Fandom: Batman, DC Comics
Email: lexalot_luthor @ yahoo.com
Blood, Brooding, and The Bat
There is no Bruce Wayne. No one would agree more with this statement than the man who answers to that name. Analysis of the character often begins and ends with this conclusion. Many superheroes wear their disguise, but Bruce Wayne's mask wears him. He is a facade, a meticulously constructed act, an elaborate hoax designed to reflect a stereotype that the world expects of a handsome and powerful young billionaire. The image Bruce Wayne has is the one he perpetuates by imitating a life of opulence and pleasure, the lifestyle of the classic playboy, quite the opposite of reality for him. It's a life that might have actually been were it not for one fateful night that marked the end of his childhood, stole his innocence, and robbed him of his identity. The night Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, victims of a random act of violence in Gotham City's Crime Alley, the seeds for Bruce's dominant alter ego were planted. That evening, after a family outing to the theater, Thomas and Martha Wayne encountered a mugger who shot them both, leaving Bruce, their son and only child, an orphan. That night, at 10:47 p.m., the little boy who was Bruce Wayne died with his parents, and the vigilante known as Batman was born.
The Birth and Being of the Bat
Bruce Wayne ceased to be a normal child after witnessing the tragic loss of his parents. Save for the Waynes' servant, Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce was suddenly alone. In a single instant, the world had become a dark and gloomy place. Alfred nurtured Bruce's ailing spirit and stood by his young master as a father figure, becoming the only real family Bruce had left, the only familial presence he would know for the rest of his life. Young Bruce Wayne knew what he had to do, and from the beginning, Alfred supported his choice and aided him in keeping his promise. Bruce made a vow on his parents' grave that he would never let what happened to them happen to anyone else, that no child would have to suffer as he suffered. This grand purpose to which Bruce devoted himself became a war of Shakespearean proportions, one man's mission. So grand and noble an effort was it that Bruce's alter ego was dubbed the Dark Knight, also earning the title of the Caped Crusader. Over time, several others were inspired by his passion and determination to join his personal crusade and fight for his cause.
After years of traveling the globe, being educated at the best schools as well as trained in every form of combat and martial arts, Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham to fulfill his destiny and keep his word, fighting for justice in memory of his parents. He set out to ensure that they did not die in vain by doing everything within his power to prevent such a thing from happening again and to reclaim Gotham from the criminal element that threatens to make its citizens into casualties. However, Bruce Wayne needed to be preserved as a public figure, as a front. He could not have simply discarded the persona of Bruce Wayne for the mantle of the Bat. Bring Bruce Wayne afforded him several great advantages, as well as grounding him in some illusion of normalcy. Therefore, Bruce needed to protect his identity, but he also needed a symbol, something that would instill fear in his enemies.
Following the death of his parents, Bruce was lost, quite literally in one particular incident. As the most favorable version of the canon origins tell the story, while on the property of Wayne Manor, Bruce fell through an opening in the ground. He found himself in a cave, and before long, a small figure emerged from the pitch-black depths. It was a bat, and it terrified the young boy. In his adulthood, the impression that event made upon Bruce inspired him to convert the caves he inadvertently discovered under his home into his base of operations, and he transformed the creature that had frightened and haunted him in his youth into the basis for his suit of armor and trademark. Bruce turned the object of his fear into a badge of his ability to overcome. Through his conviction and fortitude, engineering and technological ingenuity, expertise in physical and psychological sciences, and detective skills worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Batman was created a superior crimefighter, forged in the ultimate hero's mettle.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Batman, however, is exactly how ordinary he is. Batman is categorized as a superhero through sheer merit of his own industrious nature as well as outstanding performance in and dedication to his duty. Bruce Wayne is only human, and unlike most other superheroes, he does not possess any superhuman strength, powers, or abilities, nor does he have any supernatural roots or events giving him an extra edge in his perilous calling. Since Bruce Wayne possesses none of these advantages, neither does Batman. The only intrinsic help Batman gets is from his accumulated wisdom and the benefits he reaps being owner of Wayne Enterprises. With extensive knowledge of most any subject and hi-tech equipment covertly appropriated from Bruce's own company, Batman manages to hold his own along side his Metropolis-based equivalent and absolute opposite in the DC Universe, Superman. In the graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman even defeats the Man of Steel in a culmination of their rivalry. In any version of canon, their relationship is volatile, especially since they often clash when brought together, yet they work on the same team toward similar goals, distinguished in their shared status as two of the most capable and effective, not to mention popular, superheroes in comics history. Despite his superior service as a superhero, underneath it all, Batman is just a man, just a person like anyone else. He isn't invincible under the Kevlar he wears, he cannot fly without a grappling hook or plane, he has no strength but what he builds through rigorous exercise and training in the gym and weight room, and one day he will die just like anyone else, yet every night he risks his life to save others.
