"Bruce Wayne: A Fallen Knight"
College Writing 2, Dr. Wallace Ross
Man’s greatest fear is that of his inner darkness that betrays him. His darkest desires and impulses are just waiting for an opportunity to be released in moments of weakness to take control over his life. It has the power to seduce and destroy the lives of men. Over the years there have been countless examples in literature and media which represent this primal transformation of man. Yet, one of the greatest examples of the modern time has been on display for over eighty-five years. The fall of Bruce Wayne into the Batman. He is a man who through his great trauma in childhood decided to cast his life away for an impossible vow. The Batman became his escape into his darkest emotions, an alternate personality where he can let his tragedy define him. Through his one-man war on crime, he has slowly been corrupted by his inner demons. Yet, despite this dark creature lying under the surface, Batman is seen as a hero. However, Bruce has always been in his own world beyond the need to become a typical hero figure, in the shadows, surrounded by the demons he has helped to create. He has let the Batman influence every aspect of his life making him more and more morally ambiguous. Therefore, for Bruce to fulfill his quest as a hero, he has to live for himself and not solely as the Batman.
This concept of a hero defines the comic book industry from the pages in the comic shop to the screens in the theater, but what is a hero really? In 1949, Joseph Campbell would publish the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he would layout his theory of how the archetypal hero of myth followed a structure which he called the hero’s journey. Campbell believed that humans fundamentally follow this path throughout their stories. Over the years, analysis of this structure has been used to examine the journeys of many heroic characters in literature and in the real world. So, to establish how Bruce Wayne may not be fully reaching his full potential as a hero, the pattern provides an excellent setup to do so.
TRAUMA AND VOWS
According to Joseph Campbell, all heroes have a moment in their life that sets their journey in motion towards self-discovery, a calling of sorts. Without this event, the life of the hero is meaningless as there is no longer a need to change, a need to grow, a need to become heroic. For Bruce Wayne, his call would become his journey with one of the most known origin stories for any comic character besides that of Superman and Spider-Man. The tale of one night, one alley, one boy, two parents, two shots, one boy, one vow, the vow, no more boy.
A Vow to Adventure. “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” (Finger and Kane 19) These words originally written by Bill Finger in 1939’s Detective Comics #33 and spoken by a young Bruce Wayne would become the cornerstone of his future, of his journey. It is in these words that the concept and ideal of the Batman is born. Without the death of his parents, Bruce has no reason to have to journey into the world of the Bat to find acceptance and purpose. For the character, it is his defining moment. When his parents die, so does his innocence. Bruce is forced to grow up and in doing so, he drastically changes the course of his life. However, like all children, he takes into his new life what he had learned from his time with his parents, if ever so briefly.
With the majority of the time spent on Bruce already as Batman, due to the nature of the medium, when the audience meets Thomas and Martha Wayne, it is often done through the veil of the flashbacks and memories of an adult Bruce Wayne living out his childhood again. His parents are often characterized to reflect how Bruce acts at his core. Before his seminal run on The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb explored the relationship between the Batman and his long dead parents in the three-part series Haunted Knight. In “Madness”, one part of the story, Batman is chasing down Jervis Tetch, who goes by the name of Mad Hatter. It is during this fight that Bruce expresses his fondness for the work of Lewis Carroll as it reminds him of his last happy memory with his mother. She read the book to him to comfort him before they left for the theater that fateful night. He admits that it was a happy “childhood memory of which I have so few.” (Loeb and Sale) For a character defined by tragedy and loss and suffering, moments of joy and happiness become seemingly unattainable. So, it is in his mother that Bruce can feel the comfort of childhood and innocence which he can rarely afford to find as the Bat. Martha Wayne then becomes the heart of Bruce which he is hesitant to open for others, as he does not wish for it to be taken away again. He does not want to have another memory tainted with tragedy. The kindness of his mother becomes the driving force for Bruce’s inherent desire to do good for others that lies at the core of what he stands for.
