Batman and Bruce Wayne: Separated at Birth

Bruce Wayne was a young boy when he witnessed his parents being murdered. That effectively ended his childhood (and, you could easily argue, set him up for a life full of problems). However, while characters such as Peter Parker and Bruce Banner grew stronger in the face of adversity, Bruce Wayne more or less fell to the wayside. It’s not just a symptom of the Batman mythos either…the majority of DC Comics’ characters seem more at home in their costumed identities than they ever do in civilian garb. But those are other stories to tell. Today we’re here to talk about Batman.

There are a few problems that I’ve always harbored with Batman, the biggest of which is the absence of any sort of defining traits in his Bruce Wayne alter ego. Just for reference, some of my other Batman problems include: Where does the bottomless bank account keep coming from? Why don’t the villains just wait for him to go to sleep before pulling their heists (he HAS to sleep sometime)? And what doctor in his right mind would be able to prescribe, to the smiling and jovial Bruce Wayne, the necessary amounts of serious painkillers that Batman must require on a regular basis?

Anyhoo. Bruce Wayne.

Here’s a guy who has never wanted for anything in the world (except parental acceptance, guidance and love). His public presence is all about showing up in classy places wearing tuxedos and escorting supermodels. He gives money to charities. He declines to run for public office, feeling that he can do “more good” as a concerned citizen. And yet, despite all the potential here, Bruce Wayne comes off as an empty shell. He’s a smiley face with a suit and a handshake. And it’s almost creepy the way Batman is able to toggle so easily between the two faces without having some sort of mental breakdown.

Bruce Wayne lacks the passion and drive of Batman. He’s not a good businessman by any stretch of the imagination. He lets others run his businesses for him and can’t barely have enough time to even check the stock markets in between all the punching, kicking, sleeping and healing. How come no one has ever called him on the multitude of bruises and scars he must exhibit on a near-daily basis? Why has no writer ever shown Bruce Wayne fast asleep at his desk, or better yet in a board meeting, after bouncing across rooftops all night dressed as a giant bat?

We pointed out that Batman has problems socializing with his closest allies. Well, at least that’s one thing he keeps consistent out of costume. Bruce Wayne, for all the glad-handing and gad-abouting, has no friends either. That’s another problem we should address really.

That’s just off the top of my head. What do you have to gripe about?

You’ve really nailed most of my problems with Bruce Wayne, although I have a few other things to mention. You’re quite correct when you say that DC heroes tend to be more about the costumed identity, while Marvel heroes tend to be more about the human inside the costume. That began in the early 1960s when Marvel revolutionized the field with early issues of Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man and their other titles, and its continued to this day. But, without a doubt, Batman is the worst. There is no Bruce Wayne. Wayne truly is the mask and I find that to be a crying shame. There’s so much potential for Wayne as a character and that needs to be realized. Using Wayne as more than a convenient plot device would make the Batman comics richer and more interesting; Wayne provides not just a great contrast to the nocturnal activities of Batman but he could be just as effective in his own way in making the world a better place.

DC has tried to deal with some of your concerns, but never convincingly. Why don’t the villains attack when Batman is asleep? We’ve seen plenty of stories of Batman not sleeping, of pushing himself so that he can take out the villains (enough stories in that vein that I am sick to death of it. Batman has a huge network of supporters; if he’d stop treating them like dirt and let them actually do their jobs, he’d had more then enough time to do other things. Let Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, Huntress and the Birds of Prey help out when needed, and stop being such a control freak!) and these stories simply don’t ring true. Batman’s smarter than that, and he knows he’s not at his best when he’s been up for 48 hours straight. The prescription medication thing has been touched upon with the idea that Wayne doesn’t visit many doctors, and that Alfred always patches him up, although that doesn’t explain how he deals with pain. Are we supposed to believe he just grits his teeth and fights through it? Can Advil really help with the sort of pain he endures?

Here’s the thing though, and this is what really bothers me about Batman and Bruce Wayne; with the money and the influence that Wayne apparently has through his financial holdings, I think it’s strongly debatable that he could do more good as Wayne then he can as Batman. All Batman can do is arrest criminals after they’ve done something wrong. Wayne could potentially change the world by trying to eliminate sources of crime before they even happen. Now, it’s quite obvious that DC isn’t going to publish five comics a month starring Bruce Wayne: Corporate Do-Gooder. No one would read that. However, I think that Wayne needs to come to the realization that he needs to devote some time to his civilian identity.

