The Killing Joke

Even though his methods lie outside the law, Batman’s “no kill” policy makes him an easy ally to Gotham’s police force.  In a city gone mad, he refuses to give in to the chaos.  But when it comes to a psychopath like Joker, is it really ethical for Batman to let him live?

Arkham Asylum must have some revolving door policy that Batman must not know about.  Joker always gets out to kill again.  Batman has to know this.  He’s a fucking detective for shit’s sake!  He’s got to notice that Arkham’s walls don’t hold Joker and Arkham’s rehabilitation program doesn’t fucking work.  It’s clear that Batman doesn’t believe the law can’t do its job.  Otherwise, he’d let the Gotham PD chase the freaks while he sits at home sipping tea.  Why he would trust them to keep Joker in jail is beyond me.  By letting Joker live, Batman is perpetuating a cycle of murder.

Of course from a straight up practical sense, should Batman kill anyone, he ceases to be an asset to the Gotham DP.  They can’t have a killer on their somewhat unorthodox roster of costumed vigilantes.  But being a clever boy, I’m sure Bats could figure out a way to end Joker’s life without doing the deed directly.

It’s possible that Batman thinks he can save the Joker, that somehow the Joker will turn over a new leaf or learn the error of his ways or something.  But if that’s the case, Batman does jack all to see it through.  No hospital visits, no hiring of expert psychologists with that Wayne money, no payment for experimental medication to calm Joker’s madness.  Just some chrome bracelets and a padded cell.

Should Batman end Joker or let him live knowing that he’ll eventually escape to kill again?

  • Brian Dirk

    Good question. Especially since Batman has a case of the “I work Alone” bug. It seems like he would have figured out a better still “humane” method of imprisoning these folks. like his own personal cell block.

    (Caution link:

  • torsoboy

    I think the Joker is way old hat. I mean, I know he “represents” some important factors for Batman and the Batman readers, but it doesn’t really make for dynamic and engaging reading when “oh no, it’s the Joker… again…” I mean, what does it say about the writers? After how many DECADES of the Joker being Batman’s foil? I think another important question to ask is, what does that say about the readers? Do they really want the same old, stale, dank, repetitive badguy over and over and over and over and over? Does that really entertain them?

    I think Bats should kill him outright. Crimes of vigilantism aside, he’s had plenty of opportunities where an “act of self defense” could have been taken into account if he had killed the Joker. So there, there’s your legal shitstorm story event. Or perhaps there’s no law protecting anyone who kills in self-defense in Gotham, and Bats gets caught for killing the Joker. But what about Gotham’s morality? Would they be glad the Joker’s finally dead and that their hush hush hero actually had the gonads to do the job so that the citizens can actually have a life without fear? Or would they be entirely two-faced (PUN INTENDED DAMMIT) and turn on the Bats for killing someone, even if the person he killed is the #1 on Gotham’s 10-most-wanted list? There’s two story points right there! For free! 1) They rejoice in the Joker’s death at the hands of Batman, what are the repercussions for Bats? For Gotham? For the police? 2) They decide Batman is the real villain and totally turn against him and he is 100% in ruin. Does he go to jail? Does he go into exile? So many ways you can go about it.

    I feel like, despite the slowly growing roster of villains and secondary characters that get added to spice things up, it’s all the same stuff, over and over. Sure he’s gotten darker, sure they’ve explored “old Bruce,” but it all comes down to being the same reused, revamped, retold stories. Time periods don’t change it, New allegiances don’t change it. Batman vs. Joker is always going to be the same old hat story, and the only way to actually change it is to tip it 100% in one direction. And since the title on the comic book reads BATMAN, just kill the Joker outright and see what happens to Bats. That’s my take.

    • torsoboy

      And here’s another freebie: they can call the issue “Batman kills the Joker.” I know these comic companies like to do their big media events every few years where a certain issue makes it into USA Today or some other big name newspaper or magazine, so I think coming out with it in the title would really generate some buzz.

      • Wayne Zombie

        Batman has killed, but usually accidentally. He has never murdered (to the best of my knowledge, I stopped reading most Marvels and DCs some 20 years ago). In some of the old movie serials, he carried a revolver and shot people. That’s one of the problems with multiple source materials, which one becomes cannon? Like trying to justify the Avengers (and prequel) movies with the Marvel Universe: which version of the MU?

