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The Wayne family history detail that has big implications in 'The Batman' universe
One key detail from Bruce Wayne's past could mean big things for The Batman and its sequels.
The Batman is not an origin story for its title character. Director and co-writer Matt Reeves has been clear that his intention was to focus on a Caped Crusader who's about a year into his crimefighting journey by the time we meet him, so rather than focusing on why and how he becomes Batman, we get to focus on why and how he stays Batman. That means far less focus on the character's early motivations, and thus a bit less focus on the actual death of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne.
But that doesn't mean the Waynes and their tragic deaths are left out of The Batman entirely. Their past, and how it connects to Gotham's present, has a big role to play in the film, and it might have an even bigger role to play in sequels. Thanks to a small but very intriguing tweak to this version of Wayne family history, we may have only just begun to see the ripple effects of Thomas and Martha's lives in their son's crimefighting crusade.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for all of The Batman.**
The Batman doesn't use much of its considerable runtime telling us what we already know about Thomas and Martha Wayne. Through basic conversations with surviving characters, we understand that the basic details of their lives are still the same. They were prominent, wealthy Gothamites who spent a lot of time doing charity and public service work, until the night they were gunned down when Bruce was just a boy, leaving the younger Wayne to be raised by his butler and eventually build himself into a costumed vigilante. By the time we meet this version of Bruce Wayne, he's already spent quite a bit of time on what his notebooks dub "The Gotham Project," spending his parents' fortune in an effort to prove that he can make some kind of difference in his home city, something his parents also tried to do before their lives were cut short.
In Bruce Wayne's mind, his parents were good people trying their best who never did anything to deserve what happened to them...until The Riddler's plots puncture that decades-old ideal. As he digs deeper into the Riddler case, Bruce eventually learns that his father worked hard to suppress a secret about his wife, and that suppression either directly or indirectly led to the death of a local journalist. Bruce's realization that his father may have crossed a line somewhere in his carefully manicured life of elite public service shakes The Batman to his core, and nearly derails his efforts to stop The Riddler.
Forcing Bruce to contend with a newly fractured vision of his late father just as he's on the cusp of solving the most important case of his career so far is an emotional masterstroke at the core of The Batman, something that pushes this version of Bruce Wayne even harder in his efforts to prove that his family's wealth and power can actually mean something. But even that's not the most interesting part of the Wayne story in this film. No, the most fascinating detail within Reeves' vision of the Waynes comes buried in an old Thomas Wayne mayoral campaign ad that Riddler recuts for his own purposes. In the ad, Thomas notes that Martha's maiden name was Arkham, and that together their two families wielded tremendous power and wealth in the city's early history. In The Riddler's version, he reveals that Martha also struggled with mental health issues, and was secretly institutionalized multiple times throughout her life.
Though the Flashpoint universe in DC Comics posits a world in which Martha Wayne went mad after the death of her son and became that universe's Joker, mainstream DC continuity has largely steered clear of imbuing the character with anything darker than decades of family money. Most of the time, Martha is simply Batman's Nice Mom Who Died, and that's fine, because most of the time that's all any Batman story needs her to be. By recasting Martha -- who's usually given the maiden name Kane in the comics -- as a member of the Arkham family, though, Reeves and company have given Bruce Wayne two distinct branches of a family tree that has deep, deep roots in Gotham. And in the world of The Batman, it feels like those roots are rotting.
It's important to many incarnations of the character that Bruce Wayne be not just rich, but Old Money Gotham, a guy whose family has been rich and powerful for as long as that part of the world has had rich and powerful. Everything he is and everything he was is rooted in the very foundations of Gotham City, and that motivates him to act as the city's protector and avatar of justice, sometimes almost as much as the death of his parents does. It's part of why he doesn't just give every cent of his money away. There's some sense of preservational duty and, yes, a certain degree of privilege, inherent in Bruce Wayne's character. He can't ever let his parents go, and by extension can't ever let go of his family's long history in Gotham.
The Batman is smart enough to preserve that aspect of the character, and then deepen it by adding a layer to Martha Wayne's own history, giving Bruce history in the Arkham family as well as the Wayne family. The added touch of Martha's mental health history, and the presence of Arkham Asylum in the film, suggests that Bruce's roots extend through both the stable and the unstable of Gotham's past. Just as his efforts to move the needle on Gotham's progress reflect his father, Bruce's obsessive and troubled nature could come to reflect his mother. Just as his fortune and lavish home may reflect the Wayne legacy, his future adventures battling Gotham's inherent madness could reflect the Arkham legacy.
Or maybe none of those things are true, and Bruce's inheritance from two branches of Gotham's wealthiest founders will simply play a larger role in his eventual descent down the rabbit hole of what Gotham really is. Whether that leads to the Court of Owls or the League of Shadows or any number of other potential future sequels, it's a smart move. It gives both Bruce and his parents more weight in the world of The Batman, more meat for the story to chew on. In other words, it gives the Batman even more cause to be concerned about making a difference in Gotham. Because if he can't do it as the scion of the city's two most powerful families, who can?