A Gotham State of Mind

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” The comic books would have us believe that this quote was spoken by the Joker, but what if that was not truly the case. In fact, what if the Joker never existed, or the Penguin, or the Riddler, or any of them? Each of Batman’s most prominent villains has a strong correlation to part of Batman’s psyche, maybe too strong of a connection. What if that was all they were, the fractured parts of a broken mind created by a young boy in the wake of a horrible tragedy? What if Bruce Wayne never became Batman, and instead his mind broke apart and each piece became a villain we now know.

The Id of Gotham
In this theory, we need to look at the fractured mind of Bruce Wayne in terms of Freudian personality factors: The Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. The villains of Batman represent the Id, each can be described as a type of desire or subconscious urge that a young boy might feel as he grows up in a large lonely mansion after the tragic death of his parents. Each villain contains an aspect of Bruce’s own personality that he is fighting against and may even be based upon people in his own life.

Poison Ivy is a creature of pure desire. Her powers include pheromones that drive men wild, an ability to communicate with plants, and being a red head. Ivy represents Bruce’s budding sexual urges, but with the advent of a hidden danger. Ivy is beautiful -and sometimes barely clothed- but she only uses her abilities to gain control of men. She uses them for her own ends, and despite the fact that lust is a natural urge -natural like plants- Batman fights against her, afraid of the power she could gain over him. In reality, Ivy could be any girl Bruce interacts with, but if it is a specific one she might be older and more experienced.

Mr. Freeze is cold, incredibly cold. The loss of his wife and the experiment that turned him into a creature of sub-zero temperatures gave him powers, but it also left him encased in a giant metal barrier, forever cut off from the world. Before the accident, Victor Fries was a kind and gentle man, as warm-hearted and loving as they come. Freeze represents Bruce’s heart, it is cold and sealed away from the world after the tragedy he endured. Batman fights against him, but he can never cure Freeze. The Dark Knight is never able to warm the frozen heart. In the real world, Dr. Fries may be a medical doctor, cold an methodical in his methods and lacking a bedside manner. Thomas Wayne would have been Bruce’s initial doctor, but now he is gone forever.

The Penguin is Oswald Cobblepot, a wealthy yet deformed “business” man. The Penguin differs from the other villains in that he is not physically imposing. Instead he runs a criminal empire while posing as a legitimate entrepreneur and club owner. His refined sensibilities place him above other Gotham criminals, and to the young Bruce Wayne -heir to family fortune and business- the Penguin represents his familial responsibilities. He is everything Bruce fears about the world he must eventually step into now that his father is gone. Batman fights the Penguin because he fears what he is being forced into becoming. It is very likely that Cobblepot may even be an unflattering representation of Alfred. Both -usually tend to- have British accents, and Cobblepot has the same syllables as Pennyworth. More to the point, Alfred would be the person most pushing Bruce into fulfilling his family obligations.

Catwoman is the one villain that Batman comes closest to accepting. There are even several “What If” scenarios where they do eventually fall in love and get married. A resourceful and thrill-seeking cat-burglar. Selina Kyle has very little responsibilities, preferring to live like one of her cats, free to come and go as she pleases. She represents Bruce’s fear of forgetting his pain and guilt. To accept Selina is to move on with his life and leave his parents behind. Whereas Bruce fears becoming like Penguin, he also refuses Catwoman, no matter how bad he sometimes wants her. Batman still fights Selina because that would mean growing up, getting married, starting a family, and letting go of the past. In real life, she is probably his only friend, a kindred spirit that Bruce enjoy but refuses to open up to.

The Riddler is a criminal mastermind. He is probably the most brilliant of any of Batman’s adversaries and yet he is also one of the craziest. Riddler’s compulsion to leave clues and puzzles at the scene of his crime are often his undoing. Riddler represents Bruce’s intelligence and his logic. Yet, it is a flawed intelligence, one that gets in its own way more often than not. Bruce knows he is a smart kid, and being smart and logical one often wants to feel in control of their own life. He blames himself for the death of his parents. Bruce was the one who asked to go to the theater. He was the one who put his parents in that situation. Much like the Riddler, he was the master of his own undoing and all the intelligence in the world couldn’t stop it. In real life, Edward Nygma might be a teacher who is always giving the class problems to solve.

Bane is an intelligent and tactical thinker who becomes a raging punch monster when hooked on Venom. If the Riddler represents Bruce’s logic, than Bane is his rage. Going through the kind of tragedy that Bruce suffered leaves a lot of people with issues of anger, and Bruce Wayne is no different. The drug, Venom, affects the usually articulate and smart Bane in much the same way Bruce’s rage can turn the well-spoken and intelligent boy into a monster. Moreover, rage can be addicting and dangerous, just like the Venom drug. Batman faces many savage enemies -Man-Bat, Killer Croc, and more- and though they all represent part of his savagery or anger, there is no better representative of the potential for his ongoing rage than Bane. He is the only villain who ever succeeds in breaking the Batman. Bane, may not be a real person, but someone Bruce watches on TV, maybe even a Mexican wrestler.

