Why The New 52 Batman Timeline Doesn’t Work
Batman has been through multiple Robins and has had to deal with villains and situations that came about purely because he had already been Batman for a while.
Earlier this year DC Comics came out with The New 52, yet another attempt by the publisher to update its characters, attract a wider audience, fix a few timelines and attract new readers. I, and many other readers, actually found most of it to be enjoyable, but I simply can’t ignore that my favorite character’s background doesn’t really work anymore. For people like me who were reading pre-Flashpoint, there is trouble on two fronts as DC decided to mostly leave the Batman stories intact while they changed the rest of the DC Universe around them and made Batman younger.
For the whole Batman thing to work, Batman can’t be that old, but at the same time comics are set up in a way where main characters don’t really age. That means making a character younger really doesn’t accomplish anything. The idea behind making him younger is to put him at his peak, but honestly, I thought he was already at his peak. After all, we’re talking about a super hero with no powers who is still capable of putting Superman in check. After Flashpoint, DC made him younger while trying to keep his history intact. That means a guy who used to be in his mid to late thirties, now seems to be in his late twenties or just barely thirty, but those ten years of experience somehow didn’t go away. As I understand it, they mostly just became condensed. This would be fine if DC had made some adjustments to make it all fit by cutting out many minor and some major story lines from the past, but that mostly didn’t happen. It would seem then that we’re left with a guy who has been Batman for five years but apparently already gone through Year One, A Death in the Family, Knightfall, The Killing Joke, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, Bruce Wayne: Murderer?, War Games, Hush, Under the Hood, and the entire Grant Morrison run. Not to mention the time that Dick Grayson spent as Batman and that whole time travel thing that led to Bruce Wayne’s return as Batman. That’s a few major events too many for a guy who really only could have been Batman for about five years so far, and I feel like that’s too much history to ask fans to ignore.
Let’s focus on Batman’s history. As a young Bruce Wayne, he witnesses the murder of his parents on a night out to see a Zorro movie, a night out that was supposed to be a nice treat for young Bruce. He spends his teens in good schools but never stops obsessing over his parents’ murder. I don’t remember the comics ever really focusing on Bruce Wayne’s college days, but in the movie Batman Begins they depict him as being kicked out of school. That makes sense because it makes it plausible for Bruce to be able to run Wayne Enterprises but it also serves as the last time he tries to be normal before embracing his destiny as something other than normal. He spends a few years traveling the world and developing a skill set that would allow him to start a one-man war on crime. By the time he’s back in Gotham, he’s at least 23. Once he’s back he has to reestablish himself as Bruce Wayne and study organized crime in Gotham to know what he’s up against. Plus, he’s still not Batman yet. He still has to get his ass kicked, get scared by a bat, decide to become Batman and find the Batcave. After that he still has to produce all of the equipment that he needs as Batman. There no way he became Batman before the age of 24. Then he goes through the events of Year One even before he finds his first Robin. As part of The New 52, we as readers are supposed to believe that a Batman who is under 31 has gone through five Robins, three Batgirls and more dead girlfriends than James Bond.
Another problem we run in to is the fact that so many members of Batman’s rogues gallery came about because of Batman’s existence. In fact, just about every Batman villain you can think of came about because of Batman, the one notable exception being Ra’s al Ghul. I don’t know about you, but if I had started fighting crime to bring down the mob and accidentally created the Joker, Two-Face, Black Mask, Red Hood, Riddler, and countless others in under five years, I’d reevaluate whether I was actually helping or not. The biggest problem perhaps comes from the villain Hush. Hush was Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, so they have to be very close to the same age. The problem is that Hush’s secret identity Tommy Elliot is a world renowned neurosurgeon which makes it so the youngest he could possibly be is about 35. Now, I could still see them as childhood friends if there was a one or two year difference, but when was the last time you saw a ten year old hanging out with a fifteen year old?
The problem with Batman being so young is that Batman is more than the character Batman. When you talk about Batman you’re actually talking about the Batman Universe: a whole universe of stories and characters created around this one guy and the life he leads, a universe that would take longer than five years to create.
Which brings us to…
Robin is an interesting character and an integral part of Batman’s history. Often called The Boy Wonder, DC never let him mature with the series. As the comics became less comedic (i.e. no more fights in places with weird, giant pianos) Robin should have been allowed to be older. That didn’t really happen until recently, and The New 52 seemed to undo that character development anyway.
We’ll start with the obvious. A ninety pound 11 year old isn’t really a threat to anyone, regardless of the training he’s received. When Robin is depicted as too young, my suspension of disbelief is shattered and I’m left staring at drawing of a small child easily beating up a guy the size of Brian Urlacher. In a single panel, the story goes from a little over the top to laughably stupid. For Robin to work, he has to be a plausible physical match to his enemies and more of a help than a liability to Batman. Regardless of how strong this 11 year old is, one good hit from someone three times his size would have him down for the count. That means the youngest a Robin could be would be 15, and that’s pushing it.
