Batman: Pacifist?

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?


@BatJamags I appreciate that you want a more pacifistic Batman, but the traditional meaning of pacifism is a belief that war and violence are unjustifiable.

I’m hard pressed to think of an issue in which Batman does not commit violence; I’m sure there are many, but the overwhelming majority feature him committing violence. He is often the instigator of violence. Sure, he is attempting to stop criminals from committing crimes, but he very often strikes first and does not pursue more pacifistic approaches. He certainly doesn’t demonstrate the view that violence is a last resort. People often refer to his activity as a war on crime. He uses advanced military grade equipment to carry out that war. He was born in violence and while he doesn’t want the innocent to be pulled in, he uses it every night.

I would totally be down to see a pacifist hero of Batman’s ilk, but I don’t think that the way Batman has been predominantly portrayed falls in line with that characterization.

P.S. That thread that you dropped out of actually became very respectful and informative. If you feel strongly about these issues, it may be worth revisiting.


Based on my (admittedly brief) research before I posted this, I was under the impression that pacifism covered a range of views, from an opposition to war in general on the broad scale to the rejection of any physical aggression whatsoever on the extremely narrow end. My understanding was that the latter was one form of pacifism but not strictly the definition. And even if the thought process I outlined isn’t exactly pacifism, it’s something with a similar mindset, so call it near-pacifism.

As for the other thread, I gave it several days and the argument got exactly nowhere. Not to sound rude, but the discussion hasn’t earned a second look. More power to anyone who finds it informative, but I have better things to do with my time.


I am guessing that your use of pacifism includes that throwing a Batarang with the intent of striking someone is also deemed as violence as well.

You asked for opinions, and I ain’t shy about mine so here it goes.

Batman is a compulsive, but, mot in the Miller sense. Batman is the most psychologically damaged character in comics. He is driven to do what he does because of his childhood trauma. His compulsion is to make a world where crime and violence don’t exist. A world where his trauma is never played out onto anyone else. So in that sense he is a DESIROUS PACIFIST. Pacifism is the ultimate end goal.

However, the part of his logical/rational brain recognizes that there are some people in the world (and hence Gotham) that will only respond to violence. He would PREFER to throw a Batarang that has a rope/cord attached to immobilize/disable villains. However, this is not always possible and/or practical. At that point he makes a decision to be a non-pacifistic, though to as limited an extent as possible. So he engages, begrudgingly, in to non-pacifist acts.

Call it the “we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way” methodology. He HOPES that his costume/iconography/reputation/potential for violence will inspire enough fear to intimidate to get information he requires and not NEED to resort to non-pacifistic methods. While he would always prefer the “easy way”, some will not respond to this and thus “the hard way” is REQUIRED. His COMPULSION to try and reach the end state of pacifism is greater than his DESIRE for pacifism in the moment.

I have always preferred the “world’s greatest detective” style Batman. I think the Denny O’neil/Neal Adams/Julie Schwartz Bronze Age run was the best at this. Which is why I recommend it and point people to it, if they want to see/understand The Batman, in his purest form. He is a detective first and a fighter second. Hence the reason that Ra’s almost always refers to him by name as “Detective” rather than “Batman”, after establishing his detective abilities half way though the first story.
(Some quotes from Ra’s “No game, Detective.”, “Well done, Detective”, “Ahhh…my dear, dear, Detective!”)
(See Batman #232 for the first Ra’s Al Ghul appearance. It is a great example of “MY” Batman.)

I think he is always cognizant of and tries to use the violence possible.

Given his compulsion to a pacifist end game, his conflict with pacifism vs violence is a rational one. Which is fundamentally interesting and very complex, when one accepts that he is desirous of an ultimately pacifist end game. The psychological struggle between his compulsive desire for pacifism vs having to reach that end by non-pacifistic means, is why Batman is the most psychologically complex (and bleeped up) character in all of comics.

In Freudian psychological terms, he has a constant battle between his “super-ego” (a pacifist end game) vs his “ego” (the unfortunate reality that in the moment, he needs violence to achieve the desire of the super-ego). Thus his “id” is always in flux and engaging in a constant battle within itself. (If that isn’t an intellectually and psychologically intense and “messed up” character, I don’t know what is.)

This continuous inner conflict has only one constant shared agreement, “do not kill”(which I defines as being more accurately “do not murder aka kill with forethought”). If the “no kill” rule is not in place, this means “bad guys” are not redeemable and must be taken off the board permanently. No need to worry about somebody escaping Arkham, or creating more violence after being bailed out, or their case being thrown out on a technicality.

