Batsravaganza! – The Batman Paradox, Part Two: No (Bat)Man’s Land

In our last “The Batman Paradox” post we delved into the philosophic waters of what is morally right when it comes to handling the Joker. Should Batman kill the Joker? That single action could save several, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people from potential harm, or even death. But we established last time that maybe Joker is not completely in control of his actions. Does that mean we have the moral right to rid the world of him? If he can’t be responsible for the death and destruction he leaves in his wake, do we have the right to punish him for it?

The short answer is, we don’t know.

However, since that is not our decision to make–it is Batman’s–we need to look at if (and why) Batman would kill the Joker. See, while Batman isn’t against violence, he is against two things: guns and killing. Or rather, the most modern iterations of Batman are.

Yes, I know that earlier comics have him breaking people’s necks, but if we just say, “Yeah, he’ll kill him,” that doesn’t leave us much to discuss here. For argument’s sake, we will say that our version of Batman is known to preserve life where possible.

Now, if you are like me, the first scene that pops in your head is the final confrontation between Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and Batman (Christian Bale) in the 2005 movie Batman Begins. In that scene, Batman leaves a defeated al Ghul on a train racing toward it’s destruction. Batman claims he does not have to kill him, but he does not have to save him either. Not exactly the type of thing that would come from someone who preserves life.

But in that scene, I think Batman considers a couple of things. First, Ra’s al Ghul can clearly take care of himself. I mean he did train Batman after all. If Batman can get out, he knows al Ghul can get out. Second, Ra’s al Ghul created this scenario, and unlike Joker, he cannot play the insanity card. The diabolical scheming card, sure, but not insanity. Everything al Ghul did leading up to that point was with focused purpose, intention and consideration and with the power of a secret Illuminate-type organization at his disposal. Removing him from being classified as just an average, innocent life.

I’m not a Super-Human Being, I’m a Super-Human Doing

And that brings us to my next point. My inspiration came from a debate I had with a friend of mine over Batman’s willingness to kill. It was all brought about from a post on Reddit that plotted out how Batman and Joker essentially represent each other’s yin and yang. See, my friend was trying to explain to his wife why Batman would not kill the Joker, but I brought up that Batman is willing to kill in general. During Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, Swamp Thing essentially holds the entire city hostage by turning it into a jungle. To be fair, he does so out of love. Batman recognized this and helps Swamp Thing reunite with Abigale Arcane. However, afterward, Batman threatens Swamp Thing, if he does anything like that again to his city, he will kill him.

That brought my friend and I into a discussion in which we concluded that the Swamp Thing situation is particularly special because Swamp Thing is so far removed from standard humanity. See, Batman has a particular disdain for those beings who are so powerful, they are on a completely different level than humans. The only reason he tolerates Superman and the Justice League is because they work towards securing a safer world for humanity.

Just one of the guys

Well now, that brings us to the Joker. Like it, or not, he is human. In fact, it was once believed that Joker is so human, it just took one really bad day to get to him, and make him into the psychopath we know and love today.

So then, is that it? Is it that Batman’s cause is the common man, and the Joker represents the true worst the world can do to the average person? By killing Joker, does that mean he would be taking out that which he is fighting for in the first place? That could certainly be it. That makes the most sense anyway. Joker is just a result of the injustice in the world that Batman is trying to rid the world of. And even on the opposite side of the coin, Batman is the symbol of morality that Joker believes can be (and should be) broken.

But I think there is more to it than just this for Batman. Earlier I said Batman and Joker were the yin to the other’s yang. This is a fairly popular concept derived from the Tao philosophy. But I think a different Tao belief works better for Batman. See in Tao the revere the idea of emptiness. Often in life, it is the lack of something that makes it useful. For example, if it is hot inside you home, you might open a window. This creates an empty space for wind to travel. Here we see the “lack of window” more useful.

So apply that to Batman. He does not kill, but he threatens it on rare occasion. Think about it, if he will not kill, arguably,  the most dangerous murderer in the DC Universe, but will threaten to kill other people/creatures/heroes/villains, then they must be REALLY dangerous. That fact that he does not kill, makes the threat even more meaningful. The emptiness gives the actual action, more impact.

So, is this why Batman refuses the kill the Joker? Yes. No. We don’t know. Isn’t philosophy grand?

Will we ever really know? Sure!

One day, a writer might just blatantly put in a bubble that has Batman saying or thinking, “I won’t kill the Joker because he has such an endearing smile.” Of course, considering the way comic book canon changes on a whim, even that would never stick. And for us armchair philosophers, that makes comics an exciting goldmine of ever-changing thought and theory.

By John Ayers

By day, John is a mild-mannered techie, geek, and dad. But by night, he is a dice-rolling, comic-reading...techie, geek, and dad. Not everyone has to live two lives, you know. You can find him on Twitter as @FalconX2.


  1. If Bats is even remotely pragmatic, Joker would be dead. Ditto for most of his rogue’s gallery. I see their continued existence not as a testament to Bruce’s enduring if shallow veneration for human life, but as a necessity to keep the stories coming. The bad guys survive because the authors need them to.

    (Here we also ignore pesky things like the justice system in Gotham, a mess of muddled thinking in itself.)

    Interestingly, the Joker *does* die in the video game Arkham City. It will be interesting to see how that alternate continuity squares with that… or if it even does.

  2. Well, in philosophical discussion we get to ignore metadata such as the fact they are just trying to sell comics.

    But I had heard Joker bites it in Arkham City. Mark Hamill also is retiring from the voice, which makes me sad. But I would also like to see how Joker’s death would affect the DC Universe. We got a small taste in the New 52 over the last year, but not near significant enough to fill my appetite, now that he will be returning.

  3. I know, I know… it’s just that the metadata is all that makes sense here, at least for me. I can’t find an in-universe explanation for Joker’s survival except that the justice system is completely corrupt (likely), Batman is obsessed with keeping him alive instead of worrying about his victims (OK, Bats *is* unhinged), and there are no other vigilantes in town who can get to Joker (seems shaky to me). Any one of those stretches the fiction a bit, but all three together just push me out into the metadata. I just can’t torture logic enough to make myself buy the Way Things Work in Gotham. That doesn’t mean the Batman mythos is worthless, just that it doesn’t bear deep scrutiny in my experience.

    I readily concede that’s on my head, though. It’s an occupational hazard, being a creative sort in the entertainment industry. I can’t help but see behind the curtain.

    1. That would actually be an interesting plot, Tesh – some new vigilante rolls into town and does what Batman wouldn’t do. What is Batman’s reaction to something like that?

      1. Isn’t that sort of what happened with Azrael when he was acting *as* Batman for a while? Bruce didn’t take kindly to that.

        I’m reminded of the end of Batman Begins, too, where Batman says he’s not obligated to *save* R’as from the train crash. Would he stand back and not be obligated to save the Joker from a mortal hazard? I know, the Nolan Batman is a different animal from the comic canon, but still, I do wonder. Is inaction when you *could* act to save life itself no better than murder, and if it’s different, when might it be justified? Could Joker get himself in a position where his own scheme could kill him, and would Batman just let that happen?

        I suspect that the comic Batman, from what I know of him, wouldn’t like a new vigilante in town. He seems protective of his turf, and his imposition of his quirky code of conduct on said turf. A bit of a control freak, really… but then we might be running into the “must keep selling comics” effect, where the status quo weighs heavily.

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