The 9 Absolute Worst Things Batman Has Gone Though, Ranked

The Joker Paralyzed Barbara Gordon

There might not be a more famous superhero in the annals of American popular culture than Batman. And the Dark Knight’s 80+ years of comic book history offers up a lot of competition for the saddest Batman moments.

In addition to losing numerous fights to baddies, the Dark Knight has been framed, lost loved ones, seen his city fall into chaos, and unwittingly betrayed his closest friends. Batman is not the only hero to face immense hardship; far from it. But has there ever been another superhero with such a litany of tragic events throughout his publication history?

To be clear, we are talking about the comic books here, so items from the numerous Batman-related films and television shows don’t come into play. Also, we’re talking about the main DC Universe’s Bruce Wayne, so any horrific events that happened to other characters as they donned the cape and cowl don’t count. This includes alternate universes as well, so Flashpoint Batman and the Batman of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Universe don’t count either. That may seem like it narrows the field a bit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of events to recount.

And with the prerequisite and upfront warning about immense spoilers for the comic book history of the Caped Crusader out of the way, let’s dive into the most harrowing things to happen to the Batman. 

9. Dick Grayson, The First Robin, Got Shot In The Head And Lost His Memory

Dick Grayson, The First Robin, Got Shot In The Head And Lost His Memory

In the aftermath of Bruce’s failed wedding to Catwoman, his first partner in fighting evil, Dick Grayson, tries to cheer up the father figure that changed the course of his life after his own parents were slain. The pair are patrolling the streets of Gotham when the Bat-Signal lights up the sky.

While talking to Commissioner Gordon next to the Bat-Signal, Grayson is shot in the head by old nemesis KGBeast. You’d be forgiven for assuming this would end the former Boy Wonder, but alas, he ends up making a full recovery outside of losing his memory after the demise of his parents. Dick Grayson is effectively deceased and “Rick” Grayson is born.

8. The Joker Kidnapped The Entire Bat-Family

The Joker Kidnapped The Entire Bat-Family

The Joker is probably the most famous villain in popular culture this side of Darth Vader. His own movie grossed over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office in 2019 and his antics have delighted fans of comics, television, and film for decades. In light of this popularity, it can be easy to forget just how sadistic and truly bonkers the villain can get.

During Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman “Endgame” storyline, the Joker kidnaps the Bat-Family and seemingly separates the skin from their faces and serves it to them at a dinner table. This is just a ruse, though, and he proceeds to try to burn them all alive. This doesn’t come to pass, but the event highlighted that not even the Bat-Family themselves were safe from the Joker’s antics.

7. His Back Was Broken By Bane In A Brutal Fight

His Back Was Broken By Bane In A Brutal Fight

One of the most well-known Batman covers of all time belongs to 1993’s Batman #497The sight of seeing the Dark Knight’s back bending the wrong way in the hands of an absolutely monstrous Bane certainly is a striking one. It was even given an homage in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises

As Bane breaks the Bat, he proclaims, “I am Bane and I could kill you… but death would only end your agony and silence your shame. Instead, I will simply… break you!”

Unsurprisingly, this shatters Bruce Wayne’s back and he passes the mantle on to Jean-Paul Valley. This would prove to be very temporary, as Wayne eventually returns as Batman around a year later during the “KnightsEnd” crossover storyline. 

6. The Heretic Slayed His Son, Damian Wayne

The Heretic Slayed His Son, Damian Wayne

In a move that was undone not all that long after it happened, Bruce Wayne’s son Damian is slain in 2013’s Batman Incorporated #8. Damian is taken out by The Heretic – who just so happens to be a rapidly aged clone of Damian himself. 

Though this is clearly not the first murder of a loved one Bruce Wayne has suffered through in his life, it is the demise of his biological son and hit him quite hard. Through some serious comic book-ery, Damian is brought back to life in 2014’s Batman and Robin #37. 

5. The Joker Paralyzed Barbara Gordon

The Joker Paralyzed Barbara Gordon

The enduring legacy of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s infamous 1988 Batman tale The Killing Joke is the crippling and violation of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s at the hands of the Joker. The events of the story would eventually spur the newly wheelchair-bound Gordon into becoming the fan-favorite Oracle, but The Killing Joke itself has been saddled with a tumultuous legacy over the past three decades.

While it won an Eisner Award at the time and was critically lauded as one of the best Batman stories ever told, the tables have turned a bit on the iconic tale. Writer Alan Moore has reflected on the story by saying “it is far too violent” and called the book “a regrettable misstep on my part.”

An extremely controversial 2016 animated film adaptation stirred the pot even further. Coupled with Frank Miller’s legendary 1986 bat-tale The Dark Knight ReturnsThe Killing Joke would send Batman comics down a dark path that continues to this very day.

4. He Was Slain And Brought Back To Life Repeatedly By ‘Emperor Joker’

He Was Slain And Brought Back To Life Repeatedly By 'Emperor Joker'

The 2000 Superman-based crossover storyline “Superman: Emperor Joker” doesn’t have all that much to do with the Caped Crusader. The story surrounds the Joker after he obtains the ability to alter reality after duping Mister Mxyzptlk, the supremely powerful trickster villain who has been a comedic thorn in Superman’s side for decades. Batman is shunted off to the side here, though his torment at the hands of the Joker is no laughing matter.

At one point, Superman finds the corpse of the Dark Knight and throws together a makeshift grave for his close friend. Batman eventually bursts through the freshly packed soil and reveals the truth to the Man of Steel: the Joker torments him to death every day and every night he comes back to life to do it all over again. “I’ve reached the point… where I’ve come to doubt my own existence,” he explains to Superman.

Talk about breaking the Bat.

3. The Joker Killed The Second Robin, Jason Todd

The Joker Killed The Second Robin, Jason Todd

A Death in the Family,” the 1988 Batman storyline from Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, was controversial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it took the life of Jason Todd, the second Robin, for a significant amount of time until he was brought back in the mid-’00s. This brought media attention as offing the kid sidekick to one of the most famous superheroes in the world surely would, but it was not the only item of contention surrounding the story.

DC set up a 900-number calling system for fans to call in and vote on whether Robin would live or not at the end of the story. As if giving fans that kind of choice in the first place didn’t rub the creative minds at the company the wrong way, imagine how they felt when fans decided they would like to end a character. The first great impact of a burgeoning comic book fandom was to call for the demise of Robin. Interestingly enough, after years of speculation, we finally know what would’ve happened had the poll gone the other way thanks to Polygon’s Susana Polo.

2. His Parents Were Slain During A Robbery When He Was A Child

His Parents Were Slain During A Robbery When He Was A Child

In what might be the most well-known origin story in all of popular culture, Bruce Wayne’s parents were slain during a robbery-gone-wrong when he was just a child. This events was first shown in the pages of 1939’s Detective Comics #33 and serves as the impetus behind everything Batman does.

The Wayne family is walking down an alleyway after seeing The Mask of Zorro at a movie theater when Joe Chill tries to rob them at gunpoint. Chill panicks, the Waynes are killed, and the rest is history. This is the genesis of the Batman, the inciting incident of one of the most influential icons of the past century; two gunshots and a legend was born. 

1. His Mentor And Oldest Friend, Alfred, Had His Neck Snapped

His Mentor And Oldest Friend, Alfred, Had His Neck Snapped

Tom King’s final twist of the knife before riding off into the sunset came in 2019’s Batman #77, where Bane takes out Batman’s trusted confidant Alfred Pennyworth in front of Damian Wayne’s eyes. Alfred pleads with Bane, “not in front of the boy.” With an unmerciful twist of his arms, Bane snaps the neck of Bruce’s oldest friend.

When Bruce discovers the body of Alfred in Batman #83, he is beside himself with pain. As tears come to his face, he can barely utter a word. Though some fans assumed Alfred wasn’t really gone or, at least, wouldn’t be for long, DC seemingly solidified the passing of the butler with 2020’s Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P.