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