Under normal circumstances, it might seem a tad ridiculous to suggest that we need a reality check regarding a fictional character. But, these are not normal circumstances – far from it. A vitriolic outrage appears to have swept the globe in the wake of Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – a film that has split audiences clean down the middle, and given rise to a pained wail of, “Not my Batman!” accompanied by verses of “You don’t understand the character,” with a catchy chorus of, “BATMAN DOESN’T KILL.”
Now, I am by no means the first to tell you that Batman does, in fact, kill – repeatedly and brutally. Whether you like it, or dislike it, the fact remains – the guy is responsible for a whole lot of death. What I find fascinating in the character, though, is why he kills, and what I find fascinating in the fandom is why it causes such a heightened, emotive response when he does.
With this latest portrayal of the Caped Crusader, in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, there seems to be a clear division between those who feel Ben Affleck’s screen version of the Dark Knight is the best yet, and those that declare the characterisation is entirely wrong – specifically because (spoiler alert!) he kills people, both directly and indirectly, and also because he appears to consciously decide to kill Superman, in a sinister and pre-meditated fashion. This, some argue, contradicts the thing that is widely held to be the defining characteristic of Batman – which is the fundamental belief that killing is unacceptable.
It certainly does make sense for this to be the case. We all know the origin story of the Caped Crusader – how his perfect, privileged childhood was shattered by the brutal slaying of his beloved parents, and how this early trauma led to his vigilantism as an adult. We all know he is a character enveloped by a creeping darkness – consumed by the need to fight crime and protect his precious Gotham City. Having been orphaned by a criminal with a gun, it is entirely logical that he would find crime and firearms abhorrent. He even says so, very clearly, on many occasions, in several forms of media. No guns, no killing – those are his words to live by.
It also makes sense for this to give rise to the “BATMAN DOESN’T KILL!” cry. He has told us that this is his rule – that this is central to his ethos – so surely that means that anyone depicting him as a murderous, bloodthirsty killer has misunderstood his character, right? Well, not really, because – and bear with me here – Batman as a character is not so simple, and that is actually why we love him so much.