Riddle Me This, Batman

14 Nagging Questions About Batman That I Can’t Help Wondering, No Matter How Hard I Try Not to Think About Them and Just Enjoy the Damn Stories

1. A rich kid is orphaned, and the only people around who are able and willing to raise him are his butler and some inner-city doctor?
This one has always bugged me because it’s right there at the beginning. The whole reason he became Batman in the first place is because his parents were viciously gunned down in front of him when he was a child — that much I can understand. But Thomas Wayne’s family is old money, and they clearly did well enough to afford a house the size of Wayne Manor. So when young Bruce is left parentless, where are all the family members that can take him in? Are we supposed to assume that both Thomas and Martha were the last of their families? It seems unlikely, given how wealthy families tend to have lots of family members in them, including twice-removed cousins eager to drum up any connection they may have to the family vault. And even if we can accept that Martha and Thomas had no immediate or distant relatives willing to take in young Bruce, it seems a little implausible that people as wealthy and influential as the Waynes wouldn’t have made some kind of prearranged plan involving Bruce’s care in the event that one or both of them die. Then again, maybe they did, and said plan involved putting Alfred in the role of Bruce’s guardian. Which brings up another question…

2. Where are all the other servants that running a house the size of Wayne Manor would require?
Alfred Pennyworth truly is every masked avenger’s dream come true. He’s a butler, a cook, a chauffeur, a medic (thanks to his military training), a former stage actor (handy for those times he has to impersonate Master Bruce), a mechanic, and pretty much anything else the story demands. But in the end, despite his many talents, he’s still just one person, and it’s a little hard to believe that he does every job that comes with maintaining a house the size of Wayne Manor. Gardeners, chambermaids, handymen — it takes bodies to properly run a piece of property that size. And if they are there and we just don’t see them, why is it that Bruce is never caught by one of them as he’s emerging from the secret Batcave entrance? Or we never see a maid accidentally find the entrance while dusting? Or maybe the observational skills of most Gothamites just aren’t what they should be, which leads us to…

3. How come no one in Gotham City ever puts two and two together and figures out who this Batman guy really is?
This one is a bit of a cheat, since some people have in fact done this already, most notably baddies like Ra’s al-Ghul and Professor Hugo Strange, both of whom used old-fashioned deduction to discover Batman’s true identity. But really, you have to wonder what the rest of Gotham City is drinking to be unable to work this out for themselves. He’s obviously male, white, between 20 and 45 years of age, has access to a wide range of weapons and gadgets (and the money to pay for them), and must have a really compelling reason (like, say, the violent death of a loved one) to devote his life to fighting crime. Yes, Bruce Wayne puts a lot of effort into the “carefree playboy” persona to throw people off the scent, but you shouldn’t have to be a demented psychiatrist or immortal leader of a secret society to figure this out.

4. Why is it that no one ever questions the motives of a single playboy billionaire when he takes on a succession of similar-looking young boys as his wards?
I don’t want to get all Fredric Wertham on y’all, but this is one of the bigger ones that always bugged me. Supposedly, Robin was created to give young boys a character they could relate to, which is completely ridiculous because most young boys reading Batman comics want to be Batman, not some smart-mouthed squire in short shorts. In Batman’s world, it’s apparently possible for a single billionaire with a public persona of flighty behavior to adopt a young boy (again, someone who apparently has no one else to turn to when his parents are killed), no questions asked and Child Protection Services be damned. Yes, rich people have an easier time adopting young waifs and no, I’m not saying that only married couples should be allowed to adopt children. Still, given Bruce Wayne’s efforts to act like a typical trust-fund kid to ward off suspicion about his Batman identity, shouldn’t more people in the Batman universe be voicing their concerns about his wards? (And let’s not even get into how Bruce was able to explain Jason Todd’s sudden absence when the youngster went and got himself killed by the Joker.)

