On Batman

Gotham's First Family

By Mary Borsellino

Even if you know nothing else about the Batman tale, you probably know how it began: a wealthy family, walking home from an evening out, is mugged at gunpoint. The robbery goes bad, shots are fired, the mother and father die. Only their son is left behind–the young Bruce Wayne.

This is the prototypical myth of Batman, the origin story from which all others spring. The simplicity of it makes it primal, and allows it to be retold quickly and easily as often as required. With each of these retellings, new embellishments are suggested, and the myth evolves. Thomas and Martha Wayne, the ill-fated victims of street crime, have been written as kind philanthropists, blithe socialites, resigned martyrs, concerned parents, and heroes in their own right. They’ve died in the ’20s, the ’50s, the ’70s, the ’90s. Sometimes they haven’t died at all.

By looking at some of the key stories about the parents of Bruce Wayne, written over a number of eras in the last century, we can see some of the ways in which Batman changes with his times-alter the origin story, and the hero born from it evolves as well.

The first version of the birth of Batman came six months after the character’s comics debut. The mugging and murder of Thomas and Martha takes up only a few panels, but many of the elements seen in later versions were already present in their prototypical form. The Wayne family has been to a film and, on the walk  …

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