Comics, Geek Culture, Gender

Daddy Issues #1: Batman – The World’s Finest Terrible Dad

To “celebrate” Father’s Day, I’ve written a selection of essays on some of comics worst ever dads. From adoptive fathers to absent ones, from rich and fascist to poor and useless, I’ve got ’em all! So strap in, grab your daddy issues, a stiff drink, and get ready to realize that pretty much all of your beloved men in tights are not only terrible people but also terrible parents. Welcome to Daddy Issues – Comics’ WORST Father Figures.

When thinking of terrible fathers in comics, there is really only one man whom you begin this journey with, a man whose trauma at losing his own parents runs so deep that he has crafted an entire existence based around constantly beating up working class people who he subliminally blames for their deaths. That man is Bruce Wayne. The Batman. The Bat. The most prolific adoptive parent of small orphans and vulnerable children in the entirety of comics. And boy does he suck at it!

Bruce Wayne is a uniquely terrible man in the world of comic book heroes. Born into unfathomable wealth and orphaned when his parents were murdered by a random criminal, he quickly became obsessed with finding the people who killed them. This seems like a situation most people can relate to as revenge is an emotion and driving force that many of us have felt. Yet Bruce’s vengeance evolved into something much darker: a hatred for anyone who he deemed a criminal, channeling his most dangerous psychopathic urges and billions of dollars into a personal passion project that includes wearing a mask and beating up the poor and disenfranchised people of Gotham.

Often when our parents behave badly towards us, hurt us, or abandon us, we look towards their parents for answers. Is abuse learned? A constant cycle? Something we can’t break? Not in Bruce’s case, as his parents were loving, generous, good people, known for their philanthropy and social enterprise projects within the city that Bruce believes he is protecting. Bruce’s trauma comes directly from seeing the murder of his beloved parents and his lack of any immediate family, leaving him to be raised by his butler, who depending on which comic you read is a snarky, caring, older gent or a total badass ex-special ops guy. So maybe it’s unsurprising that Gotham’s most eligible bachelor is a little unstable.

Green Arrow & Black Canary #5 (C) DC COMICS by Judd Winick, Andre Coelho, David Baron and Pat Brosseau

When you think of Batman’s many flaws, maybe fatherhood doesn’t immediately come to mind. There are so many that it’s easy to get lost in the multitudes of terrible decisions that make Bruce Wayne who he is. Why wouldn’t a billionaire invest his money into rebuilding the city he proclaims to love so much? The amount of money he spends to repeatedly punch criminals is more than most of us will see in ten lifetimes. Surely there’s a better way to spend it? How many of his rogues gallery ever actually stay caught? Surely Batman could just spend the odd billion fortifying Arkham? Or investing in community and social care to help dismantle the prison industrial complex? Just those latter two queries hold multitudes, but I’m not bothered about them. Psych! I really am, but for the sake of this article, I’m focusing on possibly his biggest flaw of all: Bruce’s obsession with grooming children to fight alongside him.

Batman’s first and most iconic sidekick, Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin the Boy Wonder, was introduced in Detective Comics #38 to lure a younger readership to the book. Over time, his habit of taking on young charges and training them as some sort of vigilante hit squad has almost become synonymous with the Caped Crusader himself. A toxic mix of daddy issues, outrageous wealth, and no friends–outside of the man he pays to take care of him who seems unwilling to say, “Hey Bruce, maybe this isn’t a good idea”–has created a situation in which a man consumed with vengeance can adopt a children with little to no legal recourse, train them to violently beat people in the street, and even get them killed once in awhile. But when you’re a white playboy billionaire, Child Protective Services never seems to come knocking. Who misses the Robins?

Bruce’s boys are one of the more tragic parts of Batman lore, though the obvious tragedy comes from the death of his parents the systematic abuse of vulnerable young men who are susceptible to Bruce’s very unique folie a deux is often far darker. They are often the true victims of his unrelenting and deranged sense of justice. There is something innately cruel about a wealthy man offering safety and comfort to lost young people and then making them fight for their lives to earn the right to stay there.