5. Seriously, people — that’s the best outfit he could come up with for Robin?
Speaking of the Boy Wonder… I love how superheroes who wear domino masks (the kind that only cover the areas around their eyes) are able to maintain their secret identities, even when their loved ones are staring them straight in the face. It’s one of those “suspension of disbelief” things you just have to go along with. But this is Batman we’re talking about here, folks. Given the amount of effort he’s invested over the years in maintaining his secret identity, why would he go out on patrol with a kid whose entire face (except for the itty-bitty part around the eyes) is visible for the world to see? And the costume makes sense on a certain level: the original Robin was raised in a circus and (as the Batman Forever movie pointed out) he wants to honor his family by wearing their show-business colors. But it seems a bit… strange that a guy dressed in blacks and muted blues would allow a kid to fight criminals while wearing what amounts to a giant neon bullseye on his back.

6. How did Batman build the Batcave?
In Batman Begins, we see Bruce Wayne finding the cave that would become his base of operations, and he sets to work making the modifications he would need to turn the cave into a workable space. So far, so good. In the comics, though, the Batcave is, depending on who’s drawing the story,  the size of a cathedral, with multiple levels devoted to computer banks, trophies, gym equipment, lab equipment, a boat dock, you name it. Assuming that Bruce Wayne set all this up by himself, then that means he is also an ace geologist, structural engineer, carpenter, electrician, and any other skill that’s needed to build an underground complex of this size. The Batcave is a great part of the Bat-mythos, but suggesting he put all this together on his own is a bit of a stretch, so… what’s up with that?

7. Who does Batman’s tech support?
Related to the Batcave question is one a little more specific about the tools Batman uses in his never-ending war. In recent years, Batman has relied on computers to keep track of the bad guys, and he has received a lot of help from the conveniently tech-savvy Robin (Tim Drake edition) and uber-hacker Barbara “Oracle” Gordon, who retired from being Batgirl after a run-in with a spine-piercing bullet. And for a few years, Batman had the help of Harold, a mute hunchback with a knack for fixing things who moved into the Batcave after Batman saved his life. But Harold is no more and we can assume the other two aren’t there 24/7 to reboot the system when it freezes, so are we to assume Batman has the time and inclination to become a first-rate computer programmer on top of the many other tasks on his to-do list? Yes, the guy is a multi-tasker and driven to be the best at everything, but even the world’s top computer engineers spend most of their lives perfecting their skills — it’s hard to imagine Batman able and willing to do the same.

8. Where does he park his Batmobile when he’s out on patrol?
This one came to me while I was thinking of the reasons why we don’t see a lot of people playing superhero in real life, and it’s one that especially applies to Batman. The car is a huge part of the Batman appeal (who wouldn’t want to tool around town in that bad boy?), but you have to wonder where it goes when he’s hopping across rooftops, and how it manages to always be nearby when he’s in hot pursuit. The Burton movies gave the Batmobile an anti-theft “steel cocoon” feature, while the comics come up with ideas like a holographic projector that makes the car look like, say, a Dumpster while it’s parked in an alleyway. Two thoughts: (1) if a bunch of actual clowns, as we saw in Batman Returns, can figure out how to break into and hotwire your Batmobile, then you need a better security system; and (2) in a city the size of Gotham, you’d think someone would notice a large, loud, black car rolling into and out of alleyways and other out-of-the-way places.

9. How does Batman keep his Batplane and Batboat trips under the radar — literally — of agencies like the FAA and the Coast Guard?
Related to the Batmobile question is this one about Batman’s other modes of transportation. The writers have over the years come up with a few ingenious ways to explain how Batman gets around unnoticed (my personal fave: a hollow mountain near Wayne Manor with a moving peak and cloud-spewing smokescreens that allow the Batcopter to take off undetected). But you’d think that someone whose job involves keeping an eye on the skies or the shoreline around Gotham City would be able to track his comings and goings. Flying, especially post-9/11, involves filing flight reports and getting all kinds of clearance to take off — you can’t just go up in the air and not expect someone to notice the blip on their screen. And even if you did have some anti-radar device on board, it kind of goes against the Batman code to go up and put other aircraft at risk just because you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