  • Alon Rand

    It seems to me a logical extension of Batman’s nature that he’d have Wayne Enterprises get into the private prison business, get Gotham to contract out Arkham Asylum to them, then upgrade its security and therapy procedures to make it as impregnable as possible. He’s not above using his influence as Bruce Wayne to make his task as Batman easier, after all – he installs backdoor software into the security systems his company sells so he can tap into them, and circumvent them, I believe. And obviously he siphons off some of the technology for his own personal use as well.

    The problem, in the end, with analyzing the motivations of comic characters like they were real people is the real reason he acts that way, and the real reason the Joker never gets better, is because DC needs them to be always the same. Batman is an archetype, not a person. He’s established to be a certain way, and cannot fundamentally change or evolve because if he did his story might end. And the stories of comics never end (unless they’re designed to do so, like Watchmen, or Sandman, in which case they DO end, and thus stop selling new books). By extension, the same is true of basically his entire rogues gallery.

    This is also, fundamentally, why comic characters – the popular ones especially – almost never stay dead. Comic books are modern day mythology, and mythologies are endlessly retold – the details shift and change, but the central thrust of the stories remains permanently static. Stray too far away from that core message, and the story is lost, and so has to be restored.

    Of course, this fundamental nature is also comics’ core flaw, and a big part of why they’re struggling as an industry so much. They try to set their stories into an analogue of the real world, where time passes and circumstances can change. And they keep trying to tell new stories with the same characters. Those things are antithetical to the nature of an established mythology.

    • Wayne Zombie

      That is an amazing idea, having Wayne Enterprises enter the private prison industry. But, as you point out, it would end certain story arcs. You’d have to build a fatal flaw in to the plan, or do it as an alternate universe mini-series like the original Frank Miller’s Dark Knight.

  • Amaniwolf

    As much as people blame Batman for the Joker’s rampages and murders, why don’t they just execute him already within the bounds of the legal system? Seriously, should cops kill a multiple killer right where they catch them? Batman follows that code of conduct because,…as he puts it,….it would be too easy to start down that road. Once you start, is there ever any real coming back from it? Why doesn’t Gordon kill Joker, or another cop? There’s plenty of other people who can do the job. In the end I guess, it’s a code they stick by, because they know, once they start killing, it’ll get easier and easier to make excuses and keep killing over and over without remorse. Eventually they’ll end up as bad as the people they were trying to stop.

    • Wayne Zombie

      Part of the problem is the insanity defense and judges who continually return him to Arkham rather than a SuperMax prison. Even though Joker is clearly insane, it’s also equally clear that he knows right from wrong and knows that he’s breaking the law. The insanity defense is a very fine line and difficult to get to work in reality, but it’s a cakewalk in comics and movies.

      Check out Law and the Multiverse for two attorneys who discuss the specifics of law as used in comic books and movies. They’ve talked about Batman a lot, and separately, the insanity defense, I don’t recall if they’ve talked about Killer Joke.

  • Shin

    I think we all can take a lesson from the Red Hood comic/animated movie or even the first Hush arc. “It’d be too god damned easy” as Batman said in response to why he’s never killed the Joker. He’s thought about it, he’s obsessed about it, he wants Joker to die and for everyone to finally be at peace. But the second he does it, he knows that’s when he loses all self control and all the discipline he’s trained for himself. Two Face would be dead, Hush would be dead, the second Gordon turns on him and loses faith in Batman’s ideals, he’d be dead and soon Batman would be as bad as the rest of his villains. There would be noting to distinguish a costumed man with a mask from the costumed men with masks who kill people. He knows the public would lump him in with the rest of the crazed lot and Batman believes it to be true. The second he kills the Joker, whether for better or worse in Gotham’s eyes, Batman becomes no better than his arch nemesis and then what’s more terrifying? A genuinely insane maniac who is policed by Batman who also protects the entire city or the man everyone is tentatively on the cusp of trusting to keep them safe who now joins the ranks of these murderers? It comes down to some major things to consider.

