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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Batman Kills People With Guns

All throughout December, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today we look at one of the earliest examples of abandoning and forsaking a comic book story.


In Batman #1, Batman takes care of business with a machine gun mounted on his Bat-plane…

And in Detective Comics #35, he sure looks comfortable carrying a gun…

However, Batman #4 showed us another side of Batman…

And that’s more or less been the status quo ever since!


“Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary?”

Wasn’t there a time where Batman broke a guy’s neck and said something like “A fitting ending for his kind”?
He didn’t seem so reticent then. :-)

I don’t think it’s really that fair to include stuff that happened before the character really got defined.

The Batman never carries or kills with a gun, but does he still kill people by roping their neck from a moving plane, keeping them noosed until the suffocate if the initial jerk wasn’t fatal, and then cutting the rope so that they fall to their death on the off-chance that they didn’t die from either of the previous two experiences?

Why don’t you make this a weekly Feature? I would love to read more stuff like this

that stuff there is when batman is just hitting the comic rack and being define as the character not to mention would have picked batman year two when batman really used guns

“But out of the sky, spitting death…the Batman!”
Oh dear, I really should get some book of these early Batman stories.
But yeah, there’s a bunch of cases like this where some character is introduced in one way but shortly after it has been noted that this part doesn’t really work, let’s change that. And of course that’s how these should be done instead of getting too attached to early poor decisions.
I could probably list a bunch of examples about Scrooge McDuck where some of his early stuff ended up just being ignored (the manor of his first appearance, lack of cash in second, magic hourglass…). Some of them did end up to live in curious ways though, mainly the way Barks wrote him early as quite ambiguous and often antagonistic character, and then some other writers started using that character and emphasizing his villainous traits even further (most importantly Guido Martina), while Barks at the same time was turning him more and more into a protagonist.
Might have been interesting to see some similar double vision develop for Batman (though arguably things were pretty close to that once Miller’s grim-and-gritty version got played more and more and at the same time we had considerably more upbeat Batman Adventures)

This is all from the 11 months Batman lasted as a solo character. By the way, you’re missing the scene in which he shoots two vampires dead with a handgun (loaded with silver bullets, naturally). Which, by the way, was extremely problematic, since the master vampire, who was called the Monk, wore a hood which ended up as the very first exhibit in the Batcave trophy room, thus making the whole thing unalterable canon forever.

It was eventually retconned that these stories are about Earth-2 Batman, who retired, married Catwoman, had a daughter (Earth-2 Huntress), became police commissioner, and died. And then later still he was further retconned out of existence, along with everyone else on Earth-2 except Power Girl, because she has bigger boobs than Batman, which is obviously the ultimate superpower and renders you indestructible. So none of the stuff in the pictures above actually happened. Well, not now it didn’t.

You might like to have a look at the very first Joker story from 1940. It was a very early Robin story, so Batman was still in transition from grim vigilante to smiling sort-of family man. The original intention was that the Joker was going to be a one-off character who died, but the editor ruled that, since the story was already quite grim, what with the Joker killing a couple of people in nasty ways and generally being really, really evil, he shouldn’t die during a fight with Batman, because it might look as though Batman let him die accidentally-on-purpose.

However, the strip had already been completed. Have a look at it (maybe the relevant portions can be reproduced here). In the second-last panel, the Joker, who has fallen on his own dagger, quite clearly dies – he even says it himself! But the very last panel, which was originally of Batman and Robin having a bit of crime-does-not-pay chit-chat, has had the dialogue changed so that Batman now reveals that miraculously the Joker got better. Incidentally, it’s a while since I’ve seen it, but am I right in thinking that in his debut appearance, Robin pretty unambiguously throws Boss Zucco, the guy who killed his parents, off a very tall building? Well, technically he slipped, but… You might like to reproduce that so we can all see the 12-year-old Dick Grayson committing manslaughter. How times have changed!

I’d love to read these early Batman comics. The idea of Gordon being a friend of Bruce’s while hunting the murderous vigilante Batman is pretty interesting.

I’m glad Batman stopped killing, I like him the way he is now. Martial arts may be a better way to fight, but they’re pretty pointless if you carry around a gun.

Well that’s not all that politically correct now is it? You got to love the 40’s the days when you could kill a murderer, nazi,or even a japanese spy and no one complained. Imagine what the Batman from the 40’s would have done to child molesters,serial killers,and terrorist these days, people would lose their minds and protest Batman.

That is the funny thing about Miller’s Batman.

