Bruce Wayne has a healthy ego. We know this from his many exploits from “Year 1” to “Knightfall,” a myriad of conversations with his many mentees, Justice League leadership banter over the decades, conversations with Alfred over late dinners and of course all the Wayne women. But it is in his Hall of Trophies that we see the real Bruce Wayne, through the physical evidence he has chosen to collect and showcase in The Hall. Dressed as a Bat at night, he hides his true identity as he strives to take down those with evil identities all around him, to protect those he loves.
This first visual mention of the “Bat Cave” came as an illustration in the Batman dailies on October 29, 1943 in a comic strip entitled “The Bat Cave!” Finger and Kane created something that has taken on a life of its own ever since. At once a separate world to explore for lovers of Batman, a look inside Bruce Wayne himself. A physical part of Wayne Manor, but literally beneath the surface. As we scratch and claw through stories, we get a glimpse of the true character we crave to understand, even as we face the depths of a cave with no end in sight. But trophies all around provide us with clues to the real Bruce Wayne.
As Aquaman quipped in the Justice League movie, “Dressed like a bat! You’re out of your mind, Bruce Wayne.” Is he though? Or is he a meticulous collector in the fashion of other great detectives? I believe the Hall of Trophies provides the answer.
He’s both. The first real mention of “trophies” as part of a room of Trophies appeared in The Penny Plunderers, World’s Finest #30. Why keep such a bulky award?
Without revealing himself completely, Bruce must struggle to rationalize the external actions of his alter ego — his inner self — with some sort of manifestation of the good he believes he is accomplishing. So why not a collection of stuff? Does the collection represent how good he feels, or the only pieces of evil he can actually possess? Or is this the real Batman? I believe it is.
There are several prized possessions repeatedly mentioned and displayed throughout comic history in both lesser stories, and key issues: the Tirranosauraus Rex: Batman #35, Joker’s costume, kryptonite Ring, Vampire Monk Hood, Mad Hatter’s Hat, Penguin’s Umbrella, Joker’s Card, Mr. Freeze’s Gun among other items. Many of the original stories “The Thousand and One Trophies of Batman!” appeared in Detective Comics #158.
Bruce Wayne needs that collection. His detective’s brain craves novelty. The writers may have harkened back to elements of Sherlock Holmes here, with the key clues being collected over time by the hero thus sealing the story with a prop or element of uniqueness as each of the Batman’s cases evolved. Why wouldn’t Bruce Wayne have a healthy ego? Over thousands of issues, he’s kicked a lot of butt. Confidence doesn’ have to breed arrogance, but collections do speak to the accumulated resume, so to speak, of the professional.
From Deathstroke to Hunter Rose, Barbara Gordon’s tights to Poison Ivy’s potions, there are many cracks and crevices in the storylines of the Bat Cave and specifically, the evolution of Wayne Manor, what lies underground, and Bruce’s Hall of Trophies. What lies behind the cowl is the most fascinating study of Bruce Wayne. How artists have construed his ego over the years has varied. But interestingly, almost every item considered a trophy is actually the symbolic representation of the evil villain’s ego or image. Thus, Bruce as Batman collects the very archetypal items from the villains he defeats to render them powerless, ego-less, as he reinforces his own alter-ego through dominance over them. You have to have a healthy ego to invest millions and anoint yourself guardian of a city you love, live a double life to accomplish these goals, and still wear a tuxedo around on Saturdays.
Even Jason Todd’s graffiti-ridden outfit is kept. Why, one might wonder? Did the writers intend for this striking image to be considered a trophy; or is it the consideration that in the end, Batman’s greatest failures are still overcome by victory over an arch nemesis, and he needs that constant reminder to fight off the insecurity of change within his bat family over time? Alternatively, does he need the evil to co-exist with him to drive him to fight it. Or do you have your own theory? I mean, the crazy guy wears a Bat outfit!
Featured photo courtesy DC Comics