Bruce Wayne: What Might Have Been

August 29th, 2008 by | Tags: , , ,

Thomas and Martha Wayne have always been the saints of the DCU. Thomas worked long hours healing the sick. Martha founded the Wayne foundation. Thomas used the Wayne fortune to keep Gotham from economic collapse. Martha stalked and attempted to trap pedophiles. They were pillars of society and always ready to serve the public good.

As parents, however, there was room for improvement.

The first story I read that included Thomas and Martha Wayne as anything other than portraits hanging over the mantle was Hush. Thomas Wayne takes Bruce and Bruce’s friend Tommy with him on a business trip and gets angry when they wander slightly away from him to see a couple of superheroes fighting. As punishment he locks them both in his hotel room for the weekend.
The next time I saw this parenting team they sent Bruce to his room without supper and grounded him for a week because he read a comic book. That’s right; a comic book. I suppose they might have been justified, if the comic was one of the more overtly racist Chick Tracts, but it’s most likely that the Waynes fell down on the job again.

What finally cemented my opinion of the Waynes was a single issue of Batman which I suppose was meant to be cute. Alfred is serving as butler to the Waynes when seven-year-old Bruce comes home covered in bruises. His mother and father immediately send him to his room without supper, where he pitifully stares out the window until Alfred comes up, comforts him, and shows him a creative way to deal with bullies.

Substitute the word ‘Headmaster’ for ‘Father’ and ‘Governess’ for ‘Mother’ and you have something out of Dickensian fiction. They didn’t even offer him a band-aid.

When DC comics shows alternate universes in which the Waynes survive, Bruce is generally either a shallow socialite or a good, but bland, businessman. I’m thinking that at best he’d be in rehab and more likely he’d be a modern day Lizzie Borden.

Some readers think that it’s significant that Bruce’s parents were shot when he was eight years old because he was exactly the right age to understand what happened without being able to deal with it. I think it’s significant that Bruce’s parents were shot when he was eight years old because a few years later he would have shoved them into the path of the bullets.

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8 comments to “Bruce Wayne: What Might Have Been”

  1. Unless I misremember, the comic books propriated some of the novel ideas in the origin story for Superman the Movie and incorporated them into the mythology, and I hope that the same ends up happening regarding Batman Begins.

    Just the image of Thomas Wayne descending into the well to rescue a young Bruce overcomes alot of the under- and mis-characterizations of Bruce’s parents. His subsequent reassuing words about fear and why we fall solidifies Bruce’s loss, not of a distant father, but of an actual relationship to someone he probably called “Dad.”

  2. Well, yeah. I always like the quasi-Freudian idea that his parents’ death was fulfilling some secret guilty wish he’d had at least once, out of childish spite. And he’s been making himself pay for it ever since…

  3. Brian Azzarello had a great idea in Broken City when he posited that the last thing Bruce said to his parents was “I hate you” after he threw a childish fit. His parents send him to his room, but later call him downstairs and take him to see the movie/play he wanted to see.

    Bruce has been trying to atone for the fact that the last thing his parents showed him was kindness in the face of his petulance ever since. I need to dig up those pages. I also explain why my Batman is the best Batman here.

  4. There was some contrast in Fathers at least between Batman Begins and the comic that came with the DVD. I didn’t remember his father originally being such a hard ass – but I know my view of the Waynes has been heavily influenced by The Animated Series. And I’m also aware that I could totally understand the sense of loss at never getting the chance to make his parents proud of him / do something right.

    I think, however, the biggest influence on how I saw the Waynes has always been Alfred. He’s always seen as keeping their memory alive and being a stand-in for both Martha and Thomas. Thus I think I often took Alfred and subtracted the British Class Issues and added a little more physical affection.

    Really interesting thought at something I at least hadn’t thought too much about and took somewhat for granted.

  5. I say that’s poor characterization

  6. The only rich person who I know was raised by a nanny, so this fits my worldview (admittedly based on a very small sample) perfectly. The poster above has a good point: the Waynes may exist to Bruce more through Alfred’s telling than through his own memories.

    Sort of related: I’m waiting for the trade on Batman RIP. I used to love Morrison’s work, but I haven’t really liked much of it since We3. Can anyone tell me if RIP is worth picking up? I’m big on Batman, but like I say, I’m iffy on latter-day Morrison.

  7. Esther, I was just going to bring up the example David Brothers brought up. In Azzarallo’s storyline (the one that followed Hush), Bruce was being a bratty 8-year old because his father and mother couldn’t take him to see Zorro due to their responsibilities to the city. As parents are wont to do though, they decided to lay off work and be with their child, and they took him out to the movies, even when Bruce was still giving them the cold shoulder. It was a small example, but a poignant one about how much they cared for their son. Don’t forget that Death of Ra’s Al Ghul storyline “Death and the Maidens,” where Bruce gets to talk to his parents in the afterlife. Quote from wikipedia on that storyline:

    “Thomas and Martha disapprove of their son’s costumed crusade, but Thomas admits that he merely disapproves of what being Batman has cost his son rather than actually disliking the concept itself. Martha strongly disapproves of her son’s costumed crusade, fearing he has thrown away his chance for happiness. As she and Thomas depart, however, they assure Bruce that just because the passing of time has lessened his grief does not mean that he no longer cares for them, and, as a result, Bruce is able to accept that he is Batman because he chooses to be, not because he has to be.”

    And I’ve seen many more issues where the love for their is palpable. The Dickinson characterization just doesn’t work for me, as having a set of loving parents was an intrinsic part of his origin.

  8. Huh. Interesting responses. Thanks to everyone who mentioned Azzarello’s efforts to resucitate the Waynes’ reputation.

    Dane: Death And The Maidens, although I didn’t mention it, also informed my opinion of the Waynes. I left it out due to space and also because it’s possible that that was a hallucination of Bruce’s. I remember Martha slapping Bruce when he doubted that she was his mother. I also remember Thomas Wayne being so upset with Bruce that he refused to see him at first. Honestly, who would do that? Your son was horribly traumatized by watching you get shot and in your one chance to talk to him you don’t come at first because you don’t like the way he was traumatized. Heartless bastard.