Bruce Wayne Billionaire Ethics – Why Batman Can’t Just Use Money To Save Gotham
If you’ve not yet seen The Batman, check our non-spoiler review, but be warned there’s some slight spoilers in this piece regarding how the movie treats wealth. In The Batman, Matt Reeves promised they’d talk about the ethics of Bruce Wayne being a billionaire vigilante instead of just using his money to save Gotham City. While this element was very crucial to the plot of the film, specifically one of the villains’ plans, the ethnical question wasn’t really addressed beyond simply saying that Robert Pattinson’s boy billionaire simply didn’t care about his wealth. In a way, it’s the most brutal take on Bruce Wayne in the films yet, a kind of pinnacle of rich entitlement. Yet, in this new movie, we really don’t get to know the Bruce side of Batman that much at all. (Though one scene is the most emotionally bare Bruce we’ve gotten, but I digress.)
Still, despite the focus this gets in the movie, there is no “Luke Cage talks to Danny Rand” scene here. And given how Pattinson is playing this Bruce, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s never even considered using the Wayne wealth to help his city. I suspect that this is part of Matt Reeves’ plan, and that his series of Batman films will be akin to the MCU Spider-Man movies. It took a whole trilogy for the Peter Parker of the MCU to resemble his comics counterpart in the ways that mean the most to fans. Where Chris Nolan set out to tell the tragedy of the Batman in three acts, I think Matt Reeves is going to take three acts (or more?) to tell the story of how this vigilante kid becomes the Dark Knight Detective. Still, Bruce Wayne billionaire playboy is not a character we’ve really dealt with in the movies. (Yet.)
The Ethics of Bruce Wayne Being a Billionaire, While Batman Beats Up Gotham City Poor People
Image via DC Comics
None of this is real, and part of the fun of comics stories is taking them “too seriously,” at times. Given how many billionaires there are now (and that none of them have become Batman), it’s fair to think about this. Because, in theory, Bruce Wayne could do more to affect change in Gotham City as a billionaire than he ever could as Batman. Yet, as one Comic Years reader on Facebook pointed out – a story about a guy navigating the institutional hurdles of setting up a 501(c)3 doesn’t make for riveting action cinema. In the modern Batman stories that address this, things usually end up getting in the way of this. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire whose ethics are on point, but he’s so distracted by being Batman that he lets Gotham City grifters take advantage of things. Or he runs into some sort of corrupt institutional hurdle.
Either way, this happens because stories need conflict. The line from Zack Snyder’s Justice League where Bruce tells the Flash that his “superpower” is being “rich,” he’s not lying. Bruce Wayne is conceptually a guy who’s got more money than God. If you are interested in stories about evil billionaires, may I suggest instead reading or watching Superman give Lex Luthor the super-business?
Of course, ignoring his wealth is not the answer either. Every Batman is a reflection of his time, and you can still tell these stories in ways that keep the lore but aren’t propaganda for the super-wealthy. From a harshly analytical lens, you can take any superhero and make them a villain or mad-person. The trick is to treat Bruce Wayne’s wealth as more akin to a curse than a gift.
Even With the Wayne Fortune, the Story Needs to Justify Having a Batman
Image via Fox Broadcasting Company
One sad downside to the nature of comic book storytelling, especially in the beginning, is that the heroes precede the villains. Thus, anyone reading these stories with a critical eye, must eventually ask the question: Does the costumed hero create their own monsters? We’ve seen and read countless examples of storytellers answering that question in the affirmative. However, Alan Moore – who knows a thing or two about harsh takes on heroes who may actually be villains – cracked this problem in Watchmen. In that story, the criminals are the first ones to suit up and adopt goofy names. This just like the 2010s series Gotham. (Pretty sure this is the first time anyone has compared Alan Moore’s work to that show.)
The Gotham series is probably very frustrating to fans of Batman lore. Yet, one cool side effect of this version of that story is that the villains all pre-date Batman. (In fact, pretty much all of them kidnapped Bruce Wayne, usually over ethics questions of him being a billionaire kid.) In this case, Batman makes sense. He’s the costumed response rather than the first one to suit up. We can also apply this thinking to why Batman doesn’t use money to save Gotham City instead of his fists and gadgets.
As a fellow Joshua (Rivers) wrote for Polygon.com:
“Gotham City is a fake city cartoonishly broken to the point where vigilante superheroes are the only logical option because nothing else works. And if there is a mental illness with symptoms that manifest as “freakishly competent murder clown,” it sure isn’t in the DSM.
“In other words, Batman can’t just buy crime, because that both ignores the reality of planet Earth — where there is no such thing as a criminal class, merely a shifting body of regulation and policy that outlaws and disenfranchises an ever-changing group of people — and the specific, fictional function of Batman stories.”
Any story wanting to address the wealth question, needs to explain why that simply doesn’t cure all the ails of the city. In fact, The Batman does this quite well, especially when coupled with how little Bruce cares about that part of his family’s legacy. This actually hearkens back to the late, great Denny O’Neal’s Batman stories in the 1970s and 1980s. Bruce Wayne and Batman took a two-pronged approach to saving the city. Batman would fight the baddies, and Bruce would pay to fix things for the better. Again, this doesn’t dive that deep into the ethics of Bruce Wayne being a billionaire, while Batman saves Gotham City by punching bad guys who have way less money than he does. Yet, it doesn’t ignore that reality either. It just creates a new obstacle for the hero to overcome.
Still, it’s strange how people react to these movies. I’d say that people are smart enough to realize that Bruce Wayne being a billionaire is not a major ethics concern because Gotham needs both Batman and money to save it. Yet, then again, people started keeping racoons as pets after Guardians of the Galaxy came out.
What do you think? Are the ethics of Bruce Wayne being a billionaire in conflict with his mission as Batman to save Gotham City? Share your thoughts, reactions, and arguments below.
Featured image via Warner Bros.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book of superhero short stories, Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.