I recently became a father and, as a fan of Batman I’ve often found myself wondering if it would be appropriate to purchase some weapons and body armor for myself and my son and to patrol the streets searching for criminals to stop.
Not really, but it begs the question: do the adults who read (or write) Batman comics truly not realize how terrible a father Batman is?
Let’s be clear: I realize this is an abstract discussion and we’re dealing with comic book characters. Verisimilitude is not a strong feature of the genre. But Batman has the distinction of being at least remotely within the realm of possibility. It is possible that a wealthy man could decide to wage a one man war on crime, self funded and with all the expensive gadgets money can buy. Not sane, but possible.
However the plot breaks down when you bring a child into the mix. However you feel about any of the four Robins as characters (and for the record I hate them) the inclusion of a child side-kick not only ruins the tone of the tone of the comic bit brings another problem to light: does Batman think this is a good idea?
Taking a child into armed combat with known murderers and psychopaths is a sure way to get your child killed. Which is exactly what happened to Jason Todd. But it could easily have happened to Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, or Damian Wayne.
But glossing over Batman’s complete lack of regard for the safety of his adopted or biological children, let’s examine Bruce Wayne as a parent.
Although his relationship with Jason Todd and Tim Drake is mostly good, his relationship with Dick Greyson (Robin 1) and Damian Wayne (Robin 4) is troubled, to say the least.
As Dick Greyson grew older, he began to rely on Bruce less and less. In addition, Greyson disagreed with his father’s practice of using torture on criminals which often became a point of contention between the two. Greyson began to spread his wings, as it were, and joined the Teen Titans. Bruce eventually tells Dick that is he no longer wishes to be his partner then he has to quit being Robin. Bruce essentially fires Dick after he decides to take his life in a direction other than the one Bruce planned for him.
In this instance Bruce is the stereotypical overwhelming business tycoon, overbearing to the son he hopes he can leave the family business to. When that son decides to step out from underneath that father’s shadow, he is essentially disowned.
This comes up later when Bruce’s back is broken. He allows Jean Paul Valet to take up the mantle of Batman, rather than Dick, the man he trained for years. This of course is partly because Bruce fears Dick would seek out revenge against Bane, but he does a piss poor job of explaining this to the understandably hurt Dick.
Bruce as a parent (and as Batman) doesn’t really value differing opinions. He’s loath to admit that he was wrong, and this is often reinforced by the fact that he rarely is. This is a great character flaw for Batman but it’s a recipe for disaster as a parent.
Bruce exhibits what psychologists call the Authoritarian parenting style: my way or the highway essentially. If you read the literature on the subject the outcomes of this parenting style are generally not good. Kids raised in this manner tend to be less happy, conformist and are at higher risk for lower self esteem, depression and substance abuse, among other negative outcomes.
This treatment pales in comparison to how Bruce treats Damian Wayne, his son with Talia Al Ghul, and grandson of his mortal enemy Ra’s Al Ghul. When Bruce first meets his son he not only distrusts him but openly dislikes him. After treating him more like a prisoner than a son he is surprised when his son escaped the Gulag like Wayne Manor and murders a villain. Bruce is horrified by this behavior and punished him further. This is from the first storyline featuring Damian written by Grant Morrison who has the distinction of being the author who turned Batman into a truly terrible father.
In short: what exactly did Bruce think would happen when he grounds and then abandons his son who has the skills of a master assassin and the self control of a teenager with a raging boner. Except this boner is for murder rather than girls. Instead of sitting Damian down and explaining to him why his actions are wrong and more importantly what Bruce expects of Danien as a son, he is punished, given orders that he doesn’t understand (don’t kill is pretty foreign to a boy raised as an assassin) and punished again when he disobeys. It’s like taking a puppy who’s never been trained, told to “stay” and when the dog runs off and bites the neighbor he’s beaten with a rolled up newspaper all the while thinking “What the fuck is this shit? I did what I was supposed to do you asshole! That dog was on our lawn and I scared him away and this is the thanks I get?”
This begins a viscous cycle of poor parenting, followed by harsh punishment and eventually abandoning his own son several times. And let’s not forget that Damian has not only had to witness his own father physically fighting with his own mother but has been placed in the impossible position of being forced to choose between the two, and eventually joining in on the combat. Yeah, Damian’s chances of becoming a well adjusted adult are essentially zero.
All hope is not lost, however. In recent years some writers have attempted to repair Bruce’s relationship with his children, so varying degrees of effectiveness.
Still, this reinforces my theory that Batman should never have a sidekick, let alone one that is a child. In all honesty it runs contrary to everything that Batman is: a dark crusader, a loner, a man driven by his desire for justice. Batman comics are, at their very core, dark, brooding and noir; exactly the place that children characters don’t belong. Its why the Nolan films had no Robin, it’s why even Batman The Animated Series decided to have an adult, college aged Robin. Because the inclusion of a Robin character detracts from this mythos rather than adds to it.
To make matters worse, Batman appears to be totally incapable of being a good parent. Aside from the dark nature of the stories, the character is written in such a way as to be a truly terrible, if not abusive, father. And that makes me sad because it is the one thing that I truly hate about an otherwise awesome character.