By Steve Morris
One of the most commonly-heard arguments on the comics internet is this: Bruce Wayne should not dress up as a bat, go out at night, and punch the criminally insane. Rather than put these sometimes literal clowns into the already-crowded hospitals of Gotham City, Bruce Wayne should instead retire the suit, and use his billions of dollars to invest in infrastructure; therapy; rehabilitation; and give people better things to do than wear a giant green suit made out of question marks. Spend the money on good works, Bruce, that’s the argument.
I’m here to say that’s stupid. Gotham City doesn’t care about your good intentions, and if Bruce were ever to try and help his city be a better place, he’d end up making it even worse than it is today. In any normal part of the world, there’s strong arguments which say that cutting down on policing in favour of mediation helps deescalate situations before they turn violent: Gotham City isn’t a normal part of the world though is it, you idiots?
No matter what you do, every single person in Gotham is one stubbed toe away from putting a giant toenail on their head and calling themselves Nailstorm. It’s a singularly bizarre city which is designed to turn people into monsters, and no amount of public funding will help anyone. Whatever you fund will turn out broken, corrupted, and in need of being punched by a sad orphan. That’s the way Gotham works, and we need to stop thinking that we’re being clever for arguing otherwise.
You want examples, of course. Fortunately I have decades of them.
Think of the good causes Bruce has contributed to in the past. When he set up a lab to try and develop a cure for McGregor’s Syndrome, his top scientist fell into a vat of ice (or something) and decided to spend his time building freeze guns and robbing diamond shops. Which, it should be pointed out, is a type of shop in Gotham. Diamond shops. When Bruce elected to help the environment and fund botanical studies across the city, all three of his lead scientists turned into plant-based representatives of “The Green”. One became an eco-terrorist, another tried to exterminate all oxygen-breathing life on earth.
Amongst Batman’s wider enemies are therapists, teachers, postal workers, and ventriloquists. If you support the arts: you’re probably funding an origin story. If you support public services: origin story. There’s no industry which won’t pivot into a villain production line. One time a policeman got shot and was reborn as an immortal Avenging Wrath of the Murdered Dead. Every single person in Gotham City is one bad day away from turning into a criminal, and Bruce Wayne’s best bet is to hoard all his money and make sure that nobody else gets their hands on it.
Look at your other options: to what extent would you suggest that putting money into public services would hinder the activities of The League of Shadows, an elite group of assassins who believe that exterminating a majority of humankind will lead to a better future for our species? Would funding after-school community centres help stop the youth of Gotham from converting to genocidal assassins – no? Then how about a rehabilitation programme which specialises in cavemen who were rendered immortal by a superpowered comet?
If it please the Wayne Enterprises Board, we propose that we just keep throwing fully-paid psychologists at the Joker until they either all turn on us or one of them gets through to him. There’s also a zombie who lives in the sewers. He shares the space with a giant crocodile. These are not easy things to explain in your tax return, but according to the internet these are the things which Bruce Wayne should apparently be pouring money into if he’s to address the very real threats to his city.
Even the smallest amount of spending might lead to a massacre. Have you seen how cheap it is to buy a kite on eBay, or a calendar? The only sensible option is for Bruce Wayne to become vengeance and/or the night. I mean, consider what other venues he has for funding: literally every therapist, nurse, or doctor who earned their degree has since decided to put a mask (or sack) on their head and start running around spraying toxins on people. Or hit them with a mallet. Gotham takes the most respectable professionals, the most in-control people, and turns them into monsters.
And let’s not forget that there’s no shortage of other people who want to become Batman. If Bruce were to give up the role to focus on charity, you just KNOW that Jean-Paul Valley is going to come sauntering back in, ready to screw everything up in record time. Or maybe some sinister corporation will put Jim Gordon in a mech suit again. Batman is unarguably the best of a bad group of options, here.
Let’s put all this into perspective. The Batman comics repeatedly tell us that the best place for the world’s money in the hands of a single respectable billionaire. If you use money to fund schooling, you get Maxie Zeus; fund rehabilitation programmes and you get Harley Quinn and Hugo Strange. Hush was a brilliant surgeon; Man-Bat was a genius scientist; Two-Face was the District Attorney. None of them could be trusted with power, or even with their own independent thought. What they need is to be punched by a billionaire until they go into a prison or asylum where society can forget about them.
What an… interesting message for a multi-million dollar publishing company to be putting out there for people. If you give poor people money, they’ll turn into a danger to everyone else, so Good Rich People should be the only ones with the power, as they’re the only ones who can be trusted. When somebody challenges that idea, they’re normally wearing a mask and calling themself “Anarky”. There is a message bedded deep within the Batman comics that money does not belong to the people, as they will simply spend it on bad things. Don’t trust your neighbours: they might be Prometheus.
This is all deeply, deeply cynical: but that’s because Gotham is meant to be a cynical, downtrodden, miserable place. There’s a reason why half the vigilante heroes who keep the place safe are child soldiers, after all. This is a one-of-a-kind city where gardeners can become mass-murderers; where gods sometimes pop in to smash things apart; and where every other rich person apart from Bruce Wayne is part of a centuries-old cabal who like to wear owl masks and hoot at each other. You might see how schools, hospitals, and community centres have benefited your town: that’s because you live in the real world.
Gotham is not the real world. In Gotham, every hero – every fire officer, every teacher, every brain surgeon – can be turned on the flip of a coin. Monday’s regular civilian is Friday’s Mad Hatter. You can’t throw money at a problem like Gotham, so stop telling Bruce that he can’t avenge his dead parents nightly by face-punching a man with a deadly umbrella.
Batman #542: “Faceless Part One: Murdicide”
Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Kelley Jones
Inker: John Beatty
Colourist: Greg Wright
Letterer: Todd Klein
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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