“Let us agree, here at the beginning, that Batman does not exist — not anyway, as you and I exist.” -Dennis O’Neil (Introduction of Batman and Psychology)

 

Bruce Wayne is a fictional character. Sorry to anyone whose heart I just broke for stating that fact. No matter what level of cosplay magic you can work, that’s an utterly undeniable fact. What brings so much depth to Batman as a fictional character is how human he truly is.

Behind the cowl is a figure that is broken and traumatized. That is what makes him feel so real. The flaws that made him into the big black bat are worth looking into, though. Without the death of his parents, it would be quite hard for me to label Bruce Wayne as a sociopath. With his parents killed in front of his very eyes, however, it’s quite easy to see how a sociopath was made.

With ‘The War of Jokes and Riddles” arriving in June, it’s time we look at the psychology of Gotham’s famed vigilante. This new arc is likely going to show us some of Bruce’s darkest moments against two of his greatest foes.

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Defining the Condition

 

Before I can even start analyzing Bats and how elaborately messed up he is, I need to be able to give a grounded definition of what a sociopath is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sociopath as a “mentally ill or unstable person; especially a person affected with antisocial personality disorder.”

That definition seems sound, but when compared to the term psychopath, there’s literally no difference. As much as I’d love to call Bruce both, I’ll stick solely to the sociopath argument. So what differentiates a psychopath from a sociopath?

A very bare minimum difference between the two is the presence of a conscience. Psychopaths have no conscience. They would stab you in the back with no remorse or guilt for doing so. Sociopaths do have a conscience, but theirs is significantly poor compared to the average person’s. If a sociopath were to steal your money, they’d probably feel bad, but those feelings would be overridden by whatever benefits them most.

READ: Interested in a comic centered around mental illness? Check out our review of THE ELECTRIC SUBLIME #1 to see if it sparks your interest!

Sociopaths are indeed closer to normalcy than psychopaths, but they do still have a mental condition. Within this condition, there are several symptoms that help assess whether someone fits into the criteria of a sociopath. I’m going to focus on four specific symptoms that most align with Batman. Those symptoms are as follows:

  • Intense Self Image
  • High Charisma and Charm
  • Secretive Lifestyle
  • Compulsive Need to Lie

bruce wayne

 

A Beautiful Mind

 

At the beginning of this article, I may have wrongfully led many people to believe that Bruce Wayne is suffering from mental illness. Let me correct that for you all. I do not believe that Bruce Wayne is suffering from mental illness because Bruce is not the man behind the mask. Bruce is the mask.

READ: Want to learn about the possible future of Batman? Check out our analysis on where he may be heading!

At the time of his parents’ murder, Bruce Wayne also died. He did not leave Crime Alley that day, at least not as the same person. His body left that wretched place consumed by a vengeful spirit known as “The Batman.”

As the Bat was born, so was the facade that would one day run Wayne Enterprises. This brings us to the very first symptom I’ve listed: Intense Self Image. Batman’s self-image is probably the most important aspect of his character. He feeds off self-justification. Batman only cares for what Batman does because he believes all of his actions are for a greater cause. The streets need to be cleaned of the same filth that killed the Waynes.

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Batman’s personal image as justice’s Dark Knight is what leads him to jump bravely from the shadows. He believes that his actions are of higher value than most and that he is a necessary solution to Gotham’s problems. This is what leads him to clash with other heroes, such as Superman. He feels as though his methods are of a superior quality.

Journey to a Better Self

The Bat’s quest to fight crime gives him this grandiose image of self. This image also bleeds into his facade of Bruce Wayne. He runs Wayne Enterprises with utmost confidence even though he is not the great man who built this company from the ground up. He did not earn this company, though for some reason he carries himself like an entitled businessman. Wealth and power certainly do boost one’s self-image, but it seems like young Batman knew the benefits that it would provide to his vigilante career.

Sociopaths believe quite heavily that their image matters. Image matters to all people, but it’s emphasized with mental illnesses. Bats could’ve easily been a vigilante without his money. If Hawkeye can do it, then why can’t he? For him, though, it was out of necessity that his mask also have an image of grand scale. His cowl must be one of significance like that of one of Gotham’s most successful CEOs.

bruce wayne

Heavily tied to the symptom of Intense Self-Image is the following indicator: High Charisma and Charm. Sociopaths may not be able to understand the emotions others feel, but know how to walk the walk and use it to their advantage. They can emulate feelings of love, compassion, and sadness, but they do not feel. Batman’s early relationship with Damian is a good example of this.

Charmed

Initially, Bruce Wayne did not care for his son because he did not know of his existence. Even after accepting that Damian was his kin, Bats still was disconnected. In New 52’s BATMAN AND ROBIN, we see their relationship as father and son develop. Damian struggles to gain his father’s appreciation as he himself tries to become more humanized, but that’s the problem. BATMAN AND ROBIN was about refining Damian. As powerful as it was to see this relationship form, I did not feel Bruce’s emotions were genuine. It seemed clear that Bruce no longer viewed Damian as a sidekick. Instead, he finally saw him as a son. Even in those sweet moments, I refused to take the bait. 