If I cross that “no-kill” line, the ego will completely suppress any constraints of the super-ego. Satisfying “compulsion” is all that matters. The compulsion to end violence via death will become the correct answer as it is the most likely to succeed, the fastest and the easiest. Thus, the ego defines the id and the inner conflict is no longer their. (A Batman who is violence first, detective second if far less psychologically interesting. He is just an anti-hero in a Batman suit. The Batman is and always should be a hero, IMO. He represents the best that which we can try to achieve. No matter how messed up we are, as long as we have some modicum of rationality, we can make the conscious choice to be heroic.

As for other characters:
Has the same internal conflict but based from a purely pacifistic super-ego. Given his power set and invulnerabilities violence can be avoided to a lesser extent. Letting bullets bounce off his chest and taking and bending the gun to make it inoperable. He has less an intimidation factor than a futility factor. (The often even vocalized concept of “Bullets…really…seriously. You do realize how absurd that type of action is against me, right? Please don’t be a moron. I really don’t want to hurt you.”)

Wonder Woman:
Again a DESIROUS pacifist but does not have the super-ego/ego/id conflict, or at least not nearly as much. (“Please just give up. I’m a true warrior. I can kick your butt badly if need be. Please don’t make me do that, but, if you do, the butt kicking is on you, not me.”)

I think her JLU incarnation was best. As much of a non-pacifist as possible without being an anti-hero. She enjoys violence, but will give the other person the chance to be a pacifist. (“Be smart and surrender or be dumb and I will kick your ass considerably more than needed. PLEASE BE DUMB.”)

Flash (Barry Allen, because he is THE Flash to me):
Probably the most pacifistic “major” character in the DC universe. (“Let me try to talk them out of this situation. OK, that didn’t work. Can do something like create a vortex and suck the air out enough to have them pass out. No, that didn’t work. Am I fast enough to grab Captain Cold when he fires the cold gun and move him, so his own violence is used against him. OK, that didn’t work either, time to engage in violence.”)


For the record, I recognize that MY Batman is strictly my own opinion and others differ and their opinion holds as much validity for THEM that THEIR Batman is the CORRECT/BEST interpretation. I will also freely admit that I like to debate (Some would say argue, using the more heated and negative connotation of the word “argue”) why MY Batman (or other character) is better. Even in the heat of debate I, perhaps if only internally and so it may not make it explicitly into my post, understand and believe that at the end of the day, to each their own. I take this view of “to each their own” as a universal constant and often don’t explicitly state it. I don’t, by default, look at posts as personal attacks regardless of which way they point. The debate is pointed at “the hat” rather than the person themselves. I suppose that some folks feel an argument against “their hat” is an attack against them as a person. I also confess to not understanding the “hat attack == person attack” view at all. So, if my post(s) make someone feel that they are personal attacks, I will apologize in advance and want to assure people that they are not intended as personal attacks, just attacks on one’s “hat”.

Also, I’d say that the thread you reference might have gotten terse, but in the end, I think it resolved rationally. Passions get heated. However, I think it is great that people will debate with such fire and passion for their positions about characters. If we didn’t care passionately about a character(s), it probably means they aren’t that fundamentally interesting and likely won’t stand the test of time.


Note on a typing error.
“I think he is always cognizant of and tries to use the violence possible.” should be “I think he is always cognizant of and tries to use the LEAST violence possible.”

(I will be so glad when 2.0 is launched and we can edit our posts for stuff like this.)


@Desade-acolyte Your posts are rapidly becoming my favorite and most rewarding to read.


I love that there are so many facets to the character that so many interpretations can exist, and none of them are “wrong!”


@biff_pow That’s ultimately my biggest point of contention when these debates spring up. It can be hard to tell when someone is arguing that they like a version of Batman over another or that there is only one Batman and it’s how they see it. I believe in a diversity of Batman. There’s a Batman for all. I personally predominately prefer the Batman that @Desade-acolyte has laid out here. But I don’t take issue with the other interpretations and genuinely enjoy some of them. I think it important that everyone can recontextualize in a given interpretation.

@BatJamags I’m sorry to hear your unwillingness to read that other thread as continued and open conversation is the only way we can expand our understanding and challenge or change our own views. I really like the thread you have provided here. I would really like to see examples of the pacifist Batman you envision. Can you point me to particular arcs that you think exemplify this?

You alluded to Knightfall. It’s been a while since I read it, but my memory is that the difference between Azrael and Bats drawn there centers on the no-kill rule. But I’ll have to re-read it. Yay! Like I needed an excuse.

