to escape. Batman follows, and another major battle ensues. Batman jams KGBeast's gun, and the Russian thug tries to run away again. Batman knows he's going down a dead-end tunnel and follows until the Beast gets trapped in a storage room. Instead of the grand battle the Beast challenges him to, Batman shuts and locks the door, leaving him to die. He even has a nice speech where he says stuff like “Sometimes, you have to ignore the rules. Sometimes, circumstances are such that the rules pervert justice.” As he leaves the sewer, Batman tells FBI agents that they won't have to worry about the Beast anymore. Now, they did try to retcon KGBeast’s death in a later storyline by a different writer. He tried to explain it away by saying Batman had gone to the police later so they could retrieve the Beast, but we’re not buying it.
9 Alternate Batman Kills Abattoir In Batman: Sword of Azrael #1 (1992)
Bruce Wayne periodically retires from the superhero rat race, and he usually names someone to take up the cape in his place. Some of his choices have seemed logical, like Dick Grayson. But when Bane crushes his spine and leaves him in a wheelchair, many questioned his choice of Jean-Paul Valley, aka Azrael, whom he was already grooming as his successor. Jean-Paul is the result of a genetically altered test-tube experiment, and his identity as the vigilante Azrael is one that has been passed down through his family. At first, the new Batman wasn't so great in the role, and it gets to him. He takes on a more and more violent tone, including equipping the Batsuit with better weaponry. He falls out with Commissioner Gordon, and his reputation is taking a nose dive. The situation spirals out of control until a violent confrontation with arch-villain Abattoir, who ends up suspended over a vat of boiling hot liquid metal. The Bat chooses not to save Abattoir, letting him plunge to his death in the sizzling liquid metal. After that incident, Bruce Wayne decided to take the role back before more damage could be done.
8 Punched Into A Vat Of Acid In Detective Comics No. 27 (1939)
Death by vat of acid. It happens a lot in Gotham, at least in some story lines, and you can trace its roots back to the earliest days of Batman himself. In “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the Caped Crusader is looking into the murders of four executives who co-own a chemical company. There end up being two murderers and possibly two Batman murders, too. As Batman gets proof of the crime, the two killers try to escape on a roof. Batman throws one of them to the street – but it’s not entirely clear how high up they are, to begin with. The second is definitive. The second killer and Batman face off on a catwalk, and as Batman punches him, the killer falls into a vat of acid. Batman even remarks that it's “a fitting end for his kind.” The superhero code was still in its early days, clearly.
7 Darkseid Shot In Final Crisis #6 (2009)
This storyline is twisted, but it does involve Batman committing murder. Darkseid is one of the more fearsome and powerful villains in the DC universe. He plays a huge role in the Final Crisis series, threatening the universe itself with his dark ambitions. He's a merciless tyrant, and he's so powerful, in fact, that he's usually matched up against Superman. This time, the whole Justice League takes him on. Batman, being a mere mortal, is the underdog, but he uses his brain power to find a chink in Darkseid’s armor. He comes up with the idea of using a bullet made of Radion – the same thing Darkseid used to kill Orion. He finds himself up against Darkseid and his Omega Sanction and takes his shot. Darkseid survives the initial shot to his shoulder, and his Omega beams kill Batman. The rest of the Justice League arrive to finish him off, but the fact of the matter is, eventually, the Radion would've killed him. As for Batman, it's revealed later on in the storyline that the Omega Sanction, rather than killing him, sent him back in time to the past, and the corpse that we see is actually a Bruce Wayne clone made by Darkseid. Got it?
6 Breaking Necks In Detective Comics No. 30 (1939)
In some of these instances, you could argue that Batman was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. But when you’ve been training in lethal martial arts for years, doesn’t your body become a lethal weapon? And yes, it’s a different universe, but whatever happened to great power, great responsibility? In a story called “The Return of Doctor Death,” Batman is shocked to find out that Doctor Death, the foe he thought he’d eliminated in the previous issue, was back. Doctor Death’s henchman, a Cossack by the name of Mikhail, is trying to shoot Batman out of a window, unaware that the Dark Knight is right above him. Batman swoops into the window and brutally kicks him in the neck, snapping his spine immediately.
