It’s been the running line on the internet for quite a long time now, that Bruce Wayne died the same night as his parents, that the boy who would be Bruce had no name until as an adult a bat flew into his study and inspired a new name…Batman! Bruce Wayne is just a disguise, a mask Batman wears to fund his war on crime. There is no true Bruce Wayne. Even the DCAU made this clear.
I’ve heard this theory for so long that not only is it treated as fact by comic fans and Bat-Fans specifically but even I thought it was true, that Batman is the real persona and Bruce the fake. And yet something was nagging me about this theory that I wasn’t connecting with until last year when I came across that WhatCulture Comics video I posted last week about 10 Stupid Arguments About Batman That Don’t Make Sense. Finally my doubts had been given voice and I started rethinking that position. Later last week I was listening to the Literature Devil‘s morning podcast that he doesn’t keep archived and he and his guests were making the same claim there. Not wanting to respond to the podcast on YouTube’s limited text limit…especially since I was using an unconnected cellphone I use as a “mini-tablet” by my bed and typing on a virtual keyboard that covers half a chocolate bar in size is a royal pain…I thought I’d use the power of my site to go over why I don’t really buy this notion that Bruce Wayne is the mask, even if that is the name of his alternate mask. Bruce Wayne the persona is in a way a mask maybe, but if that’s the case then so is Batman.
That video from last week also pushed back on another notion that I’ve pushed back against as well, that Batman is somehow insane, that the trauma of watching his parents get shot and die right in front of him broke him completely, and as Bane tried to convince Catwoman “Batman needs his pain”. I made a response to that already.
Ignore how rushed that fourth panel is, please. Batman is not driven by his suffering. He is, to also quote the DCAU line that gets brought up so often because of the bit showing up in commercials for the show and the connecting toyline during the Fox Kids run, vengeance. He is not revenge. He does not live to punish others, though often he takes on that role. His desire is to see that nobody else has to suffer what he went through. Sometimes it requires fists and Batarangs (side rant: Batarangs are based on boomerangs and not ninja throwing stars–it’s in the @#$# name so please writers stop getting that wrong just because Nolan doesn’t know what a pun is) but sometimes it requires something else.
He doesn’t want anyone else to become him, for others to have a better life than he did. Bruce didn’t have an outlet so he threw himself into his training, into learning how to become what would eventually be Batman. I don’t think he came away with that just knowing how to fight or tell different types of mud apart from each other. In one story Bruce and Zatanna met because he went to Zatara to learn escape artist tricks and that’s when they became friends, and this couldn’t have been the only time this happened. Wendy from Super Friends was the granddaughter of one of his former instructors and we’ve met a few others over the years and incarnations.
He had to have learned why criminals steal things while learning from the lives of people he went to for instruction. Sometimes it’s for power or revenge but sometimes they just need to eat or support their family and for whatever reason have no other outlet. This would be why Bruce gives some criminals he catches jobs, both to keep an eye on them and to keep them from falling back into a life of crime with no other option. This is also why I don’t buy it when some writer has him talking about his Robins and other allies as “soldiers in a war” or that time he was grooming Tim to be the next Batman. He doesn’t want anyone else to be him, even if they do become Batman.
That’s because Bruce, much like Superman and Clark, represents the “man” of Batman. Bruce is the human side, the compassionate side, the good parts of that little boy that the Waynes did get to raise. This is where his love of Gotham City comes from. Unless he actually finds Joe Chill he fights crime to protect people, not as a stand-in for the man he may never find, depending on the continuity. (There has been times he has encountered Chill, who was subsequently killed not by Bruce but by the criminals so upset that his actions created Batman that they don’t get to learn who is under the cowl.) Bruce himself is not a mask, he is the person. Batman is literally the mask.
But so is Bruce Wayne.
There are in essence two Bruce Waynes, Bruce the man and Bruce the persona. Bruce the persona is the face he uses to hide that he’s Batman, like Zorro and Don Diego, Zorro being one of the inspirations for the Batman character along with the Shadow (who I am not as familiar with but also had a rich boy persona), and in turn vice versa in later incarnations of Zorro. Don Diego is a foppish scholar who doesn’t really care about the current political climate or fighting or messy things like that. He just want to play, read, and saunter through life. Zorro on the other hand is a mysterious crusader for justice against a corrupt local government who is a master swordsman and lasso user, wears a black costume with a large cape and a mask that conceals his identity. Sound familiar? And yet nobody claims Zorro is the man and Diego the mask.
So it is with Bruce Wayne the persona and Bruce Wayne the man. Like Diego, Bruce has a face he shows the public and a face he shows only his close allies in his crusade as Batman. People can be like that even without severe childhood trauma. There’s the face we show our friends and family and the one we show our bosses and co-workers, or customers/clients, or just the cashier at the store. The real us is usually what we show our loved ones and this other…personality is actually a strong word. It’s just how we treat strangers versus how we treat friends or even how we treat people we don’t particularly care for. It’s why people can be shocked to learn that someone they knew could do horrible things like kill people or steal or cheat on a spouse. That’s because there may be yet another side of themselves they don’t show anyone. It’s kind of how Twitter became a dumpster fire. The anonymity allows people to treat others in a way they wouldn’t in person, usually these days this being a bad thing. Meanwhile we take on roles in role-play games and chat rooms or online virtual worlds for fun or for a release, a chance to be someone else for a while. In essence, Bruce the playboy is the man he might have grown up to be, and in one issue of the DCAU tie-in Batman: Gotham Adventures we learn that he might actually have been.
That’s Batman, a release like the one he gave Dick Grayson as the first Robin. It’s a way to fight crime in a way the Gotham City PD can’t due to corruption and red tape, the cases they either can’t handle or can’t fit into their workload. It’s a symbol, a psychological edge that gives him an advantage against a “superstitious, cowardly lot”. If they’re afraid of him he has a better chance of not being shot, maybe not even being shot at because the crook’s too busy changing his underwear various colors. It creates a legend the citizens can gather around, to be less afraid because it’s the criminals he’s after. He’s that one shadow in the night that is there to protect them or avenge them, not to destroy them. Average people feel safer knowing that Batman and his Bat-Family are around to protect them. He can do things that the cops can’t, and if he hits a limit he has Superman and the Justice League on speed dial. That’s Batman.
So then who is the “real” Bruce Wayne? Both of them, that guy in between the playboy and the Dark Knight. It’s this Bruce that funds Batman’s career. It’s this Bruce that leaves a flower in the alley his parents were murdered in. It’s that Bruce that gives ex-cons a job in the hopes they’ll stay ex. It’s that Bruce that donates to the police so they can hire better and more honest police officers, to orphanages so that they have a better chance of giving the love he missed out on outside of Alfred, to a free medical clinic for those who can’t afford a doctor, and that’s only the charities that come up on a regular basis through the Wayne Foundation. He may jet set and avoid certain commitments, he may be late for meetings, and he’s rarely seen in public without a beautiful woman on his arm, but he cares about the good his company does, cares about the people Bruce can help that Batman can’t. It’s that Bruce that craves a family and gets it in the form of adopted and natural children, wards, and even steady relationships that don’t work because it would mess up the story, not because of what it does to “the mission”. The real Bruce is both Bruce Wayne AND Batman. It’s literally the only thing Joel Schumacher got right, proving that old adage about a broken clock really is accurate.
There is a mask called Bruce Wayne, and there is a mask called Batman. The real Bruce Wayne is made up of both, because he and Gotham City need both.