Why do we love Bruce Wayne?

"Makin' it Wayne" by m7781/Deviant Art

“Makin’ it Wayne” by m7781/Deviant Art

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.

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15 thoughts on “Why do we love Bruce Wayne?

  1. Bruce Wayne/Batman has always been my favorite superhero. For me, it’s due in large part to the way that Bruce Wayne is usually the mask, with the character more Batman, more of the time. That’s a notable difference from many other superheroes. I also very much like that he is a totally human superhero.

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    • Yes, the humanity is what gives him a lot of his appeal for me too. I also like the contrast between the ways Superman and Batman negotiate with authority. That is one my favorite examples to use when I am having a discussion about why comics should be considered art and are as worthy of study as any other form of text.

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    • I agree with you, and there’s a small Batman cameo near the end of the Sandman that you will get a serious kick of one day because of this. 😉 I think we should maybe open the topic of bottomless wealth as a superpower, though. 😛

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      • Yes, I think it is. I had a discussion with the Little Jedi when Gatsby was out, and he wanted to know about the movie we were seeing and if Gatsby was a superhero. That’s pretty much what I ended up telling him-that major wealth is a kind of super-power.

        I guess what I mean is physically, though. He’s not bullet-proof and he doesn’t have a steel skeleton or the power to read minds, control weather, bend metal, etc. He’ a rich guy with rich guy toys using them to make him super. I always felt much more concern for him. Simultaneously, though, he seems to be the more Batman than Bruce Wayne, which is different from many of the non-human or mutated human superheroes-many of them are struggling to fit in but using their powers because they feel responsible.

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  2. Good points about the Depression. Batman’s never lost that influence, and authors using him to work through what a rich person should do in this world makes a lot of sense.

    I think I’m the only person who loved the animated series “The Batman…” I’ve never liked the ultra-dark depictions, just a personal preference there, and “The Batman” is one of the few instances where Batman is successfully integrated with technology instead of just pasted into it. Plus it has a great Alfred and fun Batfamily.

    Some of my favorite graphic novels are the whole Batman: Murderer? and Batman: Fugitive sequences, but it’s been ages since I’ve read them. I remember I liked the Batfamily in them, ad they were heavy on characterization as opposed to villainy and fisticuffs. I like that.

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    • Always good to hear from you, Hannah. I believe that’s one of the newer animated series I’m pretty unfamiliar with. I’m heavily into the older animated universe continuity that started back in the 90s, though I will admit it gets pretty dark at times. I haven’t read those runs yet, but they are definitely on my list. There’s just so much Batman out there. 🙂

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  3. As far as I’m concerned, Kevin Conroy will always be the best Batman voice, and Mark Hamill the best Joker voice.

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    • I definitely agree with you, Phil. On both counts. But with Mark Hamill now beating himself into shape to play Luke Skywalker again, a younger voice actor named Troy Baker has taken over as the Joker and actually sounds pretty good. Here he is reading from the Killing Joke:

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