Today we’re going to be dealing with a reader question, from Friend Of The Blog and all around good guy @goblinpaladin: “Does Batman's abhorrence of firearms and imposed restriction of no killing mean he believes in the possibility of redemption?”
Good question! Let me begin by answering it quickly, and then going into a bit more detail: Batman believes THE HECK out of redemption. It’s basically his whole deal. It’s why he’s not the Punisher. It’s why he doesn’t kill, why he sends his villains to an asylum, a place of healing. You might also say, "but Alex, isn't Batman also kind of a suspicious guy? Can't he sometimes also be kind of an asshole?" And you'd be right, for the most part. Here's the thing: Batman accepts the capacity for redemption in all people as a concept, but he basically never believes in it when he sees it.
There are a few caveats that I want to get out of the way before we dig into the nuts and bolts, and the first one is that you can find a Batman story to prove anything you like. The guy has been in print for seventy five goddamn years now, often in as many as six books a month, all by different writers, all of whom have their own idea of how the ‘real’ Batman behaves. There's gonna be done variance, and at the end of the day he’s a fictional character, so getting at what "really" believes is always going to be a problematic endeavour. That said, there are degrees. Let me put it this way – there’s a difference between a story where Batman lets Catwoman come hang out in the Batcave, which is out of character but not impossible, and a story where he teams up with the man who killed his parents, USING THE GUN THAT KILLED HIS PARENTS, which is totally goddamn insane. Both of these things happened (Hush and Year Two, respectively) and both of them are terrible, but the latter is a far greater deviation from the ‘proper' Batman, for lack of a better word. That concept is also pretty subjective, and if you have a different perspective, well it's not like you're paying for this.
|Let's just move right along...|
|"Cages", by Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett|
To my mind, the clearest examples in The Animated Series that demonstrates Batman’s belief in redemption are “It’s Never Too Late” and “Paging the Crime Doctor”. There are a lot of common threads between the two episodes, though “Paging the Crime Doctor” comes later and builds a lot on the setup of the first. “It’s Never Too Late” is essentially a reworking of the A Christmas Carol / It’s a Wonderful Life setup, with Batman taking an aging crime boss named Arnold Stromwell around Gotham and showing him the fruits of his misdeeds, encouraging him to turn state’s witness and end a destructive mob war with rival Rupert Thorne. It’s powerful stuff, culminating in Stromwell flashing back to the childhood tragedy that set him on the path of destruction before breaking down and vowing to change his ways. “Paging The Crime Doctor” runs in a similar vein, with Batman seeking to save Thorne’s brother instead of his rival, a doctor named Matthew Thorne who has been compelled to operate an illegal practice for his Thorne’s henchmen. Not only does Batman rescue him from Rupert’s machinations, he also pays for a top defence lawyer for him and testifies as Bruce Wayne, all in the name of getting him a more lenient sentence. This is despite Matthew having endangered the life of one of Batman’s closest friends, Leslie Thompkins, something that would usually earn you a date with a rope and the underside of one of Gotham’s higher gargoyles.
|"Paging The Crime Doctor"|
But what does Batman do with those who have reformed, or at least claim to have done so? After all, there are several episodes which open with an Arkham regular being released and announcing their intention to go straight. Does Batman believe them? Like hell he does. Let’s break it down, starting with “Riddler’s Reform.” It opens with the Riddler’s apparent cure and release from Arkham, something that should be good news, but of course Batman doesn’t trust him. A truck full of question mark crates seems to bear this out, and of course Bats breaks this up, only to discover that it’s part of a shipment of games. Not deterred, he keeps following Riddler around, threatening him, disrupting his activities and accusing him of all sorts of crimes. He turns out to be right, of course, because a Riddler who goes straight isn’t nearly as interesting as a master criminal, no matter whatever comics of late oughts might try to make you believe. The point is, a criminal tells the world that he’s going straight, and Bats just can’t accept it. He wants criminals to give up their ways, but when they try, he doesn’t believe that they have. He’s complicated.
This isn’t the only time, either. Poison Ivy even gets married and adopts a couple of kids in “House and Garden”, but when there’s a string of plant-based murders Batman is right there, knocking on her door and trailing her all around town. Another instructive example appears in “Birds of a Feather”, in which it is the Penguin who is released and makes a try for the simple life, albeit in his own disgusting way. Batman once again gets involved, first accusing him of being involved in a mugging which he was actually breaking up, and later assuming that he was stealing a statuette which he was in fact returning to its owner. This time, Batman actually starts to come around, starting to believe that the Penguin is genuine in his desire to go straight before the cruelty of others drive him back to his criminal ways.
Then there’s Catwoman, and I’ll be honest with you folks, it’s hard to get a read on where she fits into the whole question of redemption. Yes, Batman looks out for her when she’s not actively involved in stealing enormous statues of Isis, and he even saves her from becoming a walking Deviantart at one point, but the fact that he’s so very attracted to her means that he’s got as much personal motivation in turning her around as he does a legitimate belief in her capacity for good. It’s also worth noting that when she is paroled from prison in “Cat Scratch Fever”, just as with the Riddler, Batman doesn’t believe that she could have possibly gone straight, and sets out to keep tabs on her. Unlike Ivy or the Riddler, though, she’s telling the truth, and when circumstances find her imprisoned once again, it’s Bruce Wayne who pops up with bail for her release.
|"Tyger, Tyger" - not what you'd call a "good" episode|
One last example of a reform story before we move on, that his is a more complex version that I want to pay particular attention to. “Harley’s Holiday” has Harley Quinn being released from prison and goes on a shopping spree, only to be caught up in a series of misadventures that begin with her walking her rabid hyenas down the street and end with her accidentally kidnapping a socialite. It’s worth noting that the whole thing stems from the people of Gotham assuming that they know that Harley must be up to no good, coupled with her complete inability to behave in public. She does end up causing quite a bit of wanton property damage, and Batman brings her down and sends her back to prison, but here’s the thing: he understands. He doesn’t condemn her as a no good criminal, and he doesn’t say that she shouldn’t have been released. What does he say, then? “I had a bad day once too.” Harley’s not a bad person here, she’s just poorly socialised and unable to fit in. Yeah, she’s done terrible things, but that’s not who she is. This episode is largely pitched towards humour, but the producers also have something to say about ex-convicts and recidivism, namely that those who struggle to escape from a life of crime could do with an understanding ear, even if it does come from a grim figure of the night.
Now, It’s never stated precisely why Batman is upset about the treatment of the inmates, especially since they’re all guilty of terrorism, murder and abuse of theming several times over, but the likely explanation is that he feels they’re capable of reforming. At the very least, it indicates a support for due process and for the humane treatment of prisoners, which would indicate a position that the prison system is there to reform, not to punish. That might be a stretch, but seen in combination with the previous examples, it seems to be clear proof of Batman’s commitment to reform and redemption among Gotham’s cowardly, superstitious lot.
So there we have it! Batman believes that people can reform, but when it comes to individual criminals actually trying to do so, he tends to be kind of a dick about it. Agree? Disagree? Let me know, and be sure to follow along on Twitter at @CrimeAlleyNotes