Monday, December 12, 2005

Batman knows how to delegate

In the last few years the Batman has had his history retconned in several ways. Some were good (Dark Night Returns) and some not so good (Joe Chill is pretty much gone. The killer of Bruce Wayne's parents is a mystery with hints that the Joker did it before he was Jokerized). One of the ways he was subtley retconned was the emergence of the creed that the Batman "does not kill". In the Golden Age of comics he gacked criminals with regularity just like most other heroes of the times.

In the sanitized era of the Silver Age the heroes often tricked the villains into falling into their own traps while they proselytized, mocked even, in condescending speeches that if the villain only knew trust, had chosen instead to do good they would have not died. You'd think Mort Weisinger invented the concept of suicide by cop when it came to the Superman books.

While in the 70's and 80's heroes often faked out the bad guys as they did in the 60's, the trend leaned towards the hero being of a better sort than the villain yet failing in the attempt to save the antagonist. I can't tell you how many issues I've read where the hero exclaims "Take my hand! Hold on! Can't keep grip...ugh...blacking out!"

In the Stupid Age of Comics (aka the 90's) the heroes just shot everyone in sight. If 2000's are about anything it is story convienience, where logical progression and character development are ignored in favor of whatever the recent movie depicted as canon or what the writer just feels like doing that day.

Fans not familiar with the long history of the Batman may wonder why such a grim and gritty bad-ass that makes innocent and guilty alike wet their pants with fear isn't more like Marvel's Punisher and waste people wholesale. Part of the reason is marketing. Batman is iconic and you can't mess too much with the established character the public knows. This is exactly why for years Robin was unable to change his silly elf costume into something that protects against cold weather (There is a reason why every so often DC shows that old Robin costume floating in the display case). The other reason, one that is based in the comic world itself, is that Batman is so skilled and professional that when he defeats someone he stops. He doesn't keep punching on the Penguin once the guy is unconscious. Batman cuffs him and dumps him off at the police precinct. In the event the battle is pitched Batman keeps on swinging until one of them drop. In a battle with Ra's Al Guhl it is usually to the end and both of them know it. But don't forget...the Batman also fights dirty.

The Batman I grew up with would try not to kill but did not hesitate when he had to. I never thought of "my" Batman as a typical super-hero. I saw him as more of some kind of freelance secret agent doing his part to keep his city in some sort of cold war status quo. Nothing gets worse but it doesn't get better either because the the aternative is mutual destruction. This idea was exploited in last year's mess known as War Games.

Batman also knows how to delegate. When he wants to keep his gauntlets clean why...he just whips out Robin to do the dirty work. As proof of how pervasive the Batman Does SO Kill-theme was in comics I present this 1975 ad for sugary lard treats.

When the ray gun doesn't work Batman remarks "Well, you can't kill a Mummy." Batman fully expected the laser to rip the villain to shreds! He had no way of knowing that the Mummy wasn't some Arkham escapee who merely dressed up as an undead creature as part of his crime kink. This ad was typical of the time and is proof of how common the concept was that if you went up against the Batman you were likely to fall into a giant typewriter and get crushed to death by the over-sized keys.


  1. Whenever Mike W. Barr wrote Batman in the 80s he pretty consistently portrayed Batman as never directly killing anyone, but sort of letting Karma take its course in his wake. Two gunsels would fire at Batman at the same time, Batman would duck, and the guys wound up shooting each other to death. Batman seemingly had no problem with this...

    Also, in Batman and the Outsiders, he always "just happened" to be looking the other way whenever Katana went to town with her, uh, Katana...

    --Chris Keels

  2. I grew up reading tales in which "The" Batman wasn't too upset about killing...but he sure as hell wouldn't use a gun, even in non-lethal defense. Because, you know, the bang!-bang!-mommy!-daddy! thing. So years later when I saw that early cover with him firing a full-on machine gun during WWII, I was pretty floored.

    I figure, if everyone else is killing, Batman shouldn't. If nobody else is, Batman should. He's SUPPOSED to be the oddball, the guy you can't think you can predict. It's his M.O.


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