So, I had a friend request a Batman case files. It took me quite a bit to write it because while I have seen every Batman movie ever and dabbled in the storyline of Batman in the DC Comics world, I really felt like my knowledge of Bruce Wayne/Batman was pretty shallow. While it still is, I feel I might have enough information to discuss some basic tenets of the Batman legacy and some of the psychological components of Mr. Wayne.
Trauma and the Aftermath
So, what do we know about Bruce Wayne’s childhood? Well, we know he suffered two significant traumas:
1. He fell down a well in Wayne Manor and found himself swarmed by bats causing him to fear the animals for the rest of his life.
2. His parents were murdered in front of him.
Trauma is commonly an event that shifts the life of a person. Very few people walk away from a massive life trauma without some sort of markers on their behaviors and personalities. With Bruce, it’s not surprising that both traumas shaped his life and changed the man he would become completely. He was so young. It was the death of his parents that forced him toward a life a crime fighting and his life mission to repair Gotham City and end the corrupt reign of criminals.The common theme of Bruce’s life could be “fear” being that he adopted the bat as his guise, an animal he found terrifying, using that fear he felt from bats and channeling it toward the criminals he planned to fight.
You see, Bruce Wayne is a wonderful person. He has all this money, he’s a philanthropist, he runs a successful business empire, but by all accounts he’s kind of a loser. He has short-lived shallow relationships with women, few friends, and it appears he’s genuinely not quite fond of himself. It is as Batman that he is most at home and relishes the person he has become. He has in essence, split himself in two. The true mask he wears is that of Bruce Wayne.
I’m putting romantic relationships aside and just acknowledging the obvious need Batman has for a father figure. His father is portrayed as the main loss and trauma he suffers in his youth. A large theme develops where Bruce fears disappointing his father’s legacy as a doctor and successful do-gooder. He picks up a variety of father figures throughout his lifetime to help him resolve some of the emptiness he feels and his defined purpose of avenging his parents’ deaths.
One of the most obvious father figures in any Batman adaptation is Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne Manor butler. Alfred serves as Bruce’s right hand man through thick and thin, sometimes to the detriment of both parties. Alfred understands the true satisfaction Bruce receives from being Batman, even struggling between his desire to see Batman live a fruitful life as a family man and to hang up the cape, while also recognizing this is not the man Bruce will ever become. If being a masked vigilante was an addiction, Alfred would be Bruce’s primary enabler. He wants it to stop because he sees all the pain that results, but he ultimately knows nothing will change until Gotham is safe or Batman is dead.
Batman picks up several other father figures to fulfill his various voids and needs throughout his lifetime, including Ras Al Ghul, Commissioner Gordon, and Lucius Fox.
Batman’s need to heal the void left by his father also seems appear to be through his adoption of several different young men which fulfill the role of Robin over the years.
It was at a cost that Bruce Wayne became Batman. The criminals he fights in the comics and movies have varying shades of personality disorders, some of the most severe mental illnesses. Certainly the criminals he fights are the most psychotic. The Joker being at the very top of the pyramid, challenging Batman on his ethical grounds (his refusal to kill) and his own feelings about the split of his own personality.
The writers of Batman’s tale are adept at addressing many of the psychological challenges we face in our own lives and Batman is especially challenged by each villain. The amazing and remarkable thing I sometimes forget is that at the end of the day, Bruce Wayne is still a mortal. He can die and he is often injured. He can be mentally fragile and he can have people like the Joker and Two Face be incredibly similar to his story and yet have to wrestle with his decision to choose the differences between their personalities instead of the similarities.
The Case File
The Bruce Wayne/Batman story will eternally be one of my favorite superhero narratives. Not just because it’s a good story, but because it is a really great allegory for the will and strength we all hold within ourselves. For better or worse, Batman has a mission which he works to carry out. He is single-minded in his work, sacrificing pieces of who he is to be the man Gotham City needs. In that way, he truly sheds his life as Bruce Wayne and becomes Batman.
It’s lucky that Batman seems to always be needed in Gotham. Unfortunately, we don’t have these luxuries in life. As people, we can’t partition who we are and expect a fulfilling life of work and family. I see more commonly that, specifically as Americans, we’re losing the ideal that we should live holistically. Companies value people who are unmarried, never take personal time, and drive themselves into the ground for the sake of their job. It worked for Batman, but at a cost. Sure, he got his joy from his job, but he lost opportunities for romantic partners, children, and a life free of crime fighting. Sometimes as humans, we don’t want the whole pie, sometimes we truly are content with our one slice that appeals to our specific tastes. Most of the time, we need to leave the single-minded life pursuits to men like Bruce Wayne and allow ourselves some semblance of work/life balance.