Batman's Arsenal: An Encyclopedic Chronicle Sample Chapter
Enjoy this sample chapter from Batman's Arsenal: An Unauthorized Encyclopedic Chronicle
by Matt MacNabb
Published March 2016 by Opus Books
Batman and Guns
Guns may be as American as apple pie, but Batman is known for eschewing deadly weapons in his fight against crime. Though that wasn’t always the case. Batman actually carried a handgun when first introduced, at least for a short time, and ever since then the vigilante, like America, has had a long, conflicted history with firearms.
Gunpowder was developed back in the ninth century by Chinese alchemists. It was initially intended as a remedy for various skin infections, but like so many things invented for a positive use, military forces learned they could turn it to their advantage. The first airplane flew in 1903, and the first aerial bombs were dropped during World War I. The tenth century brought the world the Chinese Fire Lance, the first gunpowder device to shoot shrapnel at a target. The fire lance was typically a bamboo or metallic tube. Handheld firearms didn’t arrive until sometime around the twelfth century, when the Chinese developed hand cannons.
Modern comic books bring real-life traumas and problems into the lives of our favorite heroes, so too the national debate on guns. A good number of comic book heroes employ lethal force while another large faction choose never to cross that line. The Punisher, who first debuted in Marvel’s 1974 The Amazing Spider-Man #129, grabs any weapon he can, from a knife to a gun, or even his bare hands, to mow down every single criminal in his path. Another popular Marvel hero, Wolverine, who debuted in The Incredible Hulk #180 also in 1974, has few qualms about delivering fatal blows to his enemies. On the flipside, Batman never wavers on his oath never to kill. In this chapter I’ll explore not only Batman’s history with guns, but also his general notions on homicide.
Batman’s Origins and Guns in the Early Comic Book Years
If you ask the average fan about Batman’s take on guns, you’ll likely get mixed replies. Many will adamantly assure you Batman hates guns, while others will recall that Batman started off by carrying a gun and shooting criminals. However, Batman was never a gun-toting madman like the Punisher.
Batman first brandishes a firearm in the pages of Detective Comics, volume one, #29 (July 1939). It should be noted that while Batman uses a gun here, he’s not packing one of his own. In a fight with hired killers, when one bad guy drops his handgun, Batman snatches it up and freezes them.
”And who sent you, may I ask?” — Batman
“We can’t tell you. He’d kill us!” — Goon
“Your choice, gentlemen! Tell me! Or I’ll kill you!” — Batman
The first time Batman actually fires a gun is four issues after he premiered. Not only that, but it’s against a supernatural foe rather than a living, breathing flesh and blood criminal. It turns out that the Mad Monk, a villain from Detective Comics, volume one, issue #31 (September 1939) has escaped Batman and in issue #32 (October 1939) we discover that the monk and his lady friend Dala are bloodthirsty vampires. You can’t kill the undead, not with lead anyway. Batman melts some candlesticks to forge silver bullets and load his weapon for some good old-fashioned vampire hunting. Batman sneaks into the lair of the wicked bloodsuckers and methodically unloads round after round of steaming hot silver into the sleeping vampires as they lie immobile in their coffins. This wouldn’t be Batman’s last encounter with bloodsuckers.
Is there much of a moral difference between killing unreal (or undead) fictional characters and realistic ones? Is it less troubling to drive a stake through Dracula than to shoot a bullet through a fictitious human? Either way, Batman has yet to commit homicide by this point. But the best is yet to come.
In the next issue of Detective Comics, volume one, #33 (November 1939) Batman unloads a handgun to do in some death machines. He manages not to kill any criminals in the process. Later in the issue he’s shown brandishing a firearm in a small advertisement letting fans know that Batman appears only in Detective Comics. The death count remains at zero.
The final early appearance of Batman packing was a title page showing Batman wielding a gun in Detective Comics, volume one, #35 (January 1940). That pretty much sums up Batman’s history with actual guns during the Golden Age. It was an era that ended almost as quickly as it began, and as you can see Batman certainly wasn’t running around Gotham popping bad guys.
