The relationship of Batman and Joker progresses in complexity with every new writer. Joker’s psychology and Batman’s personality clash, resulting in a battle of the minds as well as a physical battle, and more than a few casualties. As The Dark Knight’s joker said, “we’re bound to do this forever.”
But do they have to?
The idea of Batman killing Joker isn’t particular ya new one. Frank Miller famously explored the possibility in The Dark Knight Returns. The notion has been most recently asked in Scott Snyder’s “Death of the family” storyline. In the story, Joker captures the bat-family, playing physco games with Batman. Joker asks Batman, like so many times before, why Batman doesn’t just kill him already. Batman states matter-of-factly “because you’d win.”
But we’ve seen that before, right? I mean whenever we ask ourselves “why” we always go back to that same theory: because Joker would win. It seems as though Joker’s existence is to merely break the Batman. In Joker’s twisted mind, “breaking Batman” means the opposite of what, say, Two-Face or Riddler’s definition would be. Joker’s definition would mean for Batman to kill him, not the other way around.
No matter how many times Batman stops Joker, no matter how many plans Batman thwarts, Joker always seems to win. Or rather, Batman always seems to lose. In “Death of the family,” right after Batman says “because you’d win,” Joker says “I win by living, by keep on keepin’ on.” Joker’s chaos theory is set for a lifetime chess match with Batman by making every move by Batman the wrong one. If Batman let’s Joker live, he loses. If Batman kills Joker, he loses.
But if Batman were to cross that line, if he were to kill Joker, would he have the authority? Authority is given to those in charge by those being protected. Batman has authority. The citizens of Gotham City give it to Batman by accepting his role as a “watchful protector, a dark knight.” The Gotham City Police Department give him the authority by not arresting him, by accepting his presence, and even assisting him.
So, since Batman, a figure of authority, lives outside the realm of society’s rules and regulations, he is allowed whatever means necessary to take down Joker, right? Well, not so fast. Authority figures are given their power based on a set of principles. Governments are given the power to govern only if their authority is constantly being questioned and limited. Policeman, politicians have limits, too.
Batman is no different.
The caped crusader lives by his own set of moral codes, most relevant being not killing. This, in return, is what gives him the authority to do what he does. By not killing, Batman isn’t pursued by the police department. By not killing, Batman proves to be a symbol of integrity and hope to the citizens of his city. If Batman ever crosses that line, if he ever betrays his own code, his authority would thus be tampered, if not void.
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