A QUESTION OF AGE Part 2: Bruce Wayne
Modern Age Bruce Wayne. According to my chronology he is (as of his birthday in February 2011) 48-years-old. Does this seem too old? Too young? Maybe you’re thinking, “Bruce looks a hell of a lot younger than 48.” Well, that argument can be thrown right out the window due to a string of seemingly pedantic but important factors. Modern Age Bruce has been resurrected from the dead by metahuman power (Super Powers), re-generated by a Lazarus Pit (Birth of the Demon), healed by the Holy Grail (The Chalice), psychically healed by metahuman power (Knightquest), killed and resurrected magickally (JLA: Obsidian Age), mended in an Apokoliptian healing-chamber (Superman/Batman: Torment), sent to live as a god for thousands of years on ancient Earth-1 (Trinity), nourished by the Fountain of Life at Nanda Parbat (Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul), enlivened by the “lazarus machine” at Vanishing Point (Return of Bruce Wayne), and re-animated by Metron after dying and visiting the New God afterworld (Return of Bruce Wayne). And there are more instances like that, but I digress. There’s a good chance Bruce would look young, fit, and healthy well past his prime. But how did I get to 48?
First, let’s begin with DC’s version of Bruce’s life. DC tells us (in Frank Miller’s “Year One”) that Bruce becomes Batman at age 26 in Year 1. Robin comes along in Year 3 (age 29). In Batman #416, which takes place shortly before Jason Todd’s death, Nightwing says that he became Robin 6 years ago. So, when Jason dies in what must be Year 9 according to DC, Bruce is 35. After Zero Hour retcons and “sliding timelines,” we get to various Greg Rucka ‘tec tales and mini-series (Death and the Maidens) where we are told Bruce’s parents died roughly 25 years ago. If Bruce’s parents died when he was 8 (as we are told in Zero Hour), that means Bruce should be 33 around the time of Death and the Maidens, Hush, and other tales of that era, which is impossible. Even DC editors realized this paradox pretty quickly, which is why those “25 years ago” blanket statements were quickly ignored and/or halted. Therefore, the next possible reference we can use (and the primary reference that DC editors used towards the end of the Modern Age) is the age of Tim Drake. Tim Drake shows up a few months after Jason’s death (Year 10) and is age 13 when he debuts as Robin. By mid 2011, according to DC editors, he was 17. Therefore, 4 years would have passed since Year 10, making 2011 equal Year 14 with Bruce at 40 years of age. This coincides with Grant Morrison’s run in Batman RIP, where we were told that Bruce was in his thirties (and, in my opinion, going on forty). This also confirms that Batman, according to DC writers and editors, was in his 14th year of costumed adventuring by 2011.
This is all fine and dandy, but unfortunately, in order for this version of events to fit correctly into any chronology we must ignore the fact (as we did regarding the life and times of Timothy Drake) that seasons change, holidays come and go, and time literally is shown passing over the years. Again, we would have to assume that from the time Tim became Robin all the way up to the 2011 Red Robin storylines, only 4 years had passed. Put another way: The Death and Return of Superman, Knightfall, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, Bruce Wayne Murderer, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Countdown, Batman RIP, Final Crisis, 52, Battle for the Cowl, every single Morrison and post-Morrison JLA story, and a nearly uncountable number of other tales all take place in a mere 4 years! Again, maybe this works in the DCnU where these stories have become mere references, but in the Modern Age? No way, Jose.
Here’s how I see things. Let’s start with Frank Miller’s “Year One.” Bruce arrives back in Gotham from his training and traveling abroad in January at age 25. By April he is 26 (b-day in February) and has become Batman. Pre-original Crisis tales always put Bruce’s birthday in February, so that fits with Miller’s “Year One.” According to my chronology, 22 full “Bat Years” (running from April to March) transpire (up to 2011) making Bruce 48-years-old. (26+22=48). Seems simple, right? Of course not. Let’s start with the one solid fact we know, according to the gospel of Saint Frank: Bruce is 26 in April of his first year as Batman, having just turned 26 two months prior. According to my chronology, Bruce’s first year as Batman is 1989. During Zero Hour, which was published in 1994, we learn (canonically) that Bruce’s folks died in autumn when he was 8-years-old. If Batman’s first year is 1989 and he is 26, then that means Bruce’s folks died in 1971, which in turn means that the February 8 years prior to that (the one in which Bruce was born) was in 1963. 1963 to 2011. Do the math. Bruce is 48-years-old in 2011.
