by Jeremy DeFatta
Good day, everyone! After a couple of weeks of somewhat tangential diversions, I want to return to the original Batman himself, Bruce Wayne. There have been as many iterations of Bruce Wayne as there have been writers tackling the character and actors portraying him, but what is the real core of the character? Why does he endure and maintain such outrageous popularity?
As I pointed out initially, Batman is a product of the 1930s, one of the very first superheroes—the Dark Knight to Superman’s Sun God. He was created during the Great Depression. I don’t think it is any great leap in logic, and other writers may have commented on this before, to see Bruce Wayne as a thought experiment into what a good and useful rich man should be at a time of not only national, but global crisis.
Rather than throwing Gatsby-esque parties and building an empire on the backs of underpaid underlings, Bruce Wayne has thrown all of his energy and inherited wealth into an originally one-man crusade against organized crime in Gotham City. Rather than producing corruption and lawlessness for his own gain, he is cleaning it up.
But the Batman of the Golden Age of comics (roughly 1938-1956) was by no means the warm and fluffy father figure or the campy buffoon of later decades. In terms of his disposition and methods, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s original conception of the character was much more in line with Frank Miller’s reinvention, or rather restoration, in the 1980s.
The original, purple-gloved Batman that first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939 was a remorseless killer of criminals who wasn’t shy about using guns when he had to. This version of Batman, like many other comic book characters, was largely neutered in response to the Seduction of the Innocent scare in the 1950s. This was a survival tactic employed by many publishers at the time in order to keep themselves in business.
I want to split up our discussion of Bruce Wayne over several posts so that we can gain a deeper understanding from the information. So far, I’ve covered some of his early genesis and how his creators may have seen him as a rarity in their experience—a principled member of the wealthy elite. With these ideas in mind, it is not so surprising that the event that set the young Bruce Wayne on a life-long journey of trying to make sense of the world and his place in it was a random back alley shooting. I wonder how many of the Depression-era urban poor died in just such a way. What are your thoughts on this so far?
For future installments, I want to look at some of Bruce Wayne’s most character-defining experiences in the various comics titles that chronicle his adventures. I would also like to know – what are some of your favorite Batman stories? What are your favorite depictions of Batman in other media? I’ll go ahead and throw out that I’m a big fan of Kevin Conroy’s voice work as Batman/Bruce Wayne in much of the DC Animated Universe and several video games (Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, etc.).
My comics picks for this week:
- The first issue of Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (pending delays), continuing the story from Firefly and Serenity.
- Thor: God of Thunder #18 and Uncanny Avengers #16.
Remember to support your local comics shops! Tweet me @quaintjeremy!
image: “Makin’ it Wayne” by m7781/Deviant Art. Used with permission.