The Superheroes

Inside the mind of Batman and other larger-than-life heroes.

Batman's Mental Health Part 2

More about whether there's something the matter with Batman.

Robin on Batman; illustration adapted from a drawing by Norm Breyfogle
Robin on Batman
In my last post, I discussed Batman’s mental health and wanted to “get out of the way” some obvious “issues” that Batman seems to have. I brought up Batman’s lapse in  judgment in taking a minor, Dick Grayson, as a ward and sidekick. I begin this post by continuing the discussion of Batman’s lapses in judgment in taking on additional minors as sidekicks.

Further lapses in judgment came with his taking on each subsequent Robin. In Jason Todd’s case, Wayne struggled against the lesser of two evils; Todd had been trying to steal the Batmobile’s hubcaps and Wayne felt that if Todd weren’t taken in hand and shaped to use his talents for good then Todd would end up on the wrong side of the law.

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Other Robins (Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown) have had that role because they asked Batman to allow them to be Robin. (They were young and the idea of being Robin is exciting and cool, as well as providing a great purpose to their lives.) It’s up to the adult—to Batman—to exercise good judgment, which he didn’t. It may have been bad judgment for him to accede to their wish and continue to allow them to be in the role, but that doesn’t mean Batman has a mental disorder: Bad judgment does not necessarily indicate a psychiatric disorder.

Batman didn’t have anything to do with the most recent Robin—Damian Wayne—assuming that role. Wayne didn’t even know that he had a son until presented with his pre-teen son Damian.[1] Damian’s ascension to the role of Robin occurred during a period of Wayne’s extended absence from Gotham City[2], when the adult Dick Grayson stepped into the role of Batman; it was Grayson who allowed Damian to become Robin. Once Bruce Wayne returned, however, he allowed his son to continue in that role.[3] Given that Damian Wayne had been trained at a young age to kill—by the nefarious League of Assassins—it is (somewhat) understandable that Wayne would want to try to remold Damian to use his talents for good, just as Wayne attempted to do with Jason Todd.

Substance Abuse: Pain Relief

Batman’s crime-fighting activities can leave his body battered, bruised, or broken. Alfred not only acts as butler to Bruce Wayne and concierge to Batman, he also acts as doctor and nurse to the Caped Crusader—stitching wounds, setting broken bones, even performing some surgical procedures. Batman’s body suffers.

Does Batman take pain medication to help him keep going, and if so, is he “addicted”—does he have a substance abuse problem? Stories don’t often indicate that Batman takes anything to dull his pain, probably because if he did he’d be slowed down and his senses dulled—and make him more likely to get really hurt by a criminal. So it’s not likely that he self-medicates. Most of the time that he’s had a significant injury he seems to do what some people with chronic pain have learned to do: accept the pain, compartmentalize it, and live life anyway.

All That Money

Wayne is an incredibly smart man who has found a way to make his money grow, and then to divert money to fund his activities as Batman. I don’t see anything about his spending habits that indicates signs of a mental illness. It would be a warning sign if he went on spending sprees and he often purchased unneeded items—this could possibly indicate manic episodes of bipolar disorder.[4] Or if Bruce spent large sums of money to protect himself against an unknown enemy that no one else had reason to believe posed a threat—this could indicate that Wayne might be suffering from paranoia. But that’s not the case. The money he spends to support his activities as Batman, phenomenal though they may be, is well spent to prepare him to fight Gotham City’s criminals.

What Personal Life?

Bruce Wayne doesn’t have much of a personal life. When he’s not busy as Batman (in or out of the cowl), he’s overseeing the Wayne Foundation (his philanthropic organization) or Wayne Enterprises (formerly called WayneCorp, the company he owns and from which his wealth derives). Moreover, he must devote some time to the parties of the rich and famous (including his own) to keep up his billionaire-playboy façade. He’s juggling multiple full-time jobs. Yes, he tends not to have relationships with people outside of his work life, but the same can be said for many of us—particularly if we spend many hours at work, side by side with our colleagues. Plus, given the secret of the Batman part of his life, it’s hard to let other people in. If and when he does tell a woman he’s romantically involved with about his secret life, she’s likely to get twisted up when he goes to work each night.

This is what happened with Silver St. Cloud; she is a wealthy and sharp woman in Bruce’s circle who deduced that Bruce Wayne is also Batman. Although they love each other, after she witnessed the Caped Crusader fight the Joker she realized that she couldn’t be in a romantic relationship because of the stress of worrying whether he’ll come home each night.[5] One appeal of Catwoman as a romantic partner is that there’s less that Wayne has to keep from her (except his Wayne identity in some stories), and she truly understands who he is as Batman. He is fully known.

Bruce is also fully known by his butler/sidekick Alfred. Ditto with any of the five Robins. Alfred and each Robin know about Bruce’s dual identities, about his history and vulnerabilities, and about his mission. Wayne is thus truly and fully known and accepted by more people than most of us can claim.[6] 

This blog post is adapted from the book What’s the Matter with Batman? An Unauthorized Clinical Look Under the Mask of the Caped Crusader, by Robin. S. Rosenberg.

Copyright 2012 by Robin S. Rosenberg

[1] In Grant Morrison’s story arc Batman and Son (1996).

[2] During the Final Crisis storyline in the comics (2008).

[3] In Batman & Robin #2 (2011).

[4] One could argue that among the wealthy, most purchases are “unneeded”: another house or apartment, another sports car, another work of art, clothes for a makeover. Such spending sprees might indicate mania if they were different from the person’s usual behavior, and occurred along with other symptoms of mania.

[5] The seminal story of Silver and Bruce, written by Steve Englehart in 1977-1978, is in Detective Comics #469-476, 478, 479, and also collected in the bound volume Batman: Strange Apparitions.

[6] As I have noted in other writings, one element of his personal life that I find potentially psychologically interesting is his relationship with Alfred Pennyworth, his butler. In Wayne’s youth, Alfred functioned as a de facto guardian, yet during Wayne’s adulthood, Alfred’s role is that of assistant: he takes orders from Wayne, but their familiarity and long history allows Alfred to “reprimand” Wayne occasionally. The closest analogies I can think of is the relationship between an adult and his or her nanny from childhood, or an executive and his or her coach.

Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D., has taught psychology at Lesley University and Harvard University. She is the editor of the anthology The Psychology of Superheroes. more...

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