Warning: This article contains spoilers for several Batman comics and movies.
The Dark Knight’s Ultimate Foe
Batman, the iconic comic book character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, has faced countless villains over the decades. From the colorful and campy to the complex and chilling, these foes have challenged Batman’s physical prowess, detective skills, moral code, and psychological stability. However, one villain stands out as arguably the most dangerous and disturbing of them all: the Joker.
The Joker, also known as the Clown Prince of Crime, was introduced in Batman #1 in 1940 as a murderous trickster with a twisted sense of humor. Since then, he has evolved into a more unpredictable and nihilistic figure who revels in chaos and violence.
He has killed numerous people, including Robin (Jason Todd), Commissioner Gordon’s wife (Sarah Essen), and thousands of Gotham citizens in some versions. He has also paralyzed Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and tortured her father (Jim Gordon) both physically and psychologically. However, despite his heinous acts, he has become one of the most popular villains not only in comic books but also in movies, TV shows, video games, cosplay events, memes, and merchandise.
The Many Ways Joker Has Tried to Kill Batman
Throughout their long history together, Joker has tried to kill Batman in many ways. Here are some notable examples:
- Using deadly props such as razor-sharp playing cards or acid-spraying flowers
- Exploiting Batman’s allies’ vulnerabilities or emotions
- Trapping Batman in deathtraps or dangerous scenarios
- Poisoning or infecting Batman with lethal toxins or diseases
- Shooting or stabbing Batman with guns or knives
- Blowing up buildings or vehicles that Batman is in
- Mind-controlling Batman or others to do his bidding
- Manipulating public opinion against Batman or making him doubt himself
However, despite these attempts, Joker has never succeeded in killing Batman permanently. Batman has always managed to escape, survive, and eventually foil Joker’s plans.
The Controversial Death of Batman in “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”
One of the most controversial and debated depictions of Joker’s killing of Batman comes from Frank Miller’s graphic novel “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” (1986). In this dystopian future tale, an aging and retired Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl again after years of absence to fight a rising tide of crime and corruption. However, he faces not only his old enemies but also a new one: a gang leader called the Mutant Leader.
Joker appears in the story as an inmate at Arkham Asylum who has been catatonic for years. However, when news of Batman’s return reaches him, he suddenly wakes up and sets his sights on his old foe. Joker escapes from Arkham by convincing a psychiatrist to let him go free and then murders her by snapping her neck with his bare hands.
Joker then proceeds to unleash a deadly scheme that involves infecting Gotham City with a lethal toxin called “Smilex” that kills people with uncontrollable laughter. He also kidnaps a TV talk show host named David Endochrine and forces him to broadcast his twisted manifesto live on air.
Batman confronts Joker at an abandoned amusement park where they engage in a brutal fight that ends with Batman breaking Joker’s spine. However, instead of capturing Joker and bringing him to justice, Batman realizes that Joker wants to die and grants him his wish by snapping his neck too. The last panel of the story shows Batman cradling Joker’s lifeless body in his arms.
This ending has sparked intense discussions among fans and critics about its morality, its symbolism, its impact on the characters’ legacy, and its validity as a possible canon ending. Some see it as a tragic but fitting conclusion to the eternal dance of death between Batman and Joker, while others see it as a betrayal of Batman’s principles and a glorification of violence.
The Enduring Legacy of Batman and Joker’s Conflict
Whether or not Joker has ever killed Batman in a canonical or non-canonical story, their conflict has left an indelible mark on popular culture. Their dynamic has been analyzed from various angles, such as psychological, sociological, mythological, philosophical, and literary. Their rivalry has also inspired countless adaptations and interpretations that range from faithful to innovative.
Some notable examples include:
- The 1960s TV series “Batman” starring Adam West and Cesar Romero
- The graphic novel “Batman: The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
- The movie “Batman” (1989) directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson
- The animated series “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-1995) created by Bruce Timm
- The video game “Batman: Arkham Asylum” (2009) developed by Rocksteady Studios
- The movie “Joker” (2019) directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix
These works have explored different aspects of Batman’s psyche, Joker’s motivations, and their shared themes of justice, madness, trauma, identity, and morality. They have also showcased the power of storytelling to entertain, educate, and inspire audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
In conclusion, Joker has tried to kill Batman in many ways but has never succeeded in doing so permanently. However, their conflict has transcended mere physical violence and has become a symbol of the eternal struggle between chaos and order, between insanity and reason, between darkness and light. Joker’s impact on Batman’s mythos is undeniable, as is his influence on popular culture as a whole.