The 1940s was when Batman really caught on with readers and, subsequently, he came under increased scrutiny from the editorial staff at DC Comics. While Batman would begin to shy away from guns, killing wasn’t necessarily a no-no.
The Gun Era Disappears
Batman with a gun all but disappears within Batman’s first year. The reasons are quite interesting and in some ways mirror the hot-button gun control debates of today. In fact, there was also a serious question over gun ownership and regulation in the mid-to-late 1930s. Is this why the Bat dropped the gat?
A notorious case came before the Supreme Court in May of 1939, the same month the Dark Knight debuted in the comic books. The United States vs. Miller brought a prosecution into question that fell under the 1934 National Firearms Act, which was passed after public outrage over the now infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago a decade earlier. This was one of the U.S.’s first big gun control legal battles. The United States won a victory that upheld the act, which required sawed-off and fully automatic weapons to be registered with the Miscellaneous Tax Unit, now known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or the ATF.
It’s thought that this public controversy led the new editor at DC Comics, Whitney Ellsworth, to advise Bob Kane to remove the guns from his latest script, and from that point on. Batman’s origin tale, which included his parents being gunned down before his very eyes, wasn’t published until a November 1939 two-page layout by Kane. Batman may have shed the guns for the time being, but he didn’t put the killing away immediately, as I’ll explain later. Batman would go on to have a long and complicated relationship with guns over the next seventy-five years, varying greatly depending on the creative team in charge and the medium involved.
Fan information found online often attributes the change in the Dark Knight’s gun and eventual killing policy to the Comics Code Authority, but the code wasn’t established until 1954. In 1954 Dr. Wertham published the book Seduction of the Innocent through Rinehart & Company books. Seduction would become one of the most controversial and influential books of the century, but the crusade against comic books actually began fourteen years earlier in 1940 with Sterling North’s scathing editorial in The Chicago Daily News titled “A National Disgrace” published on May 8, 1940. This anti-comic-book diatribe included vicious quotes, such as “Badly drawn, badly written and badly printed — a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems. . . . Their crude blacks and reds spoil the child’s natural sense of color; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories.” He also made wild claims like, ”Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the ‘comic’ magazine.” Apparently, North researched 108 different comic books of the era and claimed that “At least 70 per cent of the total were of a nature no respectable newspaper would think of accepting.” North’s perceptions of the comic book industry are primarily what fueled the anger and suspicion among parents. They also led to examination of the effects of comic books well into the next decade and possibly beyond in the mainstream media. North declarations such as, “Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month” certainly incited the subsequent public scrutiny of comics.
Batman wouldn’t see any lifting of restrictions anytime soon in the Golden Age, in fact it would only get more strict. DC Comics decided to get ahead of this public controversy back in 1941 by establishing the Editorial Advisory Board. In their summer 1941 comic books the editorial section included a special “A Message to Our Readers: Introducing the Editorial Advisory Board.” The editorial read: “Since the inception of this and other DC magazines, a rigid policy has guided the editors in their selection and presentation of editorial material. A deep respect for our obligation to the young people of America and their parents and our responsibility as parents ourselves combine to set our standards of wholesome entertainment. Early this year we recognized the value of active assistance on the part of those professional men and women who have made a life work of child psychology, education and welfare. As a result we secured the collaboration of five Advisory Editors, each a leader in his or her respective field. In this issue we take pleasure in introducing them to you.” The notice went on to list the board members as Dr. Robert Thorndike, Department of Educational Psychology at Columbia University, Ruth Eastwood Perl, Ph.D. an associate member of the American Psychological Association, Gene Tunney the Lieutenant Commander in charge of Physical Fitness Program for the U.S. Navy, Dr. C. Bowie Millican from the Department of English Literature at New York University and Josette Frank, the Staff Advisor of the Children’s Book Committee at the Child Study Association of America. This rather conservative mindset would continue well into the 1950s at the company and would be responsible for the Silver Age silliness that was to come. This board would advise Batman to shy away from guns and, later, from killing, for a very long time.