By my count there have been five Robins: four long term and one that seemed to only have the job for about a week. Let’s focus on the main four and try to squeeze them in to this timeline.
The first Robin was Dick Grayson. Dick was part of a family of acrobats and lost his family when they were killed during a performance that was sabotaged by the mob. Bruce was in the audience and relived the death of his parents through Dick in that moment. Dick eventually became the first Robin and Batman’s first sidekick. All of this would have to take place after Year One. Dick was already an acrobat, so he really only needed combat training to be Robin. He would also have to be of an age that would make Batman okay with taking him out to fight crime. The youngest he could have been as Robin was about 16. He spends a while as Robin but then moves on to become Nightwing, a process that I assume would have to take about two years, probably longer but we’re trying to squeeze in to this five year timeline. That leaves us about three years to fit in another three long term Robins.
Jason Todd came next. He was a street punk that tried to steal the rims off of the Batmobile and was caught by Batman in the act. Batman somehow found this charming and decided the kid had the potential to be the next Robin with a little direction. Needless to say, he died. Even so, we’re looking at months of training and at least several more months as Robin. That could take as little as a year, but we’re probably looking at nearly eighteen months minimum. To screw with things even more, he was brought back from the dead as a villain. All together, we must be looking at about three years of Jason Todd. You can make it fit, but it’s a stretch. (That’s what she said)
After that was Tim Drake. Tim is my favorite Robin because he was a normal kid with a normal life who has such a brilliant mind that he deduced that Bruce Wayne had to be Batman. Obviously Batman was impressed because he too became Robin. In The New 52 continuity, Tim has already been Robin and moved on to become Red Robin. That has to account for at least the last available eighteen months in the timeline, but it’s really not enough time and doesn’t leave room for the current Robin. Even when we condense everything as much as possible it doesn’t fit, but let’s keep going.
Damien Wayne is the son of Bruce Wayne and was introduced in Grant Morrison’s awesome Batman run from two or three years ago. Hypothetically, Damien could be a Robin right away becuase Damien’s mother is Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, and he was essentially raised as a living weapon. While Bruce might not have been Batman at the time of conception, he definitely had to have already dropped out of school and gone to train around the world. In The New 52 that should mean the oldest that Damien Wayne could possibly be in this new updated universe is nine years old, and we’re supposed to ignore that and believe that Batman would let him suit up and fight crime.
The same problem exists to a certain extent with the Batgirls, but those incongruities are more easily explained away with them because their timelines are arguably less tied to Batman himself.
On top of all of that, we ran out of time in The New 52 timeline before we ran out of Robins and we didn’t even account for time in between Robins. It’s not like Batman would have immediately replaced any Robin but especially not Jason Todd.
My Fanboy Batman Dream
To make Batman’s world make sense without dumping too much history, you have to bust out a calculator and really work those critical thinking skills. I figure we need at least twelve years of history to put Batman where he is today. That leaves a reasonable amount of time for the sidekicks, relationships, villains and Batman’s personal journey, placing Batman at about 37 years old. That may sound old, but many professional athletes are about that age, and Batman has the added benefit of being fictional, meaning he never gets tired and is completely healed from any injury by the next story arc. That also places Dick Grayson at 27, a good age given that he has taken on the mantle of Batman more than once. Plus, as close as Dick and Bruce are, there is a rivalry between them that is more of reminiscent a fraternal relationship than the father-son relationship Bruce has with the other Robins. That makes sense because a 26 year old and 16 year old would naturally form a bond that’s more like brotherhood.
My ideal timeline would have it so all of the Robins start between 15 and 17 which puts Jason Todd at a more plausible 22, a great age to be pissed off at the world and a little unhinged. That also gives a fair amount of time between Robins after Jason Todd’s death, so Tim would be 18. Damien would then be 15 and everyone would be old enough and strong enough to go fight crime. Damien can be a bit younger because he is Batman’s son and was raised by the League of Assassins. That means he is big, strong, of genius-level intelligence and trained in damn near every form of combat. Plus, these different ages make for more compelling relationships. Dick could be the wise older brother and mentor to the younger guys, and Tim and Damien could be at odds over their respective places in the Wayne/Batman family. It would really play well with the adversarial relationship the writers have already created between Tim and Damien.
One last thing, DC, and comics in general, need to stop using height as an indicator of age. It makes sense for Dick to be shorter than Bruce because Dick is an acrobat, but Damien shouldn’t be so runty. He’s the son of Batman, the daughter of Talia al Ghul and the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul, three tall people. As for Tim, he should at least look strong enough for Bruce to have been okay with putting him in harm’s way.
When you’re going to change things about a character those changes have to make sense.
By the way, this is my 100th post as Anomic Office Drone, so I’m glad I made it a ridiculously long one about Batman.
Thanks for reading.