READ: Not familiar with Damian Wayne or the other Robins? Check out our article on the past and present boy wonders!

Bruce showed loved to Damian out of necessity. I believe that Batman knew that by showing Damian the love he needed for so long, he would be able to turn this young boy into one less future threat. By making Damian closer to him, Batman would have just another tool for justice. That’s all Robin ever was — a tool in the fight for justice. In showing Damian the path to good, Bruce follows his own rules just to keep Damian in check. When Damian says “thank you,” his father almost never responds. When telling his son how proud he is of his actions, Bruce gives off a non-expressive stare. It’s all an act for Batman. 

In BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE #6, Bruce Wayne has meaningless sex with several young women. The issue follows these women as they discuss their one night stands with Playboy Bruce. In it, we don’t really get moments that show the compassion he felt for those ladies because, in the story, he only slept with them to keep his secret identity safe.

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A sociopath does not care about feelings, no matter who offers them. For the Dark Knight, feelings are mostly used for self-benefit. He uses the mirage of love for the sidekicks that assist him in his crime fighting, and he uses adoration for his butler Alfred so he can carry out his burdens without question and lust after women to keep his playboy image intact.

 

Lies and Deceit: Bruce Wayne’s Best Friend

 

Sociopaths have a reputation for being secretive. Secrecy is, of course, another one of the symptoms of my list, and it’s the very foundation of “The Batman.” It’s essential for Batman to have a costume. Bruce Wayne is his costume. He wears it to hide his agenda from the world. No one would ever believe a rich, playboy would be a martial-arts-mastering vigilante. He even keeps this part of himself private to his most trusted allies, such as Commissioner Gordon. Yes, he does tell others such as Superman and the many Robins, but again that is done solely done by necessity.

He is a master of confidentiality. Hiding all of his tools in a dark cave under a mansion is a testament to that. The cowl on his person is as well. His overall person is that of mystery. The Bat comes from the shadows and lays dormant until ready to strike. Only the most loyal to his cause have a shot of seeing these dark secrets.

bruce wayne

With an undercover lifestyle, lies are soon to be present. The last and final symptom is a compulsive need to fib. Sociopaths believe that dishonesty gives them an edge socially. If I choose to lie to you, then I have the power. The big fabrication in this scenario is that Bruce Wayne is not Batman. It’s the oldest falsehood in Batman’s history and one that he will keep going for as long as he is Batman.

In the DC Cinematic Universe, Christian Bale’s Batman consistently lied to Rachel about his secret life. He deceived her so much that she died not knowing about his other, darker half. It’s not uncommon for sociopaths to disregard the feelings of others just so that they can remain in full control.

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Final Thoughts


These four symptoms barely grasp the psychology of Batman and whether he truly is a sociopath or not. Within this character, there are so many directions from which we can study his mental illness. Batman is such an intricately troubled character. He certainly examines the depths of trauma and its effects in the human mind. At times it’s truly dark, but in others, it provides a beautiful insight into the mysterious realms of mental illness. One thing is for sure, though: when “The War of Jokes and Riddles” begins, I may have more evidence for this argument.

2 Comments

  1. Melvin

    May 5, 2017 at 4:39 am

    You also may have altered the words of the traits. The three sites I looked up used Grandioise self image instead of Intense self image.

    An intense self image would be sharply defined and fixed.

    A Grandioise self image is above normal people.

    A compulsive need to lie would happen if there was no practical benefit or clear harm in not telling the truth.

    By the exact criteria that you have defined, Superman and Spiderman are sociopafhic.

    Reply

  2. Melvin

    May 5, 2017 at 4:33 am

    There are 20 traits of a sociopath/psychopath. And 12 of them Batman/Bruce Wayne is the apotheosis of the opposite inclination.

    Inability to conceive or follow through long term plans.

    Inability to accept responsibility for their own actions.

    Incapacity to feel shame or guilt.

    Holds people in contempt for trying to understand him.

    This is not well reasoned. The criteria you use would place any person that inherited a business and did not hand it over to an MBA as a sociopath.

    That you use a clip of Batman trying to drive away a teenager who wanted to be a costumed vigilante as a sign of sociopathy/psychopathy is exculpatory of three traits you mentioned.

    Conflating movie and comic continuities does not work either. Comics may have different writers, but one canon. This is why the Batmam in Year One is more aligned with the Batman of the O’Niell style. When Frank Miller had his own sandbox to play in, he went wild.

    You also ignored the sociopathic traits that Bruce did not demonstrate.

    And, the Bruce is the mask would imply dissociative identity disorder, Morrison, Brubaker, and Rucka did three strong runs destroying that motif.

    Reply

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