2014 is the 75 year anniversary of Batman’s first appearance in the comics! So, we’re doing a series of articles (called “Batman 75“-blunt, and to the point, right?) looking back at the Caped Crusader’s history as well as articles covering DC’s efforts to celebrate the anniversary.
Prior to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I was positive (positive!) Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character was going to pull a Jean-Paul Valley and become the new Batman after Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back. The comics had done it, and at that point Gordon-Levitt’s character was a total mystery. Plus, the early trailers had that scene with Gordon-Levitt being asked by the little kid if Batman was really gone. I just knew that Christopher Nolan and company were about to try something really risky but unprecedented for a Batman movie.
And then Gordon-Levitt turned out to be Robin, ascending into the batcave and likely becoming the new Batman right as the credits roll, a perfect exclamation point on the consistent theme throughout the film trilogy of the power of Batman as a symbol instead of a mere man. I didn’t think we were supposed to believe there’d be a fourth movie centered around Gordon-Levitt’s tenure under the cowl, especially since all involved parties had made it perfectly clear The Dark Knight Rises was the end of this particular cinematic universe. That’s been proven correct since Warner Bros./DC chose to re-boot Batman with an older, more seasoned Bruce Wayne to be played by card-counting fiend Ben Affleck.
However, why does Batman have to be Bruce Wayne in the movies? Because Bruce Wayne is Batman just like Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Duh. Actually, Bruce has frequently handed down the title of Batman in the comics, and Spider-Man famously died in one continuity, replaced for 2 years by half-Black/half-Hispanic Miles Morales. In fact, there’s been an interesting back-and-forth as of late with the latter after Andrew Garfield signaled his support to eventually pass the Spider-Man baton off to someone who might play Morales, and producer Avi Arad almost instantly silenced that noise. Surely, the only people really campaigning for a non-Bruce Wayne Batman or non-Peter Parker Spider-Man are those hardcore fans who live and breathe this stuff and are thus maybe ready for a change. To the general audience, a non-Bruce Wayne Batman may not feel like a real Batman movie in the same a Friday the 13th without the real Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th part 5) under that hockey mask didn’t feel like a real Friday the 13th film.
So, with that in mind let’s look at the short list of people who have succeeded Bruce Wayne as Batman in the comics, excluding the fun/crazy versions from the many alternate universes in the comics (sorry, no Thomas Wayne-Batman).
1) Azrael, Jean-Paul Valley
Around the same time DC killed off the real Superman in the early 90s, introducing 4 new, very different versions of Superman (previously discussed elsewhere on the site), they decided to try out an alternate version of Batman as well. They wanted to explore whether or not readers were ready for a more violent Batman in keeping with the action stars of the time, like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Here’s how it went down:
In the famous “Knightfall” story arc (1993-1994) Bane unleashes a crapton of super villains on Gotham City for the purpose of wearing Batman out with the effort it will take to recapture them. So, by the time an exhausted and spiritually broken Batman returns home to Wayne Manor, and finds Bane waiting for him since Bane deduced his secret identity he practically jumps straight on Bane’s knee to get the back-breaking over with. Well, not quite, but he had no energy left and is easily defeated. Robin and Alfred ultimately save his life, but with Bane having broken Batman’s back Gotham City is left with only the likes of Nightwing and Robin for defense. Wayne’s not really cool with that idea, instead asking reformed assassin Azrael, who had been training with Batman and Robin for a short while at that point, to become the new Batman.
Coming from a long lines of assassins, Azrael was kind of like a main character from the video game series Assassin’s Creed before Assassin’s Creed existed. He’s a good Batman at first, seeking out Bane to deliver a thorough butt-kicking (thanks mostly to his redesigned, more mechanical Batsuit), stopping just short of killing him. However, his old assassin programming kicks in causing him to become delusional and start to see ghosts, who make him believe he is the true Batman. He shuns Commissioner Gordon, and nearly kills Robin. Bruce Wayne’s cool with it, though, because dude gets results. That is until Azrael-Batman lets a serial killer and his hostage die, resulting in Wayne returning from retirement to become the new Batman, re-taking the title once he managed to pull Azrael back from the brink of insanity.