Where Martha is the focus on the core of Bruce, Thomas then becomes the model of the fundamental core of the Batman: dedication. Batman’s defining characteristic is his dedication to protecting his city. No matter how bleak the world may seem, there will be the Batman there to bring back hope to a city of fallen angels. This dedication was the core trait Bruce would receive from his father. Christopher Nolan highlights this aspect in Batman Begins with Thomas’ words literally defining the actions of this incarnation of Bruce throughout the trilogy. “Why do we fall, Bruce. So that we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” (Batman Begins) To be a Wayne is to be proud of what you do. That pride tends to take over their life though. As a full-time surgeon, Thomas was often pulled away from experiencing the life of Bruce. He was dedicated to his work for others, but, as Mary Borsellino addresses in her examination of “Gotham’s First Family,” Bruce has resentment for his father growing up as he is “angry that this work Thomas does must come before the man’s personal considerations.” (Borsellino 143) However, Bruce would end up modeling his life around the world he saw through his experiences with his father. The Bat becomes his work that leads him away from his personal life. The forgoing of Bruce Wayne in order for the Bat to emerge and thrive.
To Become a Bat. Now to venture into the world of the Bat, Bruce Wayne had to first train himself to become as best prepared as possible to conduct his one-man war on crime. An element, like his relationship with his parents, often shown briefly in the form of short flashbacks, often mirroring that of Bill Finger’s original two-page origin story of the character. Jeph Loeb, in Hush, begins the arc with a similar homage to Finger’s work for the modern age. In it Alfred writes the origin in a letter where he describes how, “using his family’s wealth, Master Bruce sought out the world’s greatest minds in criminology, martial arts, and the craft of detecting.” (Loeb et al.) In a world of super powered meta-humans, it is this training and dedication which helped to establish Bruce Wayne among the greats of the universe as the Batman in his future. Again, Nolan explores this often-neglected element in his first outing with the character. Ra’s Al Ghul provides Bruce with that incentive to his training since Bruce Wayne, the man, cannot war on crime because he is just a rich man with a grudge, “but, if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely. Legend, Mr. Wayne.” (Batman Begins) It then becomes his new pursuit to create this legend to strike fear into the hearts of the superstitious and cowardly lot.
In order to create this legend and continue along his journey, Bruce had to first take the steps to finally cross over into the world of the unknown, the world of the Bat. The threshold crossing, as Campbell puts it, marks the point in the hero’s life in which he must leave behind the world of comfort and confront a world of self-discovery. For Bruce, this self-discovery becomes a self-righteous pursuit to fill in the void in his heart that was left from the destruction of his family. Yet, to enter this new world, Bruce had to encounter his threshold guardian, another term which Campbell gives to the challenge the hero must first face. The guardian introduces the dangers of this new and frightening world beyond the confinements of protection. And his guardian happens to be the city itself. Gotham has always been seen in the comics as a personification of its people. She lives and breathes through the corruption and the injustice that plagues her. Bruce has to face the city to put his training into practice and start to fulfill his promise. He must test the waters to see what he must first become.
Frank Miller’s Year One, of which Batman Begins is heavily influenced on, is solely centered around this element of Bruce’s departure. A major emphasis of the first chapter is devoted to this encounter with the guardian on his first night. He is patrolling the East End, Gotham’s red-light district, with no gear or disguise when he intervenes with a pimp harassing a little girl. He takes him out, but to his dismay, the city turns on him as the women of the night attack him and the little girl stabs him. He unknowingly fights Selina Kyle who is protecting her young friend, the little girl, from this man threatening the status quo. Then when the police arrive on the scene, they shoot him in the arm. Bruce escapes to race home in his sports car which he abruptly wrecks in the garage. His first night was a disaster as his threshold guardian put him promptly in his place. He is not ready to be its guardian. Left pondering on how the city could have turned on him so, nearly dead and bleeding out, Bruce calls upon his father for a sign to show him what to do. He needs to know if his life he had created was meant to be when, “without warning it comes … crashing through the window of your study and mine … I have seen it before … somewhere … it frightened me … as a boy … frightened me … yes. Father. I shall become a bat.” (Miller et al. 22) And with that, the Batman is finally born.
