17 June 2005 — When I asked several writers to pen their version of Ultimate Batman, I had no idea what would follow. For all I knew, they'd all write the same thing and I'd be left with not much of an article. Luckily, that didn't happen. Though there are similar elements between the three versions — both Chris and Anthony have made Bruce mentally unbalanced, and Anthony and I have ice cream as the reason the family was out — we've all crafted wildly different takes on what and who Ultimate Batman should be, and each would make for a great new series. Enjoy.
You know, when Michael asked me if I would be interested in doing this, I said yes, thinking it wouldn't be too difficult an idea. After all, how difficult is "ultimizing"? You just tweak the costume and take it back to basics (making one or two minor changes), then retell the original stories and have people pat you on the back while shouting, "Genius!"
So, I figured I'd have Batman in tight, fetishistic leather, and reveal The Joker as the guy who killed Bruce's parent... wait a minute. Damn. Tim Burton got there first.
Okay, what I'd do is I'd have it all very stylized and based kind of in the thirties, with an art deco style permeating it all, and... damn. The Animated Series.
Okay. Camp, over the top, corny, big angles, and "Kapow!" signs to cover any... damn... damn... damn.
So what do I do?
Well, actually, I'm going to go back, way back, to a small detail that was revoked during Crisis on Infinite Earths. So, here's my pitch (incidentally, I'd use the Origin and 1602 artist team of Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove).
The narrator of the story is a retired soldier and spy, Alfred Pennyworth. His story begins in an indeterminate time and in a back alley somewhere. We see a family being attacked, followed by a robber tearing through the alley. He hides, checking what he's gotten away with... and then he is attacked. We don't see much of the attacker, but we do see some familiar details... a cape and dark boots mostly... until, eventually, we get the money shot. A full view of... The Bat. His costume is very different, and much cruder than the costume that we are somewhat used to. There is no cowl, but instead a black hood, and a large black mask, which rises up at the ears. This is Dr. Thomas Wayne.
Dr. Wayne does his best to support his family, but he has some issues that nobody other than Alfred knows about. Alfred is his closest friend, and has become his butler. It was his idea for Thomas to become a vigilante — a way to feel that he was doing some good after trying (and failing) to save victims of violent crimes. It wasn't something he did often, and it was something he stopped doing altogether when he was diagnosed with cancer — something that his young son, Bruce, knows nothing about. We spend the first couple of issues learning about Thomas, and how the man he was led to Bruce becoming the man he grew into.
By issue three the mugger kills Bruce's parents. Bruce has a moment where he nearly lunges for the gun, but he hesitates out of fear — a moment that he never forgets. Alfred becomes his legal guardian, and it's Alfred's business sense that makes Bruce a multimillionaire, helping him invest money wisely in scientific and military research.
However, Bruce is suffering from mental trauma as a result of seeing his parents murdered and the guilt he feels. He becomes obsessed with the bat imagery (as a subconscious result of seeing his father in his outfit once), and has a total phobia of it. Alfred helps Bruce train and acts as his therapist as well, leading to Bruce realizing that he must become his phobia in order to overcome it. He becomes The Batman, and, with Alfred's help, extends on what his father did.
At the end of the first storyline, we find that Alfred is telling this story to a tape recorder, and puts it into a safe, in order to explain matters if Bruce dies.
The primary differences I would have would be to have more of a backstory, and for Alfred to take a more active role. I'd also work on the idea that Bruce is a man with serious mental issues, and that would presumably also be a recurrent theme.
Other than that, there wouldn't be too many changes to the dynamic, although it would be a bit closer to Batman Year One and The Long Halloween in style and atmosphere. One idea that I would seriously toy with would be to have Jim Gordon find out relatively early who Batman is; there is a dynamic there that I think would be interesting to explore.
So there's my idea. Love it or hate it, it would certainly make things a little different.