Ideally, this realization could have come about during No Man’s Land. I’ve attacked this storyline before, because while some interesting stories came out of it, the fundamental plot was so ridiculously unbelievable and riddled with holes that I had trouble enjoying any part of it. Pushing that aside for now, when the United States government was considering whether to declare Gotham City to be a No Man’s Land, Wayne went to Washington DC to argue against the idea. He failed in his task to convince Congress that this was a bad idea and Gotham was indeed cut off from the rest of the world. This made Wayne so sad and shook him up so badly that he went into hiding for three months. When he returned, it was as Batman, and it was to Gotham City where he proceeded to punch things. A lot. Finally, Luthor came in and eventually Luthor’s work and the efforts of Lucius Fox convinced the government to reverse the No Man’s Land decision. Yes, it was two businessmen who saved the day while Wayne smacked around a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Why Wayne was surprised that no one listened to him in Congress is beyond me. Why would they listen to you? You’re barely ever seen, and when you are seen by the world, you’re acting like a moron. The idea that Wayne must be seen as incompetent so that people won’t know he’s Batman is simply ludicrous. I don’t think if people saw Wayne as competent, they’d immediately say, “Well, he’s obviously Batman then.” I think that, after Congress laughed Wayne out of the Capitol, it would have been the perfect time for him to realize that, if he had done more as Bruce Wayne over the years, perhaps he wouldn’t have failed in this important task. He could have taken three months off and trained as a businessman, spending time actually running his company and earning some respect in the world, and then he could have returned. No, he wouldn’t give up being Batman, but he would spend less time at it, finding a balance between his two sides and doing good in both of those identities.

So, amongst all of the problems you mentioned, I would say my biggest problem is that there needs to be more of a balance between the two identities. The Batman books need more Bruce Wayne.

Agreed. As much as Spider-Man is fun to look at and the dialogue in-battle is light-hearted and quirky, there is just as much interest generated in Peter Parker’s personal life. How are things with his wife or family? How is his job going? Can he afford to pay the bills this month? Angst. Suspense. Tension.

If and when Bruce Wayne ever pops up on the scene, it’s usually just as a device to get Batman invited to the gala-of-the-day. Or Wayne is brought in to be oohed and aahed over…like when there’s a demonstration of some new Waynetech gizmo and the actual figurehead of the company (Hey! That guy’s name is on the building!) drops by to make an appearance. There’s no substance there at all. Who cares about Bruce Wayne?

Hell, that would be the title of my first storyarc…Who Cares About Bruce Wayne?

Look, I’ve professed it to anyone who will listen over the last couple years that one way to really develop the Bruce Wayne character would be, ironically, to take away the sole reason he even exists: money. Bankrupt Bruce Wayne! Take away the fortune and make it a bloody, public mess. Drag Bruce Wayne through the ringer. Shove him in front of the TV cameras to explain what happened. If the situation is that dire, no one is going to settle for hearing from some PR flack, they’ll want the man himself to explain where their investments went and why their stocks plummeted and who’s to blame.

I know it’s been done with Tony Stark, but the situations were different. And the men themselves are different. Iron Man relies on his technology to even exist as a hero. Batman relies on his wits and his skills. Sure, he has a few toys, but they’re not the core of his being. Taking away his fortune, and subsequently his home, would put him on the defensive. Batman would be forced into the open, in a sense, and would have to fend for himself. This plot device could even drive him to work on his relationships better…Whose couch can he crash on? Whose shoulder can he cry on? Who’s gonna drive him home, tonight?

Sorry, drifted off into a Cars tune there…

So, yeah, Bruce Wayne becomes more prominent out of necessity. I’m sure there are other ways to make this happen. What do you think of that direction (or any other)?

Hmmm. Interesting. It’s not the way I would have gone, but it’s got some potential. Honestly, anything that would bring Wayne into the spotlight has potential and I’d be willing to run with. However, I’m not sure how this idea would work in the long run. Let’s take this idea out a few months and examine the ramifications.