Not only does Bruce’s first night mark his threshold crossing, but it also acts as his night journey. Another term along the path of the hero’s journey designed around the death and rebirth of the hero from their ordinary life into this new world. On that chair, in that office, Bruce Wayne slowly fades away as the Bat takes hold. It is at that moment the Batman rises out of the ashes of the failed Bruce Wayne. As Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s childhood friend and love created for Batman Begins says, “your real face is the ones that criminals now fear.” (Batman Begins) Bruce Wayne becomes lost deep inside of Batman while the world sees a facade of Bruce to help further the goals of Batman. Bruce must now let the Batman guide him through this chaotic world in order for him to reemerge as a better man. This sentiment is shown by Rachel’s wish for Bruce to return as “maybe someday when Gotham no longer needs Batman, I’ll see him again.” (Batman Begins) However, this world of the Bat will be long and treacherous, doing all that it can to slowly corrupt the heroic and noble nature of Bruce deep down to allow for a greater demon to emerge, making the destined return of Bruce seem more and more unlikely.
DUALITY AND DENIAL
The early career of Batman took some time to establish. He was still just a vigilante in a city that only believed him to be a myth of the night. He had to work on helping the city become less and less corrupt. Before the age of heroes, Gotham was the city of corruption. Organized crime ran the entire city from the junkies on the street, to the various precincts and courtrooms, all the way up to the mayoral manor. The fight to rid the city of this criminal corruption would be the first of many trials for the caped crusader. Each trial tested the control of Bruce Wayne on his shadow.
The City of Continual Trials. The most prominent feature of a hero’s journey lies in his road of trials. These are the events and challenges a hero must face to allow for their self-discovery to flourish. It is through these challenges that the hero must face their darkest demons, find their greatest allies, and discover their own secrets and revelations. Now, for a superhero, this road of trials can be shown in every story arc, every script, and every plot. Every story acts as a new trial. There is always some threat to Bruce’s life, to Gotham, or to the world in which Batman must divert all his attention to save as many people as possible and do what is right.
It is in these stories that the Batman displays his heroic capabilities. In a world of super beings, Bruce is forced to build his legend through his inhuman proficiency at preparation and planning. There is not a scenario that the Batman has not planned for. He is the World’s Greatest Detective. It is how he can go toe to toe with the likes of Superman and come out on top. He has to stay ten steps ahead of everyone else. But what allows him to truly act on these plans is his pension and willingness to put himself where no one is willing to go for the betterment of the city and the people. As James Gordon famously says at the end of The Dark Knight, “he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.” (The Dark Knight) This idea of a Dark Knight is a far superior interpretation of Batman instead of a hero because Bruce is willing to make the sacrifices and losses most would not dare to make. He can do what the police cannot. He is not a noble boy scout flying through the air saving kittens and stopping trains. He is the one who strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies to root out evil and bring justice. Batman is the vow he made as a child and in The Long Halloween he has the realization that “no matter what that evil looks like or becomes. I believe someday I will make good on that promise. I have to. I believe in Batman.” (Loeb and Sale) It is in the fulfilment of this vow, to have avenged his parents and move on, that Bruce will attain his boon, the ability of the hero to overcome his problems within in the hero’s journey. However, it is hard for Bruce to accomplish this vow as there always seems to be a new, bigger threat waiting just around the corner, most of which he creates for himself.
Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween explores the initial battle against corruption in the city. Batman, Commissioner James Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent all come together to form a secret alliance to bring down the mob once and for all to free the city, but a killer emerges to taint their noble objective by killing members of the Falcone crime family on a holiday each month. Bruce is drawn thin over the yearlong investigation along with the multiple pop ups of his new rogue’s gallery appearing. Yet, in their efforts to stop the mob and the villains and the killings, Harvey has acid thrown on half of his face allowing for his darker impulses to emerge in the form of Two-Face who goes on a rampage in the town. Leading to the eventual uprising of the villains over the mob as Harvey puts the final bullet into crime lord Carmine “the Roman” Falcone. The alliance’s task was complete. Batman is left pondering the pact once made a year ago and he asks Gordon “was it worth it? The promise that we made to bring down the Roman. What it cost us. Harvey…” (Loeb and Sale) Every battle has its cost to fuel the endless pursuit of war. Over the course of the year much had changed. The mob was nearly gone, but a greater threat emerged to terrorize and control the city: the freaks. Each new villain attempting to bring down the Bat. The foremost successful of them being the Clown Prince of Crime.
The Great Joke. In a journey of such importance in the grand scheme of internal motivations like that of the hero’s journey, there will come a point in time when the hero finds a temptation that leads them astray into their darkest desires. No character represents this tempter as famously as that of the Joker. The chaos to Batman’s order. The Joker has committed some of the worse crimes in the DC Universe, whether it be committing personal attacks on those close to Bruce such as killing Jason Todd, the second Robin; and shooting Barbara Gordon, the adopted daughter of James Gordon, unknowingly crippling Batgirl; or inflicting as much chaos on the city and the world as possible through acts of terror from poisoning the city with his laughing gas to infecting the entire world with his own DNA, making a world of Jokers. Yet, despite all of the madness and all of the chaos, there is an abnormal love and addiction for Batman fueling his every action.
In Tom King’s recent run on the Batman series, he employs the use of the Joker as a medium to explore what drives Batman. At one point in the arc, the Joker is explaining his sick friendship with Batman that makes both of their lives exist as “He created me. Chaos for his order. I killed his Robin. I killed thousands for him. I gave him meaning.” (King et al. The Wedding) Without the Joker, there is no great threat to the city to allow Batman to be a hero. Without a true evil presence, Bruce is just a man violently venting all of his emotions on the criminal underlings of a dilapidated city. And without a shining figure of noble justice, there is no need for the Joker to create a world of chaos. As for him, it would no longer be fun, there is no more joke. Specifically, there is no more incentive for him to perform his greatest, “killing” joke.
Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke is one of the most influential Batman issues of all time with its examination of this demented relationship between these seemingly too similar characters of the Batman and the Joker, their only difference being a thin line of morality. The story is centered around the internal conflict of whether or not to kill the Joker. The “Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object” (The Dark Night) dilemma as Heath Ledger’s Joker explains it. If he keeps the Joker alive, he maintains his moral code, which makes him better than the criminals he is fighting, yet thousands more will suffer and die for the Joker’s game. If he kills him, he stops the Joker from hurting any more lives in his twisted game, but in doing so he crosses that line, becoming no better than the Joker. Either way, the Joker will win. He will continue to cause mayhem and destruction until Batman finally commits the killing blow and understands the true joke of life. A realization he reveals to Batman in their final confrontation in of the story:
When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot! I admit it! Why can’t you? I mean, you’re not unintelligent! You must see the reality of the situation. … It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for … it’s all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side? Why aren’t you laughing? (Moore 46)
If the Joker manages to convince Batman of this reality, he reveals how pointless the rules of morality are to man. Everyone is just a bundle of chaos locked and trapped beneath a thin veil of order that keeps everyone complacent. When it comes to freeing that chaos, the Joker believes that he has found the simple solution because “madness as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.” (The Dark Knight) With the right leverage, even the brightest and most noble of knights can fall into the grime and dirt that is the reality of the world. In both The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, Bruce does his best to convince the Joker that he is fundamentally wrong about people because, “maybe there isn’t any need to crawl under a rock with all the other slimy things when trouble hits, maybe it was just you, all the time.” (Moore 48) In his unwinnable fight, Bruce must do everything he can to allow his deepest darkest desires to remain hidden to prevent the Joker from getting the last laugh. It is only in The Dark Knight Returns that the “best” solution to this Joker problem is played out. Bruce snaps the Joker’s neck in front of fleeing pedestrians, but only puts the Joker in a state of paralysis. Realizing the implication to the public, the Joker finishes the deed by snapping his own neck. Bruce maintains his moral high ground, but the world will always believe that it was he who did the deed. That the Batman was just another demon the people were praising.
