As the mainstream news media continue covering DC Comics’ relaunch of 52 titles, the initial reviews have been positive, despite fan misgivings over the revamped continuity. Here’s how I would handle Batman, Warner Bros./DC’s most profitable franchise and one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world.
~1939: Thomas Wayne born? (See my blog post about shifting Superman’s origin by a generation.)
~30 years ago: Bruce Wayne is born to Thomas and Martha Wayne, wealthy physicians in Gotham City. The family fortune is a combination of old real estate (including Wayne Manor), savvy early biotech investments, and occasional shady dealings. The Waynes are also noted philanthropists, eventually running afoul of some of the megalopolis’ underworld.
~22 years ago: After attending a screening of the classic Zorro, Thomas and Martha are gunned down in a random mugging by Joe Chill in front of their son. Bruce is raised by family butler and head of security Alfred Pennyworth — a former street urchin, British intelligence officer, and thespian. Dr. Leslie Tomkins, another friend of the family, offers condolences. Bruce swears vengeance against all criminals (not merely Chill, who he’ll encounter later but comes to a bad end on his own). He also vows never to use guns or take a life.
~10 years ago: A prodigy, Bruce Wayne graduates from university with degrees in business, engineering, and criminology. He travels the world, honing his skills for his private war on crime, which continues to fester and grow in Gotham. He has a revelation that “criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot” and takes on a bat totem (whether it’s a utilitarian disguise; inspired by Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Die Fledermaus; or from a bat crashing through a study window can be left open to individual interpretations). Bruce also meets Zatanna, daughter of a famous stage magician who was friends with his father.
~9 years ago: The urban myth known as the Batman has begun stalking Gotham’s streets, working his way up the food chain from street thugs, drug dealers, and pimps to various gang leaders. Even as other costumed vigilantes are inspired by Superman, garish villains begin to arise in Gotham and elsewhere. A few thrill seekers, like Selina Kyle/Catwoman, toe the line between altruistic hero and selfish villain. Even as Bruce dons the guise of a billionaire playboy, he supports worthy causes, such as a clinic run by Tomkins in what’s become known as “Crime Alley.” Lucius Fox, head of Wayne Enterprises, learns of Bruce’s dual life and initially helps him acquire or develop his many “toys.”
~8 years ago: Partly inspired by the Justice Society, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman form the Justice League to handle global crises and provide a community for superheroes. (DC’s new official continuity puts this only five years ago or less, rather than eight — or 50 — years ago.) Meanwhile, 12-year-old Dick Grayson loses his parents, the Flying Graysons, when mobster Tony Zucco makes good on extortion threats to Haley’s Circus. With wary approval from Lt. James Gordon, whose daughter Barbara is about the same age, Bruce adopts Dick (and soon begins training him as Robin I). Barbara soon joins them as Batgirl I. While dealing with Middle Eastern intrigue, Bruce unknowingly fathers a child, Damian, with Talia al-Ghul.
~5 years ago: After co-founding the Teen Titans, Robin I eventually becomes Nightwing. Fourteen-year-old Jason Todd, who tried to steal the wheels from the Batmobile, becomes Robin II. Batman trains the Outsiders for covert missions that the Justice League can’t or won’t handle. Villains become more vicious, and Todd is apparently murdered by the Joker. Soon after, Gotham suffers from plagues, cultists, and an earthquake, and Bruce’s back is broken by Bane.
~4 years ago: Bruce works hard to recover and takes back the cape and cowl from religious zealot Azrael. Gotham City rebuilds, but corruption quickly returns as well. Thirteen-year-old Tim Drake, who has figured out Bruce and Dick’s secret identities on his own, is taken in as Robin III and joins Young Justice, which includes understudies to the (now-young adult) Titans, the revived Justice Society, and the Justice League. Like their mentor, the various Robins are able to hold their own, even when surrounded by metahumans, by virtue of training and wits.
~2 years ago: Dick and Barbara graduate from college, and Barbara becomes Oracle after being shot by the Joker in psychological torture against Commissioner Gordon. Oracle leads the Birds of Prey, including Huntress, Black Canary, and successive Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown (who was also Spoiler and briefly Robin IV).
~1 year ago: Tim becomes Red Robin, and Damian becomes Robin V. During a lengthy absence by Bruce (out of time, technically, but offworld or abroad is also fine), Dick fills in again as Batman. Jason returns, but now as Red Hood, eschewing Bruce’s vow of nonlethal measures. Kate Kane, a 25-year-old relative of Bruce and former U.S. Marine, puts on a new uniform as Batwoman.
~Present day: Bruce Wayne/Batman is about 30 years old, at the peak of his abilities. He is obsessive but not obsessed, clinical but compassionate, and indomitable. He is the scourge of supervillains and an inspiration to numerous street-level masked crimefighters. Dick Grayson/Nightwing is about 20 and a talented acrobat and team leader. Barbara Gordon/Oracle is a master hacker, strategist, and support for the Justice League, “Batfamily,” and Birds of Prey.
Detective Tim Drake/Red Robin is 17 and leads Young Justice. The bratty Damian is 8 (going on 18) and trying to live up to his father’s legacy while avoiding his grandfather and mother’s preferred destiny as an assassin. Martial artist Cassandra Cain is Batman’s covert agent on the West Coast and in Asia, and Stephanie Brown is still debating whether to be Spoiler or Batgirl.
Yes, most of this somewhat simplified and rearranged Batfamily timeline follows the recently ended continuity more closely than “pre-Crisis” history or the current “DCnU.” It compresses events from the past 70 years without setting Gotham in any specific period. I tried to fit each character into a consistent setting.
In fact, this is the background I’d use for my “Societe de Justice Internationale” superhero scenarios with DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Ed. From it, I can extrapolate the ages, rosters, and relationships of the rest of the DC universe. What do you think?
As for individual titles, I’d have Batman focus on Bruce Wayne’s dual life in Gotham City and with the Justice League (the first DCnU issue that’s out), Tales of the Dark Knight on out-of-continuity stories (horror/sci-fi Elseworlds, alternate futures such as Batman Beyond, etc.), and Batman and Robin on Bruce and his protégés.
Detective should focus on solving mysteries rather than punching supervillains. Related DCnU Batfamily titles include Batgirl, Batman Beyond, Batwing, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Huntress, Justice League, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans/Young Justice, and Zatanna. I expect DC Comics to take a different direction, but I look forward to checking at least the first issues of each of these titles. Batman lives!