Skip to main content

Batman: The Dark Knight’s untold history with Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents

The most traumatic figure in Bruce Wayne’s life has an untold history with Batman. Here’s the evolving history of Joe Chill

Batman and Joe Chill
Image credit: DC/Warner Bros.

As DC's Dark Knight continues his crime-fighting crusade around the world in the the ongoing comic series Batman, he recently shared a previously untold story from his traumatic past involving the man who murdered his parents: Joe Chill. A low-level thug who brutally murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne before the eyes of their young son Bruce during a mugging in Gotham City’s Crime Alley, Chill has had a complicated place in DC Universe continuity. And with a new era for the DCU taking shape after the reality-altering events of 2020’s Dark Nights: Death Metal, Chill is firmly restored canonically and continues to have a looming influence on the Dark Knight’s life.

Here is the story that Batman shares about his dark history with Joe Chill, Chill’s evolving place in the main DCU canon, and how the circumstances behind the Wayne murders have changed and been adapted across the breadth of the Batman mythos.

Batman’s tense past confrontation with Joe Chill

Batman and Joe Chill
Image credit: DC

In Batman #124, written by Joshua Williamson, illustrated by Howard Porter and Jorge Fornes, colored by Tomeu Morey, and lettered by Clayton Cowles, Batman discovers that a Badhisnian police detective named Cayha has taken on the mantle of Abyss, a supervillain that the Caped Crusader recently defeated. Cayha shares that she took on the shadowy alter ego to track down the person responsible for her parents’ sudden disappearance. Cayha’s parents had been vocal activists against the Badhnisian government who vanished while organizing anti-government protests. Using information gleaned from LexCorp and Abyss’ technology, Cayha tracked down the people behind this kidnapping, planning to kill them before Batman stops her to offer a story about his own similar experiences.

Batman recounts that, years ago, he used his skills to infiltrate the prison where Chill was being detained with the intent to break into his cell and kill him to avenge his own parents’ murders. Unmasked, Bruce made sure Chill could see his face and instill fear as he fantasized about killing the helpless convict. Ultimately, Batman relented and left without harming Chill, seeing how dark he could become by embracing this path towards lethal vengeance. Taking this story to heart, Cayha spares the man who abducted her parents, even after learning both her parents have long since been killed, recognizing the value in justice over unchecked revenge.

Who is Joe Chill?

Batman and Joe Chill
Image credit: DC

While the mugger revealed in Batman’s origin story is first depicted in 1939’s Detective Comics #33 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, the gunman goes unnamed until Finger and Kane revisited this backstory in 1948’s Batman #47. 1956’s Detective Comics #235 by Finger and Sheldon Moldoff retconned the Wayne murders as being a planned hit arranged by local mobster Lew Moxon, with Chill as a hired gun. Chill himself was gunned down by his fellow criminals after it was discovered that he directly played a role in Batman’s creation, without his killers learning the identity of Batman or those he murdered to inspire the superhero in the first place.

Following the reboot of DCU continuity with 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, Chill was reintroduced as a low-level mobster who teams up with Batman to take down the Reaper in 'Batman: Year Two' by Mike W. Barr, Alan Davis, and Todd McFarlane. Both Batman and Chill secretly plan to kill the other once their impromptu partnership is done but the Reaper murders Chill in Crime Alley while Batman holds his parents’ killer at gunpoint.

The changing mystery of the Wayne murders

Batman and Joe Chill
Image credit: DC

The 1994 crossover event Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! by Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway presented Batman with an alternate history where Chill was not his parents’ murderer, leaving the true killer’s identity unknown. This open mystery would haunt Batman during his crime-fighting career, with any crook in Gotham potentially being the man who gunned down the Waynes all those years ago.

This retcon was undone by the 2005 crossover event Infinite Crisis by Geoff Johns and Phil Jimenez, with the changes to reality restoring Chill as the man who killed Bruce’s parents. This change was maintained in the subsequent reboot of DCU continuity during the 'New 52' era, with a teenage Bruce deciding to spare Chill’s life after tracking him down in 2012’s Batman: The Dark Knight #0 by Gregg Hurwitz and David Finch. Chill’s role in murdering the Waynes has been maintained by DCU continuity moving forward.

The DC Black Label miniseries Batman: Three Jokers by Johns and Jason Fabok offered a possible resolution to the Bruce and Chill conflict, with Batman learning that Chill was suffering from terminal cancer. Deducing Batman’s identity, Chill asks for forgiveness and receives it, with Bruce comforting Chill by his deathbed in his final moments as he finally gains closure from his parents’ murder.

The Wayne murders in films and elsewhere

Batman and Joe Chill
Image credit: Warner Bros.

The identity of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murderer, along with the killer’s motivation, has been one of the more wildly varying aspects of subsequent multimedia adaptations of the Batman mythos. One of the more controversial changes was in the 1989 Batman film, which had a young gangster named Jack Napier kill the Waynes before being transformed into the Joker decades later. Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s cinematic reboot of the franchise with 2005’s Batman Begins made Chill the Waynes’ killer as part of a random mugging.

The animated series Batman: The Brave & the Bold had Batman confront Chill in the episode 'Chill of the Night!' adapting the events of Batman #47 and Detective Comics #235, with Chill working as a hitman before his fellow mobsters turn on him for creating Batman. While Chill himself is not seen, the HBO Max series Titans positions Chill as the Waynes’ killer, with Batman keeping the murderer’s gun on display in the Batcave. In contrast, the television series Gotham had the Waynes killed by Matches Malone, a hitman working for Hugo Strange.

Many depictions of the Wayne murders have left the identity of the killer undisclosed, with a nameless gunman working alone in 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and a random rioter killing the Waynes in 2019’s Joker. 2021’s The Batman provides two alternate explanations for the Waynes’ deaths, with Bruce and Alfred Pennyworth suspecting Carmine Falcone arranging their murders to keep the full nature of their association a secret, though are unable to prove if it was indeed a conspiracy or the work of a random criminal.

The death of the Waynes is an integral part of the Batman mythos and Joe Chill is a figure that both haunts Bruce Wayne and offers a portrait into his own humanity as he questions whether he will confront the man with mercy or unrelenting vengeance. And with Batman sharing a new story of how he approached the murderous crook, the Dark Knight has reaffirmed his commitment to justice over blind fury.

Make sure you've read all the best DC Comics stories of all time.

Follow Popverse for upcoming event coverage and news

Sam Stone avatar
Sam Stone: Sam Stone is an entertainment journalist based out of the Washington, D.C. area that has been working in the industry since 2016. Starting out as a columnist for the Image Comics preview magazine Image+, Sam also translated the Eisner Award nominated-Beowulf for the publisher. Sam has since written for CBR, Looper, and, with a penchant for Star Trek, Nintendo, and martial arts movies.
Related topics
Featured events