For the past seventy-five years, comic book fans have come to know and love the Batman. Since his introduction in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, the lore of the Caped Crusader has grown into a full legend, a mythos so vast and generation-spanning that even going on a century later, he’s one of the most popular characters to exist in mainstream culture. With dozens of films (including animated titles), several series, and his place in the holy triumvirate of the Justice League, Batman is as ingrained in pop culture as anyone which begs the question: What about the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne?
While the two are absolutely intertwined, Wayne himself is just as interesting a character as Batman. He’s a man who loves, gives to those in need, and is the head of a multi-billion dollar empire. While his life is really just an extension of his need to be Batman, the socialite living as Bruce has really only been touched upon.
When doing research for this piece, my intention was to add a bit more light on the rich history of the familiar name. But after some digging, I was hit with a realization: Bruce Wayne, for all intents and purposes, is a ghost. There was some, but not too terribly much, to find about the rich socialite and head of Wayne Enterprises. We know of the relationships, however short-lived. We know about his socialite lifestyle, though he’s more holed up in his cave than inside the expansive Wayne Manor. But after that? Not much.
It’s his social life that really gets left in the dark here. Aside from ill-fated relationships with Talia Al’Ghoul and Selina Kyle, his life seems to be a series of one-night stands. Again, it seems here that being Batman gets in the way of Bruce Wayne.
It’s kind of depressing, honestly. His counterpart, Tony Stark, is incredibly visible, well-regarded, and a known commodity. He’s lived a rich life, separated by his Iron Man persona. Bruce Wayne is nothing without Batman. He’s a shell, a mask. Being Bruce Wayne allows him to live the life he really wishes: to be a shadow in the night that deals out as much punishment as he takes. I think this is the biggest difference between the two heroes, and something that puts a brighter light on the lack of a past for Wayne. Whereas Tony Stake is Iron Man, Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman. Batman is Batman, and Bruce Wayne is a means to an end. Stark lives a life, has relationships, friends, a career. Batman has Alfred, a dank cave, and sidekicks who have all wanted to see him harmed at some point.
Even the things we do know are scarce: his actual role in the dealings of Wayne Enterprises, how he’s able to get those who do see him in the spotlight to overlook his cagey personality, and his basic lack of being there when needed.
Most superheroes get the chance to lead the dual-identity. We know about the life of Peter Parker, of Clark Kent. We see what happens to them as they balance their double lives. Readers can see Peter go to class and help out Aunt May. Clark gets to work at the Daily Planet and evolve his relationship with Lois. Bruce Wayne gets to go be Batman. There has been very few times where this kind of imbalance can be seen, and the influence of Batman on Bruce Wayne is overwhelming, and I think weakens them both as characters.
If Wayne could be Batman around the clock, he would be complete. But as Bruce Wayne, he struggles. Not to be too harsh on the character as a whole, but the complementary abilities of dual-identity characters like Parker, Stark, and others help make the characters more well-rounded. While I love the character of Batman, not knowing who he is under the mask makes it that much harder to see him as a complete person.
I came into this piece wanting to know more about Bruce Wayne as a man, not as a superhero. But going down that road only led to more questions. Who is Bruce Wayne, really? What of his life do we actually know? Turns out, aside from the well-known traits (a physically gifted genius with a troubled past), there’s not much there. In seventy-five years, there are only a few things we really know about one of the most popular men in the world: His parents were killed, and he uses his skills to take down those who could do the same to others. Maybe if he makes it another seventy-five, we’ll learn a few more things.