Remember those Behind the Mask threads the mods put up for a while? Consider this an unofficial one of those, just with my own answers built in. Lots of reading below, but I tried to put a tl;dr at the bottom.
Let me start by saying one thing: This is NOT a discussion about whether Batman does or should have a no-kill rule, nor about whether such is integral to the character. We have a long and messy topic on the subject that I dropped out of days ago when it became obvious that both sides were talking past each other. I actually thought of this due to a completely unrelated thought (namely, why I find Leslie Thompkins so annoying, but that’s an argument for another day).
Instead, for those versions of Batman who maintain the no-kill rule (whether or not you feel those versions are definitive or valid), I’m curious why (in strictly Watsonian terms - I assume we all know the real-life backstory at this point) you think he maintains the rule. And I’m actually interested in why and to what extent other superheroes do/should abide by the rule as well.
As the thread title indicates, I feel that (in certain versions - ones which I think present the most compelling take on the character - I’ll address the other versions and why I like this better below) Batman is actually a pacifist. Here’s my logic:
-I’m defining “pacifism” as a belief that violence is an evil in itself. That’s a bit narrower than the term’s general application, but I don’t think it falls outside what would generally be called pacifism.
-I’m also assuming that believing something is evil is equivalent to believing that that thing should generally be curtailed.
-Thus, one who believes in pacifism believes that violence should be curtailed. How do you do that?
-Well, the best way seems to be through ensuring that children are raised and educated well so that they don’t turn to violence when they’re older. That works for the future, but how does one curtail violence in the here and now, which would seem to be the more immediate threat?
-There is, of course, always the possibility of appealing to people’s better natures and reasoning with them. However, most who’ve turned to violence won’t be especially receptive at that point.
-You can rely on some form of trickery or manipulation to resolve a potentially violent situation without actually fighting… if you have the opportunity to do so.
-You can directly intimidate people into giving up the fight, but threats only work so long without some action to back them up.
-Finally, there’s the strategic application of lesser force to prevent more serious violence.
And that’s where I think Batman is (in some versions - I’m getting to that in a moment). He doesn’t kill because he feels that killing doesn’t need a specific harmful effect to be wrong beyond the fact that a human life has been taken. I’d say that a well-written Batman either detests the violence or at least hates the part of himself that enjoys it.
This is why I don’t like Frank Miller’s take on Batman, even in a lot of his early work. Miller’s Batman essentially has a psychological compulsion not to kill. He’s as nutty as his villains, but his psychosis causes him to restrain himself and seek some arbitrary personal sense of vengeance.
I prefer Pacifist Batman for two reasons: First, contrast and conflict are fundamentally interesting. Pacifist Batman has both between his rough methods and his distaste for violence. Compulsive Batman has an internal conflict based on his unstable mental state, but the contrast seems lacking.
Second, Pacifist Batman seems more genuinely heroic. Whether or not you think his philosophy is wise, it’s principled and he keeps to it. He doesn’t smirkingly note that the bullets he’s shooting people with are rubber (implying that he enjoys shooting people so long as it doesn’t “count”). He’s the Batman who convinces AzBats that he’s gone down the wrong path by forcing him to leave his armor and come into the light, getting through to Jean-Paul Valley by appealing to his better angels, so to speak. In other words, he halts Jean-Paul’s violence using the least forceful method possible.
So, I’m curious what you all think about my logic here. Am I talking nonsense? Do you prefer Compulsive Batman? Is there a third or fourth plausible motivation I’ve missed?
And, as promised, some (much quicker) breakdowns of a couple other characters:
-Superman: I think Superman believes he’s too powerful to play judge, jury, and executioner on people who have no chance of holding him to account. Essentially, Injustice Superman is anathema to what mainstream Superman stands for. That said, I can see Superman killing someone who can match his power levels if failing to do so would put people in danger. He’ll kill Doomsday because Doomsday is too dangerous to live. Of my many, many problems with Man of Steel, his killing Zod is not one of them. It makes sense. Batman wouldn’t do that, but Superman would. The reason is that at that point, he knows for a fact he’s not just bullying someone weaker than he is, so his reason for not killing, for example, Lex Luthor is not applicable in those situations.
-Wonder Woman: OK, I get what writers are going for with Wonder Woman being the member of the Trinity who’s willing to kill. That said, I think bad writers overplay it. Yeah, she was raised as a warrior, and would probably take a life in an emergency to prevent a greater immediate harm. See also: Max Lord. However, she’s also generally characterized (when well-written) as a singularly compassionate person, and so it seems counterintuitive that she would be willing to kill in circumstances other than that kind of immediate necessity.
So, to sort of set out the spectrum:
-The Joker has been caught. There is no immediate threat, but if he just goes back to Arkham, he’ll probably escape to kill again. I don’t think any of the Trinity would kill him here. And frankly, in real life he’d have been executed a thousand times over and it would be out of their hands, so it basically boils down to a genre contrivance that this is even an issue in the first place.
-Max Lord scenario: an evil, low-tier metahuman needs to be killed to save one or two other lives. Obviously Wonder Woman would kill him, because she was in that scenario and she did. Superman and Batman wouldn’t. They’d try to find another way, and they might fail and make a mess of things.
-Doomsday scenario: an extremely powerful (but technically intelligent) monster needs to be put down or its highly destructive rampage will never end. Wonder Woman and Superman kill, Batman doesn’t. Batman would probably have more deaths on his conscience. Pacifist Batman would feel that was worth it, and Compulsive Batman might think that it was the only choice he had, but the net result is the same.
-Grant Morrison did an admirable job of trying to set up a scenario where Batman would just get over himself and pull the trigger in Final Crisis (namely: either kill the living incarnation of evil or everything dies). And honestly? I still didn’t really buy it, but I guess I can live with it.
So, here’s the full list of questions:
-Do you agree that Batman sometimes seems motivated by pacifism?
-Do you prefer Pacifist Batman or the more Frank Miller-ish Compulsive Batman?
-Are there any other plausible in-universe motivations for the no-kill rule?
-Do you agree with my takes on Superman and Wonder Woman?
-What do you think other heroes like the Flash or Green Lantern would do in the five scenarios I outlined?