Guns in the Golden Age
Batman picks up a handgun again in the pages of Detective Comics, volume one, #65 (July 1942). He’s handed a gun by some troopers, so that they can test his marksmanship. Batman stands on a pier, aiming at a dummy with a target. “In Batman’s expert hand, the gun roars and six bullets hit the target dead center!” Batman is clearly noted as an expert marksman.
In World’s Finest, volume one, #27 (March 1947) Batman pulls out a handgun to Robin’s surprise. “No . . . you said you’d never use a gun! Batman! Don’t!” Batman aims the handgun, but instead uses it to blow up cans of gas to start a fire and a distraction, not to take lives.
Throughout the rest of the Golden Age of comic books Batman would sometimes resort to firearms to get the job done, but only with harmless bullets. What these projectiles consisted of, I’m unsure. Rubber bullets didn’t arrive until 1970, to subdue rioters in Northern Ireland during the infamous Troubles.
One such example finds Batman, in disguise, after some diamond fencers. He goes to Spiffany’s to buy a diamond, then pretends he’s a big-time jewel thief. To sell the role he carries a gun, but loaded with harmless bullets.
In Batman, volume one, #55, published in October 1949, Bruce Wayne is kidnapped by criminals, along with Commissioner Gordon. Wayne turns one of the thugs’ guns on them when they’re distracted by Wayne’s (that is, Batman’s) “lightning move.” The Caped Crusader then muses, “Neither Batman nor Bruce Wayne carries a gun!” In another issue, Bruce utters “I’ll have to ‘forget’ to take this with me” when he’s issued a gun by his new boss at his job as a crime reporter in Batman, volume one, #65 (June 1951).
In Batman, volume one, #53 (June 1949) Joker has trapped Batman and Robin in a funhouse along with a large explosive and a lit fuse. Batman squirts a water pistol that he’s stolen from the Joker’s gag factory to drown out the threat.
In Batman, volume one, #55 (October 1949), “The Bandit of the Bells,” Batman at a carnival fires a pellet rifle to win a sideshow contest. Batman clearly has no issue picking up a gun of this kind and Robin even remarks about what a crack shot he is.
In Batman, volume one, #55 (October 1949), “Bruce Wayne, Rookie Policeman!” Officer Mike Johnson, who wears the special Glory Badge #50505, and brandishes his service revolver at a crime scene, but is fatally wounded. Bruce Wayne, who happens to be nearby, comes to his aid. Mike passes along the badge to Bruce, as is tradition, before he dies. Bruce undergoes some training and becomes a member of the Gotham City Police department. He, however, only carries a police baton, never a gun.
In Batman, volume one, #76 (April 1953), “The Man of 100 Murders,” a menacing Batman points a gun right at the reader. The page also shows spectators exclaiming, “But I thought Batman never uses a gun!” and “He must be mad! He’s become a killer!” Fortunately, it’s not Batman but an imposter.
An Unarmed Batman Can Still Kill
The question of whether Batman will kill is a whole other issue. The character may have shunned guns, but that never stopped him from doing his fair share of killing back in the Golden Age. There are plenty of instances of Batman putting the kill on some baddies, sometimes for no good reason. The first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics, volume one, #27 (May 1939) show him punching a criminal right into a vat of acid, something which becomes a habit. An unremorseful Batman merely comments in acid tones, “A fitting end for his kind.”
In a struggle in Detective Comics, volume one, #28 (June 1939) Batman rolls on his back and uses his legs to launch a goon off a roof to his death. He kills one of Dr. Death’s goons in Detective Comics, volume one, #29 (July 1939). He snaps the goon Jabah’s neck with his silken batrope. In the issue it appears that Batman contributed to Doctor Death’s demise, but we find out in the next issue that the evil Doctor is still alive and well, but disfigured from the fire that Batman left him in to die. In Detective Comics, volume one, #30 (August 1939) Bats kills off another one of Dr. Death’s goons by swooping down and snapping his neck.
A string of further deaths follows in Detective Comics, volume one, #33 (November 1939) where Batman causes a fatal plane crash when he throws a vial of sleeping gas from his Utility Belt at the pilot. Batman strangles another villain, then abandons the vehicle they’re in to drive off a cliff in Detective Comics, volume one, #34 (December 1939). The next issue, #35 (January 1940), features a number of deaths at the hand of Batman. He first battles some angry Mongol goons and knocks them back to be impaled on their own swords. Batman also whips a statue at the evil (and somewhat racist, Asian stereotype) villain Lenox, knocking him out the window to his death.
