Near the end of Batman (1989),

the Joker kills his trusted henchman Bob with Bob's own weapon.

This occurs right after Batman has done away with Joker's poison-filled balloons.

Why? It seems like Bob was fairly capable. I guess it's probably because Joker was crazy.

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    The Joker is not renowned for his impulse control – Valorum Oct 17 '19 at 22:32
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    Is a spoiler really necessary for a 30-year-old movie? I like my title more. – Ham Sandwich Oct 18 '19 at 0:12
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    I'm guessing it's so as to avoid confusion with the Joker movie currently in theaters? (At least that's what I assumed this question was about when I saw the title...) – Darrel Hoffman Oct 18 '19 at 14:34
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    @HamSandwich I looked it up on Meta... scifi.meta.stackexchange.com/a/980/73094 It says "Don't consider the age of the material. There are still people new to Star Wars, the Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings" – Reginald Blue Oct 18 '19 at 14:36
  • Then there should be spoilers in every question. – Ham Sandwich Oct 23 '19 at 4:04

According to the film's official novelisation, it was out of frustration that none of his henchmen (including Bob) had told him about the Batwing.

“He stole my balloons!” he screamed.
Nobody had an answer for that. He shook his fists up at the sky.
“Why didn’t somebody tell me he had one of those things?”
Still, nobody spoke. The Joker found this immensely unsatisfying.
He asked for Bob’s gun and shot him. Good old Bob.
That made him feel a little better.

There's also the implication that it was pour encourager les autres.

The boys ran away.
“It’s just cookin’ good, you schmoes!” the Joker yelled at his retreating troops. “What’s going on?”
The boys didn’t even bother looking back. What kind of loyalty was that? And after he had made such a good example of Bob. The Joker hated to waste a good example.

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I too remember being shocked by the Joker shooting Bob the Goon near the climax of Batman. The reason he does it is apparently to show that the Joker is in the process of completely losing it. Up to that point, he has been clearly insane and pointlessly, murderously violent. However, he takes some care that he does not easily get caught while executing these schemes. (For example, the way he pollutes the chemicals in various cosmetics to make them poisonous is too complicated for the police to figure out, although Batman, knowing of the Joker's connection to Axis Chemicals, does figure out what is going on.)

Killing Bob shows that the Joker is completely losing control. His homicidal madness is becoming so wild that he just lashes out in rage at the nearest target when Batman breaks up his most recent plan (using the Batwing to take out the poison gas balloons). The Joker is no longer capable of making decision according to even a modicum of self interest. He has become a totally animalistic monster.

His casual murder of Bob shows the audience that the reasonably careful Napier is completely gone, and the crazy, uncontrollable Joker is all that is left. It also serves another plot purpose, since the betrayal and killing of Bob ensures that the Joker has no goons left, so that the final confrontation with Batman in the cathedral can be a one-on-one face-off.

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    Thanks, but I was looking for an-universe explanation. – Ham Sandwich Oct 17 '19 at 22:40
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    @HamSandwich "the Joker is completely losing control" is pretty in-universe. – DavidW Oct 17 '19 at 23:37
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    @DavidW: Unfortunately, it's also just a supposition, without any reference to back it up. – Matthieu M. Oct 18 '19 at 8:11
  • The references I've seen are: 1.- the climax. 2.- pollution of chemicals in various cosmetics. 3.- Description of Joker's behavior and how it changes. Is yellow background the only way of referencing accepted here? – Anonymous Coward Oct 19 '19 at 20:24

Bob being murdered generates sympathy in the audience for him, suggesting this was leveraged specifically to generate antipathy for the Joker in the final act so the roles of the hero and antagonist become clearer.

Anyone still rooting for the Joker has to reconcile that he has no loyalty to anyone, which is mirrors the allusions to Bruce Wayne's vigilantism is purely self-centred and ignoble - however killing Bob demonstrates the line where this traverses into psychopathy, helping to show the audience where to place their faith.

ie: if you haven't cared about:

  • Bruce's parents being murdered: this is confusing for the audience because without this event there is no hero in the narrative. Sympathy is indirect.

  • Gotham's citizens being at risk: this is portrayed comically - it's kind of amusing, not exactly visceral.

You'll still probably want to see Bob's death be avenged, he's a character we've become attached to and we witness him being murdered indiscriminately.

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  • Thanks, but I was interested in a canon explanation. – Ham Sandwich Oct 23 '19 at 4:05

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