Batman: Who is The Dark Knight?

He’s got bats in the belfry

Batman:Joe Chill. You’re the slinking coward who murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Chill:That was a lifetime ago!
Batman:Yes. My lifetime. You took them without mercy or regret and in cold blood!
Chill: How do you know this?! How could you possibly-
Batman:I know because I watched it happen! I know because I am the son of the man you murdered! [unmasks] I… am Bruce Wayne!

Batman: The Brave and The Bold “Chill of The Night! (Season 2, Episode 11)

A crime lord is counting the loot from a recent score. He hears gunfire and leaps from his chair. His men are looking for the shooter, but one is missing. He sends them to find the missing man. The boss struggles to calm his breathing. He’s heard the stories, but there’s no way they’re true. There’s no winged freak in the darkness. That’s just a superstition. 

The lights go off. A gun fires. Then every gun in Gotham City fires. The muzzle flashes show something darting around the room. The crooks start disappearing until only the boss is left. He shoots wildly into the darkness. Oh God, oh God, it’s only him left! His gun clicks empty. The full moon shows him a figure on the rafters. It spreads its hellish wings, forming the silhouette of a bat. The boss screams as Batman plunges towards him. 

Superman was the first superhero, but Batman is easily the most popular. A year hasn’t gone by in this millennium without a new Batman show or movie. If anything, superhero fans are overbaturated. But there are still a few things you may not know about the World’s Greatest Detective. So who is he? How did he get his start? Where does he get those wonderful toys? Let’s find out. Quickly, to the Backstory-mobile!

Crime Alley Kid: Batman’s Backstory

Harley:To think, all this trauma from an Antonio Banderas film.
Batman:No, that’s the Nineties one. I’m talking about the black and whi- it doesn’t matter.

Harley Quinn “Batman Begins Forever” (Season 3, Episode 8)

Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. He was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger,who only recently got credit for his role in devising most of the iconic character’s traits. They drew their inspiration from many prototype superheroes including Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Bruce Wayne was the son of billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne. While returning home from a showing of The Mark of Zorro, they were mugged by common crook Joe Chill. He murdered the elder Waynes and spared Bruce, who swore to end crime in Gotham City. Bruce trained in multiple disciplines for a decade before becoming the masked vigilante: Batman.

Batman’s early days were very different. The first story revealed his secret identity as a twist ending. He had no qualms about killing criminals in gruesome ways. Robin and Alfred were introduced to soften the stories for younger readers, causing the Caped Crusader to become a much lighter character akin to Adam West’s portrayal.

Batman returned to a darker style in the Seventies, with more focus on his trauma and status as a non-powered superhero. Writers played up his cunning and penchant for planning to explain how he could keep up with The Justice League. This version was last seen in The Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The Tower of Babel: Batman’s History

[Several Justice League Members are in peril]
Batman: [calling another Leaguer] “J’onn, I need your help! [hears screaming] J’onn? J’onn!? J’onn, it’s Batman! What’s happening?!
Martian Manhunter: [underwater] “BATMAN! I’M STILL BURNING!
Batman:Alfred, get the Batwing ready! The Justice League’s under attack!
Alfred:By whom, sir?
Batman:By me!

Justice League: Doom

Post-Crisis, Batman was written to be much more violent and broody. This era saw many classic storylines, including a final attempt to de-escalate his eternal rivalry with The Joker in The Killing Joke and coping with Jason Todd’s murder in A Death in The Family. But The Tower of Babel made the biggest impression.

Ra’s al Ghul discovered that Bruce had created plans to neutralize every other superhero in case they went rogue. He stole those files and altered the plans to be lethal. Batman stopped Ra’s from killing the Justice League, but the damage was done. His teammates expelled him for what they viewed as a betrayal.

Paranoia and plans to circumvent his allies have plagued Batman ever since. Fallout from his countermeasures caused many disasters, including the rogue A.I. Brother Eye and a massacre in Wonder Woman’s homeland, Themyscira. Bruce tries to curb this habit, but often relapses under writers who like that trait.

Batman Inc.: Batman’s Modern Stories

Wonder Woman: “I shouldn’t be surprised, since you indoctrinated Robin into crime fighting at the ripe old age of 9.
Batman: “Robin needed to help bring the men who murdered his family to justice.
Wonder Woman: “So he could turn out like you?
Batman: “…So that he wouldn’t.”

Young Justice “Agendas” (Season 1, Episode 22)

Batman is often portrayed as middle-aged in modern stories, but he has many younger allies to pick up the slack. He’s adopted Dick Grayson (Nightwing), Jason Todd (Red Hood), Tim Drake (Red Robin), Cassandra Cain (Batgirl), and learned of a son named Damian Wayne who became the new Robin. That’s not counting friends, allies, reformed supervillains like Harley Quinn, and other members of the Bat-Family.

Bruce eventually decided that protecting Gotham wasn’t enough and set up an international organization so that every country would have a Batman. This was a reinvention of The Batmen of All Nations, a team of (stereotypical) superheroes from the 50s. Despite a few hiccups, Batman Inc. successfully created new heroes around the world to aid Bruce’s mission.

Batman was recently killed alongside the rest of the Justice League during Dark Crisis. His mantle was taken up by Jace Fox, son of Bruce’s longtime ally Lucius Fox. The newly written character eschews fancy gadgets for more practical tools. Jace is popular with fans, but Bruce’s return as DC’s poster boy is a question of when, not if.

Caped Crusader: Batman’s Powers and Personality

[Batman has encountered a traumatized reality warper]
Ace: [reading his mind] “You’re going to try talking me into fixing everything… before I die.
Batman:Yes.
Ace:I’m dying very soon.
Batman:Yes. …I’m sorry.
Ace:Can you stay with me? I’m scared.” [Batman sits next to her and holds her hand.]
Amanda Waller: [telling the story years later] “He sat with her until her time came.

Justice League: Unlimited “Epilogue” (Season 2, Episode 13)

There’s a reason why “trained by Batman” counts as a superpower in the DC universe. He’s mastered every fighting discipline, escapology trick, scientific field, and other useful skill out there. Bruce also has a sky high pain threshold and can keep fighting with multiple broken bones.

Batman has hundreds of gadgets to fight crime. Batarangs, rebreathers, explosives, cryo pellets, a grapple gun, and more. The Batsuit has many built-in devices, including an automatic taser to keep anyone from unmasking him. Throw in The Batmobile and Batwing among other vehicles, and Bruce is prepared for anything. Just ignore the billions he’s embezzling from Wayne Enterprises to pay for everything. It’s in pursuit of justice, after all!

Fans and writers agree that Bruce “died” with his parents and Batman is this character’s primary identity. He’s usually portrayed as grumpy, cunning, cynical, and obsessed with his mission. Dig past the prickly exterior and you’ll find a broken man who will do anything to ensure that no child ever has to endure what he has. Batman’s trauma allows him to empathize with other traumatized characters and get through to them when other heroes would fail.

The Actors Who Play Batman

Like Superman and Spider-Man before him, there are too many Batman actors to list them all. We’ll stick with the best.

Adam West – Batman (1966), Batman: the Movie, Legends of the Superheroes, others
Kevin Conroy – Batman: the Animated Series, Justice League, others
Michael Keaton – Batman, Batman Returns, Flashpoint
Val Kilmer – Batman: Forever
George Clooney – Batman and Robin
Christian Bale – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Ben Affleck – Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Justice League
Robert Pattison – The Batman (2022)
Diedrich Bader – Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Harley Quinn

Didya Get All That?

A silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.

Photograph by Courtesy of HBO Max

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