So, Wayne loses his fortune. How? Here’s the way I’d suggest….we know Wayne doesn’t have the time, interest, or I’d say skill, for business. Lucius Fox runs things. We need to get Fox out of the picture. We could do this a few ways; my favorite two would be to either have him suffer a heart attack from overwork (not something that would be much of a stress for a harried executive) or have him grow frustrated with Wayne’s lack of interest in the company and move on to greener pastures (if Fox is as good as we’re told, surely another company could lure him away). Either way, Fox leaves the company, and the blame for that can at least partially be laid on Wayne, since his disinterest in the company either drove Fox to a heart attack or drove him to another job.

With Fox gone, Wayne has to find someone else to run the company. However, he’s busy as Batman, and he doesn’t spend the amount of time he needs to when he interviews people. He either gets an unscrupulous person who drains the company dry while Wayne is out smacking around Killer Croc, or he gets a very nice person who simply isn’t talented enough to run the company. Either way, this chain of events is what leads to the company’s failure, and again, the blame can be laid on Wayne. So, the company starts going under and now Wayne has to come out and speak to the press, as you mention above.

There are a few problems with Wayne losing his fortune. The first is that the Wayne fortune funds Batman. While we want more Wayne, we do need some Batman, and how does he get funding without the fortune. The second is the fate of Alfred; without money to pay his salary, does he stick around? Sure, he feels loyalty to Wayne, but he needs to eat as well. Perhaps you have some ideas along these lines, and I’d love to hear them. I believe these may be temporary problems anyway, since I think Wayne will get his fortune back.

I know that the only cliche worse than taking away the rich guy’s fortune is giving it back to him, but I believe he’d want it back. I envision this entire plotline as a way to make Wayne realize that he needs to split his time between his identities more evenly. Wayne has lost his parent’s legacy when he lost his company, and the blame can fall on no one else. I think he’d be driven to refound Wayne Enterprises (or whatever the heck his company is called) as a monument to his parents, if for no other reason. I think he’d apply the same force of will to learning and implementing business strategies that he did to learning crimefighting techniques, and I think he’d be successful. It wouldn’t be an immediate return to greatness for him, but it would happen. The really great thing about this, however, is that in the process, Wayne would learn humility. Surely he’s never been this humbled in his career (yes, his back was broken, but how many people knew that?), as the entire world has seen him fail. I think that would result in a better Batman; one more respectful of his allies and one who would be less of a prick. This would be a long storyline (and again, there would be more typical Bat-Adventures playing out at the same time, although they would certainly be colored by the loss of his fortune), but I think at the end we’d have a much stronger comic (and some damn fine stories getting there).

The other upside in my eyes is that Batman himself would become more efficient. Sure, the idea is to put more emphasis on Wayne and have him in the public arena more, but at the same time if Batman has no financial backing then he’s going to have to find other ways to get the job done. There’s no more Bat-Computer or Batarangs. Wherever the Batmobile runs out of gas is where it’s going to stay (As an aside, wouldn’t it be funny to see the Batmobile along the side of the road with a white towel hanging out of the window?). Basically, he can’t just throw cash at a problem and make it solve itself. He’s going to have to really use his noggin to solve crime.

And, yes, I think the problems you’ve pointed out are minor and temporary at best. I’m pretty sure Alfred has a nice savings account of his own that he can fall back on for a while if necessary. And, as I stated above, I’m not really sure Batman needs all that funding to operate effectively. Sure, over time people may begin to notice that Batman’s costume is looking a little ratty or that he’s taking the bus instead of zipping around town in his Bat-Copter, but it’ll make him a stronger person in the long run. And it may even force him to spend more time “disguised” as Bruce Wayne in public (or Matches Malone if he really gets destitute).

You seem to have come around on the idea pretty quickly. However, I’m wondering what other ideas you had for strengthening the Bruce Wayne identity? What would you do?

The first thing I’d do is point out that we could also use your plot to introduce the love interest we mentioned in the previous post. If we had the rival businesswoman/future smoochie-friend introduced already, perhaps it’s the loss of his fortune that forces Wayne to contact her and start training with her as a businessman. During the course of that, they become close, and things develop from there. It would also be interesting as he struggles to regain her fortune, since she could try to help him, and of course, he’d want to do it himself, since he sees regaining his fortune as something he needs to do for his parents (or the memory of them). That could cause some temporary stress in the relationship, which is good for any media romance if you want to maintain interest in it.

