Batman’s dad Thomas Wayne is a bad guy now. He didn’t used to be. He was the kind doctor and philanthopist who taught his son to be charitable and benevolent. Suddenly, he’s a villain in nearly every new story. What’s going on?
Thomas Wayne was the benevolent, beloved father of Bruce Wayne. He was a doctor who did charitable work. His son Bruce becomes Batman after Thomas and his wife Martha are shot dead by a random mugger. That’s what kicks off the whole Batman story.
Since 1939, Thomas and Martha Wayne were just ciphers. They had no personalities. Readers just assumed they were good people who became victims of crime. They were the plot device whose deaths traumatized their son into dressing up like a bat to beat up criminals at night.
A Flood of Nasty Thomas Waynes
This started with Geoff Johns’ Flashpoint where Thomas Wayne became Murderous Batman after his son Bruce was gunned down in a mugging. Never mind that it makes no sense for Thomas Wayne to become Batman. Bruce became Batman because that is the childish fantasy of a traumatised child. Thomas Wayne was an adult – and a doctor – and there was never any reason he would dress up as a bat. You don’t need to dress up as a bat to shoot criminals.
Then in the Telltale Batman games, Bruce discovers Thomas Wayne was a gangster who profited off crime in Gotham. He did deals with the city’s crimelords and corrupt politicians to keep a base of power and wealth. In the Black Label comic Batman: Damned, Bruce Wayne relives the trauma of realising Thomas Wayne cheated on his wife.
Now, on top of Tom King bringing back Flashpoint Batman That Makes No Sense, we have the the Joker movie. Here, Thomas Wayne is a full-on rich scumbag. He’s smug, entitled and condescending to the poor. He runs for mayor under the assumption that he would win because he thinks he deserves it. The movie features the fullest depiction of Thomas Wayne as an utter creep.
Is This Just The Rise of the Rich Meanie?
Is this part of the social backlash against the 1%? Are the (male) writers playing out their daddy issues on Thomas Wayne? Or is it a combination of both? Is it a cheap “dad was a dick” trope to claim emotional depth in writing?
A writer friend chalks it up to the current cultural moment. The zeitgeist insists that wealthy middle-aged white men (in fiction and in real life) must be reevaluated and reappraised. Previously saintly and benevolent rich white guy characters have to be retconned into bigoted, avaricious enforcers of the oppressive status quo. No one becomes a billionaire by being a nice guy. That’s the general mood and belief.
Thomas Wayne can’t be a classic “limousine liberal” anymore. He can’t be the benevolent, patrician physician-philanthropist who renewed and reinvigorated Gotham through his “good works”. He needs to be a kleptocratic corporatist with #MeToo scandals swept under the rug now. As Balzac said, “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”
Perhaps it’s simply the turning of the tides.
Of course, we also had Jor-El brought back as a meanie ever since Convergence and Rebirth as well. Jor-El wasn’t a benevolent scientist – he’s now a war criminal. In Wonder Woman, Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons captured and raped sailors in order to breed. In DC Comics of the past, parents were reassuring pillars of home, love and stability. Now, DC Comics insist that parents are monsters.
Do they know something we don’t? The sign of the times is weird.