Batman and Bruce: Superheroes and Identity

A New Batman

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The Dark Knight himself.

It has been recently announced that Bruce Wayne will no longer be Batman. Due to the long history of the comic book industry, using such tactics to boost sales, most would doubt the permanent nature of this change. Even so, many fans will no doubt be outraged by it. After all, only Bruce Wayne can truly be Batman. Isn’t that correct? Some may say so, but there are several ways to look at the importance of the alter ego in superhero comics. Readers often identify with both the superhero persona as well as the alter ego. Here we shall explore the significance of the secret identity in relation to the popularity of the Batman.

Truthfully, most readers know that such a change is a temporary one. Batman is Bruce Wayne. However, that does not necessarily mean others cannot take up the mantle for a time. Fans will observe them as temporary stand ins. Bruce will always be the true Caped Crusader. This is primarily related to the personal drive of Wayne to dawn the vigilante persona in the first place. It is his origin and human personality, as with many other heroes, creating a strong connection with the reader to keep them coming back for more each month. This is not to say that Bruce Wayne has not gone through alterations over the decades. Characters such as these must reinvent themselves to an extent. However, the core aspect of Bruce Wayne has remained relatively unchanged.

Origin and Motivation

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A crucial aspect of the origin.

Arguably, the most important aspect of Batman is his origin. At a very young age, Bruce Wayne witnessed the brutal murder of his parents in front of his very eyes. This had a profound effect on the boy. He would use his parent’s wealth and resources to train himself in virtually every way imaginable. Bruce would travel the world and hone his physical and mental prowess. He would then use his own fears and forge them into the symbol of the bat. This persona, The Batman, would be a way for Bruce to turn his own fears into a force for good. Not only would his use his wealth to improve Gotham legally; he would stomp out the criminal element through vigilante justice.

Another example of Bruce’s devotion to the cause is in his long journey of self-discovery. Thanks to the benefit of his wealth, Wayne was able to spend much of his youth traveling the globe. He trained in virtually every type of martial art and strengthened his body to physical perfection. Perhaps most importantly, he lived among the criminal element to learn their ways. He would discover the criminal mentality. This included not only what drove criminals but also what they feared. Wayne’s experience in the underworld improved his investigative abilities to become the World’s Greatest Detective.

A more metaphorical aspect of the origin of Batman is in the image of the bat itself. As a young boy, Bruce fell into an underground cave. There he suffered a major shock when he was attacked by a swarm of bats. This event would stick with him for years to come. After an unsuccessful attempt to stop crime once he returned to Gotham, Bruce realized that he could not be successful unless the criminal element truly feared him. As fate would have it, a bat would crash through the window near where his sat. This would inspire to turn his own fear into a strength. This personal experience is indicative of the significance of Bruce Wayne as the Batman. No other character has this as a motivating factor. This origin has been retold in such definitive works as Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

The Importance of the Dual Identity

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Bruce Wayne is the the human aspect.

In his efforts to destroy the crime and corruption that had claimed the lives of his parents, Bruce would need two different strategies. Each is tied with the dual nature of his superhero lifestyle. As previously mentioned, the Batman persona is a vehicle to intimidate criminals through intimidation and fear. As with most dual identities, the superhero identity exists to protect those the hero is closest to. Over the years, Bruce would form relationships with many people. Most prominent among them would be his loyal butler Alfred. More importantly, Alfred serves as a father figure and moral compass for Bruce. Unlike the various Robins, Alfred is not directly involved with all the crime fighting aspects of Bruce’s life in most interpretations. It is safe to say that Bruce wishes to keep his surrogate father as safe as possible despite his drive to commit vigilante justice.

Bruce uses the Batman as a way to protect those closest to him. However, it also allows him to move more freely as the billionaire playboy. Not only can his billions be used to rebuild the city legally, it provides him with the resources and flexibility to fund his superhero lifestyle. As is often mentioned, Batman has no real superpowers. He functions based on willpower and funding. If his enemies continue to suspect that Bruce Wayne and Batman are separate, then they will less likely to attack Wayne when he is not donning the cape and cowl. After all, even Batman needs to rest and recuperate. The Bruce Wayne identity simply makes this all the more possible.

The duality of the man is also relevant in regards to Bruce Wayne’s image as a public figure. While his wealth allows his maneuverability within the streets of Gotham, he also pours massive amounts of funds into charities and the job market to improve the lives of the citizens. Examples of this were seen in the aftermath of Batman:Cataclysm, where Bruce must take a break from crime fighting and travel to Washington to plead for government help. Gotham has suffered a massive earthquake and Wayne knew that he could do more good without his guise in this situation. Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series often showed the Wayne foundation involved in medicine, technology and even criminal rehabilitation. This shows that there is more to this man than the grim image he often demonstrates. Bruce Wayne is still a man deeply rooted in protecting his city. He can even take a break from the near obsessive war on crime when the need arises. This is a powerful example of the strength of this particular dual identity.