Batman also causes accidental deaths from time to time. In Detective Comics, volume one, #37 (March 1940) he confronts Count Grutt . . . alias “The Head” . . . alias Elias Turg. During a battle, the Count hurls a sword at Batman, narrowly missing him. Batman, in self-defense punches the Count, who promptly falls on his sword. Batman says, “Dead! It is better that he should die! He might have sent thousands of others to their death on a battlefield.” In Detective Comics, volume one, #39 (May 1940). Batman battles more Asian-stereotype bad guys, at last toppling a giant green dragon idol statue onto them, crushing them to death.
The Death Keeps on Coming
In Batman, volume one, #1 (April 1940) Batman chases down some truck-driving baddies in the Batplane and shoots them to death with an on-board gatling gun. “But out of the sky, spitting death . . . the Batman!” Here, Batman does evince a little remorse as he mows them down: “Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary!” He then proceeds to hang, by the neck, evil Huge Strange’s genetically modified giant from the Batplane. “He’s probably better off this way,” Batman reasons.
In Batman, volume one, #2 (June 1940) the carnage continues with Batman attacked by Wolf the Crime Master. One powerful punch from Batman and Wolf goes tumbling down a staircase, breaking his neck on impact. Another backrolling death occurs in Batman, volume one, #3 (September 1940) when Bats sends a bad guy sailing off a roof to his demise. When Batman and Robin battle a number of goons on top of an unstable oil drilling station, Batman sends at least one of the goons to his death in Batman, volume one, #6 (September 1941). That same month in Detective Comics, volume one, #55 (September 1941) Batman propels a bad guy into a vat of molten steel and some others off the side of a ship into the oceany depths. Fast forward to Batman, volume one, #15 (February 1943). Batman and Robin are helping the war effort by battling a carload of Japanese soldiers that Batman refers to as “yellow devils.” They set a trap, so that the car will crash and explode, sending corpses into the air in a firey inferno. Near the end of the 1940s, Batman kills again when he and Robin chase some robbers to the top of a giant gas tank in Batman, volume one, #47 (June 1948). One of the goons tries to push Batman off but ends up taking the plunge himself, after a nifty move by Batman.
Guns in the Silver Age
The Silver Age makes little mention of guns carried by either criminals or Batman. The stories went so deeply into science fiction and overall oddity that real world gangsters and plain old firearms just didn’t make the cut. I can find only two notable references to guns throughout the entire era.
In Detective Comics, volume one, #260 (October 1958) Batman and Robin have been transported to space and end up on the Olympic Asteroid to represent Earth in the Intergalactic Olympic Bowl. In one event, Batman must fire a red gun that looks a lot like an earth rifle at exploding meteors. He does well, nailing nine hits and edging his Plutonian competitor by one. Hey, Pluto’s not even a planet. Disqualification!
Detective Comics, volume one, #327 (May 1964) is the landmark issue that debuted the batsuit’s yellow oval batsymbol. Towards the end of part two of the story “The Mystery of the Menacing Mask,” there’s a struggle between Batman and Robin and a gang of armed goons. Batman secures a pistol and holds the criminals at gunpoint until the Gotham City Police arrive.
The Modern Age
The modern day Batman has become not only gun-shy, but averse to all killing. The move has been controversial, especially with other comic heroes like the X-Men’s Wolverine and the Punisher taking human lives with ease. It’s difficult to imagine that in real life Batman would allow criminals like the Joker to escape and commit violent and murderous crimes again and again, year after year. Of course, it would help if Gotham’s prison system could manage to incarcerate these villains for more than a few months at a time. But it’s from these questions of life and death that a more complex hero is born. And the battle of good vs. evil forges the inner struggle that a hero like Batman needs to face to keep him interesting and relevant.
