The Importance of Batman’s No-Kill Rule

The fact that I have to explain this at all makes me want to scream.

Batman has had a sort of identity crises recently, at least in the eyes of the fan. There are those who firmly believe in the Batman of old; the cold, distant, but kind vigilante who refuses to cross certain lines. Then there are those who believe in a certain film director’s take on the character, one who is bitter, viscous, and doesn’t hesitate to do horrific acts if he thinks them right.

I’ll let you decide who I’m talking about. You can’t get mad at me, I’m not naming any names.

The keen difference between these two identities of the character all boils down to one thing. A simple thing, but an indescribably important one. That being a simple moral: to kill or not to kill.

Fans of the more recent (not most recent) version of Batman are firmly against the no-kill rule. So much so that they’ll cry out nonsense such as, “Not my Batman” when versions of the character they disagree with (such as the most recent version) crop up. They clearly love this version quite a lot.

God only knows why. Their version is the furthest thing from Batman that could possibly exist.

The no-kill rule isn’t exclusive to Batman. In fact, it used to be an iron-clad rule that all DC heroes followed, passed down by the editors to the writers. The logic was simple; murder is bad, so the hero can’t do it. That would make them decidedly unheroic. So, if a villain were to die, it would be by their own hand. No hero was allowed to kill.

But as time passed, a good many of them simply moved passed this rule. It became a thing of the past. Except for Batman. For him, it became an integral part of his character. One that, up until a certain film came out, was an irrefutable part of his character.

The question remains: why? Why was it so important that Batman never kill, regardless of the circumstances? Why is it that Batman stuck to this rule, while many of the others simply chose to follow it whenever it suited them?

Well, you can come up with any reason. But in the end, doesn’t it just make sense? Why would a boy so traumatized by the murder of his loved ones, a boy so smart and strong and kind, inflict that same trauma unto others? Maybe the reasons don’t actually matter. Maybe it’s just that it makes sense.

That simple fact became ingrained to the identity of Bruce Wayne, of the Batman. Eventually, it became the central conflict of every Batman story. Because let’s be honest: nothing else is all that interesting or surprising. Will he beat the bad guy? Yes. Will he save the city? Yes. The more important and interesting question is: will he hold to his morals? And more importantly: should he?

It’s in the exploration of these questions that we get the most interesting and compelling stories of the Batman mythos. In ‘Under the Red Hood’, Jason Todd is frustrated with Bruce’s refusal to kill those who clearly deserve it. In the Arkham series of games, the Joker is fascinated by Batman’s no-kill rule and is determined to break it. In the Christopher Noland trilogy, his refusal to kill is an essential part of his arc, one that leads him into conflict with the main villains of all three films. In ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, Bruce shows clear remorse over all the people the Joker has murdered, attributing them to having been killed by Bruce himself simply because he let the Crown Prince of Crime live. So on and so forth.

Should he simply kill some of these villains, such as the Joker? Probably, yes. In sparing them, you could argue that he’s only enabling them to murder even more people. But that very moral conflict that makes Batman so compelling in the first place. He doesn’t simply kill evil, he tries to heal it, to redeem it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it blows up in his face. But he never stops trying, even when his task is obviously impossible.

It’s this very aspect that makes Batman the hero that he is. It’s easy to just eradicate the problem entirely. It’s easy to kill. Batman doesn’t make the easy choice. He goes down the harder road because that’s the road he believes is right.

That is what makes Batman so inspiring for anyone of any age. Bruce Wayne takes a horrifically traumatizing event into something positive, a symbol of good and hope that refuses to become what made him, no matter what. Anyone can be inspired by that kind of moral theme. We may not have had our parents murdered right in front of us, but we can still take the bad things that happen in our lives and use them to fuel more positive actions.

By removing the no-kill rule, the writer who does so strips away all of the depth and intrigue of the character of Batman. They reduce Batman to a simple psychotic vigilante, one who simply slaughters what evil comes into his path. They strip away all that makes the hero interesting and, more importantly, inspiring.

There is a lot that makes Batman entertaining. His combat prowess, his intelligence, and so much more. But it is his integrity, his kindness, and his refusal to give in on the morals that made him that makes him so compelling. It’s why he is one of the most popular super heroes of all time.

Unfortunately, Zack Snyder failed to capture any of that.

Oh, fuck, I said his name! Abort! Abort!

2 responses to “The Importance of Batman’s No-Kill Rule”

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