It’s apt – if heartbreaking – that the real-world origins of the world’s greatest detective were shrouded in secrecy for decades.
Much like Marvel’s Spiderman, DC’s Batman is one of the few comic characters that only seems to get more popular as time goes on.
While the X-Men have probably seen their heyday, and Superman hasn’t had a memorable story arc for decades due to his ability to solve all problems with his god-like powerset, Batman remains more relevant than ever.
While very few people can relate to being a billionaire playboy, most people can relate to loss-based trauma and trying to solve centuries-old class-based social issues without any real help from the authorities. Batman also struggles with finding a work/home life balance, often being obliged (by his duties) to ignore the relationships of those closest to him in order to do his job, in order to keep those he loves safe – something else a lot of us can relate to.
Whether he’s beating up bad guys or trying to solve a devilish clue left behind by one of the many supervillains who call Gotham home, Batman will always give his all to keep his city (and sometimes Earth itself) safe.
He would, of course, prefer to do so alone – but he’s slowly learning to accept help from others.
Batman: Real-world Origins
For almost Batman’s entire existence, Batman stories of any medium (including comics) have told us that Batman was created by Bob Kane.
This is a lie. A lie of omission, but still a lie: Bob Kane created a Batman, not the Batman.
In the late 1930s, Superman comics were selling like hotcakes. The publisher, National Comics Publications (the company who would eventually become DC Comics), asked their creators to create more superheroes.
A creator named Bob Kane had the idea for a superhero named ‘the Bat-Man’. He showed his work to his creative partner, Bill Finger.
Kane’s proposed ‘the Bat-man’ looked like this:
Finger looked over the drawings, and found himself perplexed at the difference between the name ‘Bat-Man’ and the brightly-coloured character drawn on the page before him.
He kept suggesting minor adjustments, until ‘the Bat-Man’ looked like this:
Finger also created the name ‘Bruce Wayne’. The Bruce part comes from the real-life Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots. The Wayne part is a reference to the American Revolutionary War soldier ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne. Presumably done on purpose, this means that both parts of the name ‘Bruce Wayne’ owe their existence to anti-establishment activists – a term that could also apply to Batman himself.
It also means, for those of us not keeping score, that Bill Finger created Batman’s look, his core personality, and his name. That means that Bob Kane came up with one thing: The name ‘the Bat-Man’, which was soon shortened to ‘Batman’ anyway.
This matters because only Bob Kane was receiving credit for (and therefore payment for the usage of) the character, even though he knew that Bill Finger had created the most iconic aspects of Batman.
Finger and Kane would go on to flesh out Bruce’s personality further, taking their cues from fictional aristocrats with socially-aware alter-egos (such as Zorro). They’d also borrow the idea of superhero motifs from the Phantom. The Phantom, whose motif was skull-based, lived in Skull Cave and used his Skull Ring to brand criminals – the sheer force of his punch would apparently somehow tattoo a skull wherever he hit them. Leaning into the idea of superhero branding (pun intended), Finger and Kane gave Batman his various Bat-related gadgets and vehicles over the years.
Regardless of the amount of work that Bill Finger did – and continued to do – on Batman, he still wasn’t credited as a co-creator. DC Comics didn’t officially credit Bill Finger until the 2016 live-action film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
That’s over 40 years after Bill Finger’s death.
This obviously means that Bill Finger never saw himself credited as Batman’s creator before he died, all because Bob Kane didn’t want to allow Bill Finger to share the wealth.
Batman: In-Universe Origins
Please note: Comics are very weird and they keep getting rebooted all the time. These ‘facts’ could be changed by the time you’re reading this. For instance, Tim Drake, the third Batman-sidekick named Robin, wasn’t actually ever a Robin according to the canon of the DC Comics New52 reboot. Except, wait, now he was Robin because they changed their minds in a few random issues or whatever. Cool. And yes I’m going to copy-paste this every single time I do the origins of a comic book character, because it will literally be relevant every single time.
A young Bruce Wayne is exploring the land around his familial home, Wayne Manor, when he falls into a bat-infested cave. Understandably, this somewhat rattles him, which ultimately results in Bruce becoming mentally conditioned to equate bats with fear.
Not long after that, he’s gone to the movies with his parents Martha and Thomas, so they could all watch the classic film ‘Mask of Zorro’. After the movie is over, his parents choose the wrong alley to walk down, and they’re murdered before young Bruce’s eyes. This further traumatises the young boy, who (after much paperwork) would now be raised by Alfred Pennyworth, who was already more of a father to Bruce than Thomas ever was.
As he grows older, the Bruce travels the world learning as much about martial arts and science as he can. When he returns home to Gotham, he thinks of that young boy in the alley.
Now that Bruce is a young adult, he’d deal with that situation differently. Could he have saved his parents? He doesn’t know, but he’s certain he’d stand a better chance now.
Bruce, sitting in his long-ignored familial home, thinks to himself: ‘If only there were some kind of authority who could help rid the streets of crime…’
He wonders – where were the police that night, anyway?
Being a decent detective himself now (some might even say ‘The World’s Greatest’), Bruce does a little research. He learns that almost the entire Gotham City Police Department is corrupt. There is one cop who isn’t corrupt – a fellow named James Gordon. All the other cops seem to hate James Gordon, presumably because of his ethical standards. He doesn’t snitch on other cops (which is presumably the only reason he’s still alive), but he won’t take bribes.
Bruce realises he can’t rely on James Gordon alone, for whatever reason. Bruce also realises that the police couldn’t help him 20 years ago, and they can’t help anyone else now.
Someone has to step up to the plate. SOMEONE has to at least TRY to keep the streets clear of crime.
Bruce wonders if his skillset and his billions might allow him to fight crime himself. Surely that’s crazy, but it might just be crazier not to try. And doesn’t he owe it to other children to protect them and their parents if nobody else will?
Isn’t money for people, and not hoarding, after all?
Bruce decides to create many social welfare programs to help at-risk-youths, and also free healthcare for anyone that wants it. He figures that’ll help some people, and it surely will reduce the amount of crime over the next generation or so.
He will, of course, still have billions of dollars left over, and it’s always possible that the programs won’t help reduce the crime rate.
He needs a contingency plan.
His mind drifts to the idea of taking a more personal approach to fighting crime. He considers criminals simple-minded, and figures that fighting them on a psychological front might be just as effective (if not moreso) than physically fighting them.
If only there were some symbol, some kind of thing that could create fear in the hearts of criminals, if only-
At that exact moment, a bat breaks through a poorly-maintained window – and Batman is born.