While much vaunted as some sort of “back-to-basics”, _definitive_ approach, it actually relies on things that were found not to work at the time and were discreetly discarded while the character found its footing.

Now that is a comics urban legend worth exploring: “Was Frank Miller’s grim and gritty Batman a return to a previous, established incarnation of the character?” Answer: False enough for a false.

As respected Batmanologist Chris Sims explained elsewhere, the character from those early “a fitting end to his kind” stories wasn’t yet the Batman we’re familiar with; not even his famous origin with the parents getting shot had been created at that point. That early character that killed criminals and whose secret identity smoked a pipe was essentially the Shadow wearing a Batman costume.

@Kabe… Not sure why it isn’t ‘fair’ to consider these stories since the whole point of this month-long feature IS to look at how a published story is abandoned and forsaken for something else that is now canon. Cronin’s work is often about enlightening us to the nooks and crannies of comic book history, not about pointing out inconsistencies. So, yeah, this stuff is interesting even if it was only for the brief time before the idea of Batman gelled into something beyond the Shadow.

And not for nothing, but I’ve already featured a change that happened in the third appearance of a character (Spider-Woman’s origin being dropped three stories into her comic book history), so the precedent has been established! :)

Now to wait for the story that waited 35 years to be told: how come Jessica’s hair is now black when it was clearly shown to be a very light brown-blonde in her first four appearances or so (and only there)?

Fantomas, that was the second Joker story in the same issue. And the version I’ve heard the creators tell is that they spared the Joker simply because they realized he was a great antagonist, not any qualms about killing.
The Batman Chronicles is a good source for the early stuff at an affordable price. I’m up to book #10 which brings us into 1943 or so. Among other things it’s fascinating to see during the war years how many criminals ripped off war bond rallies and fund raisers for war orphans–I don’t know if it was just to be topical or if that was proof how utterly rotten they were (or both).


In one of Bendis’ Spider-Woman stories, Jessica has blonde hair and later starts dying it black. A character even draws attention to this.

One of the reasons I miss “First Wave”: The “Bat Man” who fought alongside The Spirit and Doc Savage totally rocked double pistols.

Fraser, I can’t remember who the version of the Joker’s last-minute reprieve from permanent death that I gave was attributed to, but since it all happened a very long time ago, it sounds as though different people remember it differently. Given that the actual comic has clearly been minimally altered at the very last minute so that the Joker doesn’t die, and that Batman was on the cusp of not being a grim vigilante any more, it looks like an editorial decision, and I think the chances are that my version is what actually happened, and yours is somebody retroactively giving himself credit for a wise decision that he didn’t really make long after the event, probably because he genuinely does remember it that way. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because whatever happened, the best supervillain ever was spared to torment the best superhero ever for over 70 years (and counting).

Oh, by the way, while we’re on the subject of Joker origins, does everybody know that he was directly based on the character played by Conrad Veidt in a silent movie called “The Man Who Laughs”? Here are some delightful pictures of him:


This ties in nicely with Batman also being partly based on at least two silent movie character, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in “The Mark Of Zorro” and the bad guy in “The Bat Whispers”. And also with the super-intelligent ultra-manipulative hero-turned-villain Ozymandias having the surname “Veidt” by way of a sly Joker reference. Also, in “Watchmen”, the Comedian’s real name is Edward Blake. That’s lifted directly from an old Hammer film called “I, Monster” based very closely on “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, but with the main characters’ names changed for copyright reasons. Edward Hyde becomes Edward Blake (played by Christopher Lee), and in this version, he starts off as a normal-looking man with no morals whatsoever, but his face gradually deteriorates until he becomes a hideously scarred freak. Sound familiar?

I heard the version Fraser says as well, and the reason I tend to be more partial toward it than toward Fantomas’s is because in later issues Batman and Robin are still shown letting villains die due to their own carelessness without losing too much sleep over it, so I don’t think there was a new editorial policy against such depictions in place, at least not until Wertham.

Startlingly, one realizes that these more overtly juvenile properties have had more feature films in recent years than the Shadow. If the Shadow had sworn off of firearms, had run around in spadex, hung around with a boy in pixie shoes, shaved legs, golden cape, and bright red tunic, appeared in Super-Friends, had Ace the Shadow-Hound, had Shadow-Mite, faced foes using giant pennies, would we have more films about him today?

This is small potatoes compared to the storyline in Detective Comics #36 where Jim Gordon finds a shitload of human body parts in Bruce Wayne’s freezer. The dialogue is a scream!!