The Batman character is legendary, as much a part of comic book lore as DC-mate Superman. His story remains largely unchanged throughout all these years, which poses an interesting question. Why? What could changing a character such as Batman harm? He's a proven draw, and is too popular to take much of a hit if changed — especially if the change is well thought out. Upon the suggestion of writing my own Ultimate Batman — not unlike the Ultimate versions of Marvel superheroes — I was intrigued, because Batman has very concrete moments in his history that need to remain unchanged for him to retain the essence that makes him Batman. He also has a lot of grey areas that makes for an interesting character, but also begs to be explored.
Number one, the most important event in young Bruce Wayne's life must still occur and it must remain as coldhearted and ruthless as it was originally. In front of his eyes, both of his parents must be gunned down and he must see the killer and be helpless. This feeling of futility in tandem with the grief changed Bruce Wayne, making him the kind of person that allows himself to dress up like a bat and terrorize criminals (from the most petty purse snatcher to the organized crime kingpins). This event holds another weight as well — especially in my Ultimate Batman — as this event allows for the introduction of a primary villain for Bruce's early pre-Batman / post-murder years and beyond. The murder would go something like this: Bruce and his parents are fresh from a movie, young Bruce is beaming, the whole family has had a nice evening (dinner and a movie) and next on the agenda is a trip to the ice cream parlor for a round of shakes and a banana split for Bruce. Upon their exit from the theatre, a mugger with an unusually long face and a cruel, wide smile accosts Mrs. Wayne and attempts to take her purse. The man is repelled by Mr. Wayne and Bruce watches. The cruel smile becomes a wide grin and a harsh cackle as the man pulls out a gun and shoots the couple. The man stares at Bruce, awaiting a move, when nothing happens, the man exits the scene — no purse, no wallet — leaving behind the remains of a happy family and a young boy in a state of shock. This man would become The Joker and this event will be the stem for it, tying the two together in a more permanent manner than the normal villain / hero dynamic allows for.
Psychologically, this effect of this event must be seen on Bruce, and it must have far ranging consequences. From the moment his parents are gunned down in front of him, Bruce Wayne changed. His body didn't run, but his brain did. I believe that an event such as this would create a situation where multiple personalities are spawned. At first it would be the "child Bruce" and a ruthless other personality, a protector-type personality. This ruthless personality would give him the drive to make himself the highly trained fighting machine and detective that is Batman. This protector mentality is not unusual of people that suffer from MPD, as it's a response to an event or events that cause trauma; this is a manner of relief from the trauma. As Bruce grows into the Gotham's favorite son role and builds his enterprise, he'll develop other personalities, and each one has traits and mannerisms that fit the role that they play. "Protector Bruce" is the Batman that stalks that night, "Charming Bruce" is the celebrity Bruce that Gotham fawns over, and there exists a more innocent Bruce (the child that was forever scarred by the murder of his parents). Most of his weaker moments in the Ultimate series would be the moments where young Bruce exposes himself, and openly mourns his situation. "Young Bruce" would also be aware of the other personalities, as oftentimes, a subject with "multiples" has one personality that is aware of the others, knows their purpose(s) and, more often than not, can bring the others out. With the "summoner" personality being filled by young traumatized Bruce, the personalities must fend for themselves, making Bruce more and more conflicted, and, as a result, more and more resolute in his extremes as the personalities exert their own will.
By focusing on the psychological effect of the murder on Bruce, the character of the Batman is allowed a little bit of his own shine. Because we are privy to the idea that there are multiple personalities inside him, the Batman / protector identity would have to be allowed to let loose a little bit in the way of self-control; this essentially takes away the more righteous Batman in lieu of a more ruthless menace to criminals everywhere. The criminals would still make it to the jail or Arkham, but with more than a little roughing up. The protector / Batman will project the image of the murderer / Joker onto nearly all of his subjects, as that is his driving focus — the force that forced him to hone his skills — and this conflict would have to be the defining conflict of the series. As long as the series has the elements of Bruce's psychologically devastated mind, and a conflict between what his multiples want and what actual Bruce needs (in addition to his Joker conflict), this series could take on a whole new flavor.
