Despite his status as a vigilante who hunts down criminals from the shadows, Batman has one of the strongest moral compasses of any hero. For instance, while a hero like Captain America may outwardly look more like a typical hero, Cap is perfectly willing to kill his enemies if he has to (he did fight in a World War, after all), whereas Batman has a strict no-kill policy as a means of distancing himself from the corrupt individuals he encounters on a nightly basis. Still, even though he’s forged an uneasy partnership with law enforcement, Batman is breaking the law by taking the law into his own hands and over the years, he’s definitely done some things that hurt his reputation as a hero standing up for justice.
With over 75 years of comic book history, there have been many instances of Batman making some serious mistakes and the following represent some of his worst offenses.
15. Firing Dick Grayson as Robin
As every Batman fan knows, Dick Grayson was the first incarnation of Robin and was just as much an ally to Batman as he was an adopted son. Unfortunately, the shared mentor/student and father/son dynamic caused a lot of tension between the two over the years, with Dick seemingly unable to live up to Bruce’s impossible standards. As dick got older, he began to pursue other interests, such as school and the Teen Titans, a superhero team comprised of young crimefighters such as himself. Eventually, Batman finds out about Robin’s membership in the Teen Titans and in Nightwing: Year One, confronts his protege and reprimands him for it, leading to this memorable quote:
“This is a war, Dick. Robin is my second… my lieutenant. Anything less than total devotion to this cause is simply wasting my time. I’ll say it again… you’re fired, Dick. Get out of my cave.”
Yes, Batman fires Dick Grayson on the spot and strips him of the Robin title. Thankfully for all involved, Dick would go on to become Nightwing (essentially the cooler version of Robin) and the pair eventually reconnect and even forge a stronger bond than before. Still, Batman arguably goes a bit too far with his display of tough love and it’s hard not to view him as a petty jerk in this scenario.
14. Forcing Robin to Eat Rats
Frank Miller has written some of the greatest Batman stories of all time, with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns standing as two of his greatest contributions to the world of comics. Unfortunately, Miller’s later Batman work has been hit and miss, with his All Star Batman & Robin collaboration with artist Jim Lee regarded as one of the worst Batman stories in the character’s history. Most of the criticisms can be leveled at Miller’s characterization of Batman in the comic, as he’s depicted as being a sadistic jerk who puts Robin through some truly crazy training regimens.
At one point, Batman locks the Boy Wonder in the Batcave without any food to eat but rats. Keep in mind that this moment comes not long after Dick Grayson — who is only 12 years old — has just witnessed his parents being shot to death by a hit man and basically kidnapped by Batman from the police and “drafted into a war” without his permission. Oh but don’t worry Dick, there are also lots of bats to eat in the Batcave!
13. Dating Lois Lane
Lois Lane has always been Clark Kent’s main squeeze but there have been a few cases where Bruce Wayne has made moves on her which, considering Superman and Batman are close friends, simply isn’t cool. The biggest move came in Lois Lane #89, in which Bruce reveals that he’s been romantically interested in Lois for years but never acted on it. Clark ends up breaking it off with Lois and Bruce makes his move. The pair eventually get married and even have a baby!
Of course, it’s later revealed that this was an imaginary tale and didn’t actually happen but there actually is a story where Bruce and Lois date for real. In Batman & Superman Adventures: World’s Finest by Paul Dini and Joe Staton, Batman ends up dating Lois during a time when he and Superman don’t know each other very well. The relationship doesn’t last long but it still breaks some serious friendship boundaries on Batman’s part.
12. Falling For Talia al Ghul
On the one hand, it’s hard to fault Bruce Wayne/Batman for wanting to find love. Devoting your life to crime fighting must get pretty lonely, so one can understand why Batman would latch onto human connection where he can find it. But did he really have to sleep with one of his greatest foe’s daughter? Ra’s al Ghul is the leader of the League of Assassins and has been both a teacher and adversary of Batman’s over the years, as the Dark Knight admires the man’s noble ideas but can’t get behind his extreme methods of seeing them through.
For whatever reason, Ra’s is really into the idea of Batman getting together with his daughter Talia and the two do so in Batman: Son of the Demon, sharing a night of passion that eventually results in Talia giving birth to a son named Damien. In other words, this is the point where Batman’s life went from complicated to just totally insane as Damien is constantly at odds between two parents with very different views of the world (who also are mortal enemies depending on the day). Yikes, talk about family drama.
11. Torturing The Penguin
Batman may have a no-kill policy but he regularly puts the hurt on the bad guys, being a particular fan of rendering them unconscious. Unsurprisingly, there have been times when Batman’s gone a bit too far with his interrogation techniques, such as his brutal encounter with the Penguin in David Finsh’s Batman: The Dark Knight series (2011). While searching for his missing childhood friend Dawn Golden, Batman discovers that the Penguin is involved in her disappearance and quickly loses his cool.