2) Dick Grayson, aka, the first Robin
Why did Bruce Wayne ask somebody seriously named Azrael to become the new Batman when Dick Grayson was around as Nightwing, his adult crimefighter persona ? Is Dick Fredo to Azrael’s Michael Corleone, passed over because that’s the way pops wanted it to go? Actually, Wayne didn’t ask Grayson because he was afraid that his prodigal son would be compelled to go after Bane, despite orders, and surely die in the process. If Azrael did it, eh, it’s not like we knew him all that well or anything.
After Bruce Wayne took back the role of Batman from bat-shit crazy Azrael, he realized his back still really hurt what with having been recently broken and everything. So, Dick Grayson took over as Batman, having at that time recently had a fiance (Starfire) leave him at the altar and replaced as leader of the Teen Titans by Arsenal. Really, Dick just needed a win, and Bruce gave it to him. Plus, you know, Gotham City needed Batman. Once Wayne’s back was no longer quite so achey breakey he took back his title as Batman.
And then Bruce Wayne died. Well, not really (as previously discussed elsewhere on this site), but as far as anyone knew at the time he was ever so dead. A Game of Thrones-esque power-grab ensued since although Wayne left everything to Dick in his will he left no plan of succession for who would become the new Batman. That’s because he wanted Batman retired, and Dick’s Nightwing persona to become Gotham City’s new Batman. However, Dick chose not tell anyone about that. So, former Robin Tim Drake tried to become a good and righteous Batman, former Robin Jason Todd became a Punisher-style Batman, and original Robin Dick Grayson eventually won out as the clear successor to the cowl. He served as the new Batman with Damian Wayne as his Robin, and the two kept that up even after Bruce came back, leaving them to protect Gotham City as he set up Batman personas in big cities around the world. Right before the New 52 re-boot, things were set back to normal with Bruce as Batman, and Dick Grayson as Nightwing.
3) Jason Todd, aka, the second Robin
After the Joker blew up Jason Todd real nice in the infamous “Death in the Family” arc in 1988, he stayed dead for nearly two decades before Superboy punched the walls of reality really, really hard. From that point forward, Todd was an anti-hero, parading around in his own vigilante guise of The Red Hood, but right before the new 52 re-boot they made Todd a straight-up villain. When Dick Grayson initially refused to become the new Batman after Bruce Wayne’s apparent death, Jason Todd became a crazy town bonkers new version. He fought crime, sure, but in ways so evil that even Azrael would think he’d gone too far, using guns a-plenty and starving and torturing criminals to death in his own creepy version of the Batcave. He even pulled a page from Spider-Man, leaving notes pinned to to his victims. There was nothing friendly about him though. His notes merely proclaimed he was the true and only Batman.
4) Tim Drake, aka, the third Robin
Once Dick Grayson refused to become Batman and Jason Todd dishonored Bruce Wayne’s memory with his maniacal version of Batman, Tim Drake took matters into his own hands and very briefly became the new Batman. After Todd severely wounded Damien Wayne, Drake rushed to his rescue only to end up severely wounded himself and in need of rescue (that’s so something Robin would do, isn’t it?). So, original Robin Dick Grayson saved him, defeating Jason Todd and becoming the new batman. Obviously, then, Drake’s Dark Knight tenure is like that of one of those US Presidents best known for having died after mere weeks in office. However, there have been several flash-forward stories depicting a future in which Drake has become the new Batman.
