Batman is perhaps the biggest superhero ever. The character has been around so long and has had been so successfully translated into all forms of media beyond the comics that started it all. Batman has been so thoroughly integrated into the pop culture even if someone hasn’t digested one piece of Batman media they still know who the Caped Crusader is.
Yep, we sure love us some Batman, too bad we don’t know what the hell to do with Bruce Wayne. You see folks, in taking time to reflect on things while playing Arkham Knight, I’ve stumbled across an alarming trend, the only Batman story is the final one. All we seem to do these days is spin tales either leading Bruce Wayne to an presumed death or forced retirement. Not only is this a continuing trend, but the frequency upon which we go back and rehash this idea has increased over time, and I can prove it.
When it comes to understanding our modern interpretation of the Batman almost any comics fan worth their salt will bring up 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns. Back in the days before Frank Miller hadn’t gotten completely lost in crazytown he delivered one of the greatest and most influential Batman stories of all time, a story so influential that we can still see its influence today in things such as the upcoming Batman v. Superman. Not bad for an almost thirty year old comic!
TDKR is the story of an elderly Batman who comes out of retirement to take back his city before being forced to fake his own death and begins to work in secret to train the next era of heroes. It stood for a long time as all that needed to be said and done when it came to the final days of Batman. The legacy of this comic has been tarnished by DC and Miller’s baffling need to try and continue the story, but TDKR is a great comic and set the dominoes rolling for all the other Batman dies/retires stories we have been getting since then.
Moving right along to 1993 we come to the famous Knightfall arc, the one where Bane “Broke the Bat”. With Bruce’s spine resembling a jigsaw puzzle more than anything else he has to choose a successor and goes off to live in forced retirement. Bruce then learns the very important lesson that choosing a violent and more than a little mentally unstable person who spent years being brainwashed by a religious cult to to be the successor of your crusade to rid the streets of crime might not go so well and has to get his butt out of the chair and go reclaim his title. This storyline marked the first time (in Earth 1 continuity) someone other than Bruce donned the Cape and Cowl for an extended period and showed just how dangerous a Batman without rules could really be.
Moving away from the comics for now, let’s talk about Batman on the small screen. In 1992 Batman was incredibly popular due to the success of the Tim Burton live action films and because of this surge in interest we were introduced to what many consider one of the crowning achievements in the franchise as well as all of television, Batman: The Animated Series.
This groundbreaking series would be the launching point for what became known as the DC Animated Universe, or DCAU. This was Bruce at his best, so what did they do with him next?
Made him old and in forced retirement due to a bum ticker of course! It was 1999 that saw the launch of the futuristic series of Batman Beyond, where a young Terry McGinnis stumbles across Bruce Wayne’s secret and rises to try and save a Gotham that once again has fallen into chaos. Bruce was still a major character in the series, but his role moved to a support and mentor role that might get a lick or two in every once an awhile to prove that he wasn’t helpless. This version of the McGinnis Batman and old man Bruce proved popular and was referenced for years to come in the DCAU and even had a short starring the pair in 2014 directed by Darwyn Cooke.
Back to comics we move to the year 2008 and the DC comics (is saying comics after DC redundant?) event, Final Crisis. So how did our good buddy Bruce fair in this series?
While I lack the time, space and sufficient amounts of alcohol and other mind altering substances to explain this Grant Morrison penned tale, the big thing to take away here is that Bruce didn’t actually die but was instead sent way back in time. During this arc Dick Grayson would take up the mantle and had what many consider an fantastic run. We wouldn’t see Bruce Wayne as Batman until 2010 in another Grant Morrison tale that would take a whole bunch of weapons grade crystal meth before I would I would even attempt to recap.
2012 saw Christopher Nolan tie up his trilogy of Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises. The film (spoilers) starts with Bruce Wayne in retirement, has him come out of retirement to try and stop Bane, gets his back broke by Bane putting him out of action yet again, and the film concludes with Bruce healing up, coming back and saving Gotham and faking his death so that he can live his life in peace. Some might notice a trend here.
This brings us up to the present and let’s take a look at the state of Batman today. In the comics we have Jim Gordon of all people is the new Batman as Bruce lost his memory in a battle with the Joker.
We also have the supposed end to the ultra popular Arkham video games with Arkham Knight. I’m not going to spoil things here, but let’s just say things don’t go so well for Bruce.
I think I’ve rather thoroughly proved my case. I’m not saying any of these arcs are bad (your enjoyment of each is going to come down to personal taste), but we’ve been back to this well seven times in the last thirty years. We all enjoy Batman and the Bruce Wayne character yet we keep taking the mask from him. Is it that the creative at DC are out of ideas or is there something deeper going one here? Have we the audience somehow lost our ability to relate to Bruce Wayne? Well keep your eyes peeled next week to One of Us as I will address these questions in the companion piece to this article, “How We Fix The Bat”.
Same Bat-time, Same Bat-Channel.