Yesterday, I posted a list of the “10 Best Batman(s)” on this site, listing all the guys who have worn the cowl of the Dark Knight. And though there’s been a lot of guys to wear the costume, there’s one thing that was abundantly clear: Batman never uses guns, and he never kills.
It’s actually interesting to think about now, because of all the metamorphoses Bruce Wayne has gone through, this is one of the biggest. When first introduced in 1939, Batman was your run of the mill, gun-toting Mystery Man. And like the rest of the proto-superheroes of the time, Batman used his weapon to kill. So what changed? Batman #1 changed everything, because by that point, Bats had not only taken on a young ward – Robin – but also started fighting more ridiculous, or comic booky villains, like The Joker and Catwoman.
There’s one incident though that prompted the “no guns” rule, and that was Batman’s vicious murder of some giants (really) in that first issue, causing Editor Whitney Ellsworth to state that Batman would never, ever again fire a weapon. That was, by the way, in 1940, a year after the character is introduced. So friends of yours who cite the oft stated fact that Batman did use a gun should be reminded: that was really before he was, in earnest, Batman.
What Ellsworth did was crucial to the character. Later writers would add the emotional motivation that a gun was used to kill Bruce Wayne’s parents, hence his refusal to use firearms. And later still – tying things back to the list I posted yesterday – every subsequent Batman who pulled out a weapon would eventually have to be taken down, and hard. Whether it was Azrael, or Jason Todd, using a gun even to wound a perp was a cardinal error that would put the original Batman on your tail.
There’s a bigger topic here though than guns, and that’s that Batman never kills. Never. I’m not going to argue that Batman kicking the snot out of criminals also isn’t behavior that should be repeated, because it’s a comic book universe and they’re usually back on the street the next day. The point is, Batman, never, ever kills. Anyone. Or, if he can help it, allow anyone else to be killed.
Over in Amazing Spider-Man right now, writer Dan Slott had Peter Parker, after J.J. Jonah Jameson’s wife died, swear that, “No one dies,” as long as he’s there to stop it. Slott has pushed and tested Spider-Man on this, but so far he’s been (mostly) successful, and it’s shown the true character of Spider-Man. What I think a lot of readers don’t realize is that Batman has had this oath since 1940.
Sure, he’s about stopping crime; and yes, he’s the dark avenger of the night or whatever. But when it comes down to it, Batman is about one thing: he won’t let anyone die while he’s around, whether they’re a criminal or an innocent. That, not even the gun, is the main thing Bruce took away from watching his parents killed in an alleyway. Not that Joe Chill was evil, or that guns were bad, but that he couldn’t stop their murder from happening. And then he spent the rest of his life training his body and mind, making himself the best he could so that no one would ever die, as long as he could help it.
That’s the spirit of Batman. Not punching and kicking. Not vengeance against crime. But a hope that lies in all of us, that if we just push, make ourselves the best selves we can; while we’re around, no one has to die.
Today, especially, let’s all be the best Batman we can possibly be.