Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Night To Remember

The origins of Batman were retold few times throughout the decades, but they were always very consistent and remained virtually unchanged in the comic books. The first time the nightmarish night that spawned Batman was presented to the world was in Detective Comics #33 (1939), and then reprinted in Batman #1 (1940)
The short, two page story shows the wealthy Wayne family encountering a mugger while coming back from a movie theater. The mugger holds them at gunpoint and is trying to take Martha Wayne's pearl necklace, and when Thomas Wayne tries to save her and stop him, the mugger shoots him and then Martha to quiet her down. The young Bruce is spared.

Couple of days after that night the young Bruce vouches to become a crime fighter and fight criminals. The killer is never found by the Police which also plays a role for Batman/Bruce as he witnesses inadequacies and occasional helplessness of the police department

The name of the killer isn't revealed until Batman #47 (1948) by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, in which Batman discovers that the head of the truck company/smuggler/small time crime boss he is investigating is in fact his parents' killer. His name is Joseph Chilton, in short Joe Chill.

The origins are retold (by the same team who thought them up), but this time there was a small addition: an angry Bruce

When trying to infiltrate Chill's organization proves fruitless, Batman attempts to trick Chill into making a mistake, but again with no success. Finally, Batman confronts Chill directly about his guilt in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne

Batman swears that he will be watching Chill everyday and will be waiting for him to make a mistake, and then he'll have him. Chill runs to his henchmen to tell them that he's the one responsible for Batman's birth

Realizing that Chill is the reason behind Batman's existence, they instantly gun him down before realizing that they wasted a great opportunity to find out about Batman's true identity.

When dying in Batman's arms Chill says "I guess you got me".

In Detective Comics #235 (1956) by Sheldon Moldoff and Bill Finger, Batman finds the last piece of the puzzle and learns that Joe Chill was not a mere robber, but actually a hitman who murdered the Waynes on orders from a Mafia boss named Lew Moxon. It appears that Thomas Wayne once dressed as a bat to stop Moxon's crime for which Moxon vouched revenge. He hired Chill to kill the Waynes and make it look like a robbery. Bruce was spared to testify to police that it was a stick up

Incidentally the issue presented a slightly differently worded vow from Bruce

And a slightly different end to Chill's life 

The origins and the story of Batman facing Joe Chill were retold in 1980 in The Untold Legend of Batman #1 by Len Wein and John Byrne

We also get to see young Bruce taking his vow again

The mini series faithfully recreated the events previously established in the canon years before, down to Batman recognizing Chill

..confronting him...

And Chill causing his own death

And also retelling Batman's discovery of the coverup robbery

The murder night was retold few times during the 80's, always being faithful to the original story. The only change was the revelation about which movie the Waynes went to see, and it was always the Mark of Zorro. That is an important addition because it implies that this might have been the earliest source of Bruce's idea for becoming a vigilante. Another important thing is that all the stories depict the family as being very happy and unsuspecting of the tragic turn to the fun night.

The Dark Knight Returns
Batman #459

While The Dark Knight Returns doesn't change any of the events, it does however, show Batman forgiving Chill in his mind. Bruce thinks: "He flinched when he pulled the trigger. He was sick and guilty over what he did. All he wanted was money."

Batman: Year One
Batman #0

Batman: Year Two presents an alternative chain of events concerning Chill. In this series, Chill is still a killer for hire and is hired to kill a vigilante called Reaper.

 Batman must work with him if he wants to find the Reaper,

...but then takes him to the alley where his parents died and confronts him about it. While being held at gunpoint by Batman, Chill is killed getting shot by the Reaper. It is left ambiguous as to whether or not Batman would have actually pulled the trigger


Tim Burton's 1989 movie presented the night without many changes, and it presented it in a very dream-like quality, with an eerie music, echoed sound and symbolic images.
The Waynes are walking back happily from a movie theater (albeit there's no implication that they were seeing the Mark of Zorro).

However, they are stopped by two muggers instead of one. As in the comic books, the pearl necklace causes the havoc that leaves the Waynes dead.

In this movie however, it's not Joe Chill who pulls the trigger (albeit it is hinted that he is there, see the quote below by M. Uslan), although the substitute killer, just like the comic book Chill, is never caught by the police but recognized and found decades later by Batman.