What begins as a simple verbal demand for information quickly turns physical, to the point where Batman starts breaking Oswald Cobblepot’s limbs one-by-one. Luckily for the Penguin, Killer Croc shows up and knocks Batman out before he can do even more damage, but it’s still a shocking sight to behold. Even Alfred is horrified by his actions, as Batman typically only breaks body parts if he’s engaged in an actual fight, not as a means of torture.
10. Justice League Contingency Plans
As the only core member of the Justice League with no actual superpowers, it’s understandable that Batman would fear for not only his life but that of every other human being if any member of the team were to go rogue and use their powers against the people they’ve sworn to protect. As such, the revelation that Batman has contingency plans for each of his teammates makes a certain amount of sense… but keeping the whole thing a secret from your allies and friends does not. During the excellent 2012 animated film Justice League: Doom, loosely based on the “JLA: Tower of Babel” comic series, we see the cost of Batman’s deception when the Justice League’s enemies discover his contingency plans and put them into action.
Pretty soon, the lives of every team member are put in jeopardy, with things looking especially grim for Superman, who is shot by Metallo with a Kryptonite bullet. When Batman is finally taken to task by the Justice League for his actions, he arrogantly maintains that his actions were justified, criticizing the others for not understanding the threat posed by a rogue Justice League. His actions are redeemed somewhat by his revelation that his contingency plan for himself is the Justice League itself, but it still doesn’t change the fact that his arrogance almost led to the team’s downfall.
9. Endangering Children (Repeatedly)
As much as Batman has a reputation for being a loner who likes to work alone, it’s hard to think of another superhero who’s as fond of recruiting children to assist him in his crime fighting crusade. To date, there have been five different Robins: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damien Wayne, all of whom started their careers as kids. While Batman has had some compelling reasons for why he chose to take each of these individuals on as his protege, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that he was being irresponsible by putting their lives directly in harm’s way, even with the rigorous training he provided them.
One need look no further than Jason Todd, who was beaten to death by the Joker, or Stephanie Brown, who was tortured and killed by Black Mask as examples of the very real dangers each Robin was subjected to. While it was later revealed that both of those characters survived their ordeals, that’s more a result of comic book retconning than anything and at the end of the day, their pain and suffering is all on Batman.
8. Spousal Abuse
Bruce Wayne has had a number of romantic relationships over the years and thanks to his life as a crime-fighting vigilante, he’s not often depicted as being a committed lover. That being said, there’s at least one instance where Bruce crossed the line into full on spousal abuse and it was not a GREAT moment for the character. In the miniseries “Batman: The Widening Gyre (Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan and Art Thibert), Bruce reconnects with a former flame, Silver St. Cloud. Following an intense, very sexual courtship, Bruce actually proposes marriage and the two appear to be ready to live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, the Batman side of Bruce’s personality eventually starts to creep in and he becomes paranoid about his blissful life situation. He begins to suspect that Silver may be trying to lay a trap for him somehow and even comes to the conclusion that she could be a robot (because why not?). This leads Bruce to physically assault Silver, pulling her hair out to see if she’s real or not and being verbally abusive to her throughout the whole ordeal. To his credit, Batman is deeply apologetic for his actions when he finds out that Silver is not an android and she quickly forgives him, which is better than what he deserves in that moment.
7. Making Death Man Suffer
When Grant Morrison first launched “Batman Inc.” he brought back an obscure villain from the old Batman comics called Death Man, a Japanese crime lord whose signature ability is to make himself appear death through a yoga trance. Morrison re-imagined the character as being literally immortal and his crime spree is quite heinous, at one point murdering a bunch of civilians in a hospital. Eventually, Batman takes Death Man down and comes to the conclusion that since he’s incapable of being killed, he’d need a permanent solution for the villain. Rather than imprison him, Batman launches Death Man into space, dooming him to an eternity of floating helplessly through the galaxy, waiting for a death that will never come. That’s … kind of messed up, Batman!
6. Trying to Murder the KGBeast
During the “Ten Nights of the Beast” event by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo that ran from Batman #417-420, the Dark Knight went up against an assassin known as the KGBeast, who had been hired to kill a number of targets in Gotham City, including the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan (it’s a story from the late 80s, in case you were wondering). Much like some of Batman’s encounters with Bane and other formidable adversaries, the KGBeast outclassed Batman as nearly every turn, to the point where he even cut off his own hand to escape at one point when Batman had him trapped (and then proceeded to attach a gun to his new arm stump like a total boss).
