Many fans of the Batman character think of Bruce Wayne as the mask, and Batman as the true identity. Many creators of his adaptations have agreed with this notion as well. But to this writer, the truth of the matter isn’t so simple.
Bruce as the Mask
It is commonplace to see versions of Batman portraying an exaggerated version of his civilian identity. This “Bruce” is often the stereotypical billionaire playboy with a harem of women surrounding him. He is jovial, irresponsible, a partier, and a drinker with a perpetual boyish grin plastered on his face. This is meant to contrast the ever-brooding, stoic unemotional Batman whose one emotion is bossiness, with the occasional rage. Bruce loves to party, Batman is all business. Bruce cracks jokes, but Batman has little time for overt humor (though he does engage in subtler snark when the mood strikes). Given that Bruce matches Batman’s physical build completely, for obvious reasons, it makes perfect sense why he would craft a distinct polar opposite personality to throw people off of suspicion of him being Batman.
The women Bruce is often engaging in social events with also serve as alibis for when Batman is active, for it is alleged or assumed that Bruce was “otherwise” engaged with beautiful women while Batman was busting skulls in the night. Many comics writers who have written Batman’s story arcs both in the mainstream and non-canon stories play into this tactic, the Billionaire Playboy tactic, and Bruce as the mask. The DCAU and Batman: The Animated Series did it as well, with Batman Beyond showing that a villain who used mind games to try and trick Bruce didn’t work “because he kept calling me Bruce, but I don’t call myself that”. When new Batman, Terry McGinnis asked what Bruce calls himself in his mind, the elderly Bruce responds with a look. Terry then responds with “but that’s my name now”, lowering his voice for effect and emphasis. While all of this is very popular and widely accepted by fans, for me, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Real Bruce Wayne
I could never accept that Bruce Wayne is just a mask because everything Batman does and why he exists is informed by his life and trauma as Bruce Wayne. The murder of his parents traumatized him is such a degree that it is established in most contemporary canons that he hates guns and refuses to use them as weapons, even if they would make his job a lot easier. The Batman Beyond also demonstrated the depth of this hatred when, as he was getting older and less able to function in the Bat-suit, he was almost killed by a random mook and had to pick up a gun in order to scare him away, which was the most effective scare tactic in all of his many years as Batman. The way his hand holding the gun was shaking and how distraught he looked when he saw how easy it was for it to scare the man off despite his being on his knees and practically defenseless, a fear he himself could never bring even at his toughest in the best of health when he was in his prime.
Bruce is truly himself when he is with Alfred, the Bat-Family, and his other friends and allies he trusts in privacy, typically at Wayne Manor or in the Batcave. His stoic personality he shows as Batman is on display whether he is still in full cowl and costume has the costume on with no cowl or has normal clothes on entirely. He is still often planning or plotting his next move, gathering intel on something or someone, training himself or others, patching up his wounds often by Alfred doing the work, or having Alfred serve him meals in the cave where he either seems more comfortable or is where he can get the most work done. Bruce is a man who is scarred and never truly recovered from the traumas he faced as a child as well as more he faced as his life went on. The proteges who died or were hurt and nearly killed, the women he loved and lost, the women with whom he couldn’t seem to make it work out, the neverending battle of trying to clean up Gotham’s endless crime problem, and all the people he simply cannot save as he can’t be everywhere at once. Playboy Bruce is an affectation, but the Bruce he doesn’t show the public is the one he really is, and he and Batman are one and the same.
The Batman Film and How They Shook Things Up, In an Intriguing Way
The Batman director Matt Reeves stated that he envisioned his version of Bruce Wayne as more of a “recluse rockstar” rather than the traditional billionaire playboy persona Batman fans come to expect. It is not only a fresh take on a universally familiar character, one adapted extensively, but also makes sense when one thinks about it. Why should Bruce have to go out of his way to distinguish a radically different personality from Batman, when most everyday people won’t (hopefully) have to encounter Batman in the first place? Batman typically operates at night and primarily goes after wrongdoers, so if you’re not in his crosshairs, then you likely may not see him face-to-face, which also means he won’t be beating you up. And for the people he does beat up, not too many people will notice or care if they mention: hey, he kinda reminded me of Bruce Wayne. And chances are, Batman will beat them so badly that they won’t remember much aside from that ass-whoopin’.
We in the real world know that Batman is Bruce Wayne, but the vast majority of the DC canons don’t have access to that information. Aside from minor speculation and suspicions, who is really out there just correctly guessing that Bruce Wayne is Batman, whether he smiles a lot or doesn’t? Pattinson’s Bruce, while not really reading to me fully as a “recluse rockstar” or giving those vibes, was certainly a non-descript, albeit noteworthy, man in the city. And given the situations Bruce found himself in, such as a funeral, would him showing up smiling his face off, flanked by hot chicks, and cracking jokes really have made sense or helped him blend as much as is possible for a Wayne in Gotham? Bruce being a traditional playboy Bruce would bring more unwanted attention than he already got.
Also given that he is a young man marked by tragedy in a shitty, crime-infested town (shout-outs to how dirty Gotham finally looked in a movie that matched the tone of the comics for the first time ever), what do most people have to laugh or smile about unless they are corrupt? Even Selina wasn’t out there smiling or having a ball. Reeves, Pattinson, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, and Gollum in particular absolutely killed it. Riddler had moments but lost me in others, and Kravitz looked good and moved great as Selina but unfortunately was underwhelming for me in terms of her range. I also felt that the BatCat chemistry was lacking. But Pattinson and Reeves’ concepts for Bruce were excellent, and I look forward to both being developed and allowed to shine more.
Without Bruce Wayne, there is no Batman. The death of his parents is what led to his training and becoming Batman in the first place. Batman is an extension of Bruce’s trauma and his rage. It is his excuse to wear a special suit and beat the shit out of criminals. Many argue that Bruce’s resources could and would do far more to stop crime and prevent it from happening in the first place (such as providing resources to underserved communities, helping to reduce situations where the working class turns to crime in desperation to make ends meet or address frustrations with their circumstances). The truth is, no matter how ridiculously wealthy Bruce is, he is only one person, even if that person is also Batman. He can’t solve everything in Gotham by himself. As Batman and as Bruce, he can do a lot, but even he could never do it all. Zero crime equals utopia, and that would be a boring superhero comic.
Batman is driven by Bruce’s experiences and the fact that crime can truly end permanently. As long as crime exists in Gotham or the surrounding areas, there should be a Bat-Family member available to help combat it. Bruce’s promise to his parents was to fight crime and to prevent as many people from suffering as he had at such a tender age. Due to that trauma and that promise, there will always be a need for a Bat-person. And Bruce, whether he finds love or gets married or not, would not magically forget about his parents or his promise or dedication to his city. But that is a topic for a future article. This one is all about how (the true) Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person, Bruce is not just a cover. Playboy Bruce is.