10. Why hasn’t anyone figured out that housing mass murderers and insane sociopaths in one building within city limits isn’t a good idea?
Arkham Asylum looks cool from a certain angle — specifically, the angle in which you can look at it from far, far away and never let the prisoners inside get a good look at you. But since so many of Batman’s stories involve dealing with yet another escaped inmate — many of whom only escape to go another round with Ol’ Pointy Ears — why hasn’t some politician in Gotham City decided it might be safer to, I don’t know, ship some of these guys upstate? Or put a newer facility someplace a little harder to escape from, like an island? At the very least, can we get a few more locks on the doors? I can see how dramatic necessities require the occasional jailbreak (Batman has to be seen as good at apprehending criminals, but we also want to see the same criminals come back to fight him again and again), but seriously, when are Gothamites going to start asking hard questions about why these mental cases have to be housed so close to city property?

11. How does Bruce Wayne hide his war wounds from anyone in a position to see him shirtless?
In recent years, the comics have been very clear on this point: Batman isn’t invulnerable, and he has been bruised and battered a lot during the course of his career. That kind of damage leaves scars, which people in a position to see you partially or fully undressed are going to question. Bruce is lucky, in the sense that his personal physician is in on the whole “caped crusader” thing, but any suspicious scars on his arms and legs means shorts and T-shirts are out of the question (so no games at the squash club for Bruce), and scars anywhere else might lead to awkward conversations with romantic partners. Sure, Bruce could explain some body damage as the by-product of a fast-living lifestyle, but that will only get you so far (“Where did I get these whip marks and acid burns? Umm…”).

12. Just how does Bruce Wayne manage to hide his alter-ego costs from the IRS?
In 2008, the Forbes Fictional Fifteen list of the richest fictional characters estimated Bruce Wayne’s fortune to be about $5.8 billion — not enough to make the list’s top spot, but still some serious scratch. But even really rich guys have to watch what they spend, or at least make sure someone else isn’t keeping an eye on where their cash is going. And while inheriting his fortune is a good way to avoid suggestions that he’s spending the Wayne Enterprises pension fund on new Batarangs, it always seemed strange that the issue of how Batman pays for his vast arsenal never seems to come up. And even if he paid cash for everything and no accountant or IRS agent ever noticed the transactions, how does Bruce Wayne order all the supplies he needs? Does he have deliveries made to different warehouses to avoid suspicion? Does he use dummy corporations to throw forensic accountants off the trail? Who signs for deliveries? Does he make his own bat-themed weapons or get them specially made? And why isn’t there a curious shipping clerk or warehouse worker somewhere wondering why a multi-billionaire is buying gas pellets in bulk? Inquiring minds want to know.

13. In an age when people at computers can views photos of their house from space, is it reasonable to assume Batman’s movements can remain secret?
This might be explained in one of the more recent Batman stories, but it’s worth asking. In the old days, when satellites and surveillance devices were still science fiction, it was plausible for a superhero to drive around town in a big bat-shaped car and not get hassled or noticed by law-abiding folk while dispensing a little Bat-justice. But we live in the modern age, a time when every cellphone comes with a camera, GPS device, Web access and a half-dozen other functions. In short, it’s a lot easier for people on the move to stay connected, just as it’s a lot faster for people to disseminate news as it happens. So here’s a scenario: imagine a superhero moving throughout a city of millions, any one of whom can call someone else the instant they spot the hero. Even if he only works late at night, even if he takes counter-measures against satellite surveillance, even if he uses some ninja-like mojo to move within the shadows… sooner or later, someone is going to have all the intel they need on his movements and get the drop on the Dark Knight.

14. Given all the times that Batman is tied up or knocked out by the bad guys, why doesn’t anyone ever take the opportunity to just cap him while they have the chance?
Seriously, people. Even pro wrestling fans can see the problem here.


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