Michael David Sims
Ultimizing Batman isn't as easy as it sounds. Because he's held so many roles over the years (RE: detective, urban commando, superhero, etc.), Batman is almost always fresh. On the rare occasions that he has gone stale, it isn't long before another writer comes around the bend and applies a new mask to the Dark Knight. So to reboot the character one must first decide what cannot change. And that would be:
— Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered.
— He spent the subsequent years honing his body to the peak of perfection.
— He has no powers.
— He dresses like a bat.
— He absolutely does not kill, and loathes guns.
Everything else can be tossed right out the window as far as I'm concerned. The fortune, estate, Alfred (as we know him), the high-tech gadgetry and the cave are all gone. So what's that leave us with?
Without his money Bruce has to hold an average job. Since he's so bent on fighting crime, he's either going to be a lawyer or police office. While I like the idea of making him an ADA, that's too Daredevil. And, with all of that training, when would he have had time to attend law school? So he's a police officer. A detective to be precise. This will allow Bruce to investigate crimes in the day (solving them within the law), thus leaving him time to bust the criminals (using excessive force if need be) at night.
Since Alfred keeps Batman grounded in the life of Bruce Wayne, what's to keep him from going off the deep end? His two best friends, Captain James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Though the three men are drastically different (Jim leads a normal home life, but has a girlfriend on the side; Harvey is gay and trying ever so desperately to keep it from the press and his friends; and Bruce is, well, Batman), they all truly believe in the law. Once a week the men gather to play poker and relax with a few drinks so as to forget about the daily stress they're all under in this corrupt city.
Toys don't make the man, but surviving on what he's got does. Basically, Batman's arsenal and costume consists of very simple items.
— A tight-fitting, long sleeve grey T-shirt with a black bat crudely painted on. For a gritty look (and to keep him warm on cold nights), he might wear a grey thermal undershirt instead of the T-shirt.
— Kevlar vest.
— Thin, black Lycra gloves. (A lockpick and razor are hidden inside.)
— A sturdy rope / grappling hook that's been fashioned into a belt.
— Black pants (from a karate Gi).
— Worn, black leather, steel toed boots.
The only item Bruce has spent considerable money on is the leather cape and cowl. Since he needs the criminals to fear him and since they'll most vividly recall his ears and "wings", Bruce had to make sure they looked good and were sturdy enough to withstand heavy use. (Should he come into a little money, I could see him going the route of The Crow with black leather pants and trenchcoat / cape, but he'd still have the grey shirt with the crudely painted bat.) And the reason he does not use Batarangs is because they'd have to be left behind at the scene (no time to collect them, after all), and, as a detective, he knows how easily trace evidence can be pulled from dropped weapons.
With all that out of the way, he needs some motivation. Now you're saying to yourself, "But you said his parents were murdered before his eyes, what more motivation could he need?" Not true. I said his parents were murdered, but I never said he saw it. In this reality, he wasn't even with them. Since the Waynes are no longer rich, they didn't die the way we all know (RE: "Crime Alley"). Instead, Thomas and Martha left Bruce at home with a sitter so they could go out on a date. While they were driving back home, Thomas called the house and asked Bruce if he wanted ice cream. Bruce gleefully asked for mint chocolate chip, and so his parents stopped at a local gas station to grab some. While Thomas went in, Martha sat out front in the car talking to Bruce on the cell phone. All of a sudden gun shots rang out from inside the little store, and Martha saw her husband slump to the ground. She drops the phone and screams. Panicked, Mrs. Wayne starts to exit the car, but is shot several times by the fleeing assailant. She too crumples to the cold ground, and the crook steals their car. Having been on the phone with his mother, Bruce overheard the entire thing and was helpless to save them — not that he could have even if he was there.
This helplessness stays with Bruce for years, as does the guilt of having asked them to stop for ice cream. Had he not asked for some, he figures, his parents wouldn't have died. So in his mind at least, it's entirely his fault. Also, since he was not there and no one was left alive to ID the perp, young Bruce fears that the gunman could be out there waiting to kill him at any minute. This deep, dark fear rides the boy into his teens, until he realizes that the man is not coming for him. However, upon realizing this, his life changes because Bruce now knows that any criminal could be the murderer and he vows to stop them all because eventually, he figures, he'll get the guy.