Of course, physical fighting skills are only one of the many tools in Batman’s arsenal so he used his cunning to finally defeat the Beast. Using his knowledge of the Gotham City sewer system — no doubt learned from all those fights with Killer Croc — Batman lured his opponent into a room with no exit, thus trapping him with the intent of starving him to death. The only thing that saved Batman from becoming a murderer was a change in writers, as Starlin ended up leaving the title, which provided incoming writer Marv Wolfman with the opportunity to clear up KGBeast’s fate. It’s explained that Batman went back to the room later to get him, but discovered that he had already escaped somehow.
5. Ignoring Blue Beetle’s Pleas For Help
During Geoff Johns and Greg Ruck’s “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” run, Blue Beetle discovers something called the “OMAC Project” (which will show up again later in this list) and turns to his fellow superheroes for help on solving the mystery. His pleas largely fall on deaf ears but Batman is the one who perhaps treats him the worst. Batman, who sees Beetle as a pest not worthy of his time, brushes his concerns aside and sends the hero packing. It turns out that Beetle was right all along and sadly, he ends up being murdered after discovering the OMAC Project’s true purpose, having had no assistance from his supposed allies. The worst part is that Beetle’s death could have been avoided has his fellow heroes taken him seriously but as will be explained a bit later in this list, it’s Batman’s inaction that ends up stinging the most.
4. Pretty Much Everything Involving Stephanie Brown
Where to even start with the crappy way Batman treated Stephanie Brown, a hero first known as the Spoiler. First, she had to date Tim Drake’s Robin only under their aliases because Batman wouldn’t let Robin tell Stephanie his real name. Then, after Tim was forced to retire from being Robin after his father discovered his identity, Batman revealed his true identity to Stephanie without telling Tim and made Stephanie his new Robin behind Tim’s back! Stephanie ended up making a mistake, prompting Batman to immediately fire her. Unfortunately, this dejection led Stephanie to try and recklessly prove herself to Batman by going after Black Mask, who ended up killing her. Batman then chose to withhold this information from Tim but it turns out that he had his reasons, as it was later revealed that Stephanie was actually alive (which helps explain why she never got a Robin memorial in the Batcave). But then Batman went ahead and withheld this information from Tim too! The whole situation just reads like one big cruel act against two young people in love on Batman’s part and definitely isn’t the Dark Knight’s proudest moment.
3. The Early Killing Years
One of Batman’s defining codes of conduct is his anti-killing policy but in his first few comics stories, Batman was totally willing to go the extra mile when it came to incapacitating bad guys. In fact, in his earliest iteration, Batman even had a gun (not of the grapnel variety)! Batman’s killer instincts are most prominently on display in Batman #1 (1940), in which the Dark Knight not only guns down criminals driving a truck but then proceeds to tie a rope from the Bat-plane around the neck of another culprit and proceed to fly away while the victim’s lifeloss body hangs suspended in the air. It wasn’t long before Batman adopted his non-lethal crime-fighting ways but for a few issues at least, there was very little separating the Caped Crusader from the bad guys he hunted down.
2. Picking Azrael as his Successor
“Knightfall” is one of Batman’s most iconic comic storylines, feautring the infamous “Breaking of the Bat” sequence that sees Bane breaking the Dark Knight’s back and taking him out of commission. While recovers from his injuries, Batman decides to choose a successor to take over the cowl and while everyone assumed that he would have chosen his former ward Dick Grayson for the job, he instead chooses Jean-Paul Valley, aka Azrael. This was a controversial choice not only because it was a slap in the face to Dick but also irresponsible on Batman’s part, considering Azrael had previously been programmed for murder and only stopped because Batman had been busy de-programming him. Unsurprisingly, the whole thing blew up in Batman’s face, as Azrael reverts to his violent ways, shattering Batman’s trust from the police, public, and fellow superheroes in the process. It also led Alfred Pennyworth to resign as Bruce Wayne’s butler and when Alfred quits, you know you’ve really messed up. The silver lining is that this mistake led Batman to create the Batman family but picking Azrael as his successor still stands as one of the worst things the Dark Knight has ever done in his crime fighting career.
Hey, so remember that OMAC incident we referenced earlier? The one that Blue Beetle came to him about and promtply dismissed? Yeah, so it turns out that Batman is the one most responsible for the incident happening in the first place. Much like his Justice League contingency plans, the thing stems form Batman’s distrust of his own teammates. Having created a satelite system designed to monitor his allies, the satellite ends up becoming sentient and begins creating OMACs, half-human/half-robots whose sole purpose is to hunt down and kill superheroes. The OMACs end up killing many people before the evil satellite is taken down in “Infinite Crisis.” When the dust cleared, we were left with Batman’s worst decision to date and the single worst thing he’s ever done.