Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? – Jack Napier
The four-color universe, like its real-world counterpart, is governed by the law of cause and effect.
Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha, are gunned down in front of him while he’s a child, creating the deep-seated and pathological hatred of crime that will fuel his every waking moment and action from that moment on.
If his parents hadn’t been killed, Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have become the Batman and the criminals of Gotham would have escaped the vengeful wrath of the Dark Knight.
Gotham’s criminal underworld manufactured the cause of its own demise when it created the Batman in a cold, dark, and lonely alley in the middle of the city’s Theatre District.
But even though it wrought its own destruction, who was the tool that it used to write its own, and Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death sentences?
Who killed Batman’s parents, was up until nineteen eighty-nine when Tim Burton’s movie rewrote established canon, an easy question to answer.
Originally, Bruce Wayne discovered the identity of the mugger who killed his parents in Detective Comics #33 which was published in nineteen forty-eight, but as we’ve already stated that all changed forty-one years later when Batman hit the big screen and opened the floodgates for a number of different assassins to step forward and their place in the pale moonlit spotlight that illuminated, and shone on, the man who murdered Batman’s parents.
Originally the tragic crime that created Batman was a street robbery that went horribly wrong, and it isn’t until Bruce Wayne has already established himself as a masked vigilante that the Gotham underworld fears that he discovers, in Detective Comics #33, that a mid-level crime boss called Joe Chill killed his parents at the beginning of his criminal career.
Revealing his identity to Chill, Batman causes the criminal to flee and ask his men to help him, inadvertently telling them that he created the Batman by killing his parents, which in turn leads to the hired guns turning their guns on their boss, murdering him because he was ultimately responsible for “making” Batman.
While Chill pulled the trigger, it wasn’t as Batman had been led to believe as an accident, as he later discovers in Detective Comics #256 that Chill had been hired to kill his parents by the Mob boss Lew Moxon.
And as if that was already convoluted enough, Chili’s brother Max, also ran into the Dark Knight in the pages of The Brave And The Bold #79 in nineteen sixty-eight and ended up paying the ultimate price, thanks to the intervention of fate, for his life of crime.
Despite the changing Bat chronology and canon that began with Batman, Christopher Nolan chose to follow the original, established mythology and in Batman Begins revealed that Joe Chill was responsible for the murder of Bruce’s parents.
And it’s witnessing Chill’s untimely death that ultimately inspires Nolan’s Bruce Wayne to discover what he can about the criminal mindset in an attempt to understand it and sets him on the path to become Batman.
The idea that the Joker murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents comes from Tim Burton’s Batman in which a hoodlum, named Jack Napier guns them down and robs them after whispering “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”.
That gunman with a penchant for eloquence is later revealed to be the same man, who after an encounter with Batman in a chemical factory, becomes the Joker.
That revelation feeds the idea that sits at the center of Burton’s movie, that Batman wouldn’t exist with the Joker and the Joker wouldn’t have been “born” without the intervention of Batman.
It’s a twist that further reinforces the idea that they’re the flip side of the same coin and that the Joker is the Yin to Batman’s Yang.
Buton’s twist on established comics canon was later used (sort of) by Sean Murphy in his two thousand and seventeen series Batman: White Knight when the Joker adopts the Jack Napier alias.
Although whether or not Murphy’s version of Jack Napier actually killed Bruce Wayne’s parents is never answered, so the assumption is that Chill is still responsible, and it was merely the writer’s way of honoring Tim Burton and his contribution to the ever-evolving mythology of Batman
The Joker Did It. Sort Of.
One of the most intriguing takes on the murder of Batman’s parents happened in the closing moments of Todd Phillips Joker, when a random gunman, inspired by the actions of the former Arthur Fleck, follows Thomas and Martha Wayne and guns them down in a misguided effort to strike back at the rich who have sucked the marrow from Gotham’s bones and given nothing in return.
Even though the gunman’s identity isn’t revealed, Phillips makes it implicit that were it not for the Joker, the Wayne’s wouldn’t have died, which means that the Clown Prince of Crime, indirectly at least, is responsible for the murder of Batman’s parents.
In Gotham, the television series that focuses on Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon during their formative years, the Wayne’s murderer is a hitman for hire called ‘Matches’ Malone who didn’t kill Bruce along with his parents because he refused to murder “babies”.
It’s another intriguing idea that was indirectly inspired by existing canon as ‘Matches’ Malone was a name that Batman used to infiltrate the Gotham underworld in his four-color timeline, which gives further credence to the long-held fan belief that every version of Batman, whether it’s in the comics, in books or on screen, has happened somewhere in an alternate reality and is connected by the threads of the multiverse.
So Who Really Killed Batman’s Parents?
As much as we love the disparate and ever-changing identity of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murderers, and have to give credence to the fact that in some other reality the Joker did kill them, there has only ever been one suspect in, and criminal convicted for, the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
And that man was Joe Chill.