From the murder onward, Bruce was raised by Alfred, his mother's uncle — a cold and distant man, but one that sympathizes with Bruce. Having served time in Korea, Alfred spent many years learning Tae Kwon Do and teaches it to Bruce in order to save the boy from his fears of becoming a victim. The one martial art is not enough for Bruce, however, and he takes up several more, mastering many by the time he graduated college and the police academy. Sadly, old age caught uncle Alfred while Bruce was away at school, leaving the young man without a trace of family.
Even with all his training and desire to stop crime, his role as a police officer (at the time he was still a patrolman) wasn't enough. That all changed, however when he and his partner chased a child molesting clown into an abandoned warehouse. There the clown hid in the shadows, but his presence was given away by a single bat that just so happened to fly into the same corner as the creep. Fearful of bats, the clown screamed and screamed until the two officers found him hunched over, cowering. As they dragged him outside, Bruce chanced a glance upward and saw the bat fly away.
Later, Bruce stayed up all night fashioning his very first "bat-man" costume out of supplies he had lying around his apartment, and took to the rooftops. After a long night of stopping nothing, the vigilante spots a robbery in progress at a local gas station. Struck by sharp images of his parents' deaths, Batman swoops down to apprehend the gunmen — which he does rather easily. And while a very small part of him wonders if this is the same man that ruined his life, a larger part knows chances of that are slim and so his resolve to stop all crime — so he can eventually avenge his parents — is cemented in his heart.
While the Gotham City we all know is dark and dirty, this one is grittier and wracked by poverty. And since I want to set this more in reality (RE: less supervillains), Batman's rogues gallery has more hardened criminals than it does loons.
— The Joker: What's worse than a crazed, homicidal clown? A sane, child molesting one. Also, his face has not been scarred by chemicals and bleached permanently white. It's everyday grease paint he uses to attract children.
— Two-Face: After the don of a crime family had Harvey's homosexuality leaked to the press, Dent attempted to live his life as normally as he could. But the media pressure was too much to handle, so he went into hiding. Holed up in a secluded cabin, Harvey fell asleep one night with the space heater on. The notoriously faulty device set fire to the wooden building, burning half of Dent's body before he could escape. After the wounds had healed and all that was left was scars, Harvey shoved his two oldest friends away. How could they ever understand the secret of living a double life? As Harvey laid there in the hospital, he came to realize that had the mafia don not gone to the press, none of this would have happened. So Dent sets out to kill the man and all of his cronies. Because Bruce / Batman can't allow anyone to kill, he and Dent find themselves at odds. As Harvey puts it, "We're opposite sides of the same coin."
— Victor Zsasz: A rapist / murderer whose face, chest and arms are covered in scars from all of his victims having scratched him while attempting to break free.
— Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze: Abducts and murders young women, and keeps their corpses in his basement freezer. He then chops the women into pieces and sews their parts together; thus forming a horribly ugly monstrosity he calls "Nora".
— Harley Quinn: Sadly, this young woman was one of The Joker's earliest victims. When the stress of coping with her pain became too much, she snapped and began to sympathize with her one-time attacker and has even fallen in love with him. And since "the bat-man" is always stopping the love of her life, Quinn makes it her mission to put an end to the vigilante.
— Catwoman: She actually stays pretty much intact as a cat burglar that was inspired by Batman (or, by his costume at least). She's more of a Robin Hood, however, donating whatever she steals to various charities. This bothers Batman because she's a "shade of grey" he's not used to dealing with.
There of course would be more villains — some new, some updates — but, for the most part, I'd want them all grounded in reality and relatively sane. In fact, the only two (from the list above) who have lost it are Quinn and Freeze. Dent is perfectly sane. He knows exactly what he's doing, and is more of a Punisher-type villain than anything else.
So that's it. That's my take on Ultimate Batman.
I hope you all enjoyed this piece, and came away with your own ideas on how you would create an Ultimate Batman. Maybe we'll conduct another one of these in the near future, especially with Superman Returns on the horizon.