Building a Family

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Relationships with Batman are unique among superheroes.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Bruce Wayne as the Batman is his relationships with others. Many superheroes boast families of a sort. Superman has Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane. Spider-man has Mary-Jane and Aunt May. However, few superheroes have as large and diverse group of people actively involved in their own personal mission. Some heroes have emotional support to a degree, but Batman seems to draw other like mined misfits into his clan. The most obvious are the various Robins. Each boy or girl adds something of a unique contrast to the Batman. Batman is dark and brooding while Robin is bright and colorful. Though this was due to early marketing to make Batman more approachable to children, each Robin allows the reader to observe a softer side to the Caped Crusader.

Bruce is often some so obsessed with his mission that he sees these young people as he did himself. He takes it upon himself to train them at an age when they are rather impressionable. Dick Grayson’s parents were murdered by criminals as well. Batman would essentially take the boy on as a son and mentor. However, when Robin was nearly killed by the villain Two-Face, Batman tried to push the relationship away. This show are very interesting internal conflict for the man. Batman is one of the most unshakable of comic book heroes in terms of his mission. One would think this would make his ability to form bonds with others even more difficult. Ironically, most members of the Bat Family remain truly loyal and devoted to him. This is due to the shear magnitude of his cause. He both inspires and intimidates.

Some readers simply assume that Batman is dark and brooding all the time. While it is true that the Batman identity has come close to consuming him, Bruce Wayne is still the core of the character’s creation. Bruce Wayne, a man who lost his family as a boy, is one would think would avoid emotional attachment. Still, with each of this wards he attempted to help strengthen others by empowering them with his knowledge and wealth. Some would be hurt, like Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon, but each of these losses would allow Bruce to show true grief and even doubt. This is something that may drive him more than his own personal loss all those years ago. Rather, to protect the ones he took upon his mission.

 The Legacy

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There is only one true Batman.

There is a counter argument that perhaps Batman has existed long enough that he can be seen as a symbol. In that case, anyone with the right resources could wear the mask. Recently, Dick Grayson took on the mantle of Dark Knight. Readers continued to read the series, albeit with very mixed reactions. If a character is going to take on the responsibility of such an iconic hero, it should be one the readers can accept. Grayson is probably one the better choices. He was Bruce’s sidekick and heir and came into his own as the hero Nightwing. Still, after a short time Bruce Wayne would return to take his place as Batman. Fans would rejoice. The simple truth of the matter is that Bruce Wayne and the Batman are truly linked. While all fans have a preference, both the secret identity and the superhero persona are needed to fuel the dynamic nature of such characters. While Batman may be seen as a symbol to some, it is the man behind the mask that motivates all the major actions of these adventures.

Batman is Bruce Wayne. At the very least, he is most popular and widely accepted version of the character. Batman has been around for over seventy five years. Most of the time, the primary version of this character is Bruce Wayne. Readers have grown to identify with him. They feel his pain and his struggle. Most importantly, they have a connection with this character. This could be attributed to the fact that Bruce Wayne has been Batman for so long and readers are not open to change. Other characters have taken on the Dark Knight persona. However, for many it is Bruce’s own personal drive and motivation to create the force for justice that made him so interesting in the first place. It could be said that the man’s own obsession has forced the Batman to become the primary identity. Few superheroes are as devoted to the cause. Some are bitten by radioactive spiders and driven by guilt. Others are born as mutants and choose to react to prejudice in a positive way. Bruce Wayne is a man. He is a man drive by will and resources to be the best that he can be. It is this drive and circumstance that make this superhero identity truly unique.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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41 Comments

  1. Aaron Hatch

    Well make article. I really like how you compared Batman’s family dynamic to Superman and Spider-man’s family dynamic.

  2. That’s not Batman. Robo-Bat, maybe. But not Batman.

  3. AlFrias
    0

    Feel like comic books nowadays need gimmicks to sell copies. Wish they would just go the route of the zelda games. Same hero’s we know and love, facing the same villains we loath and fear. But in a new and interesting way.

