Bruce Wayne’s history is a convoluted one. Every writer paints a different picture of who he is, what he values he holds, how far he is willing to go and where he comes from.
The basics are universal, and we learned them early on, in Batman’s 7th appearance Detective #33. I discussed them in my first Batmonth post. We know that as a young boy his parents were gunned down by a robber in front of him. As a result, he vowed to rid Gotham City of crime, a vow which has driven him to the peak of human performance, and mental ability aided by the massive inheritance his parents left him.
For some, that is all we need to know. But is that the whole story? No. But from here the details get fuzzier and fuzzier. I will do my best to put forth all the knowledge I have from here on.
Why were the Wayne’s killed?
It is first revealed in Batman #47 who killed Thomas and Martha – Joe Chill. In this Pre-Crisis story, Batman and Robin are following up on a new racket that is transporting criminals across the border. When they learn who is in charge of the smuggling ring, Batman immediately recognizes the fellow as the murderer of his parents. After setting up a sting, Batman finale confronts his parents killer and exposes his secret. Chill runs out of the room and tells his gang what has happened. Ironically, their rage at Chill for invoking Batman’s existence causes them to kill him. Fortunately, they never learn of Batman’s true identity.
Batman #47 explains that Chill was hired to kill the Wayne’s and leave their son alive, so that he can testify that their killer was just an average mugger. In this issue, Batman and Robin come across an old video reel and odd Batman costume. In the video Bruce sees his father wearing the different costume to a costume ball. At the ball, mob boss Lew Moxon has been shot and demands that Thomas (a doctor) operate on him. The reel cuts short, but Batman learns in his fathers journal that his father went with them, but once he was at their hideout he fought them off and escaped, making him the first Batman.
These facts are corroborated in the first issue of The Untold Legend of Batman, a retelling of Batman’s origin and the origin of his supporting cast.
Grant Morrison’s Batman 673 shows a hallucinating Batman recalling that moment amidst other horrors of his memory, including training in the desert, his parents funeral, and the discovery of the cave beneath the manor. In this flashback Chill says everything he did was a result of class warfare. In the end we see Batman hand Chill the gun that shot his parents with a final bullet in it. Batman awakens, and we never learn what happened afterward.
It’s odd that Morrison uses Thomas’ old costume to manipulate Bruce during the R.I.P. storyline, but he would ignore the Lew Moxon aspect of the story.
In the New 52, Batman: The Dark Knight establishes that Bruce spent years searching and finding patterns and clues, only to discover that it was Chill, but that Chill was just a drunk who wanted his mothers pearls. In this issue, Bruce brings a gun to Chills apartment, where we finally learn than no, he doesn’t pull the trigger.
These are just a few of the many reasons given over the years. Sometimes, he really is just a down on his luck thug, trying to score some cash. Others it is not even Chill at all, and the murderer is not known. Between Crises, and Zero Hours and Flashpoints and Convergences, everything gets muddled about.
In Post-Crisis continuity Bruce encounters Chill one more time. They work together to take on a vigilante from Gotham a generation past – The Reaper. At one point Batman decides to kill Chill, and has him at gunpoint when the Reaper kills Chill himself. Again, we don’t know if Batman would have killed him or not.
What was Bruce like before his parents death?
According to Grant Morrison’s Gothic, Bruce spent some time in a boarding school. He was taught by a teacher there named Mr. Winchester. There was some scandal involving how Mr. Winchester conducted himself, and he retired. Bruce’s father confronted Winchester and was about to expose him when he was killed. Winchester later become a threat to Batman in his early days mr. Whisper.
In most versions, Young Bruce has no friends. This is shown in Loeb and Sale’s version of the character, especially in Halloween Special #3 and When Clark Met Bruce. In these scenes Bruce is particularly lonely. He has no one to spend Halloween with when his father doesn’t show up to take him trick or treating, nor does he have anyone to cheer him up after the death of his family.
Another Loeb tale paints the picture a little differently, in that he has one friend – Tommy Elliot. This was a friendship that lasted until Thomas Wayne was successful in saving one of Tommy’s parents after a car crash that the criminally minded Tommy had arranged. Tommy held a grudge and later became the villain known as Hush. This book was with Jim Lee instead of Tim Sale and was directly in the Batman series. Is it more canon? You tell me.