Batman has gone through his dark periods and his light periods, and even his wacky periods, but it has always seemed to me that Batman, the franchise, is mostly about the battle of wits between himself and his various adversaries. His gadgets versus their gadgets. Batman is more duelist than street fighter. It would be almost unsporting of him to kill enemies like Joker or Penguin at the end of their contests.
Over the three decades that I’ve been reading Batman comics I can personally attest that his aversion to guns has been very evident, in comics and in the cartoons. For example, in one of the most famous modern-age tales, Frank Miller’s 1986 dystopian opus, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman can be quoted as saying of a gun as he snaps it in half, “This is the weapon of the enemy. We do not need it. We will not use it.” And “A gun is a coward’s weapon. A liar’s weapon.” In Detective Comics #417, which came out in November of 1971, Batman screams, “In front of the human filth I fight! Batman NEVER uses a gun! He uses only the decent weapons of outrage and indignation to bring criminals to justice!” In Detective Comics #457, Batman flips out on a criminal that pulls a gun on him, exclaiming, “You Dare!?! You dare pull a gun on me?! Don’t you ever point a gun at me again! Never, do you hear me? NEVER!!” I think it’s clear that guns annoy the modern Batman, more than a little.
Seduction of the Gun (1993)
In 1993 DC Comics released the one-shot, 68-page Seduction of the Gun, Batman’s modern day anti-gun statement. The special comic was produced in reaction to the violent gun death of the son of a Warner Bros. executive, Sandy Reisenbach. This is a true story. One mild summer night the telephones were out in John Reisenbach’s trendy New York City Greenwich Village apartment building. The 33-year-old advertising executive for All-American Television went to a payphone and had a conversation with his good friend. Suddenly, cries could be heard on Reisenbach’s end of the phone from another person screaming at him to hand over his money and three subsequent shots were fired, killing Reisenbach. This senseless and random gun death of one of their own sent shockwaves through the creative and television industries at the time. The title page of Seduction of the Gun is all black and in white simple text reads “In Memory of John Reisenbach, November 29, 1956 – July 31, 1990.” A one-page letter from the editorial staff on the final page details the tragic death and the reaction to it at DC Comics. The proceeds from the comic book went to the John A. Reisenbach Foundation for gun-control education activities. To this day, The John A. Reisenbach Foundation For a Better and Safer New York has donated “$6 million to programs that improve safety and the quality of life in New York City, in honor of John’s memory.”
The Seduction of the Gun comic book features the third Robin, Tim Drake, encountering gun violence and gangs in school. The book is intertwined with emotional speeches by Batman about how much he hates guns. In one such moment in the Batcave he says to Tim, with his back turned, “Guns don’t kill people, some will tell you, people kill people. But I knew my father and I later met the man who killed him and I’ll tell you something. He never would have been able to kill my father without a gun.” That pretty much sums up the tone of the comic. I do remember it making a major impact on me as a 14-year-old at the time. One ironic twist is that the comic’s back cover has a full-page advertisement for the then wildly popular Sega Genesis Terminator 2: Judgement Day arcade game. This game amounted to mowing robots from the future with a huge automatic weapon. A fun game, but not the best choice of ads for this particular comic.
Writer John Ostrander consulted with his editor at the time, the legendary Dennis O’Neil, and they agreed they didn’t want a straight public-service comic book against guns. They really wanted to develop a quality story with a message. They did such a fantastic job that the comic book ended up making more real-world changes than they could have ever imagined. Back then, Virginia was a hotbed for criminal gun distribution. One in four guns used in a crime in New York City, where John Reisenbach was shot, originated in Virginia. A Virginia state gun control measure that then-governor Douglas Wilder was trying to get passed was up for a vote at the time. It wasn’t terribly aggressive, but it was a start. Just like nowadays, it was very difficult to get any measure of gun control or regulation into law. Basically, they were just trying to limit citizens to purchasing one gun per month. Apparently, the governor handed the Seduction of the Gun comic book issue to each and every member of the legislature and the law passed. Dennis O’Neil recalled this event with great pride during an interview with Kevin Smith on his “Fatman on Batman” podcast. Batman actually did affect real gun law, at least for a time. The Virginia law was overturned in February of 2012.
To Gun or Not To Gun?