Sorry if my recasting of pacifist upset you. When I think of pacifist, I have a more dictionary interpretation, which has been exemplified by people like Gandhi. I’ll grant there is a continuum of pacifism, of course, but I wonder if there is another term for your proposal. For instance, many distinguish Gandhi’s philosophy from the historical Buddha’s as pacifism versus nonviolence respectively. It’s based in the difference between social ideology and a path for living. Batman is clearly operating in the social realm. If his mission is to end violence, then he is choosing a different path from someone like Gandhi. Perhaps the term “violent pacifist” would better capture the idea you are conveying as well as the complications that @Desade-acolyte has outlined.


Thanks. I try, but it doesn’t always all make it out from my brain to the keyboard.

I think this is why we see a characters like the trinity able to survive, mostly in tact, for 80+ years.
(Yeah WW has got a couple of years to go to hit 80, but I’m pretty convinced Diana will make it.)
I guess I can live with the idea that none are wrong.
Although some are less “right” than others, considering MY view is the “rightest” one. :wink: (and for anyone out there that doesn’t get that last statement was an attempt at comic relief, it was. In truth, to each their own “hat”.)

I think in more modern times, late Silver age and beyond, We moved past the idea (both culturally and so consequently in comics) the binary thinking of Black and White/Good and Evil. Through our own societal changes we grew, a developed a willingness and and desire to look deeper under the mask. Perhaps this can be sourced back to early Marvel characters like Spider-Man, The Thing, and handful of others. With that said, when we saw DC move into the that frame of reference, we saw it to much deeper levels. While less overt, Batman didn’t whinge on as Spider-Man was prone to do, constantly playing out his Hamlet-esque soliloquies. With Bats specifically, the subtext was there, if one wished to do the analysis. (And yes, there were plenty of other characters this applied to as well, albeit to variable lesser extents.)

I think this is one reasons why hotly contested topics, kill vs no-kill for example can far to easily devolve into a “p!$$ing contest”. And, while that is unfortunate, often people don’t have the time to explicitly include the ideas of “While I will defend my view to death, I do understand you are entitled to your opposing view.” So a certain amount things get thrown by the wayside, and can be viewed as devolving into people talking past each other.

Complex characters require complex analysis and the required breadth of that doesn’t often lend itself to the quick pace of daily online life. Short cuts and a lack of specific validation of the personal value of another’s belief, even if it is a fundamental point of disagreement, sometimes get left by the digital road side.

That was a thread that would have been better served as one sitting at the pub over a pint, rather than as what is little better than email. It took me a couple of back and forths to get “Oh wait, when I said I support “no kill” as the fundamental canonical source, that does not mean zero deaths EVER occur. Yes, IMO, the law of unintended consequence applies, so let me clarify what “I” meant by “no-kill rule”, and for me it was not a moving of a goal posts thing. That was my bad for not being more specific as to my particular interpretation of what “no kill rule” meant when I say first described my support of it. This Is probably intensified by adding in another facet of its application to a what/why a particular creator “did/said/meant/etc”.

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Your idea of a pacifist Batman is fine. It is how DC made the character popular back in the 40’s. It is also how DC made Batman a household name in the 60’s. Its cool lots of people like it.

Flash forward to the 80’s nobody would touch Batman with a 10’ pole. Frank Miller’s Batman is what made Batman popular again. Just a few years later Tim Burton’s Batman. Batman was a global Icon again.

A few years later Batman and Robin, Batman forever. These did ok and sold a TON of toys. I have never seen so many toys of the same character. A good fun hero for kids.

But those kids grow up and wanted something a little more serious. Here comes Nolan. A darker more violent take on the hero.

Zack Snyder adds a few battle scenes to Superman. Makes Batman mean. And all of a sudden Batman has some BS code? It’s ridiculous. Ok, some people like violent heroes, some people don’t. The problem is people attack certain art and artists. Then those fans defend it. To me the answer is if you don’t like a version of a character don’t watch it. I honestly don’t see how my enjoyment of The Trinity Trilogy
changes your enjoyment of Batman Forever or Batman and Robin.

I don’t believe that there is one definitive version of the character, violent or pacifist. With out both the caped crusader wouldn’t have made it this far. Just my opinion.


I will take issue with one point, it was the very late 60’s/early 70’s Denny/Neal/Julius Batman run, that gave us a once again, grounded Batman, not FM’s Batman. Their was a multi-part interview on DC Daily this week with Denny and it’s one of the things he talks about. You might find it interesting.


I’ll check it out. I like history of, anything really.


Ok, so he’s the guy that really set the tone for the gothic Batman. That’s cool. I get the impression that he doesn’t care for HOW dark Frank goes with the character. He dose however believe that “Frank Miller’s Batman works.”



