Batman – A Psychological Analysis

Jose Carlos Serrano

Batman has been a staple in the comic industry and pop culture for nearly a century now and over the years numerous authors have taken stabs to evolve him as a character. Something that’s been more explored in recent years is blurring the lines between Batman as a hero or a villain; the question being: what makes him better than the mentally damaged people that he fights against? Something that I’ve personally been curious to study is whether Batman is more Bruce Wayne or Batman himself. For the sake of this article I’ll be speaking of the two identities as nearly their own individual personas, considering the drastic difference between them for explanatory purposes. 


The night of Crime Alley, in which Bruce’s parents are killed, is what many know as the definitive seed planted in the formation of Batman, is one point of interest. Most of Batman’s rogue gallery villains, such as the Joker among others, have similar backstories as well. Seeing something traumatic happen in their lives – sending them to become a costumed terror, entirely changing them as a person. In recent memory – in comics, films, and videogames – Batman is portrayed as being the judge, jury, and executioner of Gotham City. What if his crusade against crime is more than just avenging his parents? Batman is truly who Bruce Wayne is or has become – his true character. Bruce is simply the cowl that Batman wears. As Wayne, he needs to have this rather professional and diplomatic personality, more of an artificial one at that since everyone knows who he is and has to retain a well regarded reputation; whilst as Batman – no one knows who he is, many live in fright of him, and Bruce doesn’t need to hold back at all from who he actually wants to be. 


Batman is what gives Bruce an outlet to become the person he truly is – this sort of dark, brooding, and even twisted figure – all influenced by the damaging effects of Crime Alley. You see, Batman is manipulating Bruce collectively. He needs Bruce’s Money to fund gadgets and gear, needs to use his name in order to gain intel on people of interest, and needs his whole identity to live a life without being thrown in prison for his countless crimes. Meanwhile, Bruce gains nothing at all from Batman – instead, being used. 

Crime Alley is what transformed Bruce Wayne, but the only thing keeping Batman from stepping off the deep end and becoming like those who end up in Arkham Asylum is Bruce. Bruce reigns Batman from becoming a terrorist of the City. Bruce serves as his sense of reason, responsibility, purpose, and morality; reminding him why he fights – for justice rather than to release rage and anger.


Modern works of the character include the very recent Batman The Imposter DC Black Label comic mini-series (2021). Helmed by author Mattson Tomlin and artist Andrea Sorrentino, Imposter tells the story of a younger Batman, around one year into his career. The innovative plot twist, which sends him on his journey and to the point of no return, is that there is a second, imposter Batman terrorizing the streets and killing criminals on live TV – something against Batman’s code of conduct. Without spiraling too far into the otherwise incredible story, the opening scene of issue one really speaks volumes about Batman being who Bruce really is. Beginning with a scene of Bruce talking to his therapist, Leslie Thompkins – nearly dead after thwarting an armed assault, we learn about the real reason he became Batman and what it means to him.

“I went to the ends of the earth to learn to control the monster. Not to purge the fear. Or the pain. But to become it” (Batman the Imposter, page 15). Bruce here is talking about how he didn’t want to expel the pain and trauma that he experienced when seeing his parents gunned down in front of him but rather to manipulate it, wrap himself in it, and become someone else – the Batman, who he believes is making a difference in Gotham. Throughout the book we learn that he’s buying equipment using Wayne money, almost recklessly spending it to pursue Batman’s war on crime – elaborating on how he has truly become this new man. 

One of the most outstanding and well written reasons why Bruce converted into Batman is seen in Sean Murphy’s DC Black Label Batman: White Knight universe. One of the best comics ever written in the existence of the Dark Knight tells the story of Joker being cured of his illness and becoming Jack Napier – Gotham’s White Knight, fighting against the injustices that plague Gotham and taking down Batman in the process. The conflicts in the story push Batman to step off the deep end of his own sanity. We see him struggling throughout the story on what choices are best to make – and making some rather rash decisions. But there is also one part in which we see some emotion and reason cast onto this version of Batman. Touching on the reason of becoming Batman being more that of family – something very absent from Bruce’s and Batman’s pure devotion to fighting crime and avenging his parents. Speaking to Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) – two people part of Batman’s bat-family he says,

“I’ll never be okay. And my hardest struggle has been trying not to let that affect you. One day when I leave you a note like this – – what would I say? Probably something that tries to protect you. Something you can draw upon in your darker moments. Something that will make up for my mistakes. Something about why I still fight as Batman. That it isn’t out of duty to avenge my parents. The reason I keep fighting is for you. Because I want to leave you a safer Gotham that you can be proud of.”