The Curse of the Bat. In 1986, The Dark Knight Returns did a lot more than just answer the Joker dilemma, it provided the first real look into the darker elements of the character. It would be the catalyst of change in the comics industry across the board as according to Geoff Klock, a Doctor of Philosophy at Oxford, “It created a radical and definitive version of Batman for the new adult demographic and proved once and for all that superhero comic books, though originally created for children, could tell stories rich and complex enough to rival any novel.” (Klock 35) The story itself is split into four issues, each examining a different aspect of what makes Bruce Wayne Batman. The most influential to the mind of Bruce Wayne being the first section about Bruce returning to Batman subsequently called “The Dark Knight Returns”.
For a hero, the return is a natural and important element to their journey. It is the final step that must be taken to achieve true self-realization. For Bruce to finally return, he must stop living his life in the world of the unknown, the world of the Batman, to use the knowledge he learned to better live his life as Bruce Wayne. In essence, Bruce must step away from the Batman mantle. Unfortunately, Bruce is trapped in the world of Batman, unwilling to move on. He is refusing his return as Joseph Campbell would put it. He has been enchanted by what he has become and is preventing his life from moving forward. It is possible that he may have come to grips with his parents’ death, but has been corrupted into continually going out to live in this cruel world he has created for himself. Even after the grueling experience of traveling throughout time to prevent himself from becoming a massive bomb capable of destroying the multiverse, a victory of cosmic proportions in Grant Morisson’s Return of Bruce Wayne, he puts back on the cowl because “I’m not done yet. Not while Gotham City needs Batman. Not until the night’s over.” (Morrison) Unfortunately, this night will never end though. He will always find some reason to continue pressing on, to allow his darkest desires of power and control to drive him, to let the beast inside of him manipulate him into relinquishing more and more control until there is nothing left of Bruce Wayne.
This inner demon is personified in Miller’s first chapter centered around the theme of duality. It has been ten years since the last sighting of the Batman in the city. Like the rest of the country, Gotham is in complete havoc with the crime rate rising. Fortunately, there is a silver lining of hope as Harvey Dent is finally released from Arkham cured of the Two-Face with a plastic surgery job done to help seal the deal. In a statement to the press, one of the financers for Dent’s treatment, the retired vigilante now racecar driver, Bruce Wayne, testified to his belief in the treatment in that “we must believe that our private demons can be defeated.” (Miller et al.) A problem that Bruce has been plagued with every second of every day since retiring the mantle. His demon, personified as a Bat from the cave when he was a boy, works in Bruce’s subconscious, like that of Two-Face for Harvey Dent, expressing his dark influences on the mind of Bruce who is trying to live his life. One day, he is walking through Crime Alley, the location of that fateful night in his youth, when he is jumped, and the Bat emerges in his psyche:
… And the man who stole all sense from your life, he could be standing … right over there … It is him, it is. And we know so many ways to hurt him … No, it’s not him. So many … Not him. He flinched when he pulled the trigger. He was sick and guilty over what he did. All he wanted was money. I was naïve enough to think him the lowest sort of man. These -- These are his children. A purer breed … and this world is theirs. (Miller et al.)
