Psychological Reasons Why Batman Does Not Kill the Joker

Why would anyone choose not to eliminate a mass murderer for good?

Posted Jan 22, 2019

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why doesn't Batman kill the Joker? In the book Batman and Philosophy: Dark Knight of the Soul, Mark White wrote an outstanding chapter applying different philosophical perspectives to generate reasons why Batman should and reasons why Batman should not end that killer clown. Throughout the movies and comic books, the green-haired agent of chaos takes many lives that could be spared through his elimination. But even if he ought to be removed, should an unlicensed vigilante dressed like a bat be the one to take him out? 

The other day on Twitter, I raised the question: What are the psychological reasons why Batman does not kill the Joker? Despite the fiction's fantastic nature, it is a question with real-world concerns. Why do some people oppose the death penalty no matter what? Why do some people refuse to kill despite other violent actions they might take? 

  • @Superherologist: A psychological reason Batman does not kill the Joker: Bruce Wayne made himself Batman through self-control.
    • @LunalaDoll: I loved your book on this so much :)
  • @Superherologist: Batman has said several times that he worries that if he kills the Joker, he'll keep killing. Jason called that crap.
    • @TheScoobyDoom: For me, this is the sole reason.
  • @Superherologist: A practical reason Batman doesn't kill the Joker: That's not his role in the process. Do we want an unlicensed, unregulated vigilante going around deciding who to kill with no one to answer to?
    • @Mancini1030: Say that to Ben Affleck’s Batman lol
    • @Superherologist: That’s an atypical version later in his career, an alternate version in which no Tim Drake grounded him after the Joker killed the previous Robin. Plus: Because Z Snyder.
    • @IanMenard: But like... he's already operating outside the law. Assaulting people, contaminating crime scenes, not testifying. He *is* a vigilante.

    • @Superherologist: True, which makes it interesting when they use that word. Still, a vigilante criminal-puncher is a different beast from a self-appointed executioner. They don't use the right word, but there is a distinction. 

    • @SithLordMakasu: We want him to disregard all the laws that make his vigilantism illegal, but act moral when it comes to a guy that makes Gotham a warzone every few months? I love Batman, but his ideology is broken.

  • @Superherologist: Batman is still that kid whose parents died in front of him.

    • @therealdojj: Can't remember who postulated it, might have even been me, but Batman was the creation of Bruce Wayne's PTSD before they knew that PTSD was even a thing

    • @GeorgeM68340969: Bruce Wayne is a reciprocal terrorist from crime which is why he dons an animal he fears.  Deep down he is a borderline persona who fights crime on the desire of reenacting his efforts of saving his parents murder.

    • @WhenyougoMac: Paul Dini said in an interview that if anyone kills the Joker it’ll be someone that cares enough about Batman to know he’s incapable of doing it, and would know that he would disown them as a friend/colleague for doing it, but that they’d do it anyway to save him.

  • @Superherologist: He becomes Batman by turning the darkest part of himself into something that serves good.

    • @baristabltzy: The bat has mad self control. His parents were killed in front of him. Lead by example. Don’t kill. 

  • @Superherologist: He wants to show others that people can stand up to evil no matter how corrupt the system might be.
    • @thevesperhunter: So, he doesn't kill the joker just tu prove a point, it doesn't matter how much people he get killed? He is responsible for each joker's assassination, because he have the power to end it and he doesn't do it. 
      Basically he is responsible for all the injustice universe.
    • @baroquendmzz: Wayne is a socialite, not a political animal. It's more likely a return of the repressed. Wayne's father (and mother) was killed by the Joker, protecting his family: the values were protective, not offensive. No body guards for billionaire Wayne sr

    • @GeorgeM68340969: I would more question why the Reaper, Lock-Up or specific vigilante terrorist characters don't set to kill the Joker or if not masses of the public. 
      The mob as a whole would pragmatically kill Joker on bragging rights alone.

    • @GeorgeM68340969: Batman doesn't kill the Joker because he doesn't want to be the byproduct of what murdered his parents.  He suffers post-traumatic stress on the ordeal and refutes to become the thing that killed his parents.

  • @Superherologist: He believes people can become better, no matter how bad those people might be. He believes in redemption even if he is skeptical when some claim to turn a new leaf.

    • @Werguild: I agree about the redemption part. I’ve seen it a lot in Batman the Animated Series.

    • @ahanatioceans: I agree. But how do you manage/make them see the light?

    • @GeorgeM68340969: A deeper question would be is that does the Joker really want to kill Batman or is he just toying with him?