Batman also has the distinction of being one of the darkest superheroes to ever thrive in the mainstream. This distinction as dubious as Batman's reputation, one of the main reasons the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel clash is the fine line that Batman walks and repeatedly crosses between hero and vigilante. His methods are often questionable, and Batman remains shrouded in mystery and darkness without care for what others think of his methodology as long as it yields results. At times, failure or trauma causes Batman to lose himself along the way. When those around him fall or his best efforts prove to be not enough, the abyss Batman skates threatens to swallow him whole. Since Bruce's psychological scars are so deep and the damage done to his mental health is irreparable, Batman also lives in the gray area of sanity. Definition of his mental stability varies to the point where he could conceivably blur the boundaries to seem more like his enemies than his allies. Indeed, Batman can often be his own worst enemy. Operating on the outskirts of the law, acting outside of it as much as he works for it, Batman navigates the dark world in which he lives by setting his own course, his instincts and conscience as his guide. If this compass misleads him, his sense of self can become mislaid and his morality may go astray. In some ways, however, his darkness works for him rather than against him. Gotham harbors some of the most sadistic and maniacal, not to mention eccentric comic villains ever devised, criminals such as the Joker, Two-Face, and Scarecrow, and such characters require a worthy and capable adversary to oppose them. Working much to Batman's favor is his understanding of evil and the darkness that breeds it. Batman is better prepared to rise to the challenge of fighting this darkness while working from within the belly of the beast. He is ready to match any threat, able to be as dangerous, as indomitable, and as fearless as his foes. He is vulnerable with a high chance of being killed in battle, but Batman is not afraid of death, and arguably, Bruce Wayne is already dead.
The Life and Lack of the Man
The spirit of Bruce Wayne may be lost forever, his soul now belonging entirely to the Bat. There are times when Batman himself asserts that Bruce Wayne does not exist. One such instance occurs in the graphic novel, Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, when Bruce Wayne is on the run from the law, accused of a serious crime, and yet rather than try to clear his name, Bruce puts on the cowl and suit, intending to become Batman permanently. Bruce escapes into the guise he believes to be his true self, willingly abandoning his life as Bruce Wayne. When Superman comes, Batman denies the existence of Bruce Wayne. This is just one example, one of many times that the line between Bruce Wayne and Batman has been erased, one personality assimilating the other or vanishing completely. In the end, Bruce comes to terms with his duality rather than remain exclusively Batman. As the alter ego of Batman, Bruce Wayne might be dispensable, but the truth is far more complicated than a simple contest between two dueling personalities and which triumphs in the end.
Bruce Wayne may not be so dead as Batman would lead others to believe. Closer to the actuality of Bruce Wayne's divergent halves, Bruce seems torn between wanting to exist and wanting to disappear into oblivion. He may be more of a ghost, a shell of a person, but he is there in some form, no matter how small. The echo of Bruce Wayne is resounding in the act that represents him, both to the public and to Bruce himself; the act is a stand-in for the Bruce that might have been, that would have been had his parents not been murdered before his very eyes, and that Bruce himself probably believes should have been instead of the diluted charade that Bruce Wayne became in the Bat's shadow.
While Batman creeps in from the dark corners to overrun Bruce's world, the world still belongs to Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne is all about image. That image is spun and manipulated by Bruce himself to achieve desired effects as well as allow him to function in ways he cannot as Batman. Whether or not he is purely a farce, Bruce is the most complex and intensive farce ever invented in comics. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, having inherited his wealth from his parents, his father having been a doctor and the Waynes having a lucrative background in medicine and business. Wayne Enterprises flourishes, but with entrepreneurial wizard Lucius Fox at the helm, Bruce can perpetuate the idea that he is a lazy and spoiled executive when it suits his purposes, despite the fact that Bruce is brilliant with keen business sense. In similar fashion, he perpetuates the picture of a man who is a womanizer, his romantic inclinations not always genuine and almost always empty. Women consistently find that Bruce is emotionally unavailable, and since his life as Batman does not allow much room for settling down, those who try to get into his life find themselves shut out in the cold. All of this works well to Bruce's advantage, painting the portrait of a man who cares about little besides himself and profits. With a reputation so shallow and unflattering to precede him into any room, it is highly improbable that someone would suspect him of being such a deep and altruistic figure as Batman.