The muggers run off because Bruce shows some semblance of enjoyment in their attack although he manages to prevent himself from directly engaging them, yet the damage was already done, the Bat had gained the upper hand. Despite his effort’s years ago, crime had changed and risen again. There was no fear for the superstitious and cowardly lot. There was no one left to take back the night, to be a beacon of hope for the innocent against the wicked, to do the work that no one was willing to do. The cowards did nothing, and he was just like them. Only the Bat could bring back justice to the innocent. He would battle the desire, fight tooth and nail to be free, yet all he could do was come back to that night in his youth. All the effort he put into being Bruce Wayne again was for naught as:
The time has come. You know it in your soul. For I am your soul … You cannot escape me … You are puny, you are small ‒ You are nothing ‒ A hollow shell, a rusty trap that cannot hold me ‒ Smoldering. I burn you ‒ Burning you, I flare, hot and bright and fierce and beautiful ‒ You cannot stop me ‒ Not with wine or vows or the weight of age ‒ You cannot stop me, but you try ‒ Still you run ‒ You try to drown me out … But your voice is weak … (Miller et al.)
The Batman had returned to the city that had forgotten him. Cases of brutal justice began to spike across the city as Bruce was letting go of all his built-up aggression on any wrong doers of the night. Fear had returned and the whole city knew it. It is at this point that the new leader of the recent crimes is revealed to be Harvey Dent. In his mind he was completely cured. The world saw a complete Harvey Dent, but he saw a complete Two-Face cured of the useless Harvey, the useless sense of morality. But for Bruce, he saw something not too different when he looked at Harvey, “I see him. I see … ‘I see … a reflection, Harvey. A reflection.’” (Miller et al.) Bruce too had finally become the beast living inside, with the image of the Bat demon being shown. Bruce could not defeat and overcome his inner demon, only embrace it.
RELATIONSHIPS AND REDEMPTION
The important fact to realize about this situation is that the Bat is only able to fully take over when Bruce is left alone with it. Left with the demon, Bruce has no option but to give in and let the beast out, to become just like the criminals he fights just with a misguided sense of morality. However, Bruce is not always alone, even though he may desperately try sometimes to sulk in the shadows free of disturbances. He has built up a supporting group, the Bat Family so to speak, which allows Bruce Wayne to coexist with Batman. The most important of these relations being that between Bruce and Dick Grayson, the original Robin, and that of Bruce and Selina Kyle, Catwoman. Although Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner James Gordon are also two important figures, their actions and relationships perpetuate the persona of Batman more than they do Bruce Wayne.
The Boy Wonder. Created a year after Bruce’s first appearance, Dick Grayson was made to be a counter to the dark nature of Batman to draw more children to the series. Like Bruce, he would be given a similar sense of nuance over the years, yet at his core, he shared that common bond of tragedy calling him to adventure. While reflecting about their relationship in Hush, Bruce admits that, “His parents ‒ circus acrobats ‒ had been murdered. And I … wanted to make a difference in his life. The way, if my parents had lived, they would have made a difference in mine.” (Loeb et al.) In taking in Dick, Bruce wanted to prevent him from throwing his life away in the pursuit of vengeance. He wanted to make sure that Dick would not make the same mistakes that he once did, but what he would come to find would surprise him.
In the early years explored in Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, Bruce continues to suffer from his life of constant tragedy, especially as he was slowly losing his closest friend Harvey Dent. It was this loss that made him realize that he needed to trust his greatest secret with others seeking vengeance to make sure that they continue to do good on the right path. It is what led him to reveal his identity to his unknowing ward who had been going out to find his parent’s killer. Training and shaping Dick to become Robin was more than just an effort to guide the boy, it was Bruce's attempt to reach out as he continued to pursue his solemn vow for his parents, which he continues to keep “only now, I am no longer alone.” (Loeb and Sale Dark Victory) In doing so, he was allowing himself to grow. Dick was always the cheerful one, providing colorful banter to counter and uplift Bruce’s overpowering presence that leads himself to his darker impulses. They would become brothers of war, allowing Bruce to finally start to open himself up more in this powerful friendship and mentorship.
