A long-running joke for comic book fans is that Batman’s superpower is his vast fortune. In recent years, with more and more billionaires flaunting and abusing their wealth in rather public fashion, even long-time comics fans have started looking at Bruce Wayne in confused frustration. With billions at his disposal, he could do a lot to combat hunger and poverty. He could wield Wayne Enterprises as a force for good in the world. Instead, he dresses up as a bat, spends loads of cash on gadgets and vehicles, and beats up criminals by night.
In some ways, 2022 appeared to be the year that DC Comics finally took notice of this public turn. Joker stole Bruce’s fortune during the events of Joker War in late 2020. In early 2021, Dick Grayson gave up the fortune that he inherited from Alfred Pennyworth. These actions echoed into 2022, along with some other prominent Bat-family stories.
In Matt Reeves’s film, Batman barely acknowledges his Bruce Wayne persona. He goes so far as to tell Alfred that none of that matters. Bruce, Wayne Industries, the fortune, or his family’s legacy. To him, being Batman and stopping crime with his fists and gadgets are the whole of his existence. As the film plays out, however, we discover that his fortune and Wayne Industries have been misused in his absence. By ignoring the responsibility of his legacy and fortune, he has contributed to the corruption of Gotham City.
I found this fascinating since the balance of Batman and Bruce is so tricky. My favorite versions see Batman using Bruce Wayne to pull focus like sleight-of-hand magician. Bruce is so cocky and selfish that nobody would ever guess that he could be Batman. The Batman felt like a precursor to that dynamic, establishing exactly why Batman needs Bruce Wayne and why Bruce needs to keep a hand at the wheel of all that money.
Perhaps the best view of Batman and wealth came in his first sidekick, now Nightwing. Dick Grayson publicly gave up his fortune at the beginning of 2021, establishing a foundation and promising to build Haven, a combination of affordable housing, school, and so much more for the people of Bludhaven that most desperately need it.
How does Bludhaven react? Violently. The everyday people are excited, of course, but it’s the criminal infrastructure that is so deeply intertwined into Bludhaven that sees only a threat. Poverty and lacking education are the biggest drivers of criminal activity, after all, and so they see only a problem in Dick’s generosity. While Nightwing is fighting crime, Dick Grayson is fighting off public death threats.
Also, he lives in a small apartment with his three-legged dog. Very NOT Wayne Manor.
In this limited series written by Chip Zdarsky, Bruce’s early years before taking up the mantle of the Batman are told, also giving an origin story for Ghost-Maker. In order to combat crime and keep anyone else from experiencing what he did as a child, Bruce sets off to become the best at everything. He works under a master thief, several master fighters, arcane healers, and others.
Early and often in this series, Bruce is reminded that he comes from great wealth, and there is a great responsibility that comes with that. It is this privilege that allows him to make this brutal pilgrimage, after all. For example, early on, Bruce competes in underground fighting rings in Gotham. When Alfred whisks him away as police are arriving, Alfred reminds him that the other men who fight do so because they cannot afford to feed their families in any other way. To Bruce, the money he wins is pocket change, but it is everything to the men he beats.
Every issue of Batman: The Knight has a moment like that, reminding Bruce that he isn’t like other people, that he comes from a world few know or understand.
Sadly, here is where DC Comics fell short. When Joker War concluded, many wondered what Batman looks like without his fortune. What does he do when he cannot afford new batarangs? What happens when the Batmobile runs out of jet fuel? When the Batwing breaks down? How can he battle crime without his endless resources?
We’ll never know. Yes, Bruce moved out of Wayne Manor and into a brownstone in the city. That was more because Alfred had died than because of money. He still owns the manor, after all. Like most billionaires, most of Bruce’s fortune was tied up in his many holdings. While Joker stole billions in liquid assets from him, Bruce Wayne didn’t come out poor on the other side. The only real effect that seemed to come of it was Batman handing the reigns of Batman Incorporated over to Ghost-Maker since he could not longer afford to fund the huge enterprise.
Batman still has his Batmobiles, his many bunkers and caves, his endless gadgets. Many of us really wanted to see Batman without a fortune to back him, but we didn’t get that in 2022 or any other year.
So the Bat-family dealt with wealth inequity some, but certainly not enough. I get it. Half of the fun of Batman is the stuff the fortune buys. Crazy gadgets come out of the utility belt. The cars have jet engines and huge fins. It’s a big reason I fell in love with the character in 1989. As an adult, though, I really want to see his vast fortune and the issues it causes addressed more directly. Maybe 2023?