Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Even after incorporating, no one knows what it’s like to be the Batman

... a squirrel!

"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot..."

“I shall become a bat.”

One popular theory holds not only that “The Batman” was born at the moment Bruce Wayne was orphaned, but that the personality of eight-year-old Bruce was replaced with one dedicated to the cause of justice. Thus, the embryonic “Batman” traveled the Earth for the better part of seventeen years, learning the skills he would need for the cause to which he had become wedded. “Batman” shunned anything which would not advance that cause, because “Batman” was the only thing that made sense after all sense had left eight-year-old Bruce’s life. More particularly, only “Batman” — and not Bruce Wayne — was psychologically equipped for such a crusade, because (however paradoxical it may seem) only Bruce Wayne could become Batman.

While that theory is very appealing, I don’t think it is supported completely by the generally-accepted accounts of how Batman came to be. After over seventy years, the origin’s main elements have not changed. The Waynes’ murders drive Bruce to a strict regimen of physical and mental training, but it’s still not enough. The first account, from November 1939′s Detective Comics #33, famously finds Bruce in his library, puffing on a pipe and musing

Criminals are a superstitious[,] cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible, a … a … [cue the open window] A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen. I shall become a bat!

All but the last phrase was cut out of the “Year One” origin. As related in February 1987′s Batman #404, a badly-wounded Bruce, disguised only as a disgruntled veteran, has just escaped police custody and must decide whether to bleed to death in shame or summon Alfred. This time the bat crashes through his window and perches, like Poe’s persistent raven, on a bust before him. Most recently, The Return Of Bruce Wayne #6 cast the bat not only as the thing which frightened young Bruce prior to his parents’ deaths, but as an avatar for darkness and even evil itself.

Heady stuff, to be sure, and while it looks fairly totemic, it speaks to a mature Bruce in constant conscious control of his own destiny, not a man possessed by some spirit of vengeance created out of childhood trauma. This is a Bruce Wayne who can pass on what he has learned, especially including how to keep “Batman” from dominating anyone else’s life. Personally, I find it hard to believe that “Batman” raised Dick Grayson, adopted Jason Todd, trained Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake, romanced Julie Madison, Linda Page, Selina Kyle, Vicki Vale, Silver St. Cloud, et al., befriended Jim Gordon, J’Onn J’Onzz, Ralph Dibny, etc., etc. This is a Bruce/Batman who would see the Bat-Signal and all the various Bat-gadgets cumulatively as a marketing strategy, as ubiquitous in Gotham as McDonald’s or Coke. One makes you thirsty, one makes you hungry, and one makes you think twice about sticking up that nice old Dr. Thompkins.

Why, then, does the post title assert that “no one knows what it’s like?” Aside from me wanting to paraphrase that Who lyric for who-knows-how long, I do still think there is something at Bruce Wayne’s core struggling for complete control. I don’t believe that “Batman” is Bruce’s dominant personality, because there is too much evidence to the contrary. Instead, “Batman” is a just-so-crazy-it-might-work response to the crime-dominated world of Gotham City — and because only Bruce had the specific experiences which led to “Batman,” only Bruce understands “what it’s like.”

Again, though, that doesn’t mean Bruce can’t farm out “Batman” to Dick, or Sir Cyril, or Mr. Unknown, just like McDonald’s lets local businesses use the Golden Arches. A good idea is a good idea, whether it’s a way to deliver food fast or a universal symbol for scaring bad guys. Besides, going global allows Bruce some measure of control, however indirect, over his franchisees. Remember, he never really approved of the Huntress until she agreed to wear that Batgirl suit back in “No Man’s Land.” Similarly, the events of Batman: The Return seem to confirm Bruce’s decision to keep Damian as Dick’s Robin — and, naturally, there’s still the new Batwoman, who has no real connection to any of the nominal Bat-Family.