What separates the two though is Dick’s ability to grow and move on with his life. He would move on from being Robin to become his own hero, Nightwing, to move out of the shadow of the Bat. Where Bruce was defined by the death of his parents, Dick was defined by what his parents taught him in life, so he acts as a figure of hope and compassion for the DC Universe. In a flashback issue of Kyle Higgins’ Nightwing run, Dick is reflecting on this aspect of their two differences from the words of Alfred, “it’s better to celebrate the way someone lived than to be driven by the way they died.” (Higgins and Barrows) In accepting his parents’ death, Dick returns from the world of the Bat when he steps down from the Robin mantle and is allowed to become the master of both worlds as Nightwing. This is the state in which Joseph Campbell refers to when the hero demonstrates the capacity to return and use the knowledge made from their journey to do what others cannot. What those who did not go through their journey, cannot do in the normal world. In doing so, Dick becomes the model for Bruce in how to move on with his life and still be a hero.
David Kingsley explored this idea in his essay “The Child Is Father to the (Bat)Man.” As it is through Dick that Bruce can learn what he must do to move on in his life and finally process his parents’ death. To no longer be driven by his childhood promise and find a new reason to fight. Dick is important as “he models how to transition from a traumatized childhood to a healthy adulthood” and in doing so “he offers catharsis by replacing Bruce Wayne’s murdered father and by teaching Bruce how to be a father himself.” (Kingsley 76) Dick is able to teach Bruce the lessons he never received as a child which allows him to evolve himself and take steps along his journey towards self-realization and allowing Bruce Wayne, not Batman, to grow.
Catwoman as the Goddess. Where Dick is able to teach Bruce how to move on from his past, Selina Kyle is able to help Bruce look towards his future. Starting out as a simple cat burglar, Selina would grow into a complex character along with Bruce. A criminal and a hero seem to have no place together, but they share much in common. From their independent nature to their unabashed sense of pride, they complement each other, but most importantly, she allows Bruce’s emotions to express themselves despite the suppression by the Bat.
Jeph Loeb’s Hush explores Bruce’s capacity for trust, specifically towards Selina, as he attempts to defeat a new foe who seems to know everything about his life. It leads him into having to work with Selina who is also being manipulated by these phantom strings. They are then forced to confront their past feelings as they reflect on this unexplained force between them leading to Bruce surprisingly deciding to try and make it work. It becomes Bruce’s attempt to not be “the very thing that all monsters become, alone.” (Loeb et al.) It is the first real step Bruce takes into opening up his heart more and more, a characteristic which Dick even points out to Bruce as ever since he decided to express his feelings towards Catwoman, “there’s something different about you. Good different.” (Loeb et al.) Now to just be “good different” does not seem to be that intense, but for a character who suppresses his emotions and is defined by his steadfast nature, it becomes a world of difference.
In his relationship with Selina, Bruce can be seen as meeting one of Campbell’s goddesses, a confrontation with the opposite gender that enlarges the hero’s perception of himself and his abilities. In the most recent run of Batman, Tom King has employed the use of Selina to explore what can happen if Bruce is actually given happiness and not tragedy. Bruce even proposes to Selina in a move that shocks the entire hero community, but Dick, who knows Bruce better than most, is able to understand the underlying desire of Bruce trying to be happy. Something Bruce’s son, Damian, the current Robin, does not fully comprehend until Dick explains who Bruce is as a person. Bruce has a lot on his plate, and he is so many noble things, “but what he’s not is selfish. He gives whatever he has. You’ve fought with him. You know. Whatever happens, he bleeds first. But being happy, that’s not bleeding. That’s not giving. That’s asking for something. And it’s not easy for Batman to ask.” (King et al. Rules of Engagement) In proposing to Selina, Bruce is telling the world and himself that it is okay for him to seek happiness, that maybe the Batman is more than the proud loner he portrays himself to be.
