So, after the episode of Romper Room Presidential debate last night, my friend started channel surfing and came across one of the two Batman movies that I've tried to pretend never existed. You know, the one where Tommy Lee Jones is grossly underused as some watered-down bullshit version of a cool villain and Jim Carrey makes Frank Gorshin spin in his grave. Anyway, we came in right on the scene between Bruce Wayne and his shrink/love interest (because everyone should sleep with their shrink or use sexual relationships to mop out the guano-soaked caves they call a psyche) and my friend said, "At least in this movie someone asked if Bruce had ever had therapy!" (I should note that this friend is his own Comic Wikipedia. It's scary sometimes.)
Anyway, this got me to thinking about the Dark Knight's origin and comparing him to other characters in comic mythos, pondering the variations of this particular hero through the decades and it led me to this question:
Has anyone ever explored the idea that everything Batman comes from the psyche of a traumatized child rather than a functional-yet-brooding adult? Meet me after the jump and we'll talk....
Humble Beginnings Okay, I admit that I am by all accounts a Marvel girl. Most of my in-depth knowledge is in the X-Men Phoenix 'verse (up through Endsong...everything after that is non-canon in my opinion, but that's another blog), and my DC is shaky at best. What I know of Batman comes from reading Frank Miller's Year One, watching all of the movies except the newest Nolan installment and discussions with friends. So I'm not able to spout of issue numbers passage and verse, but I know enough about the character to know that Batman was born of a double homicide. Hell the Amish probably know this part of the Batman mythos! However, in case there is a recently thawed caveman reading this, I'll go into it...
...at its barest bones, Batman is a story about a man seeking to right the wrong done to him when his parents were murdered in front of him. This has been tweaked, embellished and exaggerated to fit various incarnations, however this is the root. A child witnessed the senseless killing of his mother and father.
Now, as the years have gone on, we've seen how this single event pushed Bruce Wayne to become a vigilante. He's super rich, so he has had the time and resources to put together his arsenal of wonderful toys. He's well-educated and in various incarnations skilled at physical combat thanks to martial vision quests in the east. However, all of those portrayals make the assumption that the Goddamn Batman comes from the mind of a grown man.
Knowing what we do about psychology, though, I want to posit that no, all of these things we see Bruce Wayne doing as the spirit of vengeance come not from the rational standpoint of an adult but that child who is still screaming over the corpses of his parents.
A Bit of Reality Let's think for just a moment about what we know. Mom and Pop Wayne choked on bullets when Bruce was somewhen in the 6-10 year age range. For a moment let's forget the trauma and focus on this little tidbit. Bruce was in grade school at the time. Sure, it was probably a prep school where he's learning to dissect griffins whilst eating foie gras to the sound of Stephen Fry lecturing on the merits of Balzac, but at the end of the day, he's a six year old boy. A kid more comfortable with Captain Underpants than cap-and-trade no matter how affluent the Waynes may have been. Take away the butler and the mansion and the Romney-esque silver spoon and you're dealing with this:
One night, he goes to the movies--yay!--and his parents are shot. The rock of his world is shattered. Think about what that scene must have been like. We see it in movies or comics as this silent, swift death. Mother's pearls spilling over a frozen sidewalk. Father's blood splattered on roses. A child kneeling between them as their killer runs away.
That imagery is powerful, but it's probably not what happened. Gunshots--especially those fired quickly and carelessly like those from a mugger--tend to be wild. They don't always hit in a way that kills instantly. Therefore, it's safe to say that Bruce watched his parents bleed out. He had no knowledge of what to do, no cell phone to call 911, and no earthly clue how to help his parents. Can you imagine what sorts of things Father Wayne tried to intone to his son with his last breaths? Did his mother try to hold him one last time? It's even more heartwrenching to consider this aspect of Batman's story, but (in my limited experience) it's glossed over. There's story gold to be mined here! It's drama. It's gut-twisting horror! And it's happening to a kid!