Speaking of Batwoman, such “corporate control” clearly applies also to publishing concerns, but I am optimistic enough to think that DC will leave J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, and Amy Reeder alone for as long as they remain on her eponymous title. Ironically, it seems popular enough on its own (that is, with Williams’ involvement) that it doesn’t seem to need the boost of a “Batman Incorporated” brand. Bringing titles like Batgirl and Red Robin into the “Incorporated” fold may also be a touch unnecessary, since they too seem to have found their own audiences. “Incorporated” therefore looks more like Grant Morrison’s and/or DC’s attempt at unifying all the Bat-titles while still letting each of them have a particular direction. Dick gets the two foundational Bat-books, Batman and Detective, and stays in Batman and Robin and Streets of Gotham with Damian. (Dick also stays in Justice League.) Bruce headlines Batman Incorporated and the new Dark Knight, but is free to pop up anywhere else as required.

All this is fine for logistics, but what about style? What objectively separates Bruce’s Batman from Dick’s, or any future caped crusader’s? For the better part of twenty years, influenced mostly by Frank Miller’s work on the original Dark Knight and on “Year One,” Batman was an antisocial figure, distrustful to a fault, respected and even loved almost despite his personality. The events of Infinite Crisis and 52, which helped set up Grant Morrison’s current run, were supposed to make Batman “less dickish.” I personally used to pitch Nightwing just that way — as the “well-adjusted” Batman. (Less of a dick, more of a Dick, as it were.) Today, Bruce must necessarily cultivate better people skills in order to facilitate recruiting; so one might see this as dulling that longstanding, misanthropic edge.

Regardless, even without that concentrated mix of paranoia and condescension, Bruce won’t get lost in the crowd. In Batman: The Return and in the first issue of Batman Incorporated, Bruce has become calmly confident without beating his associates over their heads with his confidence. One might even say he’s enthusiastic about his new venture — but it’s a different kind of enthusiasm than that displayed by Dick Grayson. Dick’s exuberance is rooted in a lifelong love of performing, while Bruce’s may well come from the realization he’s once again in control of his own destiny. “Batman Incorporated” could produce any number of actors, but for Bruce Wayne, Batman is literally the role of his life. I look forward to seeing how that role both evolves and remains unique.

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18 Comments

I think after 70 years, The Batman is taking his first evolving step.

Hopefully They Get Rid of Batwoman, She Is An Immoral Character That Needs to Die.

What makes you say that, Terram?

Batman is written with such wild inconsistency that this kind of character evaluation is guaranteed to willfully ignore a large number of stories and appearances in favor of cherry-picked examples.

The character hasn’t developed because each new writer will typically invalidate what comes before them and pretend that the character is who they want them to be, regardless of how they had been portrayed up to that point and with little consideration for those writers who follow them.

Probably because doing all of those things would be impossible.

Nice article. Bruce has indeed evolved into a character that uniquely processes information (most notably: trauma) like no other character in the DCU and they’re finally showing it. @ 8 years old he processed trauma like no other character. And no T-Wrecks it’s not impossible. Bruce Wayne is from the world of comics. A world surrounded by aliens and super advanced technology. Of course he can and did all those things.

I Would Like to Know Why Terram Nova Wants Batwoman to Die.

(although I already have a really good guess)

Other Chris: It’s going to be the gay thing, isn’t it.

Assuming that Terram Nova isn’t just trolling and it is the gay thing, it doesn’t even make sense on that level. Surely murder/killing is “sinning” (and I’d have thought that even most homophobic religious types would say murder is worse) but no one is going round saying “more or less every notable superhero should die because they’ve killed someone at some point or other” – I wouldn’t be surprised it you could count the number of characters with ongoings at the big two who have never ever killed someone on one hand.

Pretty sure Terram is trolling.
Alex,
The sad part about the big two nowadays is that killing ehances how cool a character is to some people. I remember back when Wolverine did all he could to not give into his killing instinct and now Marvel has him with a pretty huge body count almost monthly.

Another well thought out article, Tom. You da man.

I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of bat books and the inconsistencies that have arisen from having so many writers and editors over the years.

What appealed to me most about Batman was his lone vigil against crime — his alienation. Every additional member of his bat-family dilutes the power of his premise. Geez, why don’t they just give Bat-Mite his own book. And Bat-hound. Gotham City, instead of being a wonderfully dark place, has become the home for Super-Friends.

I think it sucks that there’s an extended bat-family at all. I think Batman’s supporting cast should be restricted to non-costumed allies and that he shouldn’t be integrated with the DCU.