GORDON: What on Earth is this?

WAYNE: Loads of body parts… wait, do you like vigilantism or not?

GORDON: Not! I’m a law enforcement professional.

WAYNE: Shit. I got somethin’ to tell you…

Gee… how about the abandoned Frank Miller’s “ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN”….?? The man still in hiding following the failure of his movie version of “The Spirit”…

Guns don’t kill people, BATMAN does! :)

There’s nothing Dark about a Knight who will NEVER kill even to save an innocent life.

Real cops kill unarmed people all the time claiming to save their own life.

Batman’s early use of a gun, and his reasons for deciding not to continue to use guns, are discussed in detail in the first run of Batman Odyssey by Neil Adams.

I would be interested in reading your thoughts on Batman Odyssey, which was a very wierd book.

There is also at least one cover where Batman is holding a gun – I think it was drawn by McFarlane.


In Batman 259, Denny O’Neill portrayed a young Bruce Wayne as traumatized when he was caught in a gun battle between the Shadow and a crime ring. At the end of the story, the Shadow helps him get over it, but Bats decides he still chooses not to use guns.

I remember the first time I heard about this, many years ago in some documentary (I think for the 1994 animated movie). Bob Kane was talking about the early days of Batman and mentioned that he used to carry a gun, but then his editor decided that the hero should never kill people and asked him to get rid of the gun. So for people who complain about some of Batman’s action in the two Tim Burton movies, you could say that Batman is based more on the original, early Batman where he had no problem with killing bad guys.

^ That doesn’t make it alright. Like Luis Dantas stated, the Batman killing bad guys stuff came from before the character was defined, back when writers were trying different stuff and scrapping what didn’t work. You can’t go bringing back random early stuff just because it was featured in early stories, some stuff just no longer work (assuming that they ever worked) and aren’t worth bringing back. You can’t make a Daredevil film and give him a goofy and ugly yellow outfit just because he wore a yellow costume in his early years. When Burton produced the Bat-films, Batman had already been established as a character who never killed his enemies. He should have known better than to contradict the character that Batman had been for most of his existence.

Batman doesn’t use guns! Except on every vehicle he owns!

Not mine originally but still funny.

I wonder why the change in ethics? did it have to do with mounting pressure from parents and the government that comic books where bad for kids?

This is the REAL BATMAN, not that bullshit one they got now. Here’s the real mccoy.

There is a much later issue of Batman that has cover art showing Batman firing a machine gun. It’s a war cover, so I assume he’s shooting at Nazis.

Bill Williamson

April 10, 2014 at 7:47 am

Bruce Timm’s new Batman short has him firing a machine gun. It shoots tear gas, however.

There was also a Chuck Dixon Batman story where Batman sniped Gunhawk in the arm/hand to stop him from shooting and killing someone else (at least, I think it was Gunhawk, it might’ve been Deathstroke). The cover had Batman brandishing a machine gun.

@ Danspam: I think the change was pre-50s. Batman stopped carrying a gun and deliberately killing people, but sometimes he’d kill people by accident, i.e by punching them so they’d stagger backwards down a flight of stairs or into a sword/dagger that just happened to be stuck in the door. They still did it in the 80s actually, I think it was Detective Comics #613 (a Grant/Breyfogle story) where Batman accidentally knocked a guy into a trash compactor. Cracked had an article on it.

@PB210: Shadow’s lack of representation in other media has more to do with the fact that he’s a prose character (a pulp character to be specific) and pulp magazines were pretty much dying when Batman and Superman came to be. There aren’t many audiences who remember The Shadow and so a movie about him would be a hard sell in the vein of The Lone Ranger or John Carter. Otherwise, he’s perfectly marketable, has nothing to do with his maturity.

@Anonymous: Batman’s not a cop. Real cops sometimes (operative word here is ‘sometimes’) get away with killing unarmed people because they’re cops. Batman isn’t. If he killed people he felt were guilty he’d be a bigger danger to public safety than some of the people he fights.

Bill Williamson

April 10, 2014 at 8:26 am

Also, if we’re going to talk about Batman breaking his ‘no killing rule’

In Batman Begins he let Ra’s die.

In The Dark Knight Rises he gave Bane his permission to die.

In Batman Death Of The Innocents, he picks up and uses what appears to be an Uzi. Am I the only one who remembers this? Haha

[…] seem minor to those paying attention, they were quietly accepted by the fanbase at large. (See also Batman originally killing people with guns; imagine him doing that […]

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