 

Mental trauma and lifelong PTSD is not the extent of the horrors that the Robins have faced. See, more than one of them has actually died in the service of their father figure. Yup, three–three children have died due to Batman’s gross negligence and irresponsible use of batarangs (or something). Now I must mention that, as is the way of comics, all three of these Robins are now alive, but all at some point were sacrificed because an old man was sad his parents died.

A Death In The Family (C) DC COMICS by Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo and Adrienne Roy

First was Jason Todd, the second Robin, who was murdered by the Joker after DC ran a call-in competition about whether he should die or not. Surprising the awful people who read comics voted a resounding “yes.” So after an argument with Bruce, he disappeared into the night to try and catch the Joker, who beat him to death with a metal pipe. Lovely.

Dick Grayson was next in Frank Miller’s seminal and unbelievably problematic world of the Dark Knight Strikes Again. Batman fired Robin for “gross incompetence”–LOLZ pot, kettle, and black spring to mind–after which Dick took part in a regenerative gene testing program that made him not only immortal but also the second iteration of the Joker! Good ol’ Frank “what was he smoking” Miller there. Oh, and Batman later kills DickJoker by throwing him into lava. Great parenting there, Bruce.

Last of the tragic deaths was Stephanie Brown (errr, until Tim Drake, who was fake dead for like two minutes in Detective Comics #940 last year). She was only the second girl to hold the mantle of Robin (if you include Carey Kelley, which obviously I do, because she is the best Robin and later becomes the Batman we truly need) and if you are a canon hound, technically the first as Miller’s Dark Knight world exists outside of recognized canon (hmm, I wonder why?). Stephanie’s run as Robin was incredibly short, in part because she was active in an era when DC were seemingly intent on using female characters controlled by suspect Republicans, created by Chuck “Clinton Cash” Dixon and written by Bill “Palestine is evil” Willingham, the latter of whom swiftly killed her off after becoming the Girl Wonder only five months earlier. Another Robin fired by Batman, Stephanie steals Bruce’s plan to end all crime in Gotham. She’s subsequently caught, “tortured extensively,” and possibly raped so she’ll cough up details of the Batman. She later dies in hospital with Bruce at her side. The darkest thing about Stephanie was that the creative team only made her a Robin to kill her off so they could “trick readers,” and she was never even given a monument in the Batcave. Fuck you, DC.

Batman #633 (C) DC COMICS by Bill Willingham, Kinsun Loh, Aaron Sowd, Rodney Ramos, Adam DeKraker, Tony Aviña and Ken Lopez

Not only is Bruce a terrible father figure, but he’s also a terrible IRL father, as we all found out when Batman was drugged and raped by Talia Al Ghul (why do we even read comics tbh?) and she gave (laboratory) birth to Damian, Batman’s son! Though Talia leaves Damian in Bruce’s custody as a way to disrupt his work, Batman does accept him as his own, although he’s less than happy that he’s a radical assassin. Despite his openness to a new son/potential protege, Bruce is a useless dad and never tries to help his prepubescent son–who has been trained as a child soldier since birth–adjust to life outside of the League of Shadows. When he does finally decline Damian’s request to be Robin, Bruce quickly dies leaving Damian in the care Dick Grayson, who is not only alive but is also clearly severely traumatized and decides it would be a great idea for Damian to become Robin to his Batman. And so the cycle of terrible daddying continues.

In conclusion, well, there isn’t really much of a conclusion, except that Batman is a terrible father figure, and I truly wish that Gotham had better social services. Also, what about Gordon? Like, not only did his daughter get shot cos the Joker casually turned up at his door (HOW DID HE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVED?), but also he never once tries to tell Batman that all these dead kids turning up on the steps of Wayne Mansion is a bad look? Sadly, Batman has not learned his lesson, and there have been many more Robins since Stephanie died. And as for his first charge, Dick Grayson? He’s happy now, has been a cool AF spy, and has a butt you could rest a can of soda pop on. So, at least one good thing came out of all this Robining.