The question is however – with Batman being this multifaceted figure – is what does he inspire in others? If Batman is the true embodiment of the two characters that he needs to play, what if people who are inspired by this man don’t have a “Bruce” in their life to reign them in? As an example of this problem, we can turn to Telltale Games’ Batman: The Enemy Within back from 2017 – an incredible and fascinating tale of the Dark Knight as well as being one of my favorite iterations of this psychological subject. Without giving any major spoilers away from the game – which indeed I recommend exploring, players are given the opportunity to invest in a rather interesting and occasionally unbalanced relationship with a character known as John Doe, who inevitably becomes the Joker. Doe is an unstable man, yet sympathetic and offers helpful opportunities to Batman within the game. But when he becomes Joker, in this game becoming a vigilante that wants to help Batman or villain, depending on your choices within the game, are influenced by Batman’s interactions with him. Even going as far as to make “Jokerangs’ ‘ based off of the Batarang, Joker in The Enemy Within is inspired by Batman, yet has no one in his life or even within himself to hold him back from stepping out of line. He has no anchor, no Bruce. His unmoored vigilantism strains his relationship with Batman – and leads to their climactic clash at the end of the story.


It was actually a section of the game which really made me question Batman’s character in its entirety. One of the most difficult choices in The Enemy Within was having the player make the choice of giving up being Batman to keep Alfred (Bruce’s butler and surrogate father) stay in Bruce’s life, or holding on to the Batman persona and allowing Alfred leave Bruce’s life forever to prevent enduring any more mental stress. Before the choice is made, Bruce and Alfred have a serious conversation in which Alfred claims that Batman creates the villains that he fights – i.e. John Doe (Joker), Harvey Dent (Two-Face), Vicki Vale (Lady Arkham). This is a subject that’s been brought up in many Batman tales before – does Batman do more harm than good? Could Bruce be enabling more than Batman but also creating new villains – new evil? Does Batman go so far off the deep end in his crusade that his so-called “collateral damage” leads to more violent consequences?

These questions could interestingly be countered by none other than Batman himself – but the real issue here is not if Batman or Bruce are good or bad people, but rather weighing the ethicality of their decisions. Batman’s life choices are his alone, and he does what he believes is right for Gotham – despite the consequences that might follow. As said in The Enemy Within, when confronting Joker, Batman explains, “I am justice. What I do keeps Gotham from becoming the swamp it once was. I’ve given everything to protect this city.” Without Batman, Gotham would become no better than it is now. There are points where crime is negligible under Batman’s watch as he has succeeded in his goal – temporarily – as seen in the aftermath of Batman: The Telltale Series Season One. But when the cards are in the opposition’s hand, all blame is thrown on Batman, rightfully or unrightfully so. Batman is not a perfect person by any means and is greatly flawed as an individual. What makes this character, and his complex psychology so compelling is that one cannot easily say whether Batman is a force for good or one that deforms justice. It is up to each of us individually to classify him as more of a hero or a villain based on his ethics. For my part, as I examine the lives of Bruce and Batman, the answer is never obvious.

All in all, Batman will always be such an interesting and perhaps even questionable figure in the DC universe. With many sides to him as well to that of Bruce, many authors can reinvent him continuously. In terms of his psychology, that is something that has kept readers enticed with the character. Does Batman belong in Arkham with the rest of Gotham’s villains? Is his war on crime effective? Are his tactics ethical? Does he get the job done regardless of these flaws? These are all valid questions to be asked and explored within Batman’s storied anthology. The psychology behind Batman and Bruce is constantly evolving and has been brought to new heights and feats over the past years and is greatly worth revisiting to learn and explore.