Several instances of editorial missteps as well as run-ins with the other side of guns have happened to Batman over the decades. For example, during World War II, Batman was featured on the cover of Batman, volume one, #15 (February 1943) working a gatling gun, with a big old smile on his face and the tagline “Keep those bullets flying! Keep on buying War Bonds & Stamps!” Again on the cover of Batman, volume one, #30 (August 1945) he’s in the trenches with a grateful soldier, holding a rifle and exclaiming, “Here’s a new gun from the folks back home, soldier! Yep! The folks that’re backing the 7th War Loan.” Now, this was obviously to assist the ongoing war effort at the time. Perhaps we should give this one a pass.
Batman does wield guns in several comics for various other reasons, such as shooting at targets, like barrels of gasoline, to cause an explosion, or to summon the police, as he does in Detective Comics, volume one #36 in 1940. Even in Batman #1, which was also released in 1940 and famously features the first appearances of Robin, Joker and Catwoman, Batman fires his plane’s on-board guns at the dastardly Hugo Strange.
In World’s Finest #39, published in 1949, Bruce Wayne is confronted at Wayne Manor by a gentleman from his gym who suspects Bruce is Batman based on weight. In the background, mounted pistols adorn the wall. Odd decor for someone who shuns guns.
The majority of these discrepancies occurred during the Golden or Silver age of comics. It can be argued that perhaps then there wasn’t a lot of integrity or continuity between tales, because comics were intended only for children and weren’t taken seriously. Today it’s a different story. Some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters are fueled by comic book characters and the San Diego Comic Con sports attendance in record numbers of over 130,000 fans.
In the beginning of “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!” in The Brave and the Bold, volume 29, #197 (April 1983) the Earth-Two version of Bruce Wayne writes in his diary and the images on the page show a flashback to Batman and Robin fighting crime, Batman with a holster on the Utility Belt and firing a gun.
The 1985 comic four-issue comic series titled “America vs. The Justice Society,” written by Roy and Dann Thomas, also addressed Batman’s relationship to guns, by way of a retroactive apology. Batman narrates, “I’m ashamed to confess that on occasion, I myself used illegal methods — including a handgun — in ’39 and ’40, before my relationship with Commissioner Gordon gave me semi-official status in Gotham City.”
More than a few modern age gun discrepancies have crept in, however. For example, in 1987, the Batman: Year Two four-part story arc ran in Detective Comics #575 through #578. In this story arc Batman faces off against a vigilante named the Reaper. Batman eventually begins to carry the very gun used to kill his parents, with the intent of gunning down the Reaper. Batman even makes a truce with underworld crimelords to get the job done. The person he’s forced to work with is none other than Joe Chill, the thug who did kill his parents so many years before. Batman conspires in his mind to kill Chill once their alliance is over. In the end, the Reaper kills Chill first and Batman decides to give up the gun. I was left wondering if the writer, Mike W. Barr, was exploring Batman’s humanity at the expense of the core of the character himself or if he in fact managed to create more realistic layers to our hero. Would Batman have gone through with killing Chill if he’d the chance? These are interesting questions that could be debated by fans for hours.
Did I also mention that Batman revealed his true identity to Chill before threatening him with the weapon? It’s convenient that the Reaper steps in and does away with his mistake for him.
This pivotal scene in Year Two was lifted in part from Batman #47 from 1948, where Batman confronts Joe Chill and reveals his identity to him in a very similar manner. But instead of trying to shoot him he threatens to have him brought up on formal charges for the murder of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Chill escapes into a garage where his goons sit around playing cards. Chill explains why Batman’s after him, and the goons gun him down for “creating” Batman and causing them all such trouble. Again, Batman “kills” a mortal enemy by proxy, a pretty advanced plot point for a 1948 comic.
