Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It Came Thru Bruce Wayne's Window - Finale: I Shall Become a Bat

Hi there! 

Dave-El here and welcome once more to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a nice but ordinary blog that got dunked in a vat of chemicals and now is the murdering maniac blog you see before you today! 

Or maybe not. 

Anyway it's Batman Week here on the blog and today we're posting the absolute final installment of...


In weeks past, I've not been taking this seriously. At all. So today in honor of it being Batman Day, I'm going to look at the actual full 2nd page of Batman's origin by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.  

In the first panel is the grim aftermath of the Wayne family's encounter with the murdering robber from page 1. From the side, Bruce looks young as he watches, horrified, his parents lying dead on the ground. In the 2nd panel, though, Bruce looks, well, weird. I wish I could chalk this up to the artist wanting to make a point that even in those first few seconds after the death of his mother and father, Bruce has been scarred and driven to madness; but I think it's more likely Bob Kane just couldn't draw. 

But there is something about panel two that I want to point out. Bill Finger resists putting a caption here and lets young Bruce tell us what we need to know. There's something about letting Bruce carry that narrative weight that makes the moment more chilling than if we had received that information via a caption box.   

Notice in panel 3 that Finger describes the event taking place as "days later". This vow to wage war on criminals is not something made in the rush of pain and torment in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne. It would seem that young Bruce has given this matter some thought.  

The next steps in Bruce's quest for justice have filled out entire issues and story arcs and more in modern comics and other media (see Batman Begins). The training that Bruce Wayne puts himself through, both mentally and physically, is encapsulated in two panels. Of course that's the economy of style that existed back then but in many ways, I wish this mind set still existed. There have been so many stories about how Bruce made his way through the world to develop the skills to fight crime (or something. More on that later.) It can be an interesting exploration, it's true, looking at Bruce's journey. But let's face it: ultimately we want to see Batman kick ass; how he got to be the asskicker he is today is beside the point. Sometime all I care about his Bruce got smart, got strong, fights crime, the end.  

And how cool is it that the first of those two panels is Bruce expanding his mental capacities before we get to the physical conditioning. I'm wondering if that was a deliberate choice or not by Mr. Finger, that Batman's first and best weapon is his brain. 

The 6th panel addresses another key component in what Bruce Wayne is attempting to do: wealth. He has a lot of moolah. So Bruce has brains and strength with the big bucks to back it up. Let's face it: Batman can't do Batman stuff if Bruce Wayne's working a shift at Chili's.  

Then Bruce ponders the criminal psyche and concludes that criminals are snivelling, cowardly pissants who need a good scare. This is another crucial building block in the mythos of Batman, the element of theater. We've seen stories (such as the aforementioned Batman Begins) where Bruce is reluctant to embrace that part of his mission. But here, it's straight up part of the strategy. Gotta scare the bad guys. But how? 

Now comes the panel that has served up some much (alleged) comedic fodder not only for this blog but in countless parodies elsewhere: something comes through Bruce Wayne's window, in this case, a bat. Now consider that while most of the beats on this page still echo in every subsequent retelling of Batman's origin, the part about the bat seems to be the one must subject to revision. Really, Bruce Wayne dedicated his life, his fortune to making himself mentally and physically superior in order to fight crime and then its left to random chance to shape the direction of that destiny? A bat flies into the window? 

So there have been stories from Frank Miller to Scott Snyder that lay the groundwork for that moment in a variety of ways. 

  • Young Bruce falls down a hole in the ground at Wayne Manor where he encounters a whole bunch of bats and it scares the hell out of him. 
  • A bat emblem is part of ancient Wayne family history.
  • Bruce's father actually wore a Batman costume for Halloween and stopped a crime. 

 And so forth and so on. So instead of "Hey, a bat's scary. I'll do that", it becomes, "Hey, that bat reminds me I've always had a thing about bats so I'll do that." It's enough to stretch credibility that Batman could even exist; let's not break it entirely by leaving it completely up to chance that Bruce Wayne is going to dress up like a bat.  

But there's something about a young man so dedicated to the mission he has set out to accomplish, he doesn't take into account his own role in that mission. It was by chance his parents were lost to a gunman; I suppose there is a symmetricalness of having that mission be defined by chance as well. 

Looking at this page, I'm struck by how much of the solid foundation of Batman is laid in those few panels. 75 years later, the story of Batman and how he came to be still resonates. Kudos to Bill Finger's talent and imagination in crafting such a strong and enduring origin.  


Tomorrow as Batman Week rolls on, a look back at seminal work from the 1970's, There's No Hope In Crime Alley

Until then, be good to one another. 

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