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The Many Deaths of The Waynes...And the Men Who Killed Them
Posted on
Wed, 30th Mar 2016

This weekend, we saw the latest onscreen version of murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Just weeks ago, on Fox's Gotham, viewers saw young Bruce Wayne confront Patrick "Matches" Malone, the man, he believed, had murdered his parents. 

Obviously, the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne are a key part of the Batman mythos, but the details behind their deaths, as well as the identity of the killer, have evolved over time.

Many fans are familiar with the Joe Chill story already, as well as how TIm Burton's Batman (1989) changed the origin to have a young Joker be the shooter.

But there is much more to the story than you think.

In this feature, we'll be covering:

- the multiple variations of Joe Chill's fate

- the various members of the Chill family over the years

- the one time that Superboy tried to help young Bruce Wayne try to catch the killer

- which comic book writer is responsible for the idea that Bruce met a young Jim Gordon shortly after his parents' deaths

- the two previously scripted versions of when a young Joker murdered the Waynes before the 1989 movie

- the secret reason why Jack Napier killed the Waynes in 1989, as revealed in an unproduced script

- the version where Selina Kyle witnessed the murders...before Gotham did it

- And the many other suspects on Batman's list over his career, including a Superman villain.

Let's begin...

1939: The Original: The very first version of the origin was published as a prologue to 'The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom' (Detective Comics #33), written by Bill Finger.

One fateful night, the Wayne family encounters a mugger, who demands Martha Wayne's necklace. Thomas resists and both of Bruce's parents are shot in front of Bruce, who is spared. Since the killer is never caught, Bruce makes a vow to avenge his family by fighting crime.

Adam West actually read the dialogue for Bruce Wayne from the original version of the origin in the PBS Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle documentary:


1948: The Killer was Joe Chill: Almost ten years after co-creating the character, Bill Finger returned to Batman's origin in 'The Origin of the Batman!' (Batman #47) and expanded on it further. Here, Thomas Wayne is shot, but in this account, Martha Wayne has a heart attack and dies. Afterwards, a young Bruce glares at Chill, with accusing eyes, prompting the murderer to flee.

The mugger is finally identified as a man named Joe Chill, whom Batman and Robin later encounter through coincidence years later.

Batman recognizes Chill and eventually confronts him, revealing his true identity as Bruce Wayne in order for Chill to realize that he created the Batman.

Chill foolishly confesses this to his cohorts. Enraged that he created their greatest enemy, the criminals turn on him and shoot him to death. Bruce declares the case to be closed...for now.

1956: Chill as Lew Moxon's Hitman: Bill Finger once again visits Batman's origin in 'The First Batman' (Detective Comics #235). Here, Chill, now named Joey Chill, is still the shooter, but this time, he's murdered by the mob before Batman could even get to him, retconning most of Batman #47.

Batman later finds out that Chill was actually working on the orders of mob boss Lew Moxon, who wanted revenge on Thomas Wayne for testifying against him after recruiting him from a costume party to operate on his wound. Young Bruce was left alive in order to testify that this was a random mugging and not a hit on the family.

In the present day, Bruce’s costume gets destroyed in a fight with Moxon’s men, so he dresses up in his father’s bat costume to visit Moxon. The mobster sees him and believes that the ghost of Thomas Wayne has come back to haunt him.

Terrified, he flees and runs straight into traffic, getting killed.

1968: Joe Chill's Brother, Max: In The Brave and the Bold #79, Batman works with Deadman- a former Haley Circus acrobat named Boston Brand who was killed and cursed to live his life as a ghost, only able to fight crime by taking over people's bodies.

In this tale, his number one suspect in his murder turns out to be Joe Chill's brother, Max, who also wants revenge on Batman for his role in Joe's death.

Ultimately, Max is innocent of killing Boston, but dies himself during a confrontation, when slot machines fall on him.

1969: Joe Chill's Mother: In Batman #208, Joe's real last name turns out to be Chilton.

In a cruel twist, Joe and Max's mother, Mrs. Chilton, is revealed to have been a caretaker of Bruce's after the death of his parents. (Note that in the original continuity, Alfred did not enter Bruce's life until well after he and Dick Grayson had become Batman and Robin, leaving a gap in who actually took care of Bruce Wayne when he was a boy).

While Mrs. Chilton is aware that her sons became criminals, she is ignorant of the role that Joe had on Bruce's life. Likewise, Bruce remains ignorant that Mrs. Chilton is the mother of the man who killed his parents.

1972: Young Bruce Wayne hunts for the The Executioner. Co-Starring Superboy!: Earlier, it was established that young Bruce Wayne lived in Smallville with his parents for a brief period of time and took on the costumed persona of The Flying Fox to help Superboy fight crime (Adventure Comics #275, 1960). This was likely after Bruce had already received detective training from Harvey Harris while wearing the first Robin costume in Detective Comics #226 (1955).

Thanks to a device that allowed him to look into the future, Superboy was able to see that Bruce would grow up to be Batman. When The Flying Fox figured out that Clark Kent was Superboy, he decided to allow Superboy to hypnotize him and wipe his memory, rather than risk betraying his secret.

Cut to Superboy #182 and Superboy would meet a very different Bruce Wayne. This teenaged Bruce Wayne had recently witnessed his parents' deaths. Upon revisiting the crime scene, Bruce overhears two cops talk about how the Waynes were killed under the sign of Saggitarius and that a serial killer named the Zodiac Killer is responsible (no relation to the real Zodiac).

Bruce, determined to get his revenge, goes out to track down the culprit and Superboy helps Bruce create a costume for himself (making this his third costumed persona as a boy, after Robin and The Flying Fox). 

While Superboy nicknames him Batlad, Bruce calls himself the Executioner. Later, during the investigation, Superboy and the Executioner find out that the Zodiac Killer is actually a work of fiction that a reporter created to sell papers.

Disappointed, Bruce hangs up the cowl of the Executioner, not knowing that one day, he will don a much different costume, find Joe Chill, and help Clark in the war on crime.

1976: Crime Alley and Leslie Thompkins: Writer Dennis O’Neil revisits the origin in 'There's No Hope in Crime Alley!' (Detective Comics #457). Here, O'Neil reveals that the setting of the Wayne murder was a street called Park Row, later renamed Crime Alley.

It’s this version that implies that the murder occurred in a dark alley. Previous versions, however, did not specify this and made it look more like it happened in the middle of the street.

O'Neil also created the character of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who was the first person to comfort Bruce at the crime scene and was revealed to be an elderly doctor in present day, who would receive visits from Batman every year without knowing the true reason why.

At this point, Joe Chill's story remained largely unchanged. But in the 1980s, filmmakers began developing a Batman movie and Chill's story would start to take a much different turn...

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Feature written by

Ben Yip is a writer in Los Angeles whose obsession with all things Batman have lead him to contribute interviews and articles to Batman Online.
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