Saturday, May 08, 2021

College Days: Batman

Verdict: Yes, Bruce Wayne has a college degree.

I could base this assertion on the many times in various versions of Batman it is mentioned that he is an alumnus of something like 'Gotham University'. 

Alfred does the sweetest things sometimes.

An aside: No, Bruce Wayne did not go to Yale just because of one background detail in a Bronze Age Batman story, no matter how many times YALE reasserts that he did.  

First of all,
no character is more committed to his fictionopolis than Batman.  Batman is all about Gotham City.  Bruce Wayne would NEVER go to a real college, he would only go to a fictional college, and one with 'Gotham' in its name; it's really just not debatable.  Second, Bruce Wayne is not an a-hole, so he can't possible be a Yale alum. Third, the one thing that all Ivy Leaguers agree on is that New Haven is a pit; the only way Bruce Wayne would even visit it would be as preparation for invading Santa Prisca.

Not even the Waynes would be dumb enough to walk through New Haven on the way home from the theater.

But even without the references to Bruce being an alum of A Gotham Institute of Higher Learning, I make the assertion that Bruce has a college degree as pure common sense.

Now, I can already hear the squeals of those of you who are wedded to the idea put forth in one version of Batman's origin, that he "wandered the world learning many things and attending college classes but never bothering to earn a degree."  And you cling to this idea with the passion of an adolescent lover for a reason.  Comic book heroes (especially DC's) are aspirational and our aspirations have changed.

Over the last near century since Batman was created, our ideas of privilege have changed.  When Batman was created, 43% of the population lived in rural areas and fewer than 5% of adults had college degrees, and the poverty rate was somewhere between 40% and 30%.  To readers of that time, the signifiers of being rich/privileged were things like having a mansion, not needing a job, wearing tuxedoes and smoking jackets, going to the opera and other big city entertainments, and being graduated from college.  

Adam West's superpower was being able to wear an ascot and smoking jacket while STILL looking like a bad-ass.

I will explain later why Bruce is smoking that pipe.

Before the G.I. Bill, college was a luxury mostly affordable by the well to do. But nowadays, 82% of the U.S. population is urban, more than a third of all adults have a college degree, and the poverty level is 10% (still too high, of course, but that's a different subject). Readers no longer dream of going to college and then living in the big city.  They went to college; they live in the big city.  College went from being a luxury for the rich to a requirement for the middle class.  What readers dream of is not having had to go to college, of being rich enough to thumb their noses at such requirements.  The privilege of the rich is no longer symbolized by being able to dress up; it's symbolized by being able to dress DOWN, because you don't have to impress anyone (like a boss).  My absurdly rich college roommate always wore the same pair of jeans with holes at the knees; he also had a $300 sled and went to Switzerland on break.  "Up goes the price of shoddy", as the old song says.

For that reason, you cling to the idea that Bruce never 'had' to get a college degree because that's a freedom YOU long for. It's what you imagine YOU would do if you were Bruce Wayne.

But you are not Bruce Wayne.  Bruce Wayne understands something that Donald Trump understood (as much as it PAINS me to make the comparison): branding.  


Bruce Wayne LOVES branding and knows its powers.  WayneTech. Wayne Enterprises. Wayne Manor.  All of Batman's vehicles and devices get branded with a bat, either in name or appearance.  The only reason Robin wasn't named "Batlad" was because Bruce had NO intention of diluting his brand.  Bruce Wayne spend his formative years preparing to fight crime BUT knew for an absolute fact one thing: that he couldn't begin doing so without figuring out his brand.

Pictured: focus group–driven branding.

What does branding have to do with going to college? Two things.

One, the branding of Bruce Wayne.  Bruce Wayne has to have gone to college to be respectable among the social circles he inherited (and needs to do his job well).  It's necessary to the branding of Bruce Wayne, as a character Bruce Wayne plays.  He doesn't have to have done well, mind you.  Probably involved a lot of distance learning, in fact. Or just showing up and acing the test.

"Well, that IS the right answer, Bat-Hound, but you are supposed to show your work."

But while Bruce Wayne doesn't have to seem like a hardworking genius as part of his billionaire persona, he does have to seem respectable. And respectable Gotham socialites are not college washouts; that would be seen as being a quitter or a failure.

He's BATMAN, not some sort of merfolk exchange student.

Batman's Bruce Wayne persona is about being a bland and unnoticeable heir;  he would get a college degree if for no other reason than NOT getting one would be suspicious. But a degree in what? Ah ha; that's where it get interesting.

Nothing suspicious. That means no degree in criminology (the very idea is laughable if he wants to protect his secret identity).  So, too any technical or scientific degree.

Beside those are things that Batman could, would, and did study on his own (and probably more efficiently).

"Aerosolized into a fine spray, this chemical should be able to repel even the most determined Elasmobranchii!"

Business? Certainly bland enough, but unless it's needed for some aspect of a plot, Bruce never seems all that interested in the 'business' of Wayne Enterprises; he doesn't need to be a business, he pays people to do that for him.

"Ugh the boy billionaire's been bugging Marketing AGAIN."
"What NOW?"
"Wants the W to look more like a bat. Says consumers are a 'cowardly and superstitious lot'."

No, Bruce Wayne would major in something that seems frivolous and irrelevant to -- but consistent with --his life as a billionaire, but still useful to Batman, something that he couldn't study in isolation in lab.  

It seems pretty obvious to me that Bruce Wayne's degree is in:

"You hate me, don't you?"


Once you have stopped laughing at this idea, you'll start to think about it.

Professor of Marketing, R.A. Ghul.

And you'll realize I'm right.  

Batman might become a master of disguise on his own, but acting? That requires working with others; THAT is something Batman would study in college.  This is why Batman is smoking a pipe in early appearances; because, although he's not a smoker, he knows he NEEDS to be able to smoke (like actors) because a part might sometimes require it.

