Something I’ve come to notice about works of fiction, especially those in the continuous-story medias (television and comic books), is the love of crafting theories about what is happening. It’s not surprising; we want to make sense of what is revealed and reveal for ourselves what isn’t. It comes from cognitive dissonance, where when something happens and you can’t explain it, it hurts your brain to not have it explained – but I wont get too heavily into that. Whatever the motivation, one of the most common theory types I see is found under the “_____ isn’t real” subset. This can apply to a character, characters, setting, and/or events. Think Fight Club, where the whole movie was just the delusion of some autistic kid’s semi-comatose dream. I think it’s popular because, if it all fits, it’s like you’ve blown the lid off of everything. It’s also pretty easy to craft if you try hard enough and fudge some scenes. Well, this theory is no different.
What follows is my own crazy theory of the world of Batman, in honor of Arkham City being released recently, for the PC. I had planned to have this posted last Tuesday, alongside the release, but I underestimated how much I would be playing it. Keep in mind, also, my “facts” are based on generalizations I’ve made for characters across all generally accepted canon. So if any of this conflicts with some issue or episode I’m not aware of, my apologies (but shut up). So, here we go!
Batman, and all his enemies, are all in Bruce Wayne’s head…
Surprise! That’s right, everything Batman does in Gotham never actually happens; it’s just part of Bruce Wayne’s massive psychosis. So how did it all go down? Well let’s start at the beginning, and from there I can explain how each member of his rogue’s gallery is important.
Late one night in Crime Alley…
Let’s start with what has actually happened to Bruce Wayne. We all know the story of how Wayne’s parents were shot down behind the movie theater in Crime Alley. Although the details can change, the constant is that his parents were mugged and shot and that set lil’ Brucey on the path to becoming a nighttime vigilante. There are two possible avenues that branch off from this point, but they arrive at the same point anyway.
The first is that Bruce had time to grow up, learn martial arts, and try his hand at crime fighting. However, on his first nights, he bit off more than he could chew and got his ass beaten by a group of thugs. This destroyed the vision of himself he had crafted and his mind subsequently broke.
The second is that Bruce never had the chance to train as a crime fighter. Instead, right after his parents’ death, the child heir to the Wayne fortune went batty (heh) and has been living in a mental institution ever since.
In either case, what Bruce ends up doing is creating a personal Gotham in his mind, for him to live in and act out his crime fighting fantasies. This fits best with the 1960’s Adam West Batman. If you ever go back to watch the series, the insanity is palpable, as Batman is able to come up with every possible gadget he could ever use, and fights in a relatively safe environment. The reality of this world is so damn fragile, however, like if a regular human being were to create the world, missing on some key details that allow everything to make sense. For example, Batman has a universal Bat-antidote that cures him of any poison, liquid or gas or otherwise, that would otherwise kill him. However, he never shares this miraculous cure with the rest of the world. In addition, most of the people involved in this world have a script of behaviors they go through, because it would be too difficult to craft a perfectly human persona for every one involved in Bruce’s fantasy.
But I digress, the real meat of this theory is that all of Batman’s enemies, and Batman himself, are pieces of who Bruce Wayne is as a person. Either he does this because he needs a “material” to work with in order to create these vivid characters, or he fighting off what he believes are his flaws, trying to lock them away in Arkham Asylum (i.e. gain control of his behaviors), which is where Bruce is actually staying as he dreams up this reality for himself. So, what do each member of the Batman enemy roster represent? Well….
It’s easy to try and say Two-Face is Bruce’s dual nature. However, that comes up later. What Two-Face really represents is Bruce’s struggle to decide on what is justice and what isn’t. Batman lives on the edge of hero and villain. At the end of the day, he’s a vigilante, and so is actually breaking the law by fighting these super criminals. However, he’s fighting super criminals for the safety of Gotham. The question of whether Batman is really good for Gotham or not is not a new one, and will never get a unanimously accepted answer. What is clear, however, is that the question exists in the first place. Bruce must struggle with this idea himself, the desire to punish these criminals for their actions, as if it will one day make the pain of losing his parents fade away, as well as the understanding that he is living outside the law’s boundaries for its citizens.
Like Bruce, Two-Face has the same struggle with the two halves of the same coin that is himself. While Two-Face is a villain, when he’s written best he’s a man who is torn between two paths – one tells him to maintain order, to trust in the law and the justice of man to sort out the evil from the good. The other asserts that there is only chaos, random acts that have led us all to where we are at our present moment. That’s of course where the coin comes in, where he trusts the random 50/50 choice that fate dictates.