This age also works when we contrast it to other characters around him, such as Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. Bruce is 26 when he starts as Batman. Six years later Dick Grayson arrives on the scene. (Dick is twelve-years-old when his folks plummet to their grisly deaths). Bruce is 32. Four years later, Dick becomes Nightwing. Bruce is 36. Three years later, Tim becomes Robin. Bruce is 39. Nine years later (during which time we have the vast amount of stories I listed above) we reach the end of the Modern Age in 2011 and Bruce is 48. I’ve done a ton of compression to make this work, but unlike DC editors, I haven’t ignored stories or the literal passage of time that is definitively shown in the comics. Don’t get me wrong, I like DC’s version because it’s simple and works well, especially if you want to say “the New Earth created during Infinite Crisis did the same thing the original-Crisis did: It wiped out everything prior and created a new timeline loosely based upon seventy years of stories that took place before it.” If that is the case, then you can say (although it’s still a bit of a stretch) that Tim was only Robin for 4 years and Bruce 40-years-old in 2011. If we did that, then our chronology would look a bit different. (It would look more like a quasi-New 52 chronology, now that I think about it). We would have a bunch of bullet reference notes and only the stories after Infinite Crisis would be considered true canon. Just for kicks I’ve invented a timeline/chronology that fits into the DC editors’ mentality just to have a version to compare-and-contrast. However, for my chronology I refuse to blatantly ignore the passage of time and disregard hundreds (if not thousands) of stories to make a neat little package. Hell, I’ve already ignored all of the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Bronze Age. DC wants me to ignore the bulk of the Modern Age too!
-  VALHERU: [written a year before the DCnU reboot/relaunch] I think trying to place correct and definitive ages on the Modern Age DC characters is a losing battle. I’m as much a stickler for chronology as the next guy, but the problem with ages is that they’re static. In fact, age is probably the most untouchable thing in comics. As long as DC publishes Bruce Wayne, he’ll always be “in his prime.” That means that Dick Grayson’s ceiling will forever be “near-prime,” Tim Drake’s will be “sub-prime,” and so forth (Barbara Gordon might be exempt from this as long as she’s not in “fighting shape,” but even she’ll never be older that Bruce’s mid-thirties). That won’t stop writers from giving Tim Drake a birthday every few years, no matter how teenaged DC policy dictates him to be, just like Jeph Loeb kept inventing multiple Halloweens into Year 2.
It’s really just a matter of inevitability. Batman, as a property, is 70-years-old, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue for 70 more. DC can do the “4-years-are-1″ thing for a while, but what happens in 40 years? Suddenly everyone will look up and notice that Tim is almost 30 and Bruce is getting near retirement age. Hell, we might have four more generations of Robins by then. No editor is going to be disciplined enough to maintain every aspect of the timestream, and no writer is going to let it get in the way of their Great Batman Story.
I’ve long thought that the best thing to do is not to slide the timeline, but rather slide the progression. If Superman and Batman are never going to age, then DC just needs to make them not age; if Dick Grayson is never going to reach his 30s, then make him age slower; Tim Drake can age a little faster, and Damien a little faster than that, but they all have ceilings. DC could do a big event crossover, have the whole universe hit by some “Age Wave,” and there’s our explanation. Why has Tim had 61 birthdays and he’s only 17-years-old? Age Wave. How can Batman have had 39 teenage Robins who are all now in their mid-20s yet he’s still under 40? Age Wave. Let it just be a fundamental force of the DCU.
