Killing DC Heroes
DC's signature: Heroes that never kill the villain.
For years people have given the "I don't want to kill people" hero mentality a lot of flack in DC comics, considering it's a type practically pioneered by Batman. It's always used in comparison to Marvel, showing how DC supers are more morally grey, or they’re cowards, etc. I think the issue is really the type of villains they face, and how that influences their stance on ever killing someone.
When the villains you face are aliens set on destroying the universe, nazis, war-mongering capitalists, or some inhuman and “unstoppable” force, killing them is viewed as the only option.
But many DC villains—particularly Batman villains—are people who originally had no intention on being evil. We get way more backstory on these people: The Joker, Two Face, Bane, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Penguin, Cat Woman—all clearcut villains and anti-heroes. What’s important about that is the theme of vengeance. It’s so ingrained in the whole of these people, Batman included, that it’s not just about defeating a villain, but also about proving something.
Frequently, the DC villains that are not killed, aren’t killed because they’re humanized. That’s why Gotham has the asylum. The difference of asylum versus death establishes exactly why Batman refuses to kill his opponents.
There’s also the whole thing about how his parents died, so if anyone knows about all the negative repercussions of death, it’s him.
But anyways. He doesn’t kill them because he knows to a certain extent some of them don’t mean any harm. At the least, they don’t intend to kill individuals. This isn’t malicious and targeted. Sometimes it’s vengeful and manic; these people get some sort of catharsis out of their actions and criminality, but it’s (usually) not like they’re getting off on straight up murdering people.
The difference is the Joker. He is clearly the most aware of his actions and his immorality. However, interpretations and representations of the Joker change the severity/humor dichotomy he has, so I have to speak in generalities that don’t always apply. My apologies, but comic variations make it hard to speak in absolutes.
Anyways, the Joker is shown to be aggressive and pointedly so, and not just at Batman and the people of Gotham, but also to his supposed allies, such as Harley—and I won’t get into the whole toxicity of their relationship, but I mention it to show that the Joker is exceptionally aware of both the kind of person and the kind of villain he is.
Still, Batman doesn’t kill him because he knows that part of it is psychological. Yes, at this point it can easily be argued that if the Joker hasn’t changed then he never will. But Batman knows for two reasons that if he kills the joker, he can and would become the new Joker.
The first reason is due to just the general trauma and psychology of people that highlights Gotham city; no one is perfectly good, and everyone has the capacity for evil, so once you kill someone that changes you.
This is different from the age old “if you kill someone are you just as bad as them” argument. Here killing is an extreme to be avoided because Batman views his opponents as criminals, but not as morally corrupt or devoid people. Killing them would be equal to allowing a civilian casualty.
The second reason is that it is comic canon that the Joker has some poison in his heart and if he is to die, that poison is released and the nearest person becomes the next Joker. The idea of poison is both a literal change and representation of Gotham and its villains.
Gotham is a dark city in every sense of the word. It’s covered in smog, with heavy gothic architecture, an absurd crime rate, and loads of corruption. No one in Gotham is perfectly good, and Batman is without question not perfect. The imperfections of all the characters reflect why their conflict is never ending. Batman sympathizes with them. The idea is that anyone in their circumstance would do the same, as the villains are also the victims.
My last argument is that the major difference between heroes that kill people and heroes that don’t is that it’s an issue of saving. Usually (and again I’m speaking in generalities), heroes don’t purposefully kill the villain, they just fail or neglect to save them. They allow their opponent to die. Heroes that don’t kill people just make more of an effort to save them.