5 Racist Batman Kills “Mongols” In Detective Comics No. 35 (1940)
Xenophobia was alive and well in 1940 when “The Case of the Ruby Idol” was published. The story involved the theft of an ancient statue made of ruby, depicting a fictional Indian god named Kila (there's a Hindu goddess by the name of Kali). Batman ends up mixed up with an explorer who faked his own death and is really the leader of a Chinese gang. Batman tracks the statue’s whereabouts to Chinatown, and once he’s there, he gets attacked by two sword-wielding “Mongols.” As they fight, one of the so-called Mongols gets thrown into the other’s sword, killing him on the spot. There's another death due to Batman in the story, although it’s less deliberate murder. As he confronts the Chinese gang leader in a building in Chinatown, he pulls a gun on Batman. Batman throws the ruby statue at him, and it knocks him out the window -- another notch on Batman’s killing belt.
4 Batman Strangles Jabah In Detective Comics #29 (1939)
“The Batman Meets Doctor Death” is the first appearance of a recurring character, an evil scientist named Dr. Karl Hellfern, who develops a unique poison extracted from pollen. His stock in trade is to coerce the rich people of Gotham into forking over large sums of money in order to avoid a horrible death. Trying to preemptively deal with the Dark Knight's threat to his scheme, Doctor Death puts an ad in the paper to get in touch with Bruce Wayne. He announces a murder he's about to commit, then waits for Batman to show up. There's a first encounter with Doctor Death and Jabah, his servant, a big dude described as "East Indian." The final battle of the story occurs when Batman breaks into Doctor Death's hideout. He takes Jabah down by strangling him with his lasso, and there's even a frame that shows him casually stepping over the body. We see Doctor Death again through the Golden Age and as recently as 2014, but it's curtains for Jabah.
3 Strategic Murder In Detective Comics No. 28 (1939)
Early Batman was an effective crime fighter. Moral human being, though, not so much. This story, called “Frenchy Blake’s Jewel Gang,” involves Batman’s takedown of said gang. He gets a tip about a jewel heist and intervenes to foil the deed. In the process, he throws one of the thieves off of a building. It’s later confirmed that the crook is dead. The cops see Batman with the jewels he’s retrieved, and lump him in with the criminals. The newspapers even report him as the leader of the gang. Frenchy Blake feels safe with the heat on Batman and goes after a few more scores. That’s when it's revealed that Batman did it all for that very reason – to bring Frenchy out into the open. He nabs Frenchy and the gang, and they all go to jail, except the one that died to set it up, of course.
2 Hugo Strange Punched Off A Cliff In Detective Comics No. 46 (1940)
In this story, Professor Hugo Strange develops his fear dust. Batman first encounters the street gang that Strange is using to test out the new invention. Batman tries to recruit a young member of the gang for information, but it backfires, and Strange and the gang beat Batman into unconsciousness. After recovering, Batman goes after the gang and defeats the plot to poison the people of Gotham. That leads him to a final confrontation with Strange on a cliff, where Batman ends up throwing him down to his death. “Well… this time it really looks like the end of the evil career of Professor Hugo Strange,” as he says to Robin.
1 The Killing Joke – Did He Or Didn’t He? (1988)
The Killing Joke, the original one-off graphic novel, won an Eisner Award in 1989 and has made many "best of" lists when it comes to defining the Joker's story. It's not without its controversy, however, with many, including writer Alan Moore in retrospect, objecting to the way Batgirl is victimized and left permanently disabled. The plot covers Joker's origin story -- or at least one possible version of it. He begins as an engineer with a pregnant wife who gets involved with a criminal gang in a desperate bid to make money. When Batman foils a robbery plan, he jumps into a chemical waste pond, becoming the Joker. Jump to the present day after years of battling the supervillain and archenemy. Batman and the Joker end up in yet another confrontation, but then, Batman tries to talk him out of his life of crime. It ends with Batman laughing at one of the Joker's jokes but worded ambiguously enough that you can take it either way. Did they just enjoy a laugh? Our argument against that is, in the very last frame, the light goes out, and the laughter dies... as Batman snaps the Joker’s neck, finally realizing his own prediction.
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