The adults had knowledge of their situation. If they tried to get Bruce to go for help, though, it never came. Why? Because he was just a child. Paralyzed with fear and helplessness because he's a boy.
And, since I'm guessing Alfred's first task after his employers snuffed it was not "Get Bruce to therapy", the kid had to deal with this and process it on his own. I don't care how brilliant the kiddo was, his world was shattered and he didn't have the innate tools to deal with the guilt and rage that followed the collapse. If you think that I can't know this, that this is blind supposition, it's not. My evidence is that we have a comic book at all to talk about. Batman is the result. He IS the rage personified. Every night he gets the shit kicked out of him to assuage the guilt over what happened when he was still in training wheels.
Bruce Wayne--gagillionaire playboy tech mogul--has untreated PTSD. Which means, the guy with all those gadgets swinging around the city? Yeah...
If we think of Batman as a kid in a Halloween costume, we can easily explain some of the quirks that should leave people going, "Dude, where's your sanity?"
First off, the gadgets. Seriously, Bruce has all that money and he makes some killer toys. All of them with bats on them, by the way. Helloooooo fixation! He's the kid that got the keys to the coolest candy shop ever and now he has real rocket launchers that make explosions and boomerangs and a wicked awesome car. Kick ass!
Also, everyone always tries to play the "Batman and Robin are gay" card, but psychologically there may be a better explanation for Dick Grayson's appearance. Robin isn't a sidekick, a ward of Mr. Wayne's estate and therefore a tax write-off... he's a playmate. He's another kid. Another orphaned kid. Sure, adult Bruce has his reasons for taking in Young Master Dick, but for the Bruce that is clearly still in control of the show, Dick is a kindred spirit. He's a buddy that gets to come into the treehouse and be part of the creepy nighttime shenanigans.
Then there's Selena Kyle. Okay, so her skin-tight vinyl and whip-work may have more to do with Grown-Up-Bruce's proclivities than I'd care to delve into, however, Mr. Wayne's inability to have a functional relationship could be rooted in the fact that he's running at an emotional level where girls still have cooties.
Think about it. When you imagine that Bruce Wayne's actions (and therefore Batman's) are being controlled by a terrified kid, so much becomes clear.
And Now We Exploit It...
If you think I'm going to talk about how we should get this poor child the psychological counseling he so desperately needs, you'd be wrong. Fuck that, that's not good story. No, we exploit the shit out of this and go to town tormenting the adult he has become.
If you play Batman as some PTSD-stricken rage monster with bottomless pockets, you've got yourself something way more interesting than a dark-and-brooding Christian Bale. It has worked before. No, not with Batman, but with someone from the other side...
In Thor, everything Loki does is motivated by childhood hurts and jealousies. He is a child seeking Daddy's love and trying to push his brother to the side for one moment in the spotlight. Everything he does is to meet that child's needs. And it's written superbly. (And Tom Hiddleston plays it to the hilt so beautifully I can't stop geeking about it.) By the time Loki shows up in Avengers, however, we see a hungry adult who has accepted his role in life as a force of chaos, disorder and dishonor. We see someone comfortable in that shadow. It's a lovely arc and thus shows that taking such an angle with a character can work.
How could you use it in Batman? What are the terrible things that could befall him and what are the angles you could play with if you take off the restrictions that come from functional adulthood? One could argue that you'd simply get The Joker with a different outfit, but I think you get something darker.
And it's something I'd love to see those with a deeper knowledge of the character play with.
It gets even more fun if you throw in that some of the Rogues Gallery know Batman's true identity and then dig in their claws. In this situation I think Hugo Strange becomes one of the top choices for villain. Catwoman's involvement as love interest dies down and we can see her more for her brains and skill than for her propensity for broken zippers. And I think it would put Batman on more of an even keel with the Joker than it does already. Fuck, the story might even put them together on the same side.
I would love to see DC fingerpaint with this for a while. How much fun would it be to take a tortured hero and give him that little push that leads into madness?