  4. More Batman writers at the helm who don’t understand the characters but want to make them “their own”

  5. Chestnut
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    I have a few thoughts on this new ‘robo-bat-suit-with-bunny-ears’…
    (1) Looks like the mech from the Japanese Anime “Patlabor”.
    (2) IF Daffy Duck can be both ‘Duck Dodgers’ and also sometimes
    one of the ‘Green Lantern Corp’, Then WHY NOT ‘Bugs-Bunny-Armor’
    for a new Batman, even if the one in the suit is Jim Gordon?!
    (3) Maybe ‘Elmer Fudd’ better watch his butt now!!
    (4) Will Alfred still bring someone breakfast in the morning?!
    (5) If the Comic’s storyline still has ‘Barbara Gordon’ (as Batgirl)
    in it, Thanksgiving with the Gordon’s is gonna be interesting!!
    (6) This just HAS to be another one of the ALT-VERSE’S, Right?!

  6. Another day, another reason for me not to start reading comics

  7. On the other hand they could try dreaming up a few new characters instead of re-treading old ones that have established identities’ about 50 years old.

    It’s called using your imagination.

    I believe Stan Lee was actually quite good at it.

  8. Car-Man
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    So Batman is pretty much Ironman now.

  9. Hamrick
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    As much as I don’t care for this idea in general, it is good to know that it isn’t Bruce Wayne in there. A new “status quo” will only last so long if it means anybody other than Bruce Wayne is Batman.

  10. Morphing
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    So the question is… how long until the NEXT “relaunch” that completely undoes this one? My money is on less than 18 months.

  11. Hatcher
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    I thought the whole point of the new 52 was to consolidate the continuity, seems like they are just doing what they did in the past creating a bunch of different universes and versions of the same super heroes. They should just create new heroes and retire the jerseys of the old ones. How many batman stories can you tell before it’s flooded.

    The reason Watchmen remains one of the greatest graphic novels ever created is (until recently) it’s just one great, timeless story.

  12. well its not batman then is it , whats the point.

  13. Damien Grooms
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    What is going on with DC? Marvel is starting to be more appealing.

  14. Wow that is lame poor batman destroyed by the lack of vision of modern comic writers back to manga for me.

  15. HSutter
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    You have people ruining movie franchises,might as well make comic book characters look shoddy too.I don’t know where they get these people from but the art of creativity is apparently degenerating these days.

  16. Okay this isn’t that big of a deal since I know for sure this is going to be temporary. What I am pissy about though is the costume changes for Green Lantern and Superman. Green Lantern in a hood? Don’t we already have a Green hooded fella in the DCU Ah that’s right Green Arrow! (Whose costume I like it reminds me of pre52) Superman new costume is dumb he no longer looks like Superman he looks like Superboy. Come on I was for changing the costume to remove the underwear but removing the full costume bothers me. I hope Superman and Green Lantern changes aren’t forever.

  17. Bambi Liu
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    It is just an arc, whether it lasts 6 issues or 15… why do people get so upset with story arcs?

    • Sturgill
      0

      Exactly. Why are people so damn afraid of change? I’m blown away over how much hate this is getting simply because it’s a damn comic book! Get over it. It might be awesome, it might not. Regardless, it won’t be forever so how’s about you all relax and just TRY to accept that things change and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

  18. One of my favorite Batman moments comes out of a small cameo in Sandman; in it, Superman, Batman, and Martian Manhunter meet in the land of dreams briefly. Martian Manhunter looks as he always does, and Superman appears as Clark Kent. Batman, though, doesn’t look like Bruce Wayne (his real life identity) but instead appears as a slightly more animalistic version of his Batman persona. I think there’s something key to the character in that, as well as that of Superman (their discussion as well raises some questions on the nature of reality and continuity in comics, but that is another discussion for another day).

    I think you’ve captured something about the character here, but I think it could be taken one step further. I think back to playground discussions of my youth, and how we imagined that, faced with the same circumstances as Bruce Wayne, we too could be Batman. There is certainly a case for wish fulfillment with someone like Superman or Spider Man (and perhaps some sense of identification as well), but it seems to me that Batman holds a special place in our minds of who we could be, or at least imagine we could. Faced with insurmountable tragedy, we would like to imagine that we would overcome it, push ourselves to the limit, and solve the ills of world one punch at a time. Of course only Bruce Wayne (or, perhaps, Batman, if his real life identity is in fact his mask) has accomplished this, so perhaps that is just the wishful dreaming of the playground set.

  19. Venus Echos

    Thank you for this article and educating me about Batman.

  20. While I like what you’ve done here I think you’ve neglected an important arc: Knightfall. The aspect of family you’ve commented on comes up when a non-family member takes on the Cowl and is corrupted by the power of being Batman– Azrael becomes a deranged caricature of the Batman to further emphasize that there is a particular brand of training and conditioning that influence one’s ability to wear the Cowl, a brand of training unique to Bruce and, potentially, Dick Grayson. Of all the Robins only Dick is consistently given the Cowl– Jason, Tim, and Damian (of our male Robins) have all been categorically refused long-term commitment to the Cowl. Why? What about Bruce’s character fails to show in Robins besides Grayson?