  • @Superherologist: A killer took his parents. A killer destroyed young Bruce's life.
    • @LuciaGrosaru: Another way to look at it: If Batman killed the Joker the gratification that comes with defeating him repeatedly would stop. He gets to react to his parents' murder repeatedly. Killing him would also be a final act in his own story. No restorative action could follow. Also, why would he stop his strongest opponent when that kind of defeat shows the measure of his own power?
    • @BillFly88: I always thought it was because Batman would be bored without the Joker raising hell
  • @Superherologist: A practical reason Batman doesn't kill the Joker: If he does, he has to give up the rest of this mission, or at least it seriously changes. Police don't shine a Punisher-Signal in the night.
    • @IanMenard: I don't really buy this line of thought. Killing the worst person in the world, especially in defense of self or others, doesn't mean he has to keep killing.
    • @Superherologist But it is a worry Batman has regarding himself. He knows that logic, though, and so as he told Jason, he struggles with this issue every single day.
    • @therealdojj: What if he's secretly the largest shareholder in Arkham, and by putting these people in there, he's supplementing his income 
    • @Eric_J_Barkman: In my mind it’s because at his core, Batman is still that 8 year kid watching his parents be killed, and 8 year olds tend to not have very nuanced views on killing.
    • @neo_humanoid: I always saw it like this: Joker and Bruce are similar, people that are /far past/ anything normal. Joker exists to destroy, and Batman to protect and /fix/. And if Bruce can straight-up /help/ the Joker, piece him back together and stop him, then anything broken can be fixed.
    • @Superherologist: The Joker has certainly expressed that opinion. Pretty much in those words in the movie The Dark Knight. Whether he meant them or was just saying them to bug Batman, as always, who knows?
  • @Superherologist: A reason Batman doesn't kill the Joker: Police aren't supposed to kill anybody, no matter who, if there's any other way. (Yes, we know how poorly some abide by that.) Batman has to be good enough that he can always find another way. 

    • @Naughahyde: Trouble with letting the bad guy live is that he always comes back to villain again.

    • @therealdojj: recently read #whiteknight and that turns the whole batworld on its head. But I think it's a recent thing where he can't kill his enemies because his enemies have figured out the he needs them to be Batman

  • @Superherologist: He sees so many villains whose pragmatic views make them the heroes of their own stories even when they murder. 
    • @brenda_seymore: Very insightful I actually never thought about it but it makes perfect sense
    • @brenda_seymore: Interesting concept
  • @Superherologist: And then there are those who think the relationship is a romance.
    It just doesn't fit criminal/police adversaries in the real world, though.

    • @Werguild: No but their relationship is surely romanticized but to me I believe they do need each to exist because both their identities are heavily defined and tied to each other.

    • @LuciaGrosaru: No, but it fits Hannibal Lecter/Will Graham. Although the end results definitely don't match.

    • @saravbsmith: Oh my God no. Just no. Please.

  • ‏@Superherologist: A psychological reason people suggest for why Batman and the Joker don't kill each other: They both obsess, and each is the other's obsession.
    • @therealdojj: They both enjoy the challenge of outdoing one another. The Joker is the ultimate grandstander, Batman is Sherlock and poirot and miss Marple and everyone else, with a touch of magyver and the a team thrown in
  • @Superherologist: Psychological reasons Batman & the Joker don't kill each other: J. has said & even thought only to himself that he wants the challenge of Batman. Admittedly he's inconsistent & has tried to kill him. Some think Batman lets the Joker live for the same reason.

    • @JQuinnOfficial: Perhaps in B's mind, J represents that first, horrible crisis that B must re-live again and again as a survival motivation reinforcement.

  • @Superherologist: Psychological reasons Batman does not kill the Joker have to start with reasons why he's averse to killing in the first place. The Joker is the ultimate representation of all reasons he should perhaps consider doing it anyway.

    • @Werguild: Nicely said, Doctor. Joker represents the ultimate test of Batman’s code and morality and that’s why they are such influential adversaries.

    • @Hwysixty1: Interesting comic book  theory

    • @MagicWhiskey: Batman, to me, isn’t sane. He lost his mind and original identity when his parents died in front of him. I’ve always thought, however, Bruce had to have had some level of insanity well before the murders to have them send him so far off the deep end.

    • @revsully: it's like what Omar said in The Wire, "A man got to have a code". ^_^

    • @Mancini1030: If he kills the joker, then the joker ultimately wins. Based on some series, The Dark Knight in particular, the joker wants him to break even if it means having Batman kill him.

    • @MagicWhiskey: Batman draws me in because his world is that of insanity, sanity, coping mechanisms, and mental anguish. No other superhero story revolves around those psychological aspects so strongly and so often. But he’s a highly functioning insane person. So high it’s superhuman.

      @ADLegend21: At least he should just let Jason do it.

    • @Superherologist: Batman won't kill the Joker for a lot of reasons, but Jason won't kill the Joker because he wants Batman to do it. He said as much in "Under the Red Hood."

  • @Superherologist: When we discussed psychological reasons why Batman does not kill the Joker, largely overlooked was the suggestion he just feels killing is wrong.
    (Arguing about versions where he chooses yes, kill, dodges the question of why the usual depiction picks no.)

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