Like his go-to underworld disguise for the last 35 years, Matches Malone.

If there is one Batman constant, it's that he loves putting on a costume and a show.

Bruce's Ward and Batman's crimefighting partner?

A performer he meets while attending the circus.

Bruce's trusted major domo and Batman's constant aide de camp?

An experienced stage actor.

Bruce's first (documented) girlfriend?

A movie actress.

Batman's nemesis?

A clown on stage, radio, and television

Bruce Wayne's transformative experience and Batman's origin?

Returning from the theater.

Batman IS theater; and Bruce Wayne's degree is in theater. It's the only thing that makes sense.


John C said...

I wonder how much this depends on a precise definition of "go to college," and how much it shifts when continuity changes. Because modern Batman--the jackass who claims to be a loner and tries to drive everyone away, even while surrounding himself with allies, and who spends his nights scouring the city for disadvantaged people ("criminally insane") people to beat up--kind of seems like the guy who'd happily white-privilege his way through his twenties and just donate a few libraries in exchange for forging a mediocre academic record (in something that comes off as disinterested, like French literature) for him when people start asking why he abandoned the family tradition.

For example, does it seem more likely that Bruce would leave his peers with an impression of someone who loved making billowing capes, or that he secretly subsidized a failing Coast City theater or two in exchange for getting his "good buddy" understudy positions in whatever the DC equivalents are of maybe Frank Wildhorn's more successful shows?

Like you say, classic versions of Batman need to be Gotham's favorite son, which partly means a graduating class of peers remembering him fondly. But today, and especially in the future with more of people's lives on social media, he could plausibly bluff his way into retroactive friendships.

Anonymous said...

According to "The Untold Legend of the Batman", Bruce got a law degree but also minored in psychology, both of which were intended to aid in his war on crime. Indeed, one important lesson he learned in a law class is that following the law can lead to injustice, which made him realize that he can't fight his war entirely within the system.

I think the main reason people want to think Bruce didn't go to college is because they don't see education and intelligence as a central part of who Batman is. They kind of accept that he's a detective, but their main concept of Batman is a guy who is insanely good at fighting, and so that's the thing they feel he needed to be spending his time on once he hit 18.

Would add that the college education arguably did detract from his gaining god-like fighting skills. You know how Bronze Age Batman was fallible in ways that Morrison-era Batman wasn't? I think that is all consistent with creators' concepts of Batman, and that ties into whether it would have been plausible for Bruce to have gone to college. If Batman is a god-mode fighter almost from day one, that is plausible only if he didn't waste his time learning history and foreign languages and stuff.

MarkAndrew said...

Agree: Theater is extremely important to Batman's whole THING, even though writers from the Silver Age to now don't seem to consciously be aware of this. My Batman is the Dick Sprang neo-surrealist Gotham where the villains are actively performing for both (A) the public and (B) Batman. The Penguin had the best innate understanding of crime-as-theater and is therefore the best Batman villain.

Disagree: A college degree is needed to be part of Gotham's elite. Gotham in most 'erry modern interpretation rates somewhere between prohibition-era Chicago and Rhode Island circa 1980 on the corruption scale. Do the mobsters who actually control Gotham care about book learning? I posit they do not. Cash Rules Everything in Gotham. Bruce Wayne had $$$$, Bruce Wayne had social status.

Also, really, it seems most on-brand for the Bruce Wayne fictional persona to get bored and drop out midway through junior year.

Scipio said...

"The Penguin had the best innate understanding of crime-as-theater and is therefore the best Batman villain."

A bold and interesting assertion!

Scipio said...

waste his time learning history and foreign languages ?!

"Dick, I'm surprised at you! Language is the key to world peace. If we all spoke each other's tongues, perhaps the scourge of war would be ended forever." Bruce Wayne, 1966.

Bryan L said...

Hmm. I'm torn. I like the idea of Bruce studying theater. But, as John C notes, I always felt that Bruce basically bought a degree or two, freeing him to study subjects more in line with his chose avocation.

So where's the problem? Well, as someone who almost minored in theater (my wife did actually minor but I was a few credits shy), studying theater requires participation. We were required to have roles in productions, work as part of the stage crew, work as part of the light crew, assist with costuming, etc. It was, quite honestly, time consuming, and we spent lots of nights and weekends rehearsing or working on plays. I'm just not sure I see proto-Batman painting sets or rigging lights, even though those are skills which would serve him well. I feel like he would be too driven to work in the box office when criminals roamed the streets. I see him, like Superman, moonlighting as a vigilante during his college days, rather than playing the narrator in Our Town.

But I do like the idea, presuming Bruce could set aside his quest for justice long enough.

cybrid said...

In Detective Comics #574 (1987), the Barr/Davis era -- Straight Line ... Straight Line ... Straight Line -- Batman tells Leslie Tompkins about his(Bruce's) college years, how, as Bruce Wayne, he presented the facade of a student who paid so little attention to his classes that the college was actually prepared to expel him JUST FOR THAT because he was setting such a bad example (Bruce sorted things out by buying the college a library).

Bruce secretly studied intensely and, when he felt the need to actually participate in class discussion (so at least a few of his classes must have related to things that Bruce felt he NEEDED to learn), he used the Theater Dept's resources (Ah-Ha) to disguise himself as a visiting student (rather than allow Bruce Wayne to be seen as actually expressing interest in his classes), asking such incisive questions that some instructors wanted to give him a scholarship to lure him away from whatever other college he was supposedly from; when he wanted to learn about fields that the instructors considered too "advanced" for a college student -- (?) -- he broke into offices and learned things for himself. Presumably Bruce Wayne graduated in the end. I don't recall if the story depicted the college's name, though.


As an