    We also see that Jason Todd comes to reject the Bat Legacy post “Under the Red Hood” because he sees Bruce’s failure to exact revenge for Jason’s death as a key detriment to the overall Bat Family functionality. Red Hood and the Outlaws function under a grittier and more dangerous set of rules than the Bat Family because Jason sees Bruce’s detachment from revenge as weakness– an inability to do what should be done. Jason says that Bruce should have killed the Joker because the Joker killed Jason, because the murder was personal and should have destroyed Bruce on a personal level, and Bruce’s failure to act on that personal level demonstrates a lack of care about his Robins. An interesting perspective given that out of 4 major (male) Robins 2 have been killed and 2 survived– we judge Bruce more on his reaction to the dead than the living. What does this really imply about the Bat legacy?

  21. Bruce Wayne is Batman. His powers are rooted on Bruce. Batman would not exist in the way we currently know him without the money Bruce had, the fear of bats Bruce had, or the tragedy Bruce experienced.

  22. G Anderson Lake

    Batman will always be Bruce Wayne to me. I’ve always disagreed with the idea that a superhero is a symbol, not a person, because that person always does different things for that symbol. No one would ever be able to truly be Batman in the way that Bruce was.

    On the subject of family, I always found it intriguing how close Bruce grew to those who weren’t his actual family, but pushes his very own far away. He can never maintain a healthy relationship with a significant other, and his very own son hates him. In fact, Bruce hates his son too. I think he’s mistrustful of having a standard family, when he can’t even handle the relationships he has with the Bat family.

  23. Why do these comic book company’s try and revamp everything, the original is always best. Bruce Wayne will always be Batman in the eyes of the people!

  24. It’s really true what they say: characters speak for themselves when they’re so well-written. This is why people have a hard time accepting changes to them, or in this case, changes in who assumes the role of the masked hero. While I agree that people should give changes time and a try, they still have the original material to go back to. And there will always be adaptations and other universes created with the characters they love as time goes on, and even fans could give it a shot themselves, so I wouldn’t get so torn up over it.

  25. I’m not exactly sure how the publishing here works, but you do have a few grammatical errors in your writing. Have another look over and see if you can catch them!

    That aside, this was definitely in interesting topic to read. I would like to however, suggest an expansion on the topic of Alfred, who might fit better under the familial umbrella. Alfred is a crucial piece of the puzzle and I completely agree that he can be seen as a father figure to Bruce, but I also believe that he serves another purpose to his identity, which is an aspect of humanization. Both Batman and Bruce Wayne are seen as larger than life characters, being the hero and the billionaire. Alfred is the one that keeps both aspects of the man grounded, and becomes the more than just the father, but the voice of humanity.

  26. I think you make really valid points and understand this duality really well. I’d like to add that in terms of Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon, is that heroes often make the wrong choice by pushing away the ones they love and care about to protect them from harm, when in reality this just weakens the hero’s overall effectiveness. It may hurt the hero when one of their inner circle is hurt or has something tragic happen to them, but without involving them, there is no point to a secret identity because knowing anyone would put the hero at risk. Everyone experiences these fears. About those they love getting hurt. But in the end it’s better to stand in a group then be alone. Life is about relationships and heroes like Batman need relationships to keep them grounded in their own lives. To lead real lives.

  27. The new look for the DC characters are very bad. Robo-Batman is amongst the worst of them. Those ears/antennae. Ugh.

  28. Agree with all your points. I don’t mind a temporary replacement in the suit. And I don’t mind an alternate earth or future (i.e. the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne Batman or Terry in Batman Beyond), but Bruce will always be Batman… with occasional breaks.

  29. DClarke

    I like the section where you say he keeps Alfred out of his crime fighting. I know that Alfred has patched him up and helped Bruce in many different ways over the media versions but it is interesting to think of Alfred as the anchor for Bruce as opposed to another one of his crime fighting helpers. This way Bruce maintains a separate family dynamic from Batman while still being able to confide and find support

  30. Bruce Wayne being Batman is one of the few constants in the comic book world that needs to stay. This also applies to Wonder Woman and Superman. They are just too iconic to throw another random person into the role. Less popular heroes such as Green Lantern and The Flash are understandable.

    If they demand a temporary placeholder, however, it should be Dick Grayson. As much as I love him as Nightwing, he is the Robin worthy enough to succeed Bruce. He fought alongside Bruce for a long time, has matured to his own persona. Depending on the storyline, Jason has been too changed by the lazerus pit. Tim just does not seems fit for the role, he needs more time to grow. Stephanie has already taken up Batgirl. And Damien is too hotheaded for the job.

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