In the 1988 epic four-part miniseries, “The Cult,” written by Jim Starlin, Batman and the second Robin, Jason Todd, both sport guns when battling the massive army of the evil Deacon Blackfire. In a great full-page scene in the fourth issue, Batman exits his massive monster-truck Batmobile brandishing a machine gun and says to the goon he’s chasing, “Go to Deacon Blackfire, tell him . . . the BATMAN is coming for him!” Batman and Robin later use automatic weapons to blow out large spotlights so that their night vision goggles will give them the upper hand. In the final battle, Batman holds a handgun on Deacon Blackfire and fantasizes about firing it. He opts not to, but only because he thinks death is too easy an out for the Deacon. In this series, Batman’s fear gets the best of him and he resorts to firearms, but this theme doesn’t often recur in the years to follow.
The year 1988 also brought us the four-issue prestige format series “Cosmic Odyssey,” written by Jim Starlin and pencilled by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Here, Batman is monologuing, something he does too often, and explains his stance on guns. “In order to survive in my line of work, you’ve got to know when you’re beaten. What you do then is change your tactics. I normally don’t like using weapons . . . especially firearms. But I’m flexible, able to adapt to the situation.” Batman then picks up a gun and shoots the big goon charging at him.
Batman: Odyssey #2 was released on August 4, 2010 and featured not only Batman getting shot in a very bloody manner, but Batman also inexplicably wielding guns himself. The issue was written and illustrated by legendary Batman artist Neal Adams. Odyssey #2 is widely regarded as completely from left field by many fans and reviewers. On the other hand, Batman Incorporated #0, released in September 2012, just two months after the cinema shooting in Aurora, features one of Batman’s new vigilante employees, The Knight, speaking to a retired vigilante named The Scout. Scout holds a gun on Knight and says, “You wouldn’t use that gun on me would you? The boss has kind of a thing about guns.” It’s unclear whether or not this issue was written before or after the Colorado shootings.
1966 Batman TV Show
The 1966 television show was campy, but even so the villains often used guns. In fact, villains like Shame were cowboy types who used all sorts of firearms. Batman has developed a great weapon to combat this type of attack. The Bat-Shield is a clear, foldable bullet-proof barrier that can be quickly unfolded to defend against guns and traps. It’s outlined with yellow and black and vaguely shaped like a batsymbol. Batman and Robin pull it out when the Joker tries to trap and shoot them in season one, episode #16 “He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul.” Batman and Robin again employ the Bat Shield when opening a package commissioner Gordon has received from the Joker in season one, episode #25 “The Joker Trumps an Ace.”
Batman brings out the shield to block arrows shot by the Archer and his men in season two, episode #2 “Walk the Straight and Narrow.” The Bat-Shield resurfaces again in season two, episode #16 “The Dead Ringers” when Batman and Robin jump out of a hidden box, protected by their bullet-proof Bat-Shield. Later in season two, in episode #28, “The Bird’s Last Jest,” Batman and Robin duck behind the shield to evade gunfire from the Penguin and his gang.
Though never expressing distaste for firearms in the series, in the second season of the show Batman does wisely warn that, “Great care must be taken in the use of firearms. They can be quite dangerous if used improperly.”
The television show’s ambivalence about gunplay was reflected in the merchandise of the time. A variety of Batman products were gun-related, like the Batgun toy released by Lone Star or the Batman Shooting Arcade from Marx toys.
Hollywood hasn’t always taken a staunch stance on Batman, guns and murder. The Batmobile in the Tim Burton films sported some pretty heavy gunplay, not to mention other homicidal actions. In the film, the Batmobile rams through the outer gate of the Axis Chemicals plant and starts blasting away with gatling guns that pop out of the hood, none too concerned about any bystanders. Batman later detonates the entire building. Later in the film, Batman swoops the Batwing down on the Joker, aiming missiles and gunfire right at him, although he does miss.
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman doesn’t grab any guns in this film, but in one scene he uses the Batmobile afterburner to set the Red Triangle Circus Gang on fire. Larer, Batman encounters a large goon from the same gang. He dares Batman to hit him and then smirks when it has no effect. But the bomb that Batman attaches to him before knocking him down a hole does. And who could forget when one clown snatches Selina Kyle in front of a concrete wall. Batman shoots his hook, missing the goon. The clown smirks, until Batman yanks on the wire and a chunk of concrete tumbles onto the goon’s head.