The icon that is Bruce Wayne is an enigmatic figure in his fictional world. He is as loved and fawned over as he is hated and rebuffed. Most women who have never broken through his reinforced exterior resent him and his competitors hold great malice toward him. Regardless, women continue to flock to him and he is well respected by many. The juxtaposition of Bruce Wayne's ambiguous characteristics thickens the mystery of who Bruce Wayne really is and what he is really like. Public perception of him is as ambivalent as the man himself. Some of his behavior contradicts the unflattering part of his reputation and gives him a more likable side to enhance his mystique. One particular example is his devotion to charity and fundraising. Though he seems self-centered when it comes to relationships and business, he also heads the Wayne Foundation, which contributes money to numerous causes, orphanages and hospitals to name a few. This is a job for Bruce Wayne rather than Batman; this work is Bruce's contribution to society, proving that there is a generous and philanthropic side to him despite the image he facilitates in everything else he does. Bruce's better attributes are usually the prevalent ones, since he is a good man at heart. These intricacies only serve to make him all the more real.
However, how real Bruce Wayne is will always be up for debate. Bruce may simply be a cover, a construct for Batman to hide behind, a wall that conceals his true self. Bruce may be little more than the remnants of a boy who was destroyed by witnessing the murder of his parents, or he may be the man the boy became after being hollowed out by that psychological trauma. One theory is that Bruce's emotional growth was stunted on that fateful night, and that as a result, he is the emotive equivalent of a child or of a man without the ability to feel. Though the case can also be made that Bruce Wayne is very much real, and one only needs to dig deep enough below the surface to find him. As if he is hibernating, asleep under the vacant facade, or frozen and numb inside the Batman. The best argument that Bruce Wayne is still underlying the veneer can be made by those closest to him, those who can reach him. There is a small number of people who know him well enough and get deep enough inside his heart and head to stir what may, in fact, be the real Bruce Wayne. Their warmth can thaw his thickest layers of ice. While there are quite a few others of significance who fit this criteria, there are two who tend to stand out as the first and foremost, not only for Bruce Wayne, but for readers and fans; Dick Grayson and Selina Kyle.
The Soul and Mates of the Bat
The majority of Bruce's life was spent alone. Though he always had Alfred to be there for him, Bruce lacked for companionship. In Wayne Manor, it was easy for him to isolate himself, even away from his servant and caretaker. Bruce was a loner. Solitude came naturally to him. However, that all changed with the arrival of a youth by the name of Dick Grayson. During the early years of the Bat, Dick's acrobat parents, known as the Flying Graysons, were killed when the rope suspending them in the air was purposely cut and they fell to their deaths. Misery knows no better friend than company, and Bruce Wayne could not help but agree. He empathized with Dick's loss, and as part of his debt to his parents' memory and his quest, he took the boy into his home, becoming his legal guardian. As the parallels in their lives drew them together from the beginning, it became apparent that Bruce and Dick were on the same path to similar destinies. As Bruce's ward, Dick gained the skills and training needed to join Batman in his crusade as the Boy Wonder, Robin. Together they would be called the Dynamic Duo. As a team, they complemented one another well. Dick brought light to Bruce's darkness, and he opened the door for others to join what would become known as the Batfamily. Bruce and Dick came to be very important parts of one another's lives. The two are often slashed (or romantically paired) in fandom, and the case can be made from countless moments in canon exhibiting the intensity of their relationship that Bruce/Dick has a foundation in text. Whatever the nature of their bond, it is strong and unbreakable. Dick has the unique distinction of being the first one to form a solid kinship with Bruce, and through his similar experiences and long-standing trust shared with Bruce, Dick also has the most significant and personal connection with Bruce and his alter ego.