It's also very likely that it was a premeditated murder. First of all, Jack Napier has been known to be a mobster and he already has a partner accompanying him in the murder and is dressed like a mobster, in a nice and expensive suit with a tie (The actor Hugo Blick stated he wasn't even allowed to keep it), new polished shoes, nice coat, neatly cut and stylized hair and leather gloves. Not like someone who needs money at all, and not the types to hang out in dark alleys. Secondly, the early script for Batman had Joe Chill being hired by Rupert Thorne to kill Waynes. Third, Waynes were being followed, and then never asked about money or even held at gunpoint. Young Napier just stood there in the shadow and shot the two without uttering a word

Michael Uslan, producer: It also seemed to make sense to have the young Jack/Joker as the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents in the flashback. Worried about that change in the legend, I asked Bob Kane for his thoughts on the matter. Bob replied that it made perfect sense and that, “If the Joker had been created originally in 1939, that’s who would have murdered the Waynes in the comic book!” As a tip of the hat to hardcore Bat-Fans – and to Joe Chill – the scene in this movie showed Jack and another man responsible for the killing. It was hoped that would satisfy the majority of generations of Batmaniacs. (BITF intro 2002)


B A T M A N     F O R E V E R
Batman Forever presents a slightly different imagery. The Wayne family is also shown as having a good time but there's no popcorn present in Bruce's hands.
Also, when Martha gets shot she drops a pair of roses, something which havent been shown previously
Another thing is that there isn't any indication that there's an accomplice present
B A T M A N    B E G I N S

Christopher Nolan's 2005 movie presents an altered story. The Wayne family doesn't go to see a movie and instead goes to see the opera Mefistophle.
Another change is that this night is not the last happy moment for the Wayne family, as Bruce is miserable and frightened by the bat figures in the play. He is also shown to be scared of bats even before the tragedy and he is the reason why the family leaves earlier and through the back door - a very believable reason for Waynes ending up in the dark alley, something never explained before.

Yet another change is Joe Chill's character and motivation - he is not a killer for hire and instead is a frightened and desperate product of poverty and depression. This version mirror's Batman's point of view on Chill in The Dark Knight Returns

The actual murder appears to be left without changes with the pearl necklace starting a riot resulting in Waynes' deaths.

Bruce does not decide his fate right after the murder of his parents. Instead, he is led to his path by Ra's Al Ghul decades later while in prison. Another change is the fact that Chill is caught by the police the very same night and is shot to death by mob on the day of his parole in front of Bruce who was planning to kill him himself. That is most likely a reference to Year Two in which it's very possible that Batman wanted to gun Chill down but was outpaced by the Reaper. 

In the court Chill seems resentful of what he had done but one can assume that he was just telling the judge what he wanted to hear, although that's unlikely considering how it's implied in the movie that it's the poverty and desperation that was the cause of Waynes' murder



  1. Another informative post. I didnt know Begins changed the story that much. Not that it matters, but its interesting nonetheless

  2. I never bought Chill's remorse for a second, and if Chill was just a scared starving guy Batman would hate poverty, not criminals. He was an evil bastard

  3. It's possible in Begins that Chill was remorseful about killing Bruce's parents. Falcone obviously didn't care for Bruce and said what he said about Chill deliberately out of spite. Falcone could have been lying, though it admittedly seems more probable that Chill was actually lying during his trial.

    Regarding the '89 Batman movie, something that gets me about the scene where Bruce "remembers" the identity of his parents' killer is just how reliable is Bruce's memory at this point anyway? I'm reminded of this piece of dialogue between Batman and Vicki Vale:

    Vale: A lot of people think you're as dangerous as the Joker.

    Batman: He's psychotic.

    Vale: Some people say the same thing about you.

    I can't help but wonder, at the point in the movie where Bruce is staring at that frozen image of Napier on his video screen, does he simply decide that Napier killed his parents, as opposed to remember it? This is, after all, a guy who dresses in a type of bat armour and goes around at night brutalizing criminals. Bruce Wayne is hardly someone I'd call psychologically sound. It's also after this moment where Batman starts killing people left and right. One of the first things he does after this scene is blow up the Axis Chemicals factory, with several of the Joker's henchmen still inside. Was the movie perhaps trying to make a point about Bruce's supposed descent into madness? I know near the end of the movie, during the final confrontation between Batman and the Joker, Batman outright tells the Joker that he was the one who killed his parents, and the Joker doesn't deny this. That said, in this scene names are not identified, and Jack Napier has killed several people in his lifetime. It's highly probable that many of the people Napier killed happened to be parents. Joker also says something like, "I said you made me, you gotta say I made you. How childish can you get?" This suggests that the Joker might have thought Batman was full of it. I know he also mentions being a kid when he killed Batman's parents, but he could've assumed that Batman's parents were murdered when he was a child, and naturally, Jack would have been very young himself.