5) Damian Wayne, aka, the fifth Robin
Imagine if Talia al Guhl had not died at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, but instead showed up 8 years later to interrupt one of Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle’s beloved days at a cafe, torturing poor adjacent Alfred by not verifying if they’re actually there or just in his mind. What if she came by to simply drop off Bruce’s son Damian, offering little explanation in the process before heading off on her merry way. That’s more or less how it went down in the comics when the writers pulled an Ally McBeal and dropped a adolescent son on Bruce Wayne’s doorstep. Eventually, Damian would become Robin, and in one issue set years in the future he was shown as the successor to Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as the new Batman, even getting to echo Pacific Rim by proclaiming “the apocalypse is canceled.” He even named his cat Alfred. However, this potential future scenario has presumably been canceled out since Damian was actually killed off in the comics last year (for however long that lasts).
6) Terry McGinnis, aka, the black/red one from the Batman Beyond animated series
Set 20 years after the events of Batman: The Animated Series/The New Adventures of Batman, Batman Beyond was a completely original creation focused on Bruce Wayne mentoring a young kid taking over as Batman and battling almost entirely new villains (or remarkably different versions of the old ones). In the pilot episode of the series, in 2039 reformed street tough Terry McGinnis is chased by a gang onto Wayne Manor property, with an elderly Bruce Wayne providing him protection. However, Wayne is an older man now with a heart condition, and as he rests in his mansion McGinnis explores, coming across the batcave. Bruce throws him out after that, but he returns to claim the most recent batsuit for his own as he attempts to seek vengeance after his father is murdered. Eventually, Bruce agrees to train him, and be his Guy Friday from the batcave as McGinnis does the Spider-Man thing – teenage superhero, still in high school – just not calling it that for obvious legal reasons. McGinnis has since been incorporated into the comics, and is positioned as the furthest into the future version of Batman. A Batman Beyond movie was actually briefly in development prior to Batman Begins, but it continually comes up on lists of potential new directions for the Batman film franchise to go.
I can see why it is that the McGinnis iteration is most often suggested for a new approach to Batman on film because the other versions are successors who put in long years as Robin beforehand…and Azrael, who nobody really liked. McGinnis is just a kid who stole a suit from an eccentric old man who happened to be Batman. However, every time I watch episodes of Batman Beyond I am still left with the same feeling, “But it’s not really Batman.” If I feel that way about a cartoon, would I ever truly be able to accept a non-Bruce Wayne Batman on film? It matters not since it seems more likely that the current comic book movie bubble will burst before WB-DC ever gets around to seriously contemplating a non-Bruce Wayne Batman. If it aint’ broke why fix it, right? In fact, within an hour of originally publishing this article Fox announced its Bruce Wayne/James Gordon origin story TV show has been ordered to series.
If you like this, check out our other “Batman 75” articles:
- Batman 75: How Tim Burton’s Batman Set the Stage of Netflix’s Assault on the Theatrical Release Window
- End of An Era? – 2015 Could Be the First Year in Nearly 2 Decades Without An Animated Batman Series on TV
- Batman 75: How Robin Williams Almost Played the Joker & The Riddler
- Is Fantastic Four Doomed to Because It No-Showed Comic-Con? It Didn’t Hurt Batman Begins
- Batman 75: How We Almost Got a Bruce Wayne Origin Series Instead of Smallville
- Batman 75: The Sad Fates of Batman Actors of the Past Translates to a Very Promising Black Comedy: Michael Keaton’s Birdman
- Batman 75: Did An ABC Executive’s Visit to the Playboy Club in 1965 Really Inspire the Adam West Batman TV Series?
- Batman 75: Looking Back at Batman’s Film Debut in the Casually Racist & Generally Atrocious 1940s Film Serials
- Batman 75: Test Your Batman Knowledge With 11 Questions from NPR’s Comic Book Critic Glen Weldon
- Batman 75: Watch New Animated Batman Beyond Short & Assault on Arkham Trailer
- Batman 75: Watch Bruce Timm’s New Animated Short “Batman: Strange Days”
- Batman 75: How the Joker Was Created & Then Saved from an Early Death
- Batman 75: Bill Finger – The Man Who Co-Created Batman