Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers
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Probing the psychosis of Batman: from tragedy and vengeance to redemption

A brief examination of Bruce Wayne's motivations in "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" and "Batman v Superman"

11 mins read

Fans of DC Comics have long-debated the symbolism and meaning of the fateful night that involved the death of the Waynes. The tragedy is a hard pill to swallow, and the reader can feel the desperation when witnessing the event on paper.

On closer exploration the psychological repercussions of the toll on Bruce Wayne become apparent. Bruce harbors regret and a sense of vengeance from that traumatic night in the hallowed grounds of Crime Alley. The fascination of a normal life is now a beautiful lie that Bruce will always strive for, but he understands that once he dons the costume of his fright he can never achieve what he wants. The complexity of normalcy will never be attainable. 

photo courtesy of DC Comics

In “Batman: Mask Of Phantasm” (1993), there is a scene where the perspective of the shot is from the portrait of Thomas and Martha Wayne seeing the path Bruce has put himself on, knowing that he has forgone any glimpse of happiness to ensure no one will ever feel the pain and conflict Bruce felt from the cold rainy night of sitting in the puddle of blood in Crime Alley.

photo courtesy of Warner Bros

Then we are shown a Bruce who is discarding every inch of humanity he has left by finally taking the plunge into the bat persona by piecing together his costume, making him a silhouette of the character.

Bruce Wayne is gone, and now the only person Alfred truly sees is the Bat. Witnessing the dramatic transformation which sends shivers down his spine, Alfred shrieks in terror proclaiming “my god.” Alfred is spooked, which clearly shows with the visual imprinted on his face. One of terror feeding from the sight before him and the glare of just two pale white eyes of vengeance. 

photo courtesy of Warner Bros

Now in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), a young Bruce is forever changed when he sees a criminal shoot down his parents before his very eyes and there is nothing he can do to stop it. The criminal, who killed two innocent people, gets away. Bruce has no way to find that criminal to enact his vengeance. So what does he do? He makes it his mission to ensure what happened to him never happens to anyone else ever again. Bruce begins to push his body, mind and spirit to the peak of human perfection. He wants to achieve godhood, so he can deliver justice so no one will ever feel the pain that still stings his heart every day. 

photo courtesy of Warner Bros

In the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), it is hinted that for 20 years of his adult life, Bruce lets go of his human attachments and Batman takes out every criminal he can in Gotham. But Bruce can never take away what that first criminal did to his parents. He never stops fighting because he has no name to attach to that first criminal. And until he does, his wounds will never heal. The origin story so far stays essentially the same. 

photo courtesy of Warner Bros

However, in the Snyderverse, there is a change that turns the characters development. Bruce, along with the world, is first introduced to Superman during a huge fight that takes place in Metropolis. His long-time friend and trusted employee, Jack, along with two hundred thousand people, are killed. Bruce feels the penance of their lives is now stained on his hands. Perhaps this is not ground enough to hate Superman. After all, he saved the world, didn’t he? If that was the simple case, Bruce might not have hated Superman, but Bruce has a more vivid personal tale. 

photo courtesy of Warner Bros

In the rubble of his building, Bruce Wayne saves a little girl from death. He comforts her and asks where her Mom is. The little girl points up to where the top half of a now-destroyed building once stood and the two of them know that her mother is gone forever. Bruce looks up at Superman flying through the sky with a newfound burning hatred. Just like when Bruce was her age, a stranger has killed a child’s innocent mother. At that moment, Superman is not a hero. All the hatred that should be founded in Zod is transferred to the Man of Steel. He is the criminal who took away Bruce’s family. He’s a Joe Chill in the eyes of not only Bruce, but the human race. One fan theory is that the little girl that Bruce rescues at the beginning of “Batman v Superman,” who has now become an orphan just like him, could become his Robin as Carrie Kelley, but this may depend on how much time has passed as she could be still young. 

It is over the next eighteen months that Bruce’s wound festers. For the first time in his entire life he has become the embodiment of his fear, acting more like a criminal. He had long ago vowed to make sure that what happened to him never will happen to anyone else ever again. And now he had failed. That little girl had been powerless to stop her mother from dying. Young Bruce had been powerless to stop his tormentor. And what drives Bruce further insane is that he is powerless against that first criminal all over again.

photo courtesy of Warner Bros

In the eyes of Bruce, when he looks upon the godlike nature of Superman, he is transported back to being the defenseless child. All his years of training and fighting amounts to nothing against the Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne, an already psychologically damaged individual, is driven mad by this. To compensate for the imbalance of power, he starts torturing criminals. He brands them. He kills them. And for two years, Batman seems evil. Batman has become the villain.

But when does this change? When does the good within Bruce return to the surface? Oddly enough, it is when he is at his lowest – when Batman is about to kill Superman. Bruce is about to go through with the act – to kill that first criminal that killed his parents. With Superman helpless beneath his feet, and the Kryptonite spear in hand, Bruce is poised to kill when the unexpected happens – Superman calls out the name of Bruce’s mother. The last time Bruce had seen a man dying on the ground calling out that name had been when his father died. So the image gives him pause. 

photo courtesy of DC Comics

He demands what Superman means does he know Bruce’s true identity? What’s worse is what Superman says next: “you’re letting him kill Martha.” That one sentence is the very nightmare that has haunted Bruce every night of his entire life. And then Lois Lane appears and explains that Martha is Superman’s mother.

And then it hits him: Superman is not the face of the man who killed Bruce’s parents. Superman and he are one in the same. At that moment, Bruce realizes the dichotomy comparable to the criminal who killed his parents. Bruce stands with a weapon in his hand, an innocent man and woman lay on the ground before him, reliving the very nightmare he has seen a thousand times, but now in reverse. At this moment, Bruce has two options. He can do what that cowardly criminal did and kill two innocent people, or he can do what he wishes that man had done all those nights ago and spare them. For the first time ever, Batman can undo what was done to him. He can stop the man who killed his parents. Not by stopping Superman, not by stopping a criminal, but by stopping himself.

Both of these incarnations are versions of Bruce Wayne that have undergone tragedy and can be found drifting in the sea of illusions. However, they understand the purpose and ideal of what vengeance embodies. It’s truly poetic to think both are able to tread the balance of morality with the knowledge of human achievement and the sacred belief that people are still good and can be better.

Brendan Rooney

Brendan Rooney has always been full of creativity and enthusiasm towards the world of widespread media. He is also a passionate comic book fan along with a die-hard sports pedigree. Brendan has written various articles covering all topics and dreams of forging a long-lasting legacy by bringing respect to the Rooney name as either a teacher, journalist, or whatever else the future holds. Brendan plans to graduate from Westfield State University in the spring of 2022 with a degree in English and a minor in Journalism.

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