(Note: The following essay was originally published on the Toon Zone Forums on July 10, 2006. It is reprinted here in its entirety.)
All the recent talk about the chronology of the DCAU, “Peanuts time”, and the like has got me thinking about an unusual confluence of events that we witnessed in JLU. Most of us probably didn’t even notice it (the writing and acting being so seamless). But a few of us did. And we shrugged it off, chalked it up to a rare lapse in characterization.
But when we take a closer look, a strange pattern does seem to emerge.
He was sitting, eating lunch, and chatting with Green Lantern.
He offered words of advice and even encouragement to his teammates.
No doubt about it; something was up. One of the portents of the Apocalypse (or Apokalips?) was upon us.
Batman was happy.
Take a second and digest that for a minute.
Batman. Was. HAPPY.
Did someone screw up? Was Kevin Conroy on uppers for the duration of the series? Or did Bruce Wayne finally embrace Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour (God help us, that would probably make him more obsessive!)?
No, no, and definitely not.
Nope, conscious effort the writers’ part or not, it’s plain to see that the Batman we watched every week (scheduling vagaries aside) on Justice League Unlimited was a very different Batman than we’d seen in every previous series. And if we look at it from an in-story perspective, it becomes clear that the reason behind this lies in a remarkable, once in a lifetime combination of factors. Namely, for the only time in his life, for one brief shining moment, Bruce Wayne was content with his life professionally, romantically, and with regards to his friends and family.
First, we look at Batman and his effectiveness at his job(s). Most importantly (in his own eyes) would be his physical effectiveness -- the ability of his body to survive the kind of dangers Batman finds himself in on a daily basis. Now, I’ve covered this before, but if you take what’s presented in the show itself as fact, then you’re left with the inescapable conclusion that Batman is now in his 40’s. He’s not as young as he used to be, but look at him – he’s doing pretty good, physique wise. He also (as of “Destroyer”) became the only being to ever avoid Darkseid’s Omega Beam, a feat which would require no small amount of dexterity and speed. So it’s safe to say that, for the time being, Batman remains in his physical prime, making him a highly effective combatant and all-around crimefighter.
Batman also, in his Bruce Wayne identity, still has his company, Wayne Enterprises. While we haven’t seen a lot of it in the DCAU (the only example that comes to mind is Bruce’s intention to “revolutionize unmanned space travel” in “World’s Finest"), in the comics Bruce funnels an ass-ton of money into charitable causes; presumably, his animated counterpart does the same. At the very least, the company allows Bruce to employ a large chunk of Gotham’s people (ostensibly keeping them out of a life of crime) and constantly develop new tools for Batman to use.
Perhaps most obviously, Batman now has the Justice League. Having been crucial to the formation (and continued existence, even if only financially speaking) of an organization that saves the world at least once a week has got to feel pretty good. And Batman, always the pragmatist, has got to realize that being a member of the League makes him a far more effective crimefighter. Fewer monsters to step on the little guys, and all that.
Lastly, Batman still has his cadre of sidekicks to protect Gotham while he’s off saving the universe. Barbara has more than proven herself since she joined the Bat-team in “Old Wounds”, and Tim has come along so far in the past few years that he’s even begun to patrol Gotham solo on occasion -- not to mention the fact that other Leaguers (Black Canary, Huntress, and the Creeper) call Gotham home. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gotham’s crime rate is lower than it has been in decades!
Oh, sure, Batman has always had his share of attractive women in his life, but ninety-nine percent of them have been villains. It’s only around the timeframe of JLU that several romantic prospects with heroines have cropped up – and as we saw in “This Little Piggy”, one of the most important things to Batman when choosing a romantic partner is whether the woman can take care of herself in a fight.
The most obvious romantic prospect in his life is Wonder Woman. While Batman hasn’t been shown flirting with her for a while, she’s certainly been keeping up her end (“You’ve got my number?” “I think so…”; “We hardly ever spend time together when we’re not working.”). Speaking as a man, even if you’ve decided not to pursue a relationship with a woman for the time being, it still feels pretty good to have that woman flirting with you.