Scarecrow is fear, plain and simple. Having your parents killed in front of you is traumatizing, and we would be amazed if it didn’t leave young Bruce Wayne living in a state of unadulterated and irrational fear. It is also telling that Dr. Crane is a psychologist. In the real world Scarecrow may represent Bruce’s therapist. In talking about the trauma of his tradgedy Bruce is probably often forced to relive the terror and fear of that fateful night in his discussions with the real Dr. Crane. Thus, to the young boy’s mind going to the psychologist is linked instinctively with fear. So when Batman fights the Scarecrow he is really fighting against that fear, and maybe even against the advice of his therapist.

Two-Face was once the celebrated district attorney, Harvey Dent, now he is a killer and a crime-boss. To Bruce he represents a sort of dual identity, and we’re not talking about as Batman. “Stiff upper lip,” is something you can hear Alfred saying to young “Master Bruce.” As a Wayne, the small boy is the last heir to the family business and fortune. Bruce must often be forced to put on an appropriate media friendly mask whenever in public, even when he probably just wants to cry and collapse in his bed. Such a strain can tax even the brightest of children and Bruce must feel as if he is being pulled apart, forced to choke down emotions and smile in public. It is probably no coincidence that Batman also despises his public persona. Dent represents the attorney who prosecuted his parents’ killer. He must have put Bruce on the stand, but not before prepping the boy on how to act -over and over again- as he was the key witness in the case. Because unlike in Bruce’s fictional world, in real life the police caught the killer.

The Joker is by far the most iconic and most dangerous Batman villain of all time. The Clown Prince of Crime is a force of utter chaos and inhumanity, completely irredeemable by any standards. Both comedian and killer, you never know what will come out the barrel of his gun, a punching bag or a bullet. For Bruce Wayne, who lost his parents and sits on the brink of his own sanity, the Joker does not represent any one aspect of himself, instead he represents the enemy, the biggest threat of them all. The Joker is chaos incarnate, a faceless and nameless man without a backstory whose only job is to make Batman’s life a living hell. The Joker is the fictional representation of the man who killed Bruce’s parents, the man who shattered Bruce’s mind.

Many of Batman’s minor villains could also be taken as other and lesser impulses. The Mad Hatter represents living in a delusional world. The Calendar Man represents a fear of growing older. Soloman Grundy represents unstoppable grief, and the list could go on. Ultimately, this theory helps makes more than a fictional comic book world. Gotham City is nothing more than the mind of a scared and mentally damaged child. Even the character’s names sound like things a child would create, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward E. Nygma, Pamela Isely, but what about Batman. What does he represent in this shattered world?

The Ego of Batman
Taking this idea one step further, we find Bruce Wayne, a boy of ten or eleven who just lost his parents. His mind fractures at the trauma, inventing monsters and criminals that threaten to tear apart Gotham, the city that represents his mind. So being a prepubescent boy, Bruce invents a caped crusader to fight them. He invents Batman as his ego, the part of his mind that tries to suppress the Id and find a balance with the Super Ego. The Super-Ego is best represented by Alfred, Bruce’s surrogate father figure. In any Batman story the loyal butler is often the rock of reason, but Bruce rarely listens to his pleas for normalcy. Thus, Batman may help keep these nastier forces and impulses in check for Bruce, but he also does not allow the young boy to get past them either.

Batman is constantly fighting villains, none of which he is able to kill or keep locked up for long. The impulses are always escaping and always wreaking havoc on Gotham. Batman eventually beats them, represses them behind the bars of Arkham. Yet, Gotham never improves. No matter how hard Batman fights to clean up the crime, the corruption, or the villainy, Gotham remains as dirty and broken as ever. Bruce fights against these aspects of his mind, but never allows them to heal. He never gets past them. There is often evidence that when Thomas and Martha Wayne were alive Gotham was friendly and cleaner, but that all that falls apart after they die. Bruce’s mind crumbles into the Gotham City we know today and Batman is part of the problem. He is not really an agent of change so much as he is an agent of the status quo, a never ending cycle that keeps everything exactly as it is.

So, regardless of whether you buy into this theory or not, you have to admit that it fits well within the world of Batman. There has always been a psychological darkness that pervades the adventures of the Dark Knight, and it speaks to us all in a whispered voice that says, “All it takes is one bad day…”

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