The Nolan Trilogy (2005-2012)
The Nolan trilogy has a few instances of gunplay, or rather attempts at it. In a key Batman Begins scene, right before he runs off to travel the world, Bruce brandishes a gun to his childhood friend and assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, portrayed by Katie Holmes. He confesses he intends to ice Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents. She then slaps him silly and he eventually abandons the idea, tossing the weapon in the river. This catalyst sends him on his world travels to learn how to fight and stand on his own, no longer a coward hiding behind a gun.
In Dark Knight Rises, guns are mounted on the “Batpod,” the modern version of the traditional Batcycle. But it’s Catwoman who fires them to kill Bane at the end of the movie. Even though Batman had snarled at her earlier in the film, “No Guns!” Catwoman after blasting Bane quips, “About the whole no-guns thing. . . . I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do.”
Batman: The Animated Series (1992)
This is the first animated gunplay of the Batman franchise. Prior to that viewers only had the two Filmation cartoons (in 1968 and 1977), two Hanna Barbera Scooby Doo appearances and the various Super Friends incarnations to enjoy throughout the 1970s to the mid 1980s. Those were primarily slight evolutions of the campy 1966 television show, where Batman’s dark side never showed itself. Once the Tim Burton films were released, to a resounding success, Warner Bros. Animation green-lit a new Batman cartoon, one that more accurately reflected the new, noirish tone. Bruce W. Timm and Paul Dini helmed the new show, along with Alan Burnett and Eric Radomski, and together they set out to produce the very first “serious” Batman cartoon. The show continues to be a mega hit with fans. It displays a lot more gun action, due to more relaxed television censors of the era. The introduction to the cartoon, taken from the demo footage shown to Warners, depicts two shadowy criminals pulling guns on Batman, who squints ominously before flipping a batarang to disarm them.
Batman Beyond (1999)
The New Batman Adventures, which was the second incarnation of Batman: the Animated Series, had just ended and Warners was clammoring for more. This time, fans were rewarded with a peek into the future in Batman Beyond, initially titled Batman Tomorrow, and Batman of the Future overseas. This series offered a neo-futuristic view of Gotham, with a new Akira-esque Japanese anime skyline and techno music. In Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne has aged to a white-haired elderly gentleman with a cane and we’re introduced to the next generation of Batman, the young Terry McGinnis. A pilot episode flashback explains why Bruce Wayne hung up the mantle of the bat, all thanks to a gun. In a struggle to free a captive woman, Bruce is bested by one of the kidnappers and it looks like the end. In his desperation he grabs for a gun . . . something he never thought he’d do. He makes a solemn vow never again to don the Batsuit. Albeit, a promise he’d break later when Terry needed his help.
DC Universe Animated Movies (2008)
In the DC Universe animated Gotham Knight feature, the “Working Through Pain” segment, Batman stands in a sewer, wounded by a bullet, remembering his attempts to travel abroad and overcome and master his pain. He’s holding an armful of guns he’s found below. Alfred calls out, “Sir, give me your hand!” Batman replies, “I . . . I can’t.” Is it a metaphor for Bruce’s inability to let go of the pain that guns have caused him?
Beware the Batman (2013)
The subject of guns was naturally a vital topic after the tragic shootings in an Aurora, Colorado, theater during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. The original pitch for Beware the Batman had Alfred as a gun-toting butler. According to reports, after Aurora, Warner Bros. Animation replaced Alfred’s revolvers with a non-lethal pulse rifle.
Each new creative team projects its own take onto the Batman franchise, whether comic books, cartoons or movies. Batman’s stance on guns and killing will change with the wind, unless DC Comics puts down a strict branding code for the character, something they’ve yet to do. I firmly believe that what sets Batman apart is his cleverness in disarming a madman like the Joker, instead of just plugging him between the eyes. Batman is incorruptible, and is also, at heart, a law enforcement officer. He’d set a pretty bad example if he simply gunned down his enemies. Of course, Batman like anyone, is entitled to kill in self-defense. And there are many who believe that certain crimes deserve the death penalty. In a civilized society, however, juries decide that, not vigilantes. Fans must decide for themselves about this important matter, keeping in mind that putting one’s money where one’s heart is a powerful form of voting.