Just as Dick stands out in the life of Bruce Wayne, Catwoman stands out in the life of Batman. Out of all the women he has ever known, Bruce Wayne has only had a select few come close enough to being the one meant for him. Selina Kyle, who prowls Gotham as a stealthy thief and mischiefmaker called Catwoman, is the closest match of them all. Selina is fierce and independent, enough so to really challenge Bruce as well as present a challenge to Batman. Selina is as ambiguous a character as Batman, possessing much of the same darkness in her. The only trouble is that Catwoman is an outlaw, committing crimes and therein dividing herself from Batman. Though their romance started out as a simple flirtation composed of Cat and Bat chases, the tension between them mounted, escalating to something more than physical attraction. Bruce and Selina were dating while Catwoman and Batman were fighting and sparking chemistry, despite the fact that neither of them was aware of the other's secret identity. They were destined to be together and yet they are doomed to be separated. Eventually, Bruce revealed that he and Batman were one in the same, entrusting Catwoman with the truth. Selina has even helped the Batfamily on occasion and Catwoman has helped Batman on the job. However, Batman and Catwoman do find themselves at odds, on opposing sides, as Selina's darker side travels a less moral and honorable road than Bruce does. Yet Selina offers Bruce the affection of someone who understands him and his darkness, making her a darker kindred spirit, the way Dick Grayson is Bruce's lighter complement. As a sort of Romeo & Juliet of Batman canon, the Bat and the Cat make for the most popular heterosexual (or het) romantic pairing in Batman fandom, and certainly one of the most complicated and fascinating loves of Bruce's life.
The Best and Worst of the Bat
When searching for versions of canon that bring the material of the comic books to other mediums, there are many choices, some of which may be well worth avoiding. The 60s Batman television series was an attempt at parodying comic superheroes. Unfortunately, the series didn't play well to the adult audience it tried to attract with campy humor, and instead children were drawn to its cartoonish action. Since the characters on the series were never meant to be genuine representations of those in the comics, they succeed in being a far cry from the true Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and all others depicted. Conversely, Tim Burton perfectly captured the essence of Batman and Bruce Wayne in the first two Batman films that he directed, Batman and Batman Returns. Burton's vision did the Bat universe unprecedented justice and provided an ultimate realization of Batman on screen. In these movies, Michael Keaton embodied all that is tragic and triumphant about Bruce Wayne and Batman, perfectly illustrating the similarities and differences between them in his superior performance. Then, Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series also did a wonderful job of staying true to Batman's character and the darkness of his world. After that, however, Michael Keaton declined to play Batman again, and Joel Schumacher took over directing the Batman movies, attempting to blend the style of Burton and the 60s TV show. The result was devastating to the Batman film franchise as the next two films, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, held none of the authenticity and appeal of Burton's vision. Now, Christopher Nolan (Memento) is directing the newest Batman film, Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale, and it promises to return to the kind of darkness and level of verisimilitude Burton achieved.
There is plenty of fan fiction out there for the Bruce/Batman lover. Since everyone has a different take on the balance between Bruce Wayne and his alter ego as well as different ideas about the details of his personality and life, every tale is as unique as the interpretation of this wonderfully complex and exceptional character. Fics vary based on the characters involved and the point and particular version of canon in which the story takes place. For instance, I write patriciangothic (aka Bruce's LJ) for gotham_journals, which presents my take on the character in the form of a personal log. Here are just a couple of the fics out there, each a series that is well known for its portrayal of well-done characters in great stories, the first includes Lex Luthor and Clark Kent, and the second includes Selina Kyle and Dick Grayson; goth_clark's Possession series and happyminion's Gotham After Dark series. There is a community called batfic where any fiction from the Batman universe is posted. There is also a comprehensive list of stories about Bruce and Batman from every medium of canon and for every pairing (slash and het) at The DC Fic Index. There is as much out there to enjoy in Batman fandom as there is in Batman canon.
Bruce Wayne is one of the most complicated, three-dimensional, and fascinating characters ever created in comics. His legend has endured for more than sixty years as Batman, one of the most popular and beloved superheroes of all time. His stories and adventures continue into a new millennium, and we continue to be riveted by him as well as the tales of his crusade to save others from suffering as he does and his struggle to overcome darkness and disaster. Be it Bruce or Batman, the character survives and remains a favorite. Bruce Wayne will always be the boy who died seeing his parents murdered, and Batman will always be the man who fights to protect others from dying as his former self did. Bruce Wayne is our innocence; Batman is our disillusionment. They are our angel and our demon as one.