In Bruce’s Gotham, Two-Face is Harvey Dent, former district attorney and friend of Bruce Wayne. Dent operated within the law, and did a lot of good because of it. Despite this, Dent befell the horrible accident that permanently scared half of his body. Now Dent goes by Two-Face, as his belief in the world has been shaken and now takes on a second set of ideals, one of personal justice rather than justice for the good of the people. Bruce crafted this situation to create a character that showcased his struggle to decide what is and what isn’t true justice.
Two Face’s entire decision making process is done by a simple flip of a coin, representing the ease at which our lives can completely change. It’s small, and easy to lose, just like Bruce’s own grasp of what he thinks is real.
Bruce is a smart guy, and even as a kid he was probably pretty bright. To even create this world for him to live in is nothing short of astounding. Although Bruce controls the reality of Gotham, he chooses to hold it to most of the laws of our actual reality. Because of this, Batman has to use his brain in order to get out of most messes, and to come up with and explain all the neat gadgets he uses.
Often people say that Riddler is one of the worst villains. He plans to commit a crime, and then leaves intentional clues to allow Batman and the police to find him. What people are missing is the why of Riddler. Riddler leaves riddles because he wants to test the intelligence of others against his own. The act of committing crimes is usually just a means to either raise the stakes and force the police and
Batman to get involved, or himself lashing out at a world he deems to stupid to live. Of all the villains to
be discussed here, Riddler is arguably the most intelligent. And even if you disagree there, it’s hopefully clear that Riddler at least is the one who most prides himself on his intelligence.
Riddler, then, represents not only Bruce’s intelligence, but his massive ego because of it. The Bruce Wayne persona he acts out in his fantasy is a billionaire playboy who carries with him an arrogance bigger than his checkbook. While this is all an act to keep up appearances, Batman too has a great big inflated ego. He rarely lets anyone help him, refusing to believe that anyone could figure out a problem as well as he could. And often, in this fantasy, he’s right. In all the adventures Batman has, he is by far the most intelligent person alive. His prep-time is the stuff of legends. Batman operates on super-human levels of intelligence, and this of course builds up his ego. While he stays humble as much as he can, we return again to the fact that Batman rarely accepts helps on cases, and when he does it’s usually just for resources or muscle, not an extra brain to help him figure out puzzles.
Speaking of the Bruce Wayne persona that is acted out in the fantasy, Bruce is a playboy. He sleeps around, or at least gives the impression he does, and as Batman nearly ever female super hero flocks to his crotch. There’s Catwoman, Huntress, Black Canary, Vicki Vale, Wonder Woman, etc. Why does this happen? Because Bruce, the dreamer, wants this to happen. He loves women, and who doesn’t? So of course in his fantasy Gotham, both Bruce Wayne and Batman are going to be total ladies’ men. He rarely gets close to them, however, or shuns their advances because his mission is more important than that. Or, to put it in more psychology 101 terms, he’s ashamed of his lust.
And that’s where Poison Ivy comes in. While her whole deal is plants, another component of her is her sexuality. Ivy uses pheromones, either through a gas or a lipstick, in order to bend men to her will, causing them to fall madly in love with her and agree to do her bidding. You can argue all you like that Ivy is not the sexiest woman in the Gotham city
limits, the intention is that she is (whether this is achieved by the artists and writers or not). She’s a symbol of lust and sexuality, forbidden fruit. You really want to have her, but you know if you do she’ll kill you by feeding you to her plants.
So Bruce has created a villain who exudes sexuality. The key words there are “sexuality” and “villain.” He has associated open sexuality with evil, as is often the case with any female villain – but that’s another topic for another time. While Ivy sometimes has noble goals, such as saving the rain forest, she usually achieves them through less than noble means and, in any case, Batman has to stop her. Not because she’s a criminal, but because she’s horny. Bruce wants to take this avatar of lust and lock it away in Arkham where she’ll be kept under control and he, too, can keep his libido in check.
Bruce, within his dream world and in reality, is a rich SOB. In his fantasy, he gets to enjoy his massive fortune by going to fancy parties, picking up beautiful women, and funding his adventure lust as Batman. But, as they say, money is the root of all evil. Bruce worries that his money will corrupt him, will warp his perceptions and twist his goals in such a way that he would be unrecognizable to himself. His fear is that his money and power will disfigure him. And who is a rich SOB who is also hideously ugly and twisted?
Penguin. Penguin is a hideous man with tons of money. He values the finer things in life, and uses crime as a means to achieve them. He also runs his the Iceberg Lounge, but anyway. Penguin looks down his hooked nose at everyone, viewing them as disgusting urchins not worthy to handle his fish. Bruce worries that the 1% lifestyle will, too, morph him from tall,
dark, and handsome into short, pale, and ugly. Not only that, but that his money will give him an ego that will one day cause him to forget about the people whom his parents wanted to save; you know, before they were shot down by the very type of person they wanted to help.