Forever alone.

I like batwoman, she is a neat character.

Personally, I’d be more into Batman though if he were “alone forever” like that poster said. No wait. Damian is hilarious.

I think A Lonely Place of Dying did a pretty good job of justifying a need for a Bat-family. Mostly because they’re what save Batman from himself, being like the Frank Miller Batman. Although whether the Bat-family should have grown to the size it is now, but there’s no helping it without killing them. The whole problem started when DC let the Teen Titans age, but that’s a different issue.

Still, I like this take on Batman, which affirms the necessity of Bruce Wayne as more than just a front. I’ve always thought of it as a three tier system, with Bruce Wayne serving as a front for Batman, and Batman being a role played by the real Bruce Wayne, the man who decided to become Batman. Which is why I liked Mark Waid’s Duel Identities arc in JLA #51-#54 so much, because I thought he got that relationship down very well.

@Nicholas Post

… Really? This is the FIRST time the character has ever evolved? So what did you consider the developments of the character through Sprang, O’Neill/Adams, Englehart/Rogers, Miller, and Dini/Timm, just to name a few off the top of my head? Wallowing in the same old, same old?

It is true that Batman has been written inconsistently in the past; in particular, it was hard to accept that the genius who outsmarted everybody in “Justice League” could be the same hero who we were expected to believe would be at risk from the likes of the Riddler or the Penguin every month in his own titles. (That’s one of Batman’s problems- most of his rogue’s gallery are no match for him, in strength or intelligence.)

But that’s the fault of the editors, not the writers. A company’s staff are supposed to plan out a character’s future; the writers provide the ideas and stories. If two comics in the same continuity seem at odds with each other, it’s the editors job to fix. DC, btw, has long had a poor track of doing just that.

I must admit that the only part of the Batman mythos I never liked was the whole Bat-symbolism. No, most criminals are not a superstitious, cowardly lot that would be scared by what is *obviously* a man in a superhero costume that happens to have Bat-symbols on it. I much preferred the version in “Batman Begins” where the costume happened to sort of look that way accidentally (due to all the gizmos on it) and the Bat-Man legend started out on its own from criminals who gossiped about the “creature” stalking them.

Of course by now, while Batman is known to be a guy without powers, after over a decade of defending Gotham (and the world) the costume would be seen as a symbol of competency- anybody who wears a variation of it is assumed to be approved by The Batman himself. So I guess the Batman INC. concept makes sense. Though it bothers me that Batwoman just went ahead and put on the guise without bothering to get Batman’s approval first. Sure she’s getting it now, but it feels like a handwave since she’s so popular as a character.

Speaking of which, I still haven’t gotten to like her (and it’s not because she’s a lesbian.) Everything I’ve seen about her so far just feels forced- like she’s a badass because the writer insists that she is, and her stories just seem tailored specifically to make her look good. I need to see more before I judge her, but all the hype isn’t helping.

I approach Batman the same way I approach Sherlock; tonnes of people have written him, and written him fairly differently, in many different contexts and theres no chance of all the stories fitting together, but as long as what im reading at the moment is good then im happy.

Batman Inc seems to make sense with the plot and characterization that Morrison has layed out and is pretty well written so im cool with it. However give it about 3 years (or shorter in an elseworlds or OGN or something) and I’m sure we’ll get a serious loner batman again.

And both version will be equally valid and enjoyable.

Anyway, im gonna go watch Batman: the Brave and the Bold, see you guys.

@ Wow! and dnwilliams: Thank you both for saying what you did… Batman works best as a loner, and every new addition to the “Bat-family” dilutes the product IMO.

Morrison’s lunacy just turned me off, and I stopped buying Batman titles a few years ago and haven’t even wanted to crack open any new ones, even after Chris Nolan’s films made me love the character more than I have in years. Too bad DC can’t seem to come up with something to appeal to the (many) people who have enjoyed the last two Batman movies.

To that end, what happened to the new monthly titled simply called “The Dark Knight”? Has it even come out? I haven’t been to my LCS in over a month, but I also haven’t seen any reviews of the title. It was supposed to come out in November.

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