Fans of Batman generally know that the only thing that separates The Dark Knight vigilante from the villains that he fights is his “one rule” which states that Batman will not kill his enemies. This rule has been a subject of controversy by many fans, writers, and even filmmakers that blur the lines between killing and that famous “one rule.” The most recent case of controversy came when Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman divided fans and critics over the DC film. Snyder’s version of Batman, at least in this film, was a self-loathing, aging, regretful Bruce Wayne that had no regard for his enemies’ lives. When fans began to complain about Batfleck’s murderous techniques, Snyder responded by claiming “fans are living in a dream world,” if they refuse to believe that Batman shouldn’t kill. Throwing around the phrase “dream world” in a superhero universe is definitely questionable; however, Snyder does have some historical precedent to back up his argument. Fans would be ignorant to deny that Batman has never killed. In fact, Batman killed in his very first comic issue.
Detective Comics #27
When Batman was first introduced in 1939, the writers were still working out and experimenting with his character. In Detective Comics #27, The Dark Knight was called Bat-Man and he even wielded a gun as part of his gadget collection. His first kill came when the vigilante pushed the villain known as Stryker into a vat of acid resulting in his death. I swear that I’ve heard that storyline but I’m not sure where… Oh yes, that’s only the origin of the most iconic super-villain of all time, The Joker. It wasn’t long before DC comics encouraged Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, to add the no killing rule because they wanted a less violent persona from Batman.
Following Batman #1, the creators decided to add Batman’s code, taking after what they already did for Superman’s character. The introduction of Robin was also a heavy influence when deciding whether the hero should kill or not. They needed Bruce to be a role model for the young and energetic Robin, but he couldn’t be a role model while eliminating his enemies. In the issue Batman #4, Batman openly acknowledges this rule to Robin. Bob Kane was originally conflicted about adding this rule to Batman’s character. The mastermind behind the hero was afraid that Batman would be given too much censorship. After time passed, Kane was able to recognize that Batman became so successful because of the comic’s ability to adapt to new ideas over time. The creator later concluded that the death of Bruce’s parents didn’t just teach him to take a stand against criminals, but the tragedy also taught him about the value of every human’s life.
Batman’s Code Used in Movies
Batman’s code is vital to his character development whether it is applied and used as his weakness or ignored and displayed that he’s past his breaking point. Many filmmakers have taken the helm of the Batman universe and each one has used Batman’s code as a tool for character development. In Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight series, the director uses Batman’s code as a form of weakness to the character, especially in The Dark Knight. The Joker knows Batman’s one rule in the film and constantly attempts to push him over the edge. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne recognizes that breaking his one rule would be the most effective way to stop the Joker, but it would also force him to cross the line that separates him from the very villains that he fights. Joker ultimately succeeds when he drives Harvey Dent mad, forcing Batman to kill him in order to save Jim Gordon’s innocent son. Nolan used that kill to further develop Bruce’s character and push him into hiding because of his unfortunate regret.
Zack Snyder’s use of Batman’s code caused a massive division among DC comic book fans. Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman included an aging Bruce Wayne who’s still mourning the death of Robin (presumed to be killed by Joker). Affleck’s Bruce Wayne feels like none of his previous battles mattered because he was unable to stop the criminals if he didn’t resort to killing. The final straw was the death of his protege. He wouldn’t make that mistake again as he hunts down his enemies and brutally kills them with no regard. His mindset changes at the end of the film when Superman inspires the hope that he once lost. Most fans were enraged at Snyder’s decision to have his Batman kill, but when broken down, the decision totally makes sense. The bigger problem was that the film was a mess with multiple different subplots and set-ups going on at once. The scattered plot and chaotic story served as a distraction to Batman’s true motives that made fans so upset.
Tim Burton, the 61 year-old director, had a straight-forward version of the Caped Crusader. Burton’s Batman absolutely killed people with no regret whatsoever. Bruce Wayne, played by Michael Keaton, blows up a building full of people, shoots henchmen from his Bat-Plane, and even places a bomb on a criminal in the streets. Although Burton built a beautiful Gotham with outstanding imagery, the character development was very questionable, and it showed in Batman (1989). Keaton’s Batman kills the whole movie and never thinks twice. When we reach the ending, he is motivated to stop The Joker based on revenge. Joker created Batman the same way Batman created Joker. They are two sides of the same coin. The movie would’ve been much more effective if Batman went from killing in the beginning to maybe sparing Joker’s life in the end. Since Batman kills him with ease, there was no character development for Keaton’s Bruce Wayne. This movie blatantly ignored Batman’s “one rule” and it led to an ineffective ending.
Batman’s code is what makes him such a unique superhero. He spends his night beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands like a vigilante. The code is what turns him from a vigilante to a hero. Without it, there would be nothing that separates him from the bad guys. It’s amazing to see how comics and movies use his code to their advantage in order to better develop the already complicated Bruce Wayne. Comic book fans who choose to become angry when Batman is displayed killing his enemies are simply ignoring Batman’s history in past comics. It is important to remind fans that Batman indeed killed in his first comic issue ever… But that’s okay. The most important aspect moving forward is how Batman’s code is used as a motive for stronger character development.