There’s another parallel between Batman and Penguin, and that’s their collection. Penguin shares the trait of actual penguins with his love of collecting things, shiny things. It’s what drives him to crime, to be able to obtain rare treasures for himself. Batman, too, has an extensive collection. Most people are familiar with the Batcave collection, featuring a giant t-rex and coin. None of it is stolen from a museum, of course, but rather spoils of war. Still, the connection between he and Penguin is there.
Bruce has gone through a terrible loss, having to watch his parents be gun downed in front of him in a dirty alley, leaving him all alone in the world except for his dotting old butler and his big empty mansion. Since then, he has dedicated his life to fighting crime and donating to charity, at least in his fantasy world – but at least his desire is to better mankind. However, he has never gotten over the death of his parents. While he has let some people into his life, none have been able to replace his parents, not even Alfred. His anguish and woe over the loss of his parents has closed off part of his heart to the rest of the world forever.
Mr. Freeze fell prey to a terrible accident that leaves him bound to a metal suit to keep his body at sub zero temperatures. He worked on a way to find a cure for his ailing wife, whom he has frozen in a block of ice. His wife, Nora, will never be reunited with him. Even if she miraculously recovers (or revives, in some cases), he is still locked away in a frozen suit of metal and frost, unable to ever truly be with her. Not only Nora, but anyone. He has become locked away from humanity, forever. The greatest line from Batman the Animated Series is from Mr. Freeze himself,
where Batman asks him if the death of his wife is worth killing over, to which he replies, “Think of it, Batman. To never again walk on a summer’s day with the hot wind in your face and a warm hand to hold. Oh yes, I’d kill for that!” This is a man who has become disconnected from humanity, the only remaining thread he shares is the emotions of hate and woe.
And that’s what is happening to Bruce, and Mr. Freeze is a manifestation of his separation from humanity. Mr. Freeze is single minded, and at his best his goal is always related to to his late wife Nora. At his worst, he’s a muscle-bound pun machine, but let’s not get into that. Bruce wants Batman to fight off Mr. Freeze because he doesn’t want to become him, to become detached from what humanity he has left. Mr. Freeze is also the most sympathetic villain Batman has. While most of his enemies have come into their power/deformity by way of a terrible accident, and their goals begin as revenge plots, Mr. Freeze remains the one that everyone feels consistently bad for. This is because Bruce has created a way in which he can feel bad for being cold and distant to his remaining friends and family by making Freeze a villain, but at the same time keep a shred of acceptance for it by making Freeze a sympathetic character.
Batman operates on fear. Yes he solves crimes, yes he beats up thugs, but his main weapon is fear. The reason he chose the bat as his symbol is because “bats are scary,” and he wanted to scare criminals, not just throw them in jail. Sometimes we see thugs talking about Batman like he’s a myth, something that was made up by criminals and police alike. A boogeymen for the unsavory element. That’s because Batman is scary if you’re a criminal. He hangs out in the shadows, he wears all black, and he uses threats of violence to get information.
This is not a great quality to have, if you want people to like you anyway. He’s a scary guy, he preys on fear. Batman uses this quality as a means to an end, to keep criminals off their guard and to hopefully convince them not to mess around in Gotham again. However Bruce, the dreamer, knows this doesn’t make him very heroic.
That’s where Scarecrow comes in. Bruce has transplanted this exploitation of fear into a man who uses fear to commit crimes. By making him a villain, Bruce is trying to convince himself that this fear business is not a noble pursuit. At the same time, however, Scarecrow represents Bruce’s own fears, fears he has to get over in order to get better (mentally). Quite literally, he’s facing his fears, trying to put them away and move on with his life. However, and as is the case with all these villains, Scarecrow will escape custody and continue to plague Bruce’s psyche.
In addition to being smart, Batman is strong. Very strong. Strong enough to beat up most any criminal who crosses him, and take on a flurry of blows. However, such strength carries a necessity for the knowledge of how to use it. While it’s more of a fear of Superman’s, Batman knows how strong he is and knows if he’s not careful, he may accidentally break his one rule and kill someone.
Bane is the representative of strength uncontrolled. Bane is addicted to power, to strength, and crushes all those who cross him. Batman fights this villain so Bruce can begin to understand that any strength he wields, be it physical prowess or influential power, comes with responsibility. He can never let himself get out of control.
All these characters, and again I mention Two-Face, showcase Batman’s identity crisis. Scarface is a puppet controlled (or is he?) by the Ventriloquist. The dummy is a confident, violent, criminal and the Ventriloquist is quiet and submissive. Clayface can change his shape to be any person, and yet always struggles with his lost identity (depending whoever Clayface is at the time; the person seems to change quite a bit). Two-Face, again, struggles with two thought paths and can never make up his mind unless he leaves it to random chance to carry the burden of choice.
