Some sci-fi and comic nerds might have seen this column going around, titled Why Batman Should Kill The Joker. I have Big Think in my reader list, but I wasn’t surprised to see it making the geek rounds. The column itself is well-written and insightful, and it uses Batman as a metaphor to get the audience thinking about larger issues. That’s sort of Big Think’s thing. But being a burgeoning comic geek, and in the mood for some internet shenanigans, I thought it would be fun to write a counter-point.
In short, columnist Tauriq Moosa lays out very practical, pragmatic reasons why the world is better off without Joker. He argues that Batman is actually knowingly enabling his atrocities to continue by allowing him to live. Moosa claims this isn’t the same as arguing in favor of the death penalty, because the death penalty is a policy that has to be equally applied to all criminals. Joker, on the other hand, is one particular criminal; and he’s shown that he can’t be rehabilitated, or imprisoned, and we know that he hasn’t been falsely accused. He’s just a force that will never be stopped. As long as he lives, he will destroy.
It’s a compelling argument, I’ll give him that.
However, Moosa’s imagined scenario ends too soon. What happens after Batman kills the Joker? If we consider this a one-time solution to Gotham’s most violent sociopath, removing the Joker only shifts the positions. Suddenly, the second-most murderous criminal in Gotham becomes the first. Off-hand, I’d say that would probably be Two-Face, who is at least as chaotic as the Joker since his murders are based on a 50/50 chance. Does Batman have a moral obligation, then, to kill him too?
Killer Croc. Hush. Ra’s Al Ghul. Victor Zsasz. The Ventriloquist. Deadshot. Clayface. Calendar Man. Black Mask. Poison Ivy. Solomon Grundy.
Gotham is an environment that will always create another monster. The comics introduce new ones constantly, and in our modern era of dark and brooding Batman, most of them are vile humans with no qualms about killing. We even see the constant introduction of new monsters. The New 52 has introduced a new killer from Batman’s past (Nobody), an organization whose murders have gone unnoticed for years (the Court of Owls), and a sadistic surgeon who murders people for parts (Dollmaker). All of these people are beyond all hope. Each of them will never stop killing.
If we reason that Batman must eliminate an unreasonable, untreatable monster because he will never stop being a monster, we must conclude that Batman cannot stop killing. In Gotham City, he’ll always have another target. Another monster will always come along to fill the void. This is the problem with rationalizing your bent principles as a one-time occurrence. In some iterations of the character, principles are all Batman has left to keep him sane.
It’s easy to wish that some third party would dole out justice on the most violent offenders. We might not be able to bring ourselves to murder that rapist or killer we heard about on the evening news, but it can be comforting to imagine that someone would. Moosa is placing Batman in that role, letting him take the moral burden for an action that all of us would wish we could do, if we lived in Gotham. But the death penalty, for all its flaws, is at least a system that assures no one law-abiding citizen takes the blame for snuffing out a life. We all share a small amount of the moral burden. It would be easier if the responsibility fell entirely on the shoulders of the one who flicks the switch, but it’s a selfish desire. Lt. Joe of the Correctional System didn’t kill that prisoner. We did. Society did.
Which brings us back to the death penalty. If Moosa were to argue that the people of Gotham should hold trial to execute Joker, I would be more receptive to his logic. The idea that the offender is beyond all hope of rehabilitation is one major pillar of those who stand in favor of capitol punishment. I’m not one of them, but it’s easier to swallow than expecting one man to make himself a killer and shatter his life’s work just so the rest of us can sleep soundly.
With that heavy topic out of the way, I do encourage people to read the original column. It’s an interesting way of probing the subject.
- Speaking of Batman, I’m looking forward to trying out the Gotham City Impostors update. I think I’ll outfit my Batmite with the sword to give it a try, I’ve been saving a weapon unlock anyway.
- I have fond memories of Shining Force on Game Gear. That’s really all I want out of its presence on Virtual Console.
- As far as I can tell, we’re the only ones reporting about the Syndicate freezes.