80 Years Of The Bat: Bat Family Issues
by Ben Martin
80 Years of The Bat is a column created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of one of the most beloved characters ever created, Batman. Since his creation in 1939, Batman has managed to transcend his native medium of comic books. Eight decades later, the character has a presence in every area of entertainment. Over that time, Batman has garnered generations of fans; thus, always remaining relevant. Throughout the remainder of 2019, 80 Years of The Bat will examine decades worth of Batman material from every medium. This time around, I’ll examine one of the cornerstone’s of The Caped Crusader’s lore, The Bat Family! Furthermore, I provide my (possibly unpopular) thoughts on the whole familial idea.
[*Trigger warning! For mention of sexual assault below!]
Batman began in 1939 as a hero with pulpy roots. A detective adorned in a cape and cowl, a man who wasn’t afraid to use a little lethal force every now and again. Sure, Bats had a couple of allies at the time in the forms of Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon. Even still, Batman didn’t get invested in others; instead, The Caped Crusader lived for his mission of stopping crime and protecting the innocent. However, that all changed when our hero took on his first partner just over a year later. Robin/Dick Grayson made his first appearance in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940). Like Batman, Robin’s family also killed by criminals; thus making it easy enough for Batman/Bruce Wayne to take the young man under his wing. Shortly after his inception, Robin became the definitive sidekick.
More importantly though, Robin drew-in younger readers and the whole sidekick concept proved highly-popular. Mind you; this was in the early period of comic books, The Golden Age. As such, that meant that an idea which proved successful could only grow. Therefore it’s no surprise that by The Silver Age Batman went from having a single sidekick to a team of them. After bringing Robin on board, Bruce decided to make his crusade on crime a literal family matter; bringing his cousin, Kathy Kane into the fold as Batwoman. Shortly after that, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon joined in the fight to protect Gotham City as Batgirl; along with the short-lived Bat-Mite.
Thankfully, by the time The Bronze Age rolled around, individual members of The Bat Family had been excised. Namely, Bruce’s kissing cousin, Batwoman/Kathy, and Bat-Mite. Even so, the proverbial family remained stable throughout the 70s. There was a short-lived comic book series centered around them entitled Batman Family which ran from 1975-1978 and consisted of 24 issues total. By the 80s, the whole family dynamic really kicked into gear. Most notably, Dick Grayson went off to college and took up the mantle of Nightwing to command The Teen Titans in the process. As a result, another orphan named Jason Todd was introduced to become the second of a few other Robin’s that would go on to fly with The Bat.
Following one of DC Comics’ continuity resets, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Bat Family received a re-evaluation as comics entered The Modern Age. In 1988, the characters suffered greatly at the hands of The Joker. One of the few graphic novels to be taken into the main continuity, The Killing Joke (March 1988); saw Barbara Gordon sexually assaulted and physically paralyzed by The Crown Prince of Crime. By the end of that year, Batman: A Death in the Family (November-December 1988) resulted in Robin/Jason Todd being beaten to death by The Joker. In light these violent tragedies, the Bat Family surprisingly, remained strong. Despite her paralyzation, Barbara Gordon became Oracle. As such, she helped fight crime in a high-tech fashion as opposed to a physical one. Meanwhile, Batman took on a third Boy Wonder in Tim Drake.
Now we enter into the period in which I started reading comics, the 1990s! During this decade, two major storylines in which the Bat Family were heavily involved were published. One of which is still the most historically significant story arches in Bat-history. Batman: Knightfall (1993-1994), is monumental as it contains some firsts in the history of the comics medium. After Bane “Breaks The Bat,” Azrael/Jean-Paul Valley temporally serves as Batman in Bruce’s stead. Along with the rest of the team, Jean-Paul defends Gotham. Alas, this character also proves to be a horrible sociopath. Therefore, Bruce can’t recover to resume as the leader of the Bat Family fast enough.
