Why yes, I am blogging about Batman. Excuse me, I think my geek is showing.
In this day and age superheroes have their own sort of mythology, and they are the modern equivalent of demi-gods in our shared popcultural experience. They have devoted followers, fanatics even, and people can have stronger beliefs about which school of comic book thought they adhere to than to which religion they identify with.
I think it’s safe to say that the top three monoheroistic religious are Supermanism, Spidermanism, and Batmanology. Personally, I have leanings towards Batmonology. HF is a devotee of Spidermanism. Despite our differences, we are united through a common belief in Islam. Alhamdulillah.
In traditional Batmanological texts, Batman could crash your car through a brick wall and land it upside down in a ravine, but you were guaranteed a background shot of leaping to safety or at least moaning from within the wreckage in order to be taken into custody later, injured but definitely alive.
Remember the A-Team? And GI Joe? All those bad guys leaping out of exploding jeeps at the very last second to viewer-established safety? Yeah. Heroes seem to share this amazing ability to inflict city-destroying amounts of damage upon cars and buildings without giving the baddies anything worse than a dramatic concussion. In fact, it is actually safer for you to be a henchman than a good guy, because family members, friends, and love interests are more likely to be killed as plot devices than henchmen are to be critically injured.
This refusal to kill is an integral part of mainstream Superhero Lore- and it is the central moral lesson in traditional Batmanology. In the awesome animated movie Under the Red Hood, Batman’s refusal to kill is tested in the most brutal way possible. The movie opens with this:
Joker tortures and kills Robin. Batman arrives seconds too late to save him, and digs Robin’s brutalized remains out of burning rubble. Fast forward a few years and one well-written story later, and then this happens:
The video says it all. Batman wishes every day that he could kill the Joker, but he won’t. He can’t kill, because killing would be too easy and if he went down that path, he would inevitably spiral down into the same murderous darkness that his foes live in.
Batmonology is not the only superhero religion that adheres to this principle- Supermanism, Spidermanism- so the bad guy never dies, unless he is actually a robot (Braniac, Metallo) or he somehow kills himself so that Superman or Spiderman don’t have to. The monoheroistic concept bears striking similarity to the distinctly Bibilical concept of “Thou shalt not kill,” as well as the concept of Ahinsa that is shared by Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Ahinsa literally means “No Harm.”
(I will make no assumptions on what Judaism may say about killing or capital punishment, because like all well-informed first world citizens of the twenty first century, I know more about Batman than I do about Jewish Scripture.)
We get it. Real heroes don’t kill. It’s not right. It would be too easy. That would make them just as bad as the villains they fight. We wouldn’t want the good guys killing the bad guys. That’s why our police aren’t armed with- WAIT A MINNIT!
The police do have guns!
And so do soldiers!
And when an old lady manages to shoot the guy who breaks into her house and tries to beat her death, we cheer for the old lady! When a Texas mother ran over a knife-wielding carjacker that had hidden in the back seat with her children, the newscasters were gloating on her behalf, even if she looked quite shaken by the experience.
So why are superheroes held to such unrealistic standards? Thou shalt battle vicious, inhumane killers who will use lethal force against you without provocation, whose continued presence in the community guarantees that more innocent people will be killed, raped, and crippled- but whatever you do, don’t kill them, not even by accident, because otherwise you’ll be as bad as they are?
Batman killing the Joker during the course of an epic, long-time battle to protect Gotham from a psychopath whose kill-count is in quadruple digits would not make him as bad as the Joker. It would not make Batman a murdering psychopath anymore than you fighting off and killing a rapist would make you as bad as a murdering rapist. Like the old lady with the shotgun and the mother with the minivan, it would make you… a hero.
I believe that it’s ok for good guys to kill the bad guys to protect the rest of us, and the people who don’t honor the sanctity of life have no right to claim it when it comes to their own. The sanctity of human life didn’t apply to their victims, so why should it apply to them? And when killers get out on parole and kill again, I don’t think the sanctity of life will protect their next victims either.
If a police officer shot a known murderer to protect a child in imminent danger, he would be a hero, but we’re still not so sure that good guys are allowed to kill bad guys? We have some serious double standards about this, and the gross over-simplification of “good guys don’t kill” is hurting lots of imaginary victims and by-standers in the comic book world.
There is another, lesser-known school of thought in Batmonology, and its disciples made The Dark Knight Returns. No, not rises- he returns in another brilliant two-part animated movie. Gotham has gone to hell in a handbasket after ten years of forced retirement for Batman, and one day Bruce Wayne snaps. Finally, we’re allowed the PG-13 satisfaction of a bad guy disappearing down the same blood-stained hallway he was about to drag a mother into, and we don’t see him walk out. Another rapist/murderer is thrown into electrical wiring and he is electrocuted, screaming off screen. The screaming stops, but we do not see his body drop. The electrical sparking continues meaningfully.
A 17 year old henchman sent to kill Commissioner Gordon is shot dead, and when the Joker attempts to use a woman as a human shield, without pause Batman throws three of those little bat-shaped knives at Joker- landing one in each shoulder and one in his right eye.
(The Joker’s shocked reply: “Are you out of your mind?!?!” See? Even he’s been accustomed to Batman trying to protect the world with kid gloves on.)
The knife stays lodged in the Joker’s eye throughout the final fight scene, and ultimately until his death at the hands of Batman. And I have to say, as a long-time fan, it was so good to see the Joker final get what was coming to him that I actually did a little happy-dance in my chair.
Some people might shake their heads disapprovingly at this madhab’s darker, grittier version of Batman, but I give two thumbs up for the Joker finally no longer being allowed to threaten and kill in Gotham. In killing Joker, Batman has saved countless other imaginary lives without compromising his own morality or becoming a villain himself. Finally killing Joker made him more of a hero than he already was.
By Abez, the end.