Grayson #8 (C) DC COMICS by Tom King, Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin, Jeremy Cox and Carlos M. Mangual

Join us next time for BAD DADS #2: Xavier And His Special Institute For Training A Child Death Squad!

Series Navigation<< DADDY ISSUES #5: Aquaman Can Talk to Fish But He Can’t Raise a Kid<< Daddy Issues #6: Cyclops: Hot Eyeballs, A Hot Temper, and A Hot Dad SonDaddy Issues #2: Charles Xavier and His Special Institute For Training A Child Death Squad >>
  1. Marfisa

    March 28, 2017 at 5:30 am

    True, it wasn’t the world’s greatest idea to allow an underage Punisher-wannabe like Damian to become Robin. But left to his own devices, the semi-psychotic ten-year-old was likely to go around killing and maiming anyone he disapproved of without even the relatively slight restraints imposed by the “never use a gun” and “don’t kill or let criminals die, even if it means the Joker will escape to slaughter dozens more innocent people next issue” prohibitions of the Batman philosophy. At least the naturally amiable Dick Grayson attempted to teach Damian restraint in a more constructive and nurturing manner, instead of impatiently barking orders, then snarling that his performance was unacceptable, as his father did. (In Damian’s case Batman was right, but being peremptorily rejected did little to improve Damian’s understanding of why Bruce was appalled by the boy’s blatantly “every opponent is an enemy who deserves to die” attitude.) After a while, it sort of worked. In the pre-New 52 continuity, Damian attempted to kill Tim Drake (for allegedly usurping the role of Bruce’s son) and even Alfred (for no coherent reason) almost immediately upon arriving in Gotham. After several months of working with Grayson, he grudgingly toned it down to physically attacking only people who had actually committed some kind of crime. Considering how ruthlessly bloodthirsty Damian was to begin with, that’s major progress.

  2. Anon

    April 15, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    The main organization he uses is the Wayne Foundation, an umbrella company for the Thomas Wayne Foundation and the Martha Wayne Foundation. TWF is for medicine/science and gives awards/money to research/researches, funds the Memorial Clinic in Park Row (ie Crime Alley) where Leslie Thompkins treats anyone and everyone who comes through her door (villains included), and dozens of other clinics around Gotham. The MWF is for the arts/urban revitalization of Gotham, families, and education. It runs orphanages (and built its own orphanage), creates and funds schools, preps teachers for learning disabilities, gives grants to artists, and sponsors Family Finders, which exists to reunite families. Also soo many soup kitchens. It is also the organization that gives money/scholarships to Gotham Academy. It maintains museums in Gotham, exhibits art and film festivals, as well as being a big sponsor of the theater scene.

    The Wayne Foundation also funded Victims Inc, which aimed to help victims of violent crimes. Then there’s Neon Knights, which is started by Tamara Fox/Tim Drake and is funded by the Wayne Foundation. The organization basically is geared toward helping at-risk youth and.. former gang members/teenagers likely to join gangs/something about gangs, it’s been a while since I’ve read Red Robin. He also helps Selina Kyle get her own community center in the East End part of Gotham (ie Catwoman territory) using money she stole from Black Mask/a crime boss of Gotham.

    And he rebuilt Gotham essentially through Wayne Enterprises after No Man’s Land, pushing Lex Luthor out of Gotham. After a huge earthquake demolishes the city, the Federal government declares Gotham a “no man’s land.” Gotham has a reputation for being a wasteland so they were mostly thinking “eh better off without it, let’s get all the good people out first tho” but a lot of people were left behind, including mostly minorities, homeless, orphaned, disabled, injured, poor, and convicted felons. They gov’t destroyed all the bridges/tunnels/roads that lead into Gotham and set up military blockades to ensure no one/no medical supplies/no food goes in or out (i always thought that was absurd until I saw the federal fumbles post-Katrina but I digress). During No Man’s Land, he worked together with Poison Ivy to feed the city and shelter various orphans.

