In a bizarre and grim twist, the son of the man who killed Batman’s parents becomes a costumed vigilante who wants to punish Batman.
The son of Joe Chill, the man who killed Batman’s parents and ultimately spawned the Dark Knight, became a costumed vigilante himself. Despite his status as a common street criminal, Joe Chill is a huge presence in the Batman mythos, with different writers exploring exactly what he means to Bruce Wayne. During the Batman: Year Two storyline, Batman was forced to team up with Chill to stop the first Reaper. The relationship was continually strained, and Chill was killed by the Reaper before Batman could have his revenge.
In Batman: Full Circle, a one-shot sequel to the classic story, Joseph Chill, Joe’s son, has a vendetta against Batman, and is revealed to be the latest incarnation of the Reaper – though not the one who killed his father. The story, written by Mike W. Barr (Batman and the Outsiders) with art by Alan Davis (Clandestine), first appeared in 1991.
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Unbeknownst to all, Chill had two children: Joseph and Marcia. Marcia was put up for adoption, and Joseph’s mother left with him when he was young; he grew up never knowing his father. Joseph reconnected with both Marcia and Joe later in life and became close with both. Joseph was witness to his father’s death at the hands of the Reaper, and falsely blamed Batman for the death; a grim inversion of Batman’s origin. Joseph and Marcia vowed revenge on Batman, with Joseph taking the Reaper persona as a means to scare Batman.
Thankfully, Marcia is more committed to making money from the mob than truly getting revenge, ultimately exposing the new Reaper’s true identity. Nevertheless, this new Reaper manages to capture the Dark Knight, almost killing him in a fiendish acid trap while torturing the drugged hero with reminders of his parents’ deaths. Thankfully, Joseph’s son Joey had tracked his dad to the battle scene. When Robin is able to help Batman gain the upper hand, Joey leaps in to beg for his father’s life, sharing a tender moment with the new Reaper. It’s enough to temper Batman’s rage, and he muses that the cycle of violence that encompassed both him and the Chills might have come to an end at last. As a symbolic act of progress, Batman discards the gun that Joe Chill used to kill his parents, signalling his own willingness to move past the need for vengeance that almost just cost another boy his father.
The best Batman villains are the ones who are twisted mirror images of him in some way, and Joseph Chill fits this perfectly – a young boy who becomes something larger than himself to strike back at the force he believed killed his father. Thankfully, Bruce Wayne was strong enough to break the chain, refusing to pass on his pain to the next generation despite being at an incredibly low ebb. Many writers imagine Batman as an instrument of Bruce Wayne’s vengeance, but stories like this clarify that the Dark Knight has actually grown past this visceral need to punish, developing compassion and setting himself hard and fast rules that draw a firm line between him and someone like the Reaper. Ultimately, the story’s title doesn’t refer to events coming full circle in terms of repetition, but rather of being brought to a definitive close – Batman finds himself in Joe Chill’s shoes, and despite having every reason to make the same decision, he chooses mercy instead.
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