Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the man who killed Batman’s parents, Joe Chill.
Though Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27, he came into the world as a full grown adult. He was simply a millionaire playboy who just happened to dress up as a bat and beat people up. No explanation was given as to why he chose this lifestyle. It wasn’t until issue #33 that a full backstory was given the popular hero.
In that issue, the very first presentation of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder was given to readers. It would be repeated dozens of times in future comics, films, and television shows. The Batman story began when a random mugging fell apart almost immediately. A young Bruce Wayne watched on as a street thug demanded money and then shot both of his parents, killing them almost instantly.
The mugger’s name was never discovered as he fled before police arrived on the scene. However, the mugger’s face was burned into Bruce’s memory where it would fuel the young boy in his single-minded quest for justice.
Years later, Bruce Wayne would discover the name of his parents’ killer. After investigating the Land, Sea, Air Transportation company, which was involved in the smuggling of criminals across state lines, Batman ran across a photo Joe Chill, the company’s owner. Immediately, Bruce was transported back to his youth as he recognized Chill as his parents’ killer. For the next month, Batman made it his personal mission to crush Chill’s illegal operation.
After he couldn’t control his rage anymore, Batman confronted Chill about the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Knowing that there was no physical evidence to the nearly 20 year old crime, Chill scoffed until Batman removed his mask, revealing that he was actually Bruce Wayne.
Chill fled the office and Batman let him. Running to his underlings for help, Chill told them that Batman was after him and why Batman was so angry. Chill’s thugs, realizing that Chill had inadvertently been the reason for Batman’s creation, took their revenge upon their boss by all shooting him at once. After all, if Chill hadn’t created Batman, then all of Gotham’s criminal enterprises would be up and running. Only after they killed Chill did they realize that he hadn’t told them Batman’s real name. Just as this sad thought came to them, Batman swooped in and carted them off to jail for murder.
That could have been it. Bruce Wayne’s parents were finally avenged and Batman’s quest for a crime-free world continued apace. Things changed dramatically when Bruce found an old diary of his father’s locked away in a hidden desk compartment. In the diary, Thomas Wayne told the story of how he had run afoul of Lew Moxon, a Gotham crime boss. After Moxon was released from prison, he hinted that he would hire a random thug to kill Thomas in revenge. Just like that, it was a conspiracy orchestrated by a major crime kingpin that killed the Waynes, not a mugger.
Just as had happened with Joe Chill several years earlier, Batman tracked down Moxon and began hounding him. When confronted by Batman wearing an old bat outfit worn by Thomas at a costume ball, Moxon was sure that a ghost had tracked him down. Fleeing the supposed spirit, Moxon ran out into the street where a truck struck and killed him.
Years later, other layers were added to the Joe Chill story. First came the addition of Max Chill, brother of Joe Chill. Set to avenge his brother’s death, Max attempted to hunt Batman down. During his time as a gun for hire, he hooked up with the man who killed Deadman. The two heroes worked together with Deadman taking over Batman’s body and Max was defeated. Unfortunately, he died at the battle’s climax.
Just a little while later, another member of the Chill family popped up. During an issue that recapped all of the women in Batman’s life, readers were introduced to Mrs. Chilton. Apparently, Bruce had been raised by his uncle Philip after his parents died. Philip’s housekeeper, Mrs. Chilton, was Bruce’s day-to-day caregiver.
The issue’s shocking ending showed that Mrs. Chilton was secretly the mother of both Joe and Max Chill. Somewhere along the way, Mrs. Chilton had learned that not only was Bruce actually Batman but that her son had killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. She kept both of these secrets to herself.
These revelations might have carried more weight if this wasn’t Mrs. Chilton first appearance and if the character stuck around. As it is, Mrs. Chilton never appeared again aside from a few panels in 1980′s The Untold Legend of the Batman, a miniseries which retold every Bat family member’s origin story and which we’ve discussed before.
Crisis on Infinite Earths reset the continuity clock. Lew Moxon, Max Chill, and Mrs. Chilton, having already been forgotten by most comics readers, were officially wiped out of continuity. Joe Chill was, once again, a mysterious lone gunman.
That’s the only Joe Chill that readers of Batman: Year One were given. However, over in the pages of Detective Comics, the tale of Batman: Year Two was being told. Much less fondly remembered than Year One, the story of Year Two revolved around an old vigilante named the Reaper coming back into Gotham after several years away. The Reaper was killing crooks, which frightened the underground and upset Batman. After being beaten within an inch of his life by the Reaper, Batman agreed to team up with the crooks to take out their common enemy. At the first meeting, Batman was shocked to see that among these lowlifes was Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents.
At the series’ climax, just as Batman had revealed his secret identity to Chill and was thinking about shooting him with the gun that killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, the Reaper showed up and killed Chill first.
Man, I loved this story when I was a kid. The Reaper looked incredible and the first chapter of this four-part story was drawn by Alan Davis, whose work was so clean. The art for the final three sections was by a young Todd McFarlane, who I liked but didn’t love like Davis. Looking back, Year One is clearly better on a craft, plot, and art level, but I’ve still got a soft spot for Year Two.
A few years after both Chill and the original Reaper died, a new Reaper came to Gotham to haunt Batman. After a vicious battle and an attempt by the Reaper to break Batman’s will, a novice Robin helped turn the tide of the battle. When this new Reaper was unmasked, Batman was stunned to see that he had no idea who this new villain was. The new Reaper’s son revealed that the man was Joe Chill Jr. and that he was the third in the lineage.
The entire Joe Chill story was thrown into contention during Zero Hour. During that Crisis in Time, various pasts, futures, and alternate timelines began to merge with the DCU. Finding himself in a world in which Bruce Wayne had been killed that fateful night in Crime Alley and not Thomas and Martha Wayne, Batman set out to avenge his own death. When he tracked down Joe Chill, he learned that the hoodlum had been coming off a major drug high and was in bed the night Bruce was killed. He couldn’t have been the murderer. Realizing that this alternative timeline may not be the truth, the time spent there did convince Bruce that, maybe, Chill hadn’t murdered his parents but that it really didn’t matter either way.
That’s where things were left for years. Maybe Joe Chill had killed Thomas and Martha Wayne and maybe he didn’t. Bruce stopped obsessing over this fact.
During Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Joe Chill came up again. During an extended hallucination, Batman’s mind focused on tracking Joe Chill down and tormenting him night after night. At the end of the story, Batman watched as Joe Chill committed suicide with the murder weapon that killed the Waynes. Whether this hallucination was a true memory or an elaborate scene that Bruce invented was never revealed. The details of Batman’s backstory are in constant flux thanks to the various Crisises and retcons, so perhaps this did happen.
In Batman: The Dark Knight #0, Joe Chill’s New 52 story begins. Will he still be the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne? Will he have done it by himself or will the murders once again be a part of a conspiracy? It sounds like we’ll have the answers to those questions soon.