In the most recent issue of Batman, Tom King chose to include a scene in which a 10 year old Bruce Wayne explains how he attempted to commit suicide before changing his mind and instead choosing to take on the role of Batman. I took immense displeasure in the idea. After posting my review for Batman #12, it occurred to me that while I had been critical of it, I never actually explained why it bothered me so much. So, here is that answer.
For the last seven days I have been trying desperately to understand this decision. Talking with family and friends. Researching suicide. Scouring the internet for anything that could help me come to terms with what you have done. And over the course of this pursuit, I have slowly been able to come to some kind of understanding.
I saw the interview you did where you discussed suicide. And I remembered how when I met you, you told me that these characters literally saved your life. I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, but I think I do now. You were at a place in your life where you were considering death. And you saw Bruce, someone who had it worse than you. Someone who, despite their pain, found a way to carry on. And maybe that gave you the strength to carry on yourself.
I’ve been under the impression that you’ve been shoehorning your own life into Batman’s. That you’ve been forcing us to experience your life through the character instead of telling his story. That you’ve forced your experiences on him. But perhaps what you’ve actually been doing is simply telling us about the only Batman you’ve ever know. Perhaps you’ve always seen that as a side of Batman even if I never could. Much in the same way I see myself in him, so do you.
Maybe that’s why it hurts me so much. Maybe this side of Bruce was always there and I simply never saw it. Maybe I turned a blind eye to his shortcomings because I idolized him so. And now that I see a part of him that I never knew was there I simply can’t deal with the reality of it all. But I think there is a flip side to your view.
You say that Bruce was raised with kindness and dignity. But he was also raised with love and parents who instilled within him a sense of self worth. When I see the culmination of all that formed a young Bruce Wayne into the strong boy that he was, I see those same factors present in the upbringing that formed the child I was. I see the strength that I have, and still have, in him. Maybe that’s why I can’t fathom a Bruce that would attempt suicide. Because I see so much of him in me, and because I can’t fathom taking my life, I can’t conceive that he would either.
Now maybe I’m projecting too much of myself onto Bruce, but I don’t think so. When I look into Bruce’s eyes, I don’t see a child ready to curl up and surrender to the world. I see someone ready to fight. At this point, he didn’t yet know how to achieve his goal. He hadn’t yet formulated a plan. But I put to you that from the moment his parent’s lifeless bodies hit the bloody pavement he already had the fortitude to do something. There was no hesitation. No lingering doubts. No point where going belly up was an option. There was nothing but that drive. That drive to fight. I put to you that Bruce was already the boy he needed to be to become the man that would eventually be Batman. Batman wasn’t something that possessed him. Not some outside force that gave him strength. Batman came from within him. From something that he already was. From something that was always there.
The boy that Bruce was is just as important a part of understanding Batman as it is to examine the man that he eventually became. Throw another person in his place in that alley, someone with a different upbringing that didn’t have the same strong foundation, and I can completely see them giving into death. But Bruce? Never.
I agree with you that who Bruce was going to become had to die in order for him to become Batman. But to think that he was literally about to kill himself and then changed his mind. I’m sure we can all agree that Bruce is stubborn as hell and once he has an idea in his head there is nothing that’s going to change it (something else me and Bruce share in common). I’m not sure that if he had contemplated and planned suicide that he would have stopped. I think he had the strength and intelligence to never attempt it, but is a man who still honors the vow he made to his parents 25 years after their death really the kind of person you can see being able to stay the blade if he had chosen that path? Being Batman is his way of dealing with that pain. Of compartmentalizing it, tucking it away, and not letting it get to him. Death was never the answer. Batman was always the answer.
You mentioned that our world is a place that isn’t happy. So why would we want to read about things that are. Well, I think our escapism should be more than just a reminder of how messed up our world is. Aren’t you taking away a bastion of release. Aren’t there enough avenues of sadness for people to travel. Do we have to add one more?
Someone suggested to me that if these stories are hurting me so much, that maybe I should just quit. Maybe the Batman I knew and loved is dead. Maybe there is nothing left to fight for. But that’s not who I am. I’m a fighter (just like my hero). And so I’ll carry on fighting for my hero. For all the times he gave me the strength to carry on, it’s time for me to lend him my strength. I’ll fight for the Bruce I’ve always know just as I’m sure that you’ll fight for yours.
It makes me sad that there are so few people out there defending Bruce Wayne. So few people that are willing to stand up and defend his integrity. And in realizing this, it fills me with a new and even greater sadness. Perhaps the reason many people don’t have a problem with this is because they have all experienced a level of utter despair so great that they too have contemplated ending it all. To think that a majority of the population has experienced such doubt and self loathing is truly terrifying.
At the end of all this I have discovered something. While I can’t personally enjoy or truly understand this version of Batman, I do know that Batman believes that every single life is precious. And I think that if this story gives even one person the courage to resist the temptation of suicide, then it’s something Batman would approve of. And if my hero is willing to take the fall so that someone else can live, who am I to stand in his way.