To your question about where I’ve seen a more pacifistic Batman, I’d say it’s an interpretation I’ve seen pretty heavily from Denny O’Neil’s writing (including Knightfall, but also a lot of his earlier work). I think part of that is a function of O’Neil’s own views and his trying to justify writing a character who often uses his fists to solve his problems. That said, I think that tension is interesting. Essentially, O’Neil’s work tends to ask not “Why doesn’t Batman go farther?” but rather “Why does Batman go as far as he does?” I think that informs a lot of the “If you kill them, you will be just like them” moralizing that tends to go on in Bat-books whenever someone is thinking about crossing the line. At the very least, that argument is a lot easier to swallow logically if you interpret them as having a certain distaste for even the methods they do use.

For the definition, I wasn’t offended or anything, just explaining my meaning. Sorry if I came across snippy; I’ve been stressed due to unrelated life stuff and I’m trying not to take it out on internet strangers, but sometimes I do anyway.

For the other thread (and I was hoping not to go into this, but I want to be clear that I have a reason for avoiding that debate in particular), there are certain parties who I felt were behaving in a very condescending and disrespectful manner with regard to the subject. I don’t feel I can maintain an intelligent conversation with the individuals in question. I won’t point fingers, but to be clear, it’s nobody who’s posted in this thread yet.


Hey guys, this is a very gentle reminder to keep things civil and respectful. While super debates can get a little passionate, let’s edge away from inflammatory posts or anything that hurts other members. If anyone needs a quick refresher on our Community Guidelines, you can always check them out here:

But to get back on topic: the exact definition of pacifism aside, I do understand what you mean @BatJamags. There are certainly versions of Batman who are reluctant to deal with lethal weapons or deliver a killing blow, even in situations where he probably would have been justified in doing so. Other versions might not adhere quite as strictly to this moral compass.

Personally, I always saw Batman’s reluctance to kill a mixture between him driving Gotham to his ultimate goal, his unwillingness to become a part of a broken system, and his awareness of the mental health of the people he fights.

For me, I’ve always seen Batman as someone who doesn’t exist because Gotham has crime. He exists because Gotham is, quite fundamentally, corrupt. From the ground up , Gotham has problems with enforcing basic laws because there’s always something broken in their system. Killing criminals doesn’t fix that. Batman, and Bruce Wayne by extension, both want Gotham to function. That means letting the criminal justice system work in some regard. If he just jumps in and kills people, not only doesn’t that fix the system, but he himself becomes a part of that corruption. Additionally, I’ve always seen Bruce as someone who is very critically mentally ill and so are many of the criminals he faces. He suffers, I believe, from PTSD. Killing would exasperate that. And, I think it’s very important for the more-peaceful versions of Bruce to see that redemption is possible. If Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and other villains can become good people and live a better life, I think that gives Bruce/Batman hope for himself.

I hope that answered at least one of your questions, @BatJamags!


I do not consider Batman a pacifist. There are many ways that Bruce could have used his wealth and influence to make Gotham a better place. He chose the way that allows him to punch criminals in the face. Bruce is a very driven person. Sure he’s motivated to make Gotham a better place but he also has a lot of guilt and anger over the violent way his parents were murdered in front of him. Bruce likes being the one to punish the guilty. He can’t get vengeance on Joe Chill but he can share his pain with other criminals. It’s vengeance by proxy and his unhealthy way of working through his grief.

That’s the way I view it. And that’s the way I find most interesting. He’s a flawed and angry vigilante doing some good along the way. I know some prefer the straightforward do-gooder/superhero approach but a guy that dresses like a bat clearly has issues.


Batman will Pass-a-fist through your teeth.


Nice thread by the way! Really good stuff here :face_with_monocle:
I do think Batman is a pacifist.
It is the same reason I am.
It’s a line.
Once crossed, the dam is broken.


@Zombedy Nice.


Once upon a time, under the editorship of Julius Schwartz, David V. Reed (David Vern) wrote story about an empathic vampire who takes the joy out of Batman punching criminals to take them down instead of put them down. That’s not a pacifist-- but it applying pacifism to the violence. But Batman takes joy in the simple violence, like a boxer, or any other fighter with a stated purpose. That same month, more or less, Denny O’Neil wrote a story that clearly states Batman takes NO JOY AT all in the violence-- Batman punching the bad guy to stop them from murdering a tourist or whatever is just what’s needed. The human race doesn’t let him be a pacifist, and he’d rather be one. Both stories are entertaining. Personally, I would want to write in the wake of O’Neil.

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