Another perk of being in the Justice League is having Zatanna around on a regular basis. We know from “Out of the Past” that he cared about her, and even if “This Little Piggy” established that they were over and done with… well, see my point above. ;)
Lastly, we’ve got Batgirl. Yeah, you heard me. True, Bruce hasn’t shown even the slightest bit of interest in her yet, but we know something happens eventually so he likely already has feelings for her on some level, even if he can’t admit it to himself. Plus, it’s not really fair to say that nothing has developed between them yet, just because we haven’t seen it; we weren’t allowed to see Barbara in JLU. And again, at the very least, we have a beautiful woman flirting with him (see Mystery of the Batwoman)… some guys have all the luck.
I feel that this is a crucial point: for the first time in his life, Batman has friends. Not sidekicks (like Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl), not allies (like Gordon, Montoya, and Bullock), but real colleagues. People that understand him, that he trusts and respects and thinks of as equals, that know his secret identity. Now I know some people are going to object – “Batman can’t have friends, that would be out of character!” – but that argument would be bullplop. Pardon my French. Watch a scene between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman from the last couple of seasons. Watch him kid around with Superman at the end of “Destroyer”, or sit and shoot the breeze with GL in “The Once and Future Thing”. He’s clearly more relaxed around these people than we’ve ever seen him before. And for Batman, being relaxed is a big step.
It’s interesting to me, actually, to see Batman develop different kinds of friendships with the other founding members. He and Superman are, by the end, like brothers. Wonder Woman is like a sister – or, okay, like a really hot second cousin. Flash is kind of like a kid brother (watch “Flash and Substance” again – there’s real affection there). GL is like the college buddy that you talk about girls with; in “Starcrossed”, “The Once and Future Thing”, and “Shadow of the Hawk”, they give each other romantic advice. Can you picture TNBA or Batman Beyond Bruce giving anyone romantic advice other than “Relationships distract from the mission”? And listen to the way Conroy delivers the line “I’ll do it, Shayera” in “Epilogue”. There’s more there than Batman being “the only one of [them] Ace knows”. Batman empathizes with everything Shayera’s gone through, and wants to save her from having to make another painful decision (see “Starcrossed”) or kill another person (see “Wake the Dead”).
Lastly, Batman still has his family intact. His surrogate father, Alfred, is still alive and kicking. Tim, his second surrogate son, is (according to my timeline) probably finishing up high school and scouting colleges – and that’s gotta make any father proud.
Then there’s his first son, Dick. It’s hard to know exactly what their relationship is like at this point in time, since a lot of what we have to go on is past events (TNBA), future gossip (Batman Beyond and Return of the Joker), and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos (“Grudge Match”). But it seems to me that Bruce and Dick were on the verge of a reconciliation at the end of TNBA; that was the whole point of the ending of “Old Wounds”, wasn’t it? Plus, look at the other episodes. Despite all of the snarking in “You Scratch My Back”, it turned out Dick was working with Batman all along. Despite the awkward silences in “Animal Act”, the episode ends with Dick and Bruce taking in the circus and palling around. I think it’s not unreasonable to conclude that, in the few years since TNBA ended, Bruce and Dick might have come to an understanding – maybe even forgiven each other and patched things up completely. After all, Dick being in Bludhaven in “Grudge Match” doesn’t mean he had a falling out with Bruce. It might mean exactly what it meant in the comics: Bruce now sees Dick as capable of taking care of his own city, and Dick wanted to prove to himself that he could do it.
Now, I’ll grant that Dick’s absence in Batman Beyond would seem to indicate that their relationship soured again – I just think that that souring makes more sense if it happens in the nebulous timeframe between “Destroyer” and “Rebirth”.
And then it all falls apart.
Tim is captured, violated, and forced to kill. He leaves.
Alfred and Jim Gordon die.
Dick stops speaking to him.
He embarks on a doomed romance with Barbara that ends with her hating everything he’s become, and nothing ever happens with Zatanna or Diana.
A Near Apocalypse almost destroys the world, and probably ends the lives of more than a few Justice Leaguers.
His body starts to wear out. A highly advanced new Batman suit delays the inevitable, but soon his heart begins to fail and he’s almost forced to take a life.
He is forced to quit the League and drifts apart from his friends. Superman, who was once like a brother to him, comes to be regarded with suspicion and resentment.
Finally, he loses control over his company, which becomes a front for dealings with criminals and rogue nations, and his beloved Gotham becomes a haven for corporate corruption.
All this within a few years.
Talk about a Fall.
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