Batman 101: The Many Complicated Lives Of Bruce Wayne

As Christopher Nolan’s trilogy wraps up with The Dark Knight Rises, here’s a survey of the range of the Caped Crusader’s mythos.

Illustration by John Gara

The Dark Knight Rises will bring an end to Christopher Nolan’s darkly epic version of the Batman story. In fact, there have been hints that the trilogy’s final film, which follows 2005’s Batman Begins and 2008’s The Dark Knight, will conclude Christian-Bale-Batman’s crusade for justice in some very definitive way.

But no matter what happens in Nolan’s film, Batman’s legend will live on in comic books and other media. First introduced in Detective Comics in 1939, the Caped Crusader’s essential story has remained fairly consistent: witness to his parents’ murder as a child, billionaire Bruce Wayne vows to fight against injustice with rigorous mental and physical training and kickass technology. Even so, the character has been through near-infinite lives’ worth of battles, baddies, team-ups, trysts, surgeries, gadgets and parallel universes. Writers have portrayed every stage of his career, including introducing a few jaded and elderly Bruce Waynes, and even messed around with the circumstances surrounding his parents’ death. Outside a few doomed engagements, he’s a confirmed bachelor (and uses a philandering front to distract others from his serious mission), but has had dozens of love interests, and several epic romances (one of which, with the daughter of one of his greatest adversaries, produced the comic books’ current Robin).

One of Batman’s most intriguing contradictions is that he is infuriatingly private and emotionally guarded, but doesn’t go long without picking up new partners and sidekicks. He’s been guardian and/or mentor to a steady stream of youngsters, several of whom have assumed the Robin identity, often before graduating to their own non-sidekick superhero status. In the case of Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson, and Batman Beyond future-timeline teen Terry McGinnis, the protégés took on the Batman mantle themselves. In some Batman stories, our hero is a core member of the Justice League, and the recent Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series was based on a different team-up each episode. Christopher Nolan’s version of the character is one of the adaptations that stands out for Batman’s relative go-it-aloneness—he has helpers and allies, but no Robins or other fellow superheroes to add some primary colors to the dreary landscape.

The above is just a sampling of the many lives of Batman, from the dark to the campy to the ultra-racy, in comics, movies and television (for a lot of fans, this one included, the character’s best adaptations have been animated). Special thank you to Batmanologist Chris Sims for his assistance.

Evie Nagy has been an editor and writer at Rolling Stone, Billboard and other publications, and co-hosts the Awesomed By Comics podcast.

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