Bruce has a real identity problem, and so it’s no surprise that there are so many of his villains that exhibit this. Plus, they’re all “Something-Face”, which is pretty neat. However, no character in Bruce’s Gotham better shows off the duality of man better than…
Batman is everything Bruce needs to be in order to fight the enemies he has created for himself. Batman is the only one who can right the wrongs and make Gotham, and thus Bruce’s mind, a safe and orderly place. However, is Bruce just Batman by night, or is Batman only Bruce by day? Who does Bruce identify himself with the most? The persona of the dark knight, or that of the billionaire playboy? Bruce has put as much time into creating the arrogant heir to the Wayne fortune, Bruce Wayne, as he has into creating the world’s greatest detective, Batman, even though he mostly see Batman in action.
Batman is also Bruce’s defense mechanism. These villains have been created for a reason, which I will get into later, and the only way to get them into Arkham is to create a character as powerful, smart, and crazy as all of them. Batman is a tool for Bruce to return his mind to order and sanity, but will he ever be able to put away Batman and be just Bruce Wayne?
Of course, there’s one character I have to cover, and that character is…
No wait, not him. The other guy, what’s his name. Oh you know the guy. Clownface Killa? No… John Wayne Gacey! No wait, not him. Umm…Oh!
Ah yes, who could forget the Clown Prince of Crime. There is no way to pinpoint an exact psychosis that Joker embodies, as he really has all of them at one point or another. But at the end of the day, he is everything Batman isn’t. So how does this fit into the theory?
Well, if Batman is Bruce’s way of dealing with his mental issues and perceived faults, his way of returning to sanity, and Joker is everything Batman isn’t, then Joker is Bruce’s insanity. All of the traits listed above aren’t really results of madness. Grief, yes. Anger, of course. But they’re allhave to deal with. Lust, fears, humanity, duality, ego, power, morality, and ethics. Even together they aren’t enough to drive a man crazy, or to keep him crazy. What’s needed to blow them all out of proportion, to make Bruce feel he is powerless against them unless he creates a fantasy world to fight them in, is madness. Pure, undiluted insanity.
The Joker is an element Bruce probably can’t control. Everyone has heard all the arguments for why Batman should just kill Joker, but he never does. Batman can’t kill Joker because Bruce can’t get sane. Another fun topic is that if there was no Batman, there’d be no Joker. This holds true here, too. Bruce can’t become fully sane because he can’t separate his identity from this masked vigilante he’s created. So long as Batman is around, Joker will be too.
Now, most everyone else, not including his other villains I haven’t mentioned (which I’m sure could be assigned a mental disorder or character flaw) that exist in Bruce’s Gotham are real people. The exception to the villain rule is Dr. Hugo Strange. He could very well be Bruce’s actual physician, trying to bring him back from insanity to make him well again. Bruce has become so attached to his fantasy, even allowing his manifestations of his problems (i.e. the villains) to constantly escape so he can never get past them, that the idea of being separated from this enrages him. So much so that he has planted Strange in his own world as a villain, a doctor who studies patients and uses their weaknesses against them.
Also keep in mind that nearly every one of his villains is a doctor of some sort. Dr. Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy), Dr. Victor Freis (Mr. Freeze), Dr. Johnathan Crane (Scarecrow), and others who aren’t on this list. They could provide a base model for Bruce to create his villains from, these doctors who work at the asylum with Dr. Strange to help Bruce get better.
In the case of Robin and Batgirl, they exist for Bruce to attempt to unload some of his character faults onto them, to unburden himself with his troubles. They act as additional Batmans, either to share the burden of his insanity and/or to validate his fantasy world. If it was just Bruce/Batman in this world, he could convinced that it’s crazy, should anyone get through to him within the fantasy. However, Robin and Batgril, and Alfred too, act as support structures to keep him convinced everything is real, that he’s not the only one fighting these villains so they must not all be related to his actions, to his fantasy.
Of course we see Batman often interact with other super heroes and villains. These other heroes and villains are all real. They are mentioned in news stories, Bruce reads about them, hears about them, and sees their actions. Again he needs support for his fantasy world, some way to keep it grounded in reality. So he transplants these real people, super as they may be, to interact with because they are going to be more stable than his own creations. Because of this, Bruce can’t really erase this fantasy he’s created for himself. It’s too real now.
So that’s my crazy theory about Batman. I know I’ve left off some famous villains, like Killer Croc, Ra’s Al Ghul, etc., and all of those can be fit into the theory if you I look at them enough. However, I’ll leave that to you, readers. Share your own crazy theories about Batman in the comment section below, and thanks for reading!