It is through Selina that Bruce finds hope in his future. Through her, he can find a new purpose, a new beginning. In his letter to her in the Wedding storyline, Bruce expresses his true love for her as she is the new leaf for him, through her “I can be more than a boy whose parents are dead. Who spends his life warring on crime because of that death. I can move beyond that trap, that simplification, that suicide. That pain. Maybe I can be someone undefined.” (King et al.) Bruce wants to become more than Batman, he wants to live, but he has been weighed down for years by the vow he made, but with Selina, there is something new, something greater in his future.
Chirstopher Nolan’s finale in his trilogy explores a scenario similar to The Dark Knight Returns in which Bruce must face the reality of the Bat except if he ended up building his life with others instead of living alone. After the death of Rachel in The Dark Knight, Bruce steps away from the role as Batman and stops living his life as Bruce Wayne. He returns from the world of the unknown only to stop in the new world, incapable of moving on like his counterpart in Miller’s universe, and Alfred lets him know that:
“That’s the problem. You hung up your cape and your cowl, but you didn’t move on. You never went to find a life. To find someone. Alfred, I did find someone. I know, and you lost her, but that’s all part of living sir. But you’re not living, you’re just waiting, hoping for things to go bad again.” (The Dark Knight Rises)
Over the course of the film, Bruce finds Selina and pursues this relationship like that of the comics characterized by its back and forth nature. They help each other, they betray each other, but most importantly, they understand each other and how to bring out the best qualities in the other. The film ends with the dream return for Bruce Wayne. A life beyond Batman, a life with his love, Selina, a life that Alfred fantasizes Bruce will find and “we’d both know that you made it. That you were happy.” (The Dark Knight Rises)
Bruce and the Bat. Unfortunately, this dream ending can only happen in the film, in a version of the character meant to end. In the comics, Bruce is not so lucky as the perpetual life of Batman will always prevent him from putting up the cowl no matter how long he does. Even his marriage with Catwoman in Tom King’s City of Bane story arc does not go through in order to break the Bat emotionally. Selina’s letter to Bruce indeed professes her love for him, but also her greatest fear, and even that of Bruce, that “if we’re happy … and we could be so happy … if I help that lonely boy, with the lonely eyes. I kill that engine. I kill Batman, I kill the person who saves everyone.” (King et al. The Wedding) And just like that, Bruce returns to his struggle between his life and that of the Bat. Yet, this is not how the story ends for Bruce. He may become broken from his heart break, but that does not mean that he is done.
The end of the arc shows a final confrontation with his father, the Batman of a universe where it was Bruce that was killed. Thomas wants nothing but happiness for his son and instead wishes to take up the burden as this universe’s Batman so that Bruce can leave it behind to be happy. Tragedy defines this Thomas as he is more in touch with his inner Bat and embraces the darker elements of life including killing. He has become so corrupted by his suffering that he wishes only to destroy instead of to save. He is the Miller Batman who embraces every element of the Bat. Yet, he underestimates what Bruce is able to do when broken. To be broken for Bruce is to find a way to fix his life as Wayne rises from the fall and after all the tragedy, Bruce finally realizes that “maybe I’m more than the Bat. More than the vow.” (King et al. City of Bane) It is in his reconnection with Selina, who nurtures and trains him back to health that he makes this discovery and ultimately decides to choose to live his life. As he tells his father before the final blow, “I am no longer a child. Life is not a trap you make when you’re ten and hurting. Life is a choice you make every day. Every damn day. I choose her. I choose happiness. I choose family. And I choose Batman” (King et al. City of Bane). It is a new day for Bruce in the comics as he has finally found something more than a vow to fight for. Where Bruce goes from now is a mystery, but it is a fact that he now has overcome the vow and mastered both worlds.
Will Bruce Wayne ever be free of the Batman? Probably not, seeing that he makes millions of dollars for DC, but that does not mean that Bruce can grow out of the old standard of Batman. He can become something new, taking what he has learned from his experiences as the Batman, as a child overcoming his parent’s death, through all the hardships and trials and all the villains testing his might to control his inner demons, to become a new man. A man who has not only mastered the world of Batman, but also the world of Bruce Wayne. He is no longer just fighting, now he is living.