If you ask a Batman fan what Batman’s one rule is, chances are that he or she will immediately reply that it is his refusal to kill. Indeed, for many decades, Batman has been portrayed (with a few exceptions) as refusing to kill, and often refusing to use guns even for non-lethal purposes. But this wasn’t always the case. For a brief period during the Golden Age of comics, Batman frequently used guns, and killed villains and henchmen on a regular basis.
Batman was already killing right off the bat, so to speak. In his very first appearance (Detective Comics #27, published in May, 1939), he knocked the villainous Alfred Stryker into a vat of acid. Showing no remorse, Batman simply remarked that the criminal’s dissolution was “a fitting end for his kind”. In Detective Comics #28, he threw a henchman off the side of a tall building during a fight. In Detective Comics #29, he broke the evil Jabah’s neck by lassoing him and yanking the rope. In Detective Comics #30, he swung along the side of a building, using a powerful kick to snap the neck of the nefarious Mikhail, who was leaning out of a window. And that’s just the first four issues! He also killed in issues 32-35, 37, 46-47, and 55 of Detective Comics.
The first issue of Batman’s own title (Batman #1, published in Spring, 1940) became the catalyst for Batman’s abandonment of guns. In it, Batman fired the Batplane’s machine guns at a car containing two criminals and a mutated giant, explaining, “Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary!” Still in the Batplane, he then lassoed the giant (who had survived the hail of bullets) around the neck and hanged him, then later knocked another giant off of a skyscraper roof with gas pellets in a King Kong-inspired sequence. The use of machine guns, in particular, raised the ire of mothers, who were afraid that Batman’s violence might be a bad influence on the children who read his adventures. Bill Finger, one of the co-creators of Batman, was sternly warned by editor Whitney Ellsworth to never again let Batman carry a gun. Batman did kill several more times, but without the use of guns, in issues 2-3 and 8 of Batman. Then, in Batman #15, he killed a car full of Japanese soldiers with a gun – but without firing it. He punctured a tire on their car with the rifle’s bayonet, causing them to crash. He then ceased killing altogether, probably due to a stricter edict from DC’s editors.
Batman co-creator Bob Kane remembered the creation of Batman’s no-kill code with bitterness. In his autobiography Batman and Me, he stated, “The whole moral climate changed in the 1940-1941 period. You couldn’t kill or shoot villains anymore. DC prepared its own comics code which every artist and writer had to follow. He wasn’t the Dark Knight anymore with all the censorship.” But in later years, many fans and writers saw Batman’s refusal to kill in a different light. They reasoned that someone who had seen his parents gunned down in front of him would feel compelled to never lower himself to the level of the criminals he fought by killing any of them, and would likely feel an aversion to guns. For this reason, even dark and gritty portrayals of Batman tend to show him sticking to his one rule.
Whether you prefer Batman as a grim crusader who does whatever it takes to get the job done (even if that requires killing), or a man who believes that to break his one rule would lower him to the level of the criminals he fights, we can probably help you if you are looking for Golden Age comic books, Silver Age comic books, or comic book original art featuring Batman. If you would like to own any of these rare items, please contact us.