  4. Well I dont know. In the comics he still recongized him even after all these years and he was right that that was the killer. Plus, he didnt recognize him by looks in the movie, but by the "pale moon" phrase. In addition to that, I doubt that if Joker killed anymore parents that he would spare the kids. It was only the last minute call and the circumstances that spared Bruce, plus I still believe that it was a mob job, not a robbery, so Joker would remember doing one of the wealthiest couple.
    You do bring up an interesting point tho which is that its after Bruce recognizes his parents' killer that he goes on a killing spree. He doesnt kill one person until then (that is if JOhny Gobs fell without any help)

  5. I had forgotten about the "pale moonlight" line. That's a good point, but then again, Bruce may have simply attributed it to his parents' killer, assuming he was going insane. I'll admit that's a stretch, though. The mob hit is also a good point, as someone like Thomas Wayne would most likely have outright opposed people like Carl Grissom (or whoever was in control at the time), and it makes sense that Jack Napier was an up and coming mob enforcer, and would have likely been assigned the hit.

    Johnny Gobs was a strange story, which I can only assume was an urban legend. This version of Batman may have become a killer, but there was nothing in the movie to indicate that he drained the blood from his victims. It's possible that he attacked Gobs, resulting in an accidental death, like how Batman accidentally dropped Jack into the vat of chemicals.

    That leads to another interesting aspect about the movie: the theme of responsibility. Had Batman not interfered with Gordon's attempt to apprehend Napier at Axis, it's possible Napier would be in jail, and the Joker would have never existed. At the very least, even if Gordon had not been able to arrest Napier, there still likely wouldn't have been a Joker. So there's this aspect to the movie about the far reaching ramifications of violence. Had Napier not murdered Bruce's parents, Bruce would never have become Batman, thus never ultimately turning Napier into the Joker, who would never have been able to unleash the horrors that he does. So, yeah, you're probably right about Napier being the killer, as it makes more sense thematically.

  6. What happened with Gobs I always thought is that he just got so scared that he jumped off or fell of the roof.

    As for Batman's intervention in Axis, well, there wouldnt have been a Joker but Napier would get away. Dont forget he saw a clear ext that he had just couple steps from him

  7. I understand that Napier could well have escaped, but he would have remained Jack. Jack was a monster, but the Joker was a lot worse. Consider what the Joker does over the course of the movie, scarring Alicia (ultimately leading to her death), releasing Smilex into pharmaceuticals, into that museum/restaurant, and then into a large crowd during that parade. Although he was evil, I don't believe Jack would have done all that. Having Jack become the Joker is kind of like a house fire becoming an explosion that takes out one or more city blocks, so to speak.

  8. Joker didnt contribute to Alicia's death, didnt you hear what he said? She threw herself out of the window LOL. Funniets line in the movie

  9. "She threw herself out of the window"

    Yeah, and why did she do that, exactly?

  10. I think it was a joke on Joker's part. Otherwise he'd say "Alicia fell of (or jumped) off the window". By Saying "she threw herself" I kinda get the impression that he threw her out

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  12. Nice overview on the different versions of Batman's origins. :) The Joker as his parents murderer might have been a stretch in Batman 1989 but it dramatically served it's purpose in the context of the film. It's a refreshing touch that Batman Begins gives Bruce Wayne/Batman's different perspective of feeling pity for Joe Chill from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as he was just a desperate mugger. All the different origins brought there own unique thing to the table

  13. Agreed. I wanted to first and foremost show that none of the movies presented the origins as they were in the comics (although B89 was awfully close if not the number and identity of the killer). That doesnt mean anything, just something to read about. That and the comic book Chill

  14. I liked Batman Begins but it would have been much, much more interesting and the story would have been more cohesive if instead of the whole vaporator thing they would show Batman/Bruce tracking down Chill the way it was in the comics

  15. Has anyone noticed that in B89 flashback Jack Napier has blue eyes instead of brown? Surely it means nothing (they just found an actor that looked like Nicholson despite eye colour), but it could add up to the theory someone exposed of Bruce's troubled mind attributing his parents' murder to the Joker.

  16. In Begins Chill was shaking and was very frightened, not like a killer for hire at all, not like the comic version at all, so I believe Chill when he says he regrets it and that he really did it because of need for money and depression

  17. Thats right and he also wasnt following Waynes, just encountered them walking out to the back alley. He couldnt have possibly known Bruce is gonna have a fright and that theyll be leaving through the back door. But I never questioned his motif in BB, I questioned his remorse


    Having the main villain kill off the hero's parents (regardless of whether or not it happened in the comic book)

    -------------Many people feel this trend started with the 1989 Michael Keaton film. However, 1982's The Swamp Thing did it earlier. (I disqualify the 1975 Doc Savage film and the 1982 Conan film since, among other things, Doc and Conan started as pulp heroes, not comic book heroes).

  19. Batman Begins was the best on-screen version of Bruce's parents' death.