One year ago, DC Comics sought to reinvigorate their publishing stable by rebooting the entire “DC Universe.” However, it was only a partial reboot. While they wanted to start from scratch, in order to provide a “jumping on” point for new readers, and allow the editorial freedom to explore new character directions, they also wanted to retain some of the more popular, recent material in the canon. They wanted to have their cake, and to eat it too. Consequently, Batman and Green Lantern were the two characters who were not truly rebooted. Much of their recent history remains, more or less, in tact. Rebooting can be problematic, but “half-booting” can be even more so, as we find when we try to answer the question: How old is Bruce Wayne?
Part of the editorial intent behind the New 52 is that the characters are younger. They haven’t been at the hero game as long; they’re fresher–less experienced. It’s certainly one way to inject new vitality into the stories. While I don’t think DC has put a precise number on any of the characters’ ages, we get the idea that Superman, for example, is in his mid-to-late 20s. We know that the Justice League was formed “five years ago,” and that some characters were operating previously to that (GL and Batman, for instance). While I haven’t seen it explicitly stated how long they’ve been active, I think we’re meant to understand it isn’t all that long.
Ambiguously aging characters and hazy continuity are all fine and good. It’s a staple of the superhero genre. But Batman has a very particular problem in this regard. He has Robins.
You see, it’s easy to de-age a character like Superman. You simply say “he became Superman five years ago.” Boom. Done. Throw out all his old continuity and there’s nothing standing in your way. But a character like Batman has all these young partners to consider. And they’re all still canon characters in the new continuity. Sure, we can pretend individual stories like Hush never happened, but we’re still meant to presume certain things haven’t changed, such as Dick Grayson’s and Damien Wayne’s origins. Given the amount of history it would take to account for Batman’s legacy of young sidekicks, how young can the New 52’s Bruce Wayne possibly be? Let’s start at the beginning and try to figure it out.
It’s hard to make the case that Bruce first became Batman any younger than 24 years old. He had a lot of training and education to get through before he took up the mantel in earnest. Let’s assume he could breeze through graduate-level science and criminology courses in record time, all while undergoing intense martial arts training. Even for a comic book world, it’s hard to swallow him doing that any younger than 24 years old, give or take.
So, at age 24, Bruce puts on the cowl and goes spelunking. Let’s say he does this for about a year before meeting up with Dick Grayson. Let’s say Dick is 14—about as young as can be conceived, but still barely young enough to feel like the ward of a 25-year-old. Now, we can venture that most of the old Batman and Robin stories never happened in the New 52, but any way you slice it, Bruce and Dick must have had a ton of adventures together. It’s a basis for their relationship, even in the rebooted continuity. Let’s say they were the dynamic duo for four years. A bit arbitrary, but it provides a good length of time for them to bond, and times well with Dick’s turning 18, when we might say he went off on his own to lead the New Teen Titans (or some New 52 iteration of the same). The Teen Titans’ history may be greatly altered in the New 52, but it’s strongly implied that a team of young heroes, including Dick Grayson, Starfire, and others, existed at some point.
So, Dick’s gone. Batman broods around for another year before hooking up with Jason Todd. That makes Bruce 30 at this point. Let’s call Jason Todd 14 as well. Todd’s tenure as Robin was short-lived (no pun intended), so let’s say their pairing only lasted a year. I won’t venture to say whether he was thought to be killed, or if all the “Hush” business went down. It doesn’t matter. He leaves Bruce at around 15-16 years of age. Bruce is 31.
At this point in the old universe, Bruce went some time without a sidekick. “Never again,” right? Let’s give the New 52 the benefit of the doubt and say that didn’t happen. Say he only went one year solo. 32.
Tim Drake. There has already been some discrepancy on whether Tim Drake was ever Robin in the world of the New 52. Writer Scott Lobdell has been quoted as saying Red Robin has been the character’s only identity in the new universe. That would be at odds with the comics, which have explicitly stated that Drake was once Robin. It makes no difference. Whether he worked under the name Robin or Red Robin, he certainly was a partner of Batman at some point. That much has been well established. Let’s again say he took on that role at 14. Let’s say served two years, and at 16 went off to do his own thing (whatever that was). That would now make Bruce 34.
We know that Hal Jordan met Batman and the Justice League began to form “five years ago.” That period seems to be sometime after Tim Drake had left the scene, and before Damien Wayne entered it. That puts a “present day” Bruce Wayne at 39 years old. But let’s try and fudge things a little. Let’s say that Hal met Bruce in the period between Jason Todd and Tim Drake. Let’s say the Justice League was formed just prior to Drake joining Bruce, and that his tenure (being only two years) was over and done before the New 52 “present time.” That would make Nightwing 26, Jason Todd 21, and Tim Drake 18. That all seems to work for the stories being told. But it still makes Bruce Wayne 37.
A 37-year-old Bruce Wayne would imply a Batman at the peak of his crime fighting career, with over a decade of experience. I’m not sure if that’s what DCs New 52 is aiming for. There are little clues dropped here and there—in Detective Comics for example, Bruce mentions that the Mathis murder took place when he was “still a teenager.” That would need to be nearly twenty years in the past. But Commissioner Gordon refers to it as just “over a decade ago.” Ambiguous, at best. What’s more, in every title in which he appears, Bruce is drawn looking definitely younger than a 37-year-old who’s seen a decade of street fights.
But you know what? 37 isn’t that old. Whether or not that’s what DC’s editors have in mind for his age, it still works. At least in the issues I’ve read. I think they can skate by for now. But if they ever replace Damien with yet another Robin, without altering any of the other continuity, then they’ll be painting Bruce into a corner from which he can never de-age. Enjoy your pre-middle-aged Batman while you can, DC.
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