    One is his image, possibly the biggest one. He created Batman to instill fear in villains, all villains of every caliber. He wanted Gotham to feel safe walking the streets again. Not because Gotham was actually safe, but because there was someone who would take the brunt of its flaws and damage. The GCPD is corrupt, the government is corrupt and until Harvey Dent showed up, courts were corrupt, no one truly felt safe because no one looked out for them. Batman shows up and starts hanging bad guys up for the cops, the cops kick themselves into gear because the corrupt ones know someone’s onto them Gordon shows up and sees a glimmer of hope and trust in this vigilante and does his part to keep the cops clean. Dent shows up and keeps tabs on everyone else and does his job fantastically because he too believes in this odd new turn of justice in Gotham. Batman began something with his actions and his image. His reputation sparked a change in Gotham and with it came Gordon and Dent wanting to raise Gotham out of its cesspool. Dent was compromised and whether it’s in Dark Knight’s case or the comics, Gotham suffered and grieved the loss of Dent and things went unhitched for a bit. The second either Gordon or Batman falter, Gotham loses all its hope these men have fought for to raise in their people. That’s why in Killing Joke, Batman fought for Gordon to keep his wits about him and not to compromise. Vice versa in Hush when Joker “killed” Thomas, Gordon begged for Batman not to kill Joker. And why in Return of the Dark Knight comic, Joker makes it look like Batman killed him so he’d ruin his image and he’d be cast as a psychopath on the loose. Batman has an image to consider and killing would ruin all of it.

    Second is his own conscience and sanity. Bruce had his parents taken away from him, he witnessed two murders before his eyes. That’s traumatic for anyone, but instead of recoiling and never recovering or rather instead of perpetuating that cycle of death begets death, Bruce became one of the only people to break that cycle. He lies int he middle road of victim and victimizer. He refuses to let crimes go unpunished, but he refuses to use the same methods they use for “justice”. Yes, there’s countless graves filled to the brim with souls for Death with Joker’s signature on them, but if he kills the Joker, it’s going to bring Bruce right back into the cycle of “My parents were murdered for no reason, I’ll murder someone who actually deserves it.” And as for the sanity side, we all know Bruce is insane. Bruce Wayne has become his mask and he feels he is naturally Batman. His Batman persona has taken him over so thoroughly that he doesn’t recognize himself outside the costume. The Killing Joke even refers to Batman and Joker being just as insane as each other, but on the opposite spectrum. What’s the difference between them? Joker will gladly kill, Batman won’t. It’s obvious that that is kind of the only thing separating them from being the same person. If Batman killed only the Joker and was able to stop himself from killing ever again? It very well could happen, but his sanity would eventually unwind since we already know he’s gone from being Bruce Wayne to believing he’s only Batman. it’s a slippery slope and there’s nothing worse than being fully aware of your own madness and knowing you can’t stop yourself from completely slipping away.

    Finally, realism. It’s a stupid thing to mention in comic books. But put yourself in his shoes. For a moment imagine yourself as someone who had loved ones murdered in front of you. Pick your most favorite and endeared person to you and having them violently taken away from you. Already that’s something hard to imagine and if it’s happened, god forbid, what was your reaction? If they were murdered, accidentally or not, did you find the person who did it and killed them? Forget what Bruce did and forego the years and years of training and dedication and visualization of knowing you were coming back to be a vigilante. Let’s go for the raw human emotion. Do you honestly and sincerely have it in you to take another person’s life with your own hands and watch them die in front of you? Batman is a hero. Comic book characters have always represented who we wish we could be. They are our coping mechanism, our escape from reality, they’re the Greek Gods of our modern day that we look up to, some even idolize. If you wanted to be a hero, a protector, a savior, someone who’s generated as much love and respect as Batman, a god damned drawing on a piece of paper that will sell for thousands in 30 years any given time, and that hero was a murderer, what would that say about who we look up to? You wouldn’t murder someone, why would Batman?

  • FmF

    Simply put batman is actually all happening in side a person with failing mental health issue.What you think I’m crazy.Well yes but we’re not here about me are we?You see all most all of batman’s villains are actually a metaphor for various mental health issue.Require watching and batman himself is definitely unstable.I can help but draw the connections of one form of mental illness to fight other far worst forms in a failing run down city not being any thing but a metaphor for how one form of insanity can be use to fight another.The patient still suffering from those symptoms and thus why he never dies.

    That or comic book are deprive of any form of coherent logical thought process what so ever;but I like my inception picture more.