As for Alfred, it could be interesting if he is forced to get another job. He still wants to help Wayne, and we keep Alfred in the storyline, but he’s only able to do as much as his current position will allow. It gives us a chance to delve a little deeper into Alfred’s personality as well. While Alfred certainly goes above and beyond in many ways for Wayne, he’s also got a lot of slack in the Wayne household. What would things be like for him in a more normal job? How does he deal with someone whom he hasn’t known since childhood and will have completely different expectations of him?

As for my ideas for other directions to take him….I had nothing this monumental, and which solves all of the problems so elegantly. Seriously, when I first read your suggestion I thought, “You have got to be kidding me.” It seemed cliched and like a stunt for the sake of the stunt. However, there’s more here than I thought, and I like it. Once you think this through, it provides the perfect manner to institute some of the changes we’ve been describing for Wayne, and it provides a good reason for those changes, which I never had. Bonus, since it stays within continuity and doesn’t just have him acting like a better person with no explanation. Honestly, I’m sold. With this idea and the villains we revamped (and the ones who don’t need revamping, but we have ideas for) you could easily write two solid years of strong Batman stories.

Y’know, what I like about the whole plan (and not just the fact that we came up with it)…from the revamped villains to the romance introduction to the emphasis on building up the Bruce Wayne identity…is that it adds many more layers to any given Batman comic. I think one of the big problems with DC Comics’ stories right now is that there’s rarely any depth to the action. Granted, you and I are both basically unpaid shills for Marvel history, but even in the DC stuff that I do read, I find a lack of purpose. Every story (a gross generalization, I know) revolves around punching and/or kicking someone’s cheeks in and then moving on to the next object which will subsequently be punched and/or kicked. By developing these other story threads, you’re able to weave some emotion into the action.

Batman is built on angst. He’s the brooding bastard of the funnybooks. That doesn’t mean that he has to be so one-dimensional though. In fact, I argue that making his “other” life more complicated will only enhance the darkness of his heroic appearances. And everyone is happy with that, right?

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4 Responses to Batman and Bruce Wayne: Separated at Birth

  1. Jennifer D says:

    What if, after Fox leaves the company, Wayne Industries needs to merge with another company to survive? What if the successful businesswoman is the head of the merging company? Or even buys out Wayne’s company completely? She could even begin a hostile takeover of Wayne’s company.

  2. John says:

    Interesting. That’s a way to bring the businesswoman into the story in an even more connected way, and it also creates even more tension between them when they eventually become a romantic couple. It’s something in their past that could always be a bone of contention.

  3. Harvey Jerkwater says:

    A low-budget Batman could give rise to some cool wrinkles in his detective work. No more mainframes jammed with data, no more secret backdoors into every computer on Earth, no more amazing microscopes or gas chromatographs… Let’s see what the World’s Greatest Detective does when he has to get all of his supplies from retail stores. Force a little creativity, rather than “I go to the cave and run a whammy-dingus scan on the cloth to find traces of a rare pollen.”

    Doctor Hugo Strange bankrupted Bruce Wayne in “Batman Annual” #10, back in 1986. It was kinda cool, really. Being the mid-eighties, Bruce got his fortune back by the end of the story, but hey. For a while, he was denied access to the cave, and had to do his detective work with a pad and pencil. To add to the fun, Strange, who knew about Our Hero’s secret life, ran amok in the cave and filled it with booby-traps for Batman, knowing that Wayne would come for him. Old-School Hugo Strange was awesome.

    What if the New Love Interest is someone Bruce meets when he’s on the bottom of the economic ladder, rather than the top? Perhaps in his new circumstances, he sees and feels things new to him, and finds The Woman while putting his life back together. Being broke might force him to live as Bruce Wayne for longer stretches of time, what with having to work or something, and he might find that he likes it.

    Nightwing has his own small fortune, and I’m sure Alfred does too. It’d be necessary to keep them out of the picture.

    Heh. Maybe Alfred hires Bruce?

    Heh.

  4. John says:

    Should Alfred really have his own fortune? I don’t disagree that the comics probably claim he does, but honestly, must we add millionaire to the long list of titles he possesses? However, your comment about Nightwing rings quite true. I’ll have to see what DC says about his current financial status, since if he has a lot of money, he might try to help Bruce out.

    Of course, Bruce is nothing if not proud. He may refuse any financial help, saying that he needs to win his fortune back on his own. That would be especially true if he considers this to be a failure on his part to safeguard his parent’s legacy.

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