As the millennium approached, Batman: No Man’s Land ruled the pages of the Bat-books for all of 1999. In this massive crossover event, Gotham City is overrun by Batman’s rogue’s gallery following a devastating earthquake. Despite the insurmountable odds, the whole Bat family defended its city from absolute anarchy. This particular storyline provided notable additions to the family in a new Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. The fact is that No Man’s Land would only work with the Bat family taking center stage and closing the twentieth century of Batman stories out on a high note.
In the twenty-first century, the Bat family remains stronger than ever. Over the past nineteen years, many major events have taken place in the pages of the comics. In 2006, it was revealed that Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul have a son named Damian Wayne. Not surprisingly, the insufferable young Wayne was quickly brought into the family to take over the mantle of Robin and later become Red Robin. Then, of course, there was also the Batman R.I.P. (2008) and subsequent Batman: Battle for the Cowl (2009) arches which revolves around the Bat family.
A mere three years later, DC decided to reboot the continuity of all their books across the board. This new and short-lived continuity dubbed The New 52 (N52) (2011-2016), and the DC Rebirth continuity, however, did keep the familial concept intact. Currently, the Bat family is stronger than ever. This is especially true in the current run of Detective Comics. Not to mention the character of Batwoman getting her own lauded solo series. No doubt, the Bat family is a concept that resonates with readers and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The concept of the Bat family has merit. More importantly, though, this cast of characters has expanded Batman’s universe, as well as that of DC Comics as a whole. Heck, in researching for the brief history of the family I provided in this article, I was rapidly reminded of how many fantastic storylines in which this team of characters is integral. Better than that, many of these supporting characters are interesting in their own right. I’ve always been partial to Batwoman, Batgirl, and Clayface myself. The Bat family has earned their place in comic book lore.
Despite those facts, though I find the very concept of the bat family to be an inherently flawed one. See, the idea of putting together a familial team of crime fighters goes completely against Bruce Wayne’s psychology in my opinion. Mind you, I wasn’t a psychology major; and I realize that some folks would consider taking a fictional protagonist psychological makeup into account might be a silly idea to some folks. Still, it’s for the following reasons that the Bat family makes little to no sense to me.
Think about it, when Bruce was a kid, his parents were gunned down before his very eyes. Having to deal with such a tragedy would be a horrible experience for anyone. Still, a conventional approach to dealing with such would be going through the initial grieving process and then going to therapy to continue your healing process. Yes, one that grief will always remain; but people learn to handle it. Despite money being of no concern, young Bruce Wayne did not go to a child therapy; nor did Alfred Pennyworth make him do so. Tisk, tisk, Al, tisk, tisk.
Instead, Bruce Wayne internalized his sadness and rage. Of course, his internalization eventually led to his determination to lead a vigilante war on crime in Gotham City. In doing so, Batman hopes to help ensure that the violence that befell his parents would never occur for anyone else. Living to achieve such an impossible goal may even make Wayne insane. But, even if he’s psychotic, I have trouble believing that Batman/Bruce would bring anyone aside from Alfred or Commissioner Gordon in on his fight. To me, the Bat Family concept can’t help but be a bit ridiculous.
Again, Bruce’s parents were killed. Thus, the very idea of Batman taking a young ward as a crime-fighting sidekick in Robin is nuts! Predicated on what I perceive Batman/Bruce Wayne’s psychology to be, I do not believe that the character would ever do such a thing. To me, Batman is an insulated character; one who would not want to become emotionally attached to many people. I feel that after losing his parents, our hero would live in fear of losing anyone else. Therefore the idea that he would build a surrogate crime-fighting family does not hold water in mind.
Now, my opinion on the Bat family does not mean I won’t read stories concerning that cast of characters. On the contrary, I’ve read most of the stories which revolve around the Bat family. The concept doesn’t work for me as I find it to be an inherently flawed one for the reasons stated. Therefore when it comes down to it, I prefer it Batman flies solo. But, that’s just one Batman-loving writer’s opinion.
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