WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Batman & the Outsiders #12, by Bryan Hill, Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini and Clayton Cowles, available now.
In Batman & the Outsiders #12, Jefferson Pierce’s Black Lightning finally tempers his aggression as he hunts Ra’s al Ghul. However, he has a discussion with Batman where he probes one of DC’s most infamous ideals: why doesn’t Batman kill his enemies.
Across comics, movies, and TV, we’ve seen plenty of stories where Batman has bent or broken the no-kill policy, and those are always controversial decisions that have sparked heated debates among the Dark Knight’s loyal fanbase. Here, though, we get the definitive truth that Bruce Wayne holds Batman back from killing.
After he killed a colleague a few issues ago, Jefferson wanted to murder Ra’s, although he didn’t. As he meets an anguished Bruce at the Waynes’ graves, though, Jeff asks why the Bat didn’t stop him, knowing that he set out to kill Ra’s with Shiva. In this issue, Bruce reveals that he hoped Jeff wouldn’t commit to the act and that it wasn’t really his place to take that choice away from Jefferson.
However, Jefferson then asks how Batman stops himself from killing and becoming exactly what the enemies are. While Batman’s cape and cowl, the suit and gadgets, martial arts and overall mystique might seem like his best weapons, Batman reveals that these things protect his enemies from the human part of himself that wants to kill them. Instead of Batman shielding a wounded Bruce Wayne from the outside world, that vulnerable part of Batman wants to kill in the pursuit of revenge, and Batman can’t unleash that wrath on the world.
This is a powerful deconstruction of the Batman mythology that speaks on a deep, psychological level. Considering how Bruce has remodeled his psyche, the child who became an orphan in Crime Alley never grew up. He’s only grown more embittered over the years, and Batman can’t let his pain take over. Bruce makes it clear it’s not his humanity that people target, it’s the fury, and the suit is what shields that rage because he can’t let anything seep through to it. And now, he wants Jefferson to learn how to protect his anger too, with Black Lightning as his suit of armor. He also asks Jeff to teach the young Outsiders like Cassandra Cain, Sofia Ramos, and Duke Thomas this lesson moving forward.
While the iconography of Batman has always been associated with fear, this conversation establishes that the Batman symbol holds this monster back from coming out into the real world. This all makes sense to Black Lightning, because their superhero personas don’t get hurt, but the people beneath them do. While this doesn’t invalidate anything we’ve learned about Batman before, it reframes his psychology and the way that Batman protects Bruce Wayne from his own worse impulses.
Batman and the Outsiders #12 revealed a definitive truth about Batman's no-killing policy as he and Black Lightning had a heart-to-heart.