    Bruce lobbied Congress to end the No Man’s Land mandate and helped it eventually pass the Billion Dollar Build-up Federal Works Project which used the Wayne Enterprises, the Wayne Foundation, the US Army Engineers, LexCorp, and STAR Labs to rebuild. It also employs thousands of people in Gotham. Wayne Enterprises also started buying up buildings and forcing architects/engineers to “Earthquake proof” new builds so that they can survive an 8.5 Earthquake. Even before NML, all Wayne buildings (like Oracle’s watchtower) were Earthquake-proof. IN ADDITION, HE MADE SURE EVERY NEW BUILDING/REPAIRED OLD BUILDING WOULD BE MADE HANDICAP ACCESSIBLE

    Bruce also always pays for property damage, especially to individual victims. Catwoman v2 #82 (2008)

    He funds troops and the police force. During and after Dick Grayson’s stint as a Bludhaven Police Officer, the department—which was MASSIVELY underfunded—received huge amounts of top-of-the-line equipment, like high tech bullet proof vests and body armor to soldiers abroad. Also, in Black Mirror, the Foundation builds a high-tech, multimillion dollar forensic lab and donates it to the police force.

    He helps people to the point where it’s almost comical how much money he gives out and how readily he employs people, sometimes criticized for being over-simplistic and naive. He invests in random gang bangers, prostitutes, homeless communities, and low level criminals as well as high level criminals who are mostly just victims of their circumstances or show genuine desire to go straight. He carries a whole stack of Wayne Enterprise business cards in his Utility Belt and when he stumbles upon someone he can help, he gives them a card and a job. Most entry-level positions are given to people through Community Outreach programs and they don’t discriminate against ex-cons. Like, Ellie, who goes on to be a receptionist and then gets her own chance to be heroic in Batman Incorporated

    Not to mention, it certainly PAYS to work for Wayne Enterprises. There’s a corporate scholarship program that covers full tuition for any employee of Wayne Enterprises. Any employee, meaning also entry-level mail room people, which is the specific instance from the comics I can think of.

    He also sits on the Arkham Parole board, giving criminals like Harley Quinn a chance to be rehabilitated. In the new 52, he even moves Arkham into Wayne Manor (Arkham Manor: it’s actually a totally bananas concept but I haven’t read the issues yet to really know more).

    Then there are the divisions of Wayne Enterprises, which include a healthcare system for Gotham citizens. Wayne Biotech is cutting edge in training people and developing vaccinations and cures for different diseases, like the fight against AIDS and HIV and reconstructive plastic surgery. Wayne Foods focuses on ethical food production, getting rid of additives. Wayne Steel develops technology for the US Navy and WayneYards does the same. Wayne Aerospace builds for NASA and the US military. Wayne Chemicals includes Wayne Oil and Wayne Botanical and search for petrochemicals and alternative fuel sources. They came up with a way to run power generators on algae. Wayne Industries, the main R&D branch, are looking for cleaner energy among many other things. Wayne Medical is more focused on treating illnesses as opposed to researching illnesses (which is what Wayne Biotech does) and maintains/runs hospitals in Gotham through the Thomas Wayne Foundation. Wayne Institute is a thinktank and recruits up-and-coming professionals to plan future development. Wayne Research Institute basically just does research on everything. Wayne Construction built a free railway system around Gotham in the midst of government corruption. Throughout all his business endeavors, Wayne Enterprises aims to practice business ethically, cutting ties with LexCorp when they did some weird robot killer thing and Dr. Pamela Isley when she wanted to create some toxin that would mind-control people.

    I mean, even when Bruce Wayne was being impersonated (Heart of Hush), the most sinister thing Tommy Elliot did as Bruce Wayne was give away buttloads more money to charity.

    But more on-topic: I agree, he’s a shitty dad.

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