Other books had Superboy help Bruce cope with his parents death. And he even met Bruce a couple times before his parents death. But these meetings are all pre crisis and do not affect the bruce of today. This was back when Bruce and Clark grew up to be best friends. I discussed them more here.
Bruce Jones and Sam Keith made a book called Batman: Through the Looking Glass. A trip book that tells of a girl named Celia who for a time lived in the mansion. Celia is an anagram for Alice, and the flashbacks in this book are peculiarly Alice in wonderland themed, as is the adventure that a drugged Batman is lead on. It is established in Madness: A Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #2 that Bruce cherished the time spent with his mother reading that book before her death. Alfred couldn’t recall her when bruce mentioned her. Could she had been a figment of Bruces imagination as a child?
The Halloween special Madness also paints a picture of the night that Thomas and Martha are killed. It tells of a mothers love. A mother spending time with her boy. Wearing fancy pearls to a movie theatre to show that it is a special night. And with her death the loss of his childhood.
The relationship with his mother is shown as a solid loving one. But his fathers is somewhat different. In the pre crisis tales, he is a kind man, willing to do what is needed for his family and also showing Bruce a smile. Post Crisis, this changes. Batman #430 gives the opposite side of the coin. Directly after the death of Jason Todd, Batman recalls what happened with his father leading up to the night of his death.
While stressing hard about financial troubles that were beyond Bruce’s understanding, Thomas declines his son’s invitation to go out and play ball. But Bruce won’t take no for an answer. As children do, he pesters, asking over and over until Thomas finally belts him one. Right across the face. Bruce gets so mad that he says he hates his father and wishes him dead. Later that day Thomas apologizes, peace is made, and in an attempt to make amends, Thomas takes his family to go see Zorro. Could this frustration have been about exposing Mr. Winchester instead of finance?
Peace was made, but Bruce still regrets wishing his father dead, and can’t help but place a little bit of the blame on himself.
What happened to Bruce after his parents murder?
It is generally established that Bruce “took off” for a while, gathered the skills to do what needed to be done, and returned as Batman. But where did he go? Who trained him? He was pretty young when his parents died, who took care of him before he left?
In some versions he stays at the mansion with Alfred. This is what is generally accepted these days.
1997’s Batman Secret Files #1 doesn’t add much to the story, but it does show a panel of Bruce paying off Child protective services and tossing his file into the fire.
In the New 52 we learn in the Court of Owls storyline that Bruce spent hours and hours trying to prove that the Court of Owls both existed, and were the cause of his parents murder. The first is true, but he convinces himself that they don’t exist. The second is false, but he doesn’t learn why for several years.
But Pre-Crisis Bruce moved to his uncle Phillips house and was raised there. What Bruce never learned was that Mrs. Chilton, Uncle Phillips maid, was Joe Chills mother, had learned of the truth of her son’s crime, changed her name and attempted to raise him to make up for her familial transgressions. Even later she knew of Bruce Wayne’s alternate identity. This is all revealed in Batman #208. I don’t have this issue, but it is also included in the details of Untold Legends of the Batman.
Another Pre-Crisis detail I know of from Untold Legends of the Batman, but am unable to find recollected, is that of Bruce’s time as Robin while he is being trained by Harvey Harris. Harvey Harris was probably the first man that trained Bruce. He was Gotham’s greatest detective at the time. Bruce was still a young boy, and Harvey wanted some protection for Bruce, so he encouraged him to take up an alternate identity, and Bruce created Robin. From Harvey Bruce learned how to box, swim, detect fingerprints, and other skills needed to be a detective. But Bruce learned quickly and soon moved on.
More of Bruce’s mentors can be found in Denny O’Neal’s The Man Who Falls. This carries on the tradition set by The Untold Legend of the Batman, in gathering all the details of Batman’s origin into one quick story.
It mentions Bruce jumping from school to school getting bored, and just seeming like a rich snob who couldn’t settle on a major. This is because he was trying to master everything. He also got into FBI training, but dropped out after 6 weeks, learning what he needed to know. This is when he met his first mentor Kirigi
Kirigi was introduced in Batman 431. He was someone that bruce trained with and learned many techniques including one called the vibrating palm. This would later become useful when Batman discovered that the League of Assassins was also using that technique. When Batman confronted Kirigi about training assassins Kirigi had to explain that he was emotionally impartial, which is why he took on Bruce as a student. Bruce left Kirigi’s apprenticeship when he discovered it would take 20 years too learn everything.
Kirigi had impartial emotionally, but Bruce’s next trainer ended up being straight up evil. Detective #598-600 brings back a threat from Batman’s past. Henri Ducard had taught Bruce everything he knew on how to manhunt. These are skills used every day for good by Batman, but Ducard uses theses skills for evil, as an assassin. Bruce worked with him until he learned of the difference of values and then took off.
Also in these issues, we learn about Chu Chin Li, we don’t meet him but there is a flashback in Detective #598 where Bruce is getting questioned on his connections to these mysterious trainers.
The man who falls also speaks of him learning from Willie Doggett as we learned in Shaman, but he was only with this man for a brief time before Doggett’s death and Bruce’s rescue by the Shaman, whom he also learned from, immediately prior to Year One.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 52-53 told a story called Tao. In it we learn about Bruce’s adventures in China learning from Shao-La. Shao-La taught him how to hang glide, and how to vanish instantly. Unfortunately Shao-La also taught another man – Johnny Kahn. Kahn was arrogant and reckless. He felt that he had to prove himself better than Bruce. At one point Bruce saves his life, which he takes to mean that they must fight until one dies in battle. Years later Johnny Kahn brings his ways to Gotham and he dies fighting the Batman.
Detective Comics #0 (vol 2) tells an interesting story of his almost year long training somewhere asian and cold with a man named Shihan Matsuda and his wife Matsuda Sama. Shihan teaches him to focus away from emotion. But while this is happening he is falling for a girl. Matsuda Sama tells him that these emotions are good. One night he finally makes his decision and invites the girl he digs to their home. He comes home to find his trainer and wife at the hands of an assassin. She Kills Shihan. It turns out that the assassin sent to kill him and was playing the slow game. But the person who hired her, was Shihans wife. She was tired of the life she had and living in what she called a “mausoleum” her final words are “This is what closeness brings you”. I’m not usually a Tony Daniel fan, but this was a good book.
He also learned from a man named Tsunemoto in Detective Annual #3, but I do not have the issue, nor is it reprinted or available on comixology, so I am at a loss as to what he did for Bruce.
I also know that he learned with Giovanni Zatara and Wildcat, but I can’t find the issues, or have any clue where to look. If anyone knows, please let me know.
Another story The Many Deaths of Batman tells of specific people that taught him specific skills, such as demolition, and how they are all killed by a man trying to frame batman. I have not read it, but I have heard its good.
What happened when Bruce came home?
Detective Comics #0 also told the story of what happened when Bruce came home. We see that his family is just waiting to bust down the door and take everything from Alfred who is sole custodian until Bruce claims his inheritance or they find him dead. But Alfred won’t go down without a fight, he knows his legal ground and kicks Bruce’s uncle out of the house. A few minutes later, there is a knock at the door. Instead of Bruce’s uncle coming for round 2 it is Bruce himself. The prodigal son returned. And he is ready to tell Alfred about everything that he has been doing. About what he has learned. About what he has become. About what he is ready to do.
And this is where Detective comics #27 takes off. Or Year One, or Zero Year (coming up next) whatever pre-crisis/post convergence/zero hour type crisis change has planned for the future of our hero, we don’t know yet. Batman is kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel But this is where he began. Take take of it what you wish.
Thanks for reading. Let me know if there is anything I can add, or if there are any errors I made. Or just let me know if you liked it.
If you want to read what I read you can find the issues in
The New 52 Zero Omnibus
Batman: Blind Justice
Batman: The Black Casebook
Batman: Year Two
Batman Begins: The movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight
Batman: The Black Glove
Secret Origins Featuring the JSA
The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told
Batman: Haunted Knight
Pictures from: http://ultimatebatmancomicswebsite.weebly.com/uploads/8/8/8/1/8881913/_9160560_orig.jpg, http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Batman_Vol_1_47, http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/marvel_dc/images/2/22/Batman_Vol_1_673.JPG/revision/latest?cb=20090716225106, http://31.media.tumblr.com/40b252685fccfecfe39a1e96fd36b67b/tumblr_inline_mno7qfIoAP1qmowpu.png, http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/scale_small/0/4/27801-796-30845-1-batman.jpg, https://criticalmassesmedia1.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/b1.jpg, http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/scale_small/0/4/34027-4720-37996-1-batman-legends-of-t.jpg