The best version of Batman was forged in children's after-school programming, and that's a good thing. Unlike the grim Tim Burton interpretation of the character, the Animated Series Batman swore a vow to never kill a soul. We can have endless debates on whether the Dark Knight should finally give in and murder the Joker (not really though, please don't start this argument), but in the end I think we can all agree the definitive Batman gets the job done just fine without committing homicide.
That being said, there were plenty of other characters in the series that had no problem with killing people. Like the Joker, for instance.
Though Joker poisons many people throughout the series with his trademark toxin, none of them are confirmed to have died until we get to the crime scene photos seen in "Holiday Knights." Batman pores over a photo of Dr. John Erickson, who expired with a big smile on his face and a party favor clenched between his teeth. It might seem like a pretty typical way to go for living in Gotham, but then again, this is ostensibly a corpse being portrayed on a show aimed at kids. We're one grizzled Ice-T away from an episode of Law and Order.
As far as on-screen deaths, the easiest place to find them is probably the stellar animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Though the Phantasm also has a taste for the theatrical, Batman's fellow vigilante doesn't have the same hang-ups when it comes to lethal solutions. Whereas Bats wouldn't be above spooking a mobster into an open grave, he'd at least have the decency to tie them up and leave them for the police. Phantasm thought it was better to drop a giant stone statue and squish the goon instead. We get the classic cut to black so we aren't witness to the gory details, but that can't have been an easy job for the cleanup crew.
An even more brutal death might not have even been a death at all. In the episode "Deep Freeze," the Walt Disney-like (or Andrew Ryan-ish) Grant Walker gains immortality by recreating the circumstances of Mr. Freeze's transformation. Of course, this was achieved by extorting Mr. Freeze's love of his wife Nora, so eventually Walker and his aquatic theme park Oceana said hello to Victor's little friend.
You might say that Walker was left to die in an ice cube at the bottom of the ocean, but since he has a cryosuit like Mr. Freeze, there's a good chance he might be frozen -- but still alive -- forever. Robin even wonders as much aloud at the end of the episode, with a casual cadence usually reserved for asking if any good movies are out this weekend. Walker is never seen again, so we have to assume he either perished after a suit malfunction or he's isolated in the dark for all eternity, growing exponentially more insane with each passing year.
You know, that's a little dark. How about we move onto something lighter? Like Joker torturing Robin.
Fans of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker are probably pretty familiar with this scene. It's part of a flashback that recalls a young Tim Drake captured by the last person you'd want with unfettered access to a child without a chaperone. But unlike the unfortunate business with Jason Todd, Joker isn't set on killing his archenemy's young ward.
No, instead, Joker used Robin to make his own Mini-Me.
This is a kid whose birthdays barely number in the double digits, and he's been subject to unbelievable torment at the hands of the world's most ruthless maniac. When Batman finally catches up, Tim has been tortured for three weeks, his face warped to look like the Kidz Bop version of the Joker.
Though it's undeniably traumatic for Robin, he's not the real target here. Joker knows that if any harm were to come to his sidekick, Batman would feel personally responsible. The funniest "joke" possible would be for Batman to die at the hands of someone he's essentially raised as his own, completing his failure as a guardian and mentor. So after subduing Bats, Joker unleashes a deranged Tim to finish the rivalry once and for all. At the last second, Tim snaps and turns on his tormentor.
Granted, this isn't the worst thing that could have happened in this situation, but it left permanent scars on the survivors. The aftermath is what kicks off Return of the Joker to begin with (you should really watch it by the way, WB posted all of it on YouTube).
This isn't even the only time Tim Drake has had to deal with murder. In the episode "Growing Pains," the third Robin meets up with a lost girl named Annie, who we find out is being pursued by her father: Clayface. But before anyone can contemplate how much it would suck to be the daughter of a supervillain (much less the woman who squirted out Clayface's child through her birth canal), she has yet another major revelation:
Whoa, that's heavy. As Annie explains, Clayface was in a bad place after being nearly disintegrated during his last run-in with Batman. Barely holding it together while hiding in the sewer, Clayface pinched a piece off of himself and sent it out scouting. This piece became Annie, a girl who was seemed to have her own consciousness, yet was still inexorably linked to her "father."
From Clayface's perspective, he's lost part of himself that he wants to get back. From Annie's perspective, she wants to live and not be eaten by a giant mud monster. Unfortunately, dear ol' dad is not so much into compromises.
There's no other term for it: That's fucked up. I mean, Jesus Christ. Clayface wholly reabsorbs Annie, a sentient being that doesn't want to die. This is a child being murdered on kids TV, and there's no happy ending. Sure, Batman shows up (again) and Clayface is foiled (again), but there's no way to save Annie. She's gone for good.
Annie wasn't "real," but that doesn't make it any less heartbreaking. The same goes for the events of Over the Edge -- specifically the part where Scarecrow knocks Batgirl off a building.
Not only was Batgirl's fall cushioned by a cop car, the black and white belongs to none other than Commissioner Gordon. As in, Batgirl's father.
Jim is already horrified at the sight of someone fall to their death on his squad car, but we see him realize on-screen that the woman in question is his own daughter. It's such an unfortunate series of events that it beggars belief, even in a cartoon -- but it didn't happen. "Over the Edge" is almost entirely a hallucination. But for kids watching at home, the cartoon was already fake, so seeing a hero die in her father's arms is no less real.
Even though we've talked about this episode a couple times, it would be a crime to not mention Ace. In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue," Amanda Waller recalls the time that she sent Batman to kill a young girl. Ace had been endowed with incredible abilities by the government, but she was slowly losing control, and the resulting psychic explosion could kill thousands. Batman's job was to use a special device to put her down for good.
When Batman found Ace, she was swinging on a playset. Upset, she recounted her troubled childhood.
At this point, Ace is the DC equivalent of an Omega-level mutant. She's a demigod with untold amounts of power. She knows Batman suffered through a traumatic childhood, just like she knows that Batman would never use Waller's murder remote. At the same time, Ace is still a child. She's confused, afraid and feels like she's the only person left in the entire world -- and if there's anyone who knows what that's like, it's Batman.
There's nothing Batman can do. There's no cure-all Bat-Pill in his utility belt, no Bat-Time Machine waiting in a cobwebbed corner of the Batcave. Ace is going to die, soon, and all Batman can do is be there for her. And he was. Waller remarks that, in retrospect, Batman's greatest strength is not his advanced technology or unparalleled skills, but his compassion. Because of the hell he went through as a child, Batman can empathize more than almost any hero can.
In the end, there was no psychic explosion, no decimated city. Just a man cradling a dead girl in his arms.
Later in the Batman Beyond series, an elderly Bruce Wayne cares for a dog, who he's named "Ace." Technically, Batman had a sidekick named "Ace the Bat-Hound" dating back to the 1950s, but I think we can all agree where the name really comes from.
Tristan Cooper is definitely not crying on Twitter.