Batman and Poirot are both detectives, but that’s hardly where the similarities end. Both operate outside of the law (being private investigators), and both are privately wealthy. They have only a few family members left, if any. (Batman has Alfred and Robin while Poirot has a sister). Both have someone in law enforcement who they have a bond with: Batman has Commissioner Gordon, and Poirot has Captain Hastings.
Even the “costume” isn’t necessarily a difference. While Batman does dress as a bat, there’s something to be said for Poirot’s moustache, which effectively acts as Poirot’s cowl. In fact, towards the end of Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, the detective becomes more moustache than man. It’s described as immense, occasionally even unwieldly. And if you think Batman painstakingly sharpening shurikens into the symbol of a bat is a great deal of effort, make no mistake, Poirot dyes his moustache while he neglects the graying of his head of hair. In The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, he panics when his moustache goes “limp” in the heat and in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Dr. Sheppard is convinced Poirot must be a retired hairdresser due to the impeccable glory of Poirot’s moustache – something Poirot himself points out to Hastings on more than one occasion.
The point is, the two have a great deal in common. Of course, one of the traits they share is their commitment to their personal moral compass above that of the law.
Neither Bruce Wayne nor Hercule Poirot work for the police. This is integral to both characters as they aren’t legally bound to the justice process. They don’t need warrants to break into suspects’ houses. Batman can interrogate suspects without hard evidence and can listen in on phone calls. Poirot opens suspects’ mail, holds his ear to a door to eavesdrop, and breaks into homes to gain evidence (usually using a false key). Batman’s technology can re-create crime scenes, and Poirot will hire actors to replay the events (even faking scenarios to urge confessions).
However, being vigilantes, neither detective needs to provide the satisfying conclusion many yearn for. While both have put their fair share of villains behind bars (or locked some away in an asylum), there are rare cases where both have let the villain go free. Sometimes they’ve been outwitted, but other times, it’s their moral code that prevails.
Batman allows Catwoman and Gilda Dent to go free despite the collateral damage (and, in the case of Gilda, murders) they cause. Batman also allows Mr. Freeze to go free, often stealing money and supplies in an effort to save his wife.
Similarly, Poirot lets murderers go free if it aligns with his moral compass. In The Box of Chocolates, he lets the mother who poisoned her murderous son go free because he felt she was justified. Of course, Murder on the Orient Express is one of the more infamous cases in which Poirot suggests two scenarios: effectively one that lets everyone go free and one clearly lays out who the murderers are. With a wink and a nod, the police go with the first option.
But where Batman and Poirot differ is how they determine who lives and who dies.
There have been a few villains in Poirot’s tenure where he offers them redemption in the form of assisted suicide. In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Peril at End House both villains avoid trial by taking their own lives with Poirot’s approval. But of course, in Agatha Christie’s final Hercule Poirot novel Curtain, Poirot’s morality is stretched to his limits and he becomes a murderer himself.
Without spoiling the final Poirot novel, what you need to know is the villain has a unique MO. Essentially the villain kills his targets by manipulating people into killing for him. This puts Poirot in an uncomfortable situation. On the one hand, if he lets the villain live (who technically hasn’t murdered anyone), then he will continue murdering people by proxy. If however, he takes the law into his own hands and kills the villain, then the villain has once again manipulated someone into murder.
Poirot accepts this “loss” in favor of the greater good. He proclaims, “By taking [his/her] life, I have saved other lives.” Not only does Poirot kill the antagonist, but he makes it appear as a suicide. It’s a moral quandary that is considered and explored. In the end, Poirot believes he made the right choice based on the villain’s patterns and the uncertainty surrounding Poirot’s future.
This, however, is what Batman could learn from Hercule Poirot: sometimes it's okay to kill.
Poirot knows he’s not going to be around forever. He’s been at the detective business long enough to know a genuine threat, and he makes a judgement call. Batman does no such thing.
When a panel of veritable Batman experts were asked, “Who is Batman’s greatest villain?” Kevin Smith took the opportunity to say, “The greatest [villain] Batman has to overcome [is] his humanity. It’s the only thing that stops him.”
Ultimately, Batman has one rule: he will not kill. This rule may seem obvious, but when you’re a billionaire playboy who chooses to dress up as a bat and fight criminals as your full-time job, the rule is a helpful reminder.
This isn’t to say Batman hasn’t killed. In his first appearance in Detective Comics in 1939, he punched a guy into a vat of acid, which is to say nothing of the 1989 and 2016 films, where Batman kills numerous people. But superheroes are modern myths that’ve been handled by myriad writers and reinterpreted across multiple generations by people with various backgrounds. Batman’s been campy, vindictive, heroic, psychopathic, and even George Clooney.
However, for the most part, Batman is presented as a hero who will not kill even when, arguably, he should – just as Poirot did.
You don’t have to be a fan of comics to know the Joker is a psychopath and a net negative for society. The Joker has killed countless people, never been known to show remorse, and never been shown to “get better” from treatment. Even when faced with jail-time – or more commonly asylum-time – he always manages to escape, which puts more and more people at risk.
And if Bruce Wayne were trying to compartmentalize the Clown Prince of Crime from his daily life, that’s a non-starter. The Joker has killed Robin (Jason Todd) and wounded Batgirl to the point of paraplegia.
The Joker encapsulates chaos and given that Batman operates outside the law, it’d be understandable – perhaps even a charitable service for the citizens of Gotham – if Batman were to break his rule and kill the Joker. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) put it another way:
The Joker: You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you.
Batman: I have one rule.
The Joker: Then that’s the rule you’ll have to break to know the truth.
Batman: Which is?
The Joker: The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. And tonight, you’re gonna break your one rule.
Batman: I’m considering it.
And that sums up the Joker and Batman’s relationship in a nutshell. The Joker wants to win even at the cost of his own life, and Batman wants to win at the cost of everyone else’s – an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object.
Poirot sacrificed his own morality and let his antagonist “win” however pyrrhic it may have been by making Poirot kill. Batman meanwhile has lost family, friends, and countless citizens of Gotham to the Joker because he refuses to break his rule. As a result, some passionate fans claim all of Joker’s murders are on Batman’s hands for not doing what Poirot had the stomach to do.
In the meantime, if you’re as eager as we are to jump into an Agatha Christie mystery, then get ready! The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge, the newest murder mystery game to join the Hunt A Killer catalogue, is coming this fall. Get your little grey cells ready!