“I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman.” That one is quite possibly one of the most iconic lines from any comic book related medium and is quite possibly the best demonstration of how the world views Batman. He is the dark visage of a man who seeks vengeance on the idea of evil that caused the deaths of his parents. Batman’s character has inspired many deconstructions of what the character means many times over and still we have yet to fully grasp all the complexities of the character. But for me, one of the most striking things about the Batman is not that he is a hero fighting the idea of crime with abstraction and fear, but the fact that he is the true caricature of Freudian subconscious.
To clarify that thought a little more, I will explain the three tenants of the sub-conscious mind as designed by Sigmund Freud. According to Dr. Freud the mind was broken up into three conceptual parts: the id, ego, and super-ego. The id is the part of the mind that is geared toward instinctual and chaotic thoughts and impulses. The ego is the organized, realistic part of your mind that is at the forefront of the conscious mind. The super-ego is your mind’s perception of what you and society perceive as right, acting as your conscience effectively.
Though how does Freud’s diagram for the human psyche relate to Batman particularly? Couldn’t those same concepts be applied to all heroes? In part, yes, but Batman personifies those concepts most strongly because he is not one man, but three.
Some of you may be thinking, “So you mean Batman and Bruce Wayne, right? Who is the third?” Well I am referring to Batman and Bruce Wayne, but I am referring to both forms of Bruce Wayne: the one that appears to the public and the one that appears to his friends and ‘family.’ Each persona Bruce uses to give life to the thoughts he has to each different element of his psyche, with Batman representing the id, Bruce as he appears to his friends as the ego, and Bruce as he appears to the world as the super-ego. To help discern these concepts, I will call the Bruce that represents the ego The Boy and his super-ego representation The Billionaire. The collective consciousness and character will be referred to as Bruce.
What makes each of these individual personas of Bruce Wayne represent different concepts is how they interact with each other internally. The Batman persona is the easiest to attribute to the id, for instance, if we simply take a look at Grant Morrison’s “Batman: RIP” storyline from 2008. After a ploy to destroy Batman through the use of post-hypnotic suggestions we learned that Bruce had established a psychological defense for himself, however, in the form of the Batman of Zur-en-arrh. The character had been described as Batman without Bruce Wayne. A creature of vengeance and chaotic impulse, geared toward his desire for vengeance. During this short time frame, Batman wore a costume comprised of a patchwork of colors and brandished a baseball bat. He threw out all forms of restraint in combat, in favor of pure brutality. This is the best showing we get of how Bruce restrains his own thoughts in his own desires as the Batman.
And the restraining element comes from the Boy and the Billionaire concepts. For instance, the Billionaire persona is a concept we often think of as pompous and skirt chasing. He is the man that will be attributed as a ‘playboy.’ An act, right? We all know that Bruce is the mask for the Bat, of course. Not true, even though Bruce’s own thoughts may try and say otherwise. If we look at Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman arc “Absolute Power” we see an alternate timeline where Bruce lived his entire life with his parents still alive. Bruce grew up to be the Billionaire persona primarily. This conception of him is how he wants to be perceived by the world. He understands what society wants from him as a man of wealth so he lives up to those standards, yet also uses that wealth to provide a better world for people. The invention of Batman Inc. and how Bruce presented himself while portraying the Billionaire to the public shows how natural the propensity or good within the constraints of society’s perception of him. For every moment the Billionaire is shown as a playboy we see several more moments where he is the benefactor for change in Gotham in some new way. It is this care in public perception that really connects the Billionaire to the idea of the super-ego and confines Bruce’s actions for the greater good, rather than the potential of evil.
The Boy, however, is the true Bruce Wayne of note that binds these ideals together. The rational Bruce. The Bruce that controls the Batman’s brutality and the Billionaire’s drive for change. This is the Bruce that is still that young child remembering his parents shot in an alley and figures out how to make Gotham a place where that would never happen. Where the Batman would have grabbed a gun and sought vengeance in blood, were the instincts left unchecked the Boy trained and learned how to most efficiently deal out justice to those that had wronged him and his family. Where the Billionaire would have thrown money at the situation and done sweeping changes for everything, the Boy learned how to most efficiently concentrate his efforts to provide the most impactful and lasting change. This is the Bruce that is known to his friends in the superhero community and the dominant portion of Bruce’s psyche.
The Bat, the Boy, and the Billionaire each have their purpose in how Bruce Wayne interacts with the world. Each aspect shapes the man we know as the Dark Knight. All three parts add to the complexities of Batman. And while there is much more to inspect for the Dark Knight we can still clearly say that he is the Freudian Super-hero.
The thing that I always had an issue with is the idea that Bruce Wayne is merely a mask for Batman. I always thought that this was an over-simplification and your article here, using Batman R.I.P. as a focus, really takes that concept to task.
The fact of the matter is that without Bruce Wayne the Boy, there would have been no Batman. Yes, the Boy’s trauma forced him to tap into the id and the Jungian collective unconsciousness and its archetypes to find the Bat–or the Batman–but Bruce Wayne still very much exists and is not only a tool of the Batman but an agency himself. Because just as Superman should never lose the grounding that his Clark Kent persona gives him–the part of him that *is* Clark–Batman would be some trouble if he ever lost the part of him that was Bruce Wayne.
There are some who even mention that Batman is insane or has a mental condition, but I think the difference is that he is *aware* of his mentality and has understood and disciplined his mind and psyche to the point of being far beyond delusional. It’s almost like another branch of the “hyper-sanity” that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison hint on with regards to The Joker. Batman R.I.P. was a little hard to follow as a standalone, but I like the idea of Batman knowing his mindscape and having trained himself to use these mental and psychic safeguards.
Thank you for writing this article.
I’ve always had an aversion to Freud and never really bothered to understand him. Till now. My thanks for that.
Have you seen the episode of Brave and the Bold where Batman gets divided into three? That might correlate to this theory?
I’d like to respectfully disagree with the statement of Batman representing the ego. Batman came to Bruce as a way to serve justice; the premier purpose of the superego. Batman does not only refrain from killing, but he also has the presence of mind to create non lethal weapons & is carefully considerate of neutralizing a threat, rather than destroying them entirely. Again, this is the core principle of the superego; to serve justice and execute in the most righteous way possible. Bruce himself is the ego, while Bruce Wayne is the id; the billionaire playboy that can have anything in world with just a single gesture. Batman is one of the main reasons I’ve gotten interested in psychology and Freud’s method of psychoanalysis is one of the most influential concepts even in this modern age.