Why Batman Shouldn’t Kill the Joker

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.

9 thoughts on “Why Batman Shouldn’t Kill the Joker

  1. […] argument has attracted more than a few responses, including a counterargument on why Batman shouldn’t kill the Joker (because then he’d have to add many more names to his hitlist) and a claim that Batman avoids […]

  2. […] should kill the Joker. No, he shouldn’t. Yes, he should. No really, he shouldn’t. What would Kant, Mill, Hobbes, Nietzsche, and Rawls […]

  3. Anonymous says:

    And this is my reply to your statement. It shouldn’t be a one time occurance. It shold be a rule. If the aggressor is BEYOND help, and CANNOT be contained, as they constantly escape from the max security prison, then they should simply be killed. Normal civilians should not be put at risk for these people beyond help. However it should only be used in those situations. Sure there will always be another, but the total number will always be the minority by FAR. After all, it’s not like Batman has hundreds of different enemies. They just aren’t that numerous. The people of Gotham however, are.

  4. agirl says:

    Batman started off killing in the early comics, ya know.

  5. agirl says:

    Slippery Slope argument btw, one need not entail another.

  6. […] custou a confiança da “bat-família”). E tem um grande debate sobre a eticidade de matar o […]

  7. SuperPaldn says:

    I can see your reason behind why Batman shouldn’t kill the joker. In essence, it would be breaking Batman’s principles, which could then lead to him losing his sanity in Gotham’s chaotic, dark villainy. And killing the Joker would just make another take his place. Another than is also beyond hope and redemption.

    However, one of the problems with this argument is the assumption that Batman would lose his sanity and go on a killing spree basically, on any villain that doesn’t deserve death. And that Gotham will ALWAYS have another villain.

    While it’d seem to make sense that Batman would lose his sanity after making one kill, is a character like Batman really susceptible to that scenario? Gotham is a city plagued with insane chaos and evil by inhumane people and creatures. It does take a heavy toll on any law enforcer that would work in such a scenario. But not only has Batman proven to be strong-willed, he’s been living and working in those conditions for so long. In short, who’s to say he will lose his sanity? One of his greatest traits is his strong-will and determination. He admits that there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t want to kill the Joker. Or inflict all the methods of torture he used on himself. Honestly, if Batman killed the Joker, I doubt he’d lose his sanity and head on a path of descent. Perhaps in other universes he could, but in the main universe, I believe, based on his feats and abilities, he’s more than capable of having the ‘burden’ of handing out Joker’s death penalty.

    You noted that if Batman did kill the joker, another would take his place. Being the 2nd villain in Gotham, then when he’s killed, followed by the third, etc. etc. But, what’s to say Gotham will ALWAYS have another villain? We’ve seen universes in DC in which Superheroes rule with an ironfist, eliminating all villains. True, the Superheroes usually act as tyrants and dictators, but nonetheless, it shows it is impossible to live in a villain-free world in DC. If Batman were to kill or imprison securely all the lost-beyond-hope villains in Gotham, it wouldn’t necessarily mean another would fill its place. Not only are those villains one of a kind, but the fact that the New 52 is constantly adding new villains isn’t necessarily because it’s part of the big story. If you just think about it plainly, of course they’d add new villains. It opens more story arcs, which can result in more sales. Adding new villains is nothing new, if the Joker and all other hopeless villains were killed, most likely, DC will replace those villains with new ones, but it’s not going to be because that’s how Gotham works, it’s just going to be because they need to make new story or freshen up material. In a realistic scenario, Batman could take care of all the villains in Gotham and it could enter a ‘golden age’ of few to no villains for a long time.

    I think the fact that the Joker is an ‘untreatable monster’ beyond hope is sufficient reason to end his life if given an opportune time. Batman is more than capable of handling that, and Gotham doesn’t have a sort of ‘natural law’ where there will always be another villain to fill his place. And yes, Batman does have certain principles, which are good, but if the goal is to save lives, why keep one destructive life that ends hundreds, if you can end that one destructive life and save hundreds?

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