There’s a secondary benefit of an Age Wave as well: Combined with the principle of Hypertime, it would allow modern eras to operate on their own chronological progressions without forcing the rest of the timeline. For instance, we could say that everything up to NO MAN’S LAND is Years 1-9, and it operates on the Year Timescale, but the current era from Rucka to Morrison is allowed to progress however it wants through its own timescale; however, once the current era ends, it passes into the jurisdiction of the Year Timescale, where it becomes Year 10 regardless of its original chronology. The Bat-universe already operates this way, it’s just not intentional—Miller’s artificial “Gangster Era” is Year 1, the Kane/Finger era is Year 2, LONG HALLOWEEN and/or DARK VICTORY constitutes Year 3, the post-Robin Golden Age is Year 4, the Silver Age is Years 5-6, and so on, with the 2 most recent Years being roughly the O’Neil-edited era. It’s basically a retcon system, but unlike CRISIS (which I really think shouldn’t apply to Batman, since it barely touched him anyway), it retcons Year-to-Year, not Crisis-to-Crisis.
It’s a bit of no-prize fanwanking, but still: The key is to systematize it in such a way that readers can understand. It needs to be almost like a contract, similar to the understanding in a mystery novel that the writer won’t play fast and loose with the facts. Readers will accept the accordion timeline if they know that’s how it works, just as they accept the idea that Joker will always get the insanity plea. But that also means DC has to establish the rules and abide by them. If Year 1 is the “normal” era, then no Monster Men or Dirigibles of Doom until after the Joker debuts, no funky chronologies that have seventy-two things happening on November 16th and six-month gaps where Batman is hooked on drugs. If DC can’t say with the same certainty that Batman had a Batmobile by Date X that they can say a Wonder Woman with green hair is from Earth-193, then a chronology simply cannot be had. But if they CAN, then certain doors will open up: If Year 1 is supposed to be normal and it is, then if Year 3 is supposed to be madcap and nonsensical, we won’t expect temporality in Year 3. There can be 26 Halloweens in Year 3. But then when Year 9 comes along and we expect a year of No Man’s Land, a year is what we should have. The problem, of course, is that DC has never officially categorized Batman’s Years, so it’s left to people like you and Chris Miller to do the work for them, even as they continue to ignore it all. The Clayfaces don’t even debut in order anymore; we can’t expect that ages make any more sense than that.
COLLIN COLSHER: Ain’t it the truth, Val. I should have opened the “Modern Ages” section of the website with a disclaimer re-iterating basically everything you’ve summed up in your footnote here. As I’ve said in the beginning of the project, this chronology (and Chris Miller’s) is and forever will be a losing battle. “There is no right answer. There can never be a right answer.” I just quoted myself! Anyway, I like your DC-version of the timeline (Miller’s Year 1, followed by the Kane/Finger era is Year 2, LONG HALLOWEEN / DARK VICTORY Year 3, the post-Robin Golden Age is Year 4, the Silver Age is Years 5-6, Year 10 is NML and so on and so forth…) and this version (as in the one that synchs up with DC’s quasi-official history) can be found HERE. The “Age Wave” could definitely work and is an interesting and novel idea. And as far as fighting a losing battle, this is a battle that I quite enjoy losing. I can’t speak for Chris Miller, but the idea of giving these characters specific ages is damn near impossible. Hell, it is impossible. But I’m trying to get as close to something realistic as I can. The fact that I can even conjure up a feasible timeline with specific character ages is a true testament to how great the editors and writers over at DC really are. If it seems like I complain about them a lot, it’s only because I’m trying to pull a camel through the eye of a needle and they aren’t helping me do it!
At Comic Con International 2010 a young man asked Grant Morrison how old characters like Bruce Wayne and the various Robins were supposed to be. “It doesn’t matter. You must understand these people aren’t real,” Morrison said to laughter. “Batman is a mythical figure. I’m being funny, but I’m not being funny. They don’t live in the real world. It’s like this theory I’ve been developing – you know what they always say about kids? That kids can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. And that’s actually bullshit. When a kid’s watching ‘The Little Mermaid,’ the kids knows that those crabs that are singing and talking aren’t really like the crabs on the beach that don’t talk. A kid really knows the difference. Then you’ve got an adult, and adults cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You bring them fantasy, and the first thing they say is ‘How did he get that way? Why does he dress like that? How did that happen?’ It’s not real. And beyond that, when you’re dealing with characters, they exist on paper. They’re real in that context. I always say they’re much more real than we are because they have much longer lives and more people know about them. But we get people reading superhero comics and going, ‘How does that power work? And why does Scott Summers shoot those beams? And what’s the size of that?’ It’s not real! There is no science. The science is the science of ‘Anything can happen in fiction and paper’ and we can do anything. We’ve already got the real world. Why would you want fiction to be like the real world? Fiction can do anything, so why do people always want to say, ‘Let’s ground this’ or ‘Let’s make this realistic.’ You can’t make it realistic because it’s not. So basically Batman is 75-years-old, and Robin is 74-years-old. They don’t grow old because they’re different from us. They’re paper people.”
VALHERU: “They’re paper people.” LOL. That explains 80 percent of what Morrison has ever written. I get his concept, but it does highlight my main problem with Grant’s work on Batman (and to a certain extent, on X-Men): he stretches suspension of disbelief into a belief of disbelief. It works on Doom Patrol and The Invisibles and JLA—even Batman in JLA—but not Batman in Gotham. What makes Batman unique is his reality—sure, maybe there were eras where he got wacky and met talking gorillas, but we’ve had at least 25 years of proof-positive popular consensus that expects Batman (though not necessarily his villains) to be grounded in an approximated realism that makes even James Bond look ridiculous. Even if it isn’t real, it must look real. Batman may have been around for 75 years, but he’s not 75-years-old, not even as a paper-person; such an idea doesn’t look even remotely realistic.
I think of the billion-plus dollars Chris Nolan has raked in, not simply by doing Batman movies but PLAUSIBLE Batman movies, and then wonder why DC decided to opt out of their own zeitgeist by letting Grant Morrison go noir-weird.
COLLIN COLSHER: Grant Morrison’s comment was a quick dodge of the question (albeit quite a wordy Morrisonian one). Of course no DC writer will ever give a definitive answer regarding character age. “Paper people”, “Robin is 74″… I found it to be quite funny actually! And whether or not you like the “belief of disbelief” style that Morrison has applied to Batman (and many find his Batman to be completely inaccessible), you can’t deny that his books sell pretty damn well. Personally, (and I might be in the minority on this one) I find the Nolan films to be very poorly written and at times burdened by the restraints of the realism/plausibility in which they are supposed to exist. Though, I can definitely understand where you are coming from Val (and there are definitely a lot of people out there that agree with you), but it seems that the reasons you take issue with Morrison’s work are the very reasons I enjoy it so much! But as always, I love the scholarly aperçu you always bring to the table and the insight demonstrated with your every comment. ↩
-  AIDAN K: Here’s yet another viable alternative to Bruce’s age. Looking at a couple of lines in Morrison’s “RIP,” I came up with Bruce around age 44 at the time of the reboot. Funny that we get a another answer. Here’s my reasoning: First, we have from the Black Casebooks (in Batman #678) that “5 years into the mission” is still the Silver Age, though it appears to be the tail end. Add eleven years for Damian’s age, a year for his gestation/time for Bruce and Talia to fall in love in a whirlwind 3 months, and a buffer year between the Silver Age and Saga of the Demon (where Dick leaves, etc.) and we get Bruce at roughly age 43 during “RIP” and age 44 at the time of Flashpoint. No idea how old this makes Alfred. Perhaps the whole “Outsider” affair rejuvenated him a bit.)
COLLIN COLSHER: This is definitely a possibility. However, the “five years into the mission” line from Batman #678 actually tells us that much of the GOLDEN AGE stuff—NOT Silver Age—occurs in the first five years of Batman’s career. Nor does it definitively mean that the Golden Age stuff immediately ends after five years. Thus, my reasoning for adding a four or five extra years is to accommodate the vast number of stories being squeezed into continuity, which includes the Silver Age tales. And furthermore, it is the reason for my labeling Bruce as a 48-year-old instead of a 44-year-old by the time of the reboot. ↩