- Batman’s refusal to kill is driven by his hope that villains can reform and become better members of society.
- Several of Batman’s villains, including Harley Quinn and Two-Face, have experienced significant reforms in the comics.
The Joker, despite his abhorrent crimes, has also undergone a reform in
Batman: White Knight
where he tries to make amends and help Gotham and Batman.
There’s always a good reason as to why Batman does not kill in the DC Comics universe. Whilst many may argue that Gotham City and the world would be better off with the likes of the Joker dead, Batman makes a case against it, and not only because he wouldn’t know how to stop killing once he started. Batman does not kill in DC Comics because he has hope that these villains will reform, and there are multiple times when this has actually happened.
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Some of Batman’s best villains in the comics have reformed, even some of the most unlikely of them. Whether it’s intervention by Arkham Asylum, a change of plans through the end of the world, or the death of Batman, the consistent fact of the matter is that these Batman villains have changed, and reformed to be a better part of society that does not rely on chaos and fear.
6 Harley Quinn
Notable Reform: Harley Quinn (2021) #1
Harley Quinn didn’t start out as a villain. She was an up-and-coming therapist who decided to venture to Gotham City in the hopes of landing a big patient with The Joker. Little did she know, she would end up falling in love with the most dangerous man on the planet. After years of abuse at the hands of the Joker, and deciding that hurting innocents isn’t for her, Harley returned home to Brooklyn, Coney Island to rediscover herself.
Years later, her journey led her back to where Harleen became Harley, and she returned to Gotham City, hoping to kill Joker once and for all. Harley has been on the road to redemption for a while, and has even interacted and had good relationships with Batman and other Bat Family members, even if she still isn’t totally opposed to killing the odd bad guy or two. Other interesting reforms come from the Batman: White Knight series, in which Harley reformed years ago after leaving the Joker, and she eventually married Batman.
Notable Reform: The Dark Knight Returns
It could be argued that this graphic novel forever changed Batman into a darker character, and the fate of Two-Face may assist just that. As readers may know, Harvey Dent’s tragic assassination attempt left him disfigured on half of his face, and he developed a split-personality and an obsession with all things to do with two. Perhaps Two-Face’s saddest reform comes from The Dark Knight Returns.
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In this comic, Harvey Dent is ready to leave Arkham as a happy and cured man, with surgery having reconstructed his damaged face to make him appear normal. However, for Two-Face, his mental state has decayed so much that he thinks both sides match on the wrong side, and he sees himself as completely disfigured, entirely Two-Face, and not Harvey Dent. This isn’t the only time Harvey has reformed, and his working relationship with Batman has often assisted in that department.
Notable Reform: Detective Comics #964
For months, Clayface had been on a path of redemption, trying to leave behind his anger and criminal past. However, it wasn’t until Detective Comics #964 that the former villain made a brilliant breakthrough, and realized that he was not alone. His relationship with Cassandra Cain, then Orphan, now Batgirl, allowed the duo to share in their grief of the lives they cannot have, and to not feel like monsters.
Clayface is one of the more tragic characters in the Batman mythos, and Basil Karlo has definitely been through the wringer. Clayface deserves his redemption story, as he is far more interesting as an ally as Batman, and a friend of the Bat Family, than another villain, especially when there are already a few Clayface villains to take the mantle.
3 Killer Croc
Notable Reform: Gotham City Monsters #2
Another tragic villain in Batman’s Rogue Gallery, Killer Croc’s pain comes from how the world sees him as a monster. Whilst Killer Croc has done some awful crimes, including eating people, he is still tragically misunderstood. After joining the Suicide Squad, Killer Croc even found love with Enchantress, showing that he wasn’t alone anymore. However, not even love could prevent Killer Croc’s anger from bubbling.
After receiving his pardon, Killer Croc entered society, but he could not get a job. Whether it was due to his time as a villain, or his appearance, no one would hire Waylon Jones, leaving him bitter and angry. However, even under all this stress, Killer Croc still wanted to help the likes of Frankenstein to do the right thing.
2 The Riddler
Notable Reform: Detective Comics #822
One of Batman’s most obnoxiously intelligent foes, the Riddler has perhaps one of the best reforms in DC Comics. Edward Nigma decided to turn the moniker of the Riddler into that of a private detective, rather than the known villain making the Caped Crusader’s life a living Hell with difficult conundrums, riddles, and death traps. Whilst remaining as his narcissistic self, Edward Nigma’s change came after he woke from his coma, which came about after he was hit in the head by the Shining Knight’s mace.
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The Riddler kept his ego, but lost his obsessive compulsion for riddles, creating perhaps the best version of the Riddler in DC Comics. Riddler was more than happy to solve cases, whether they be investigations around murders or stolen fortunes. Being on the right side of the law was a good turn for Riddler, and one that the current continuity lacks.
1 The Joker
Notable Reform: Batman: White Knight
The idea of the Joker reforming has been floated around in DC Comics for years. Most of the time, when the Joker reforms, he either does it because Batman is dead, or he just decides it’s time for a change of pace. Whether it’s becoming an upstanding citizen, or a crazed head in a lantern that fights alongside Batman, the Joker’s stories are as crazy as the Clown Prince of Crime himself.
Whilst the Joker isn’t exactly worthy of being reformed and redeemed due to the abhorrent crimes he has committed, there is one reform in particular where he tries to make up for it, and that features in Batman: White Knight. In this series, Joker becomes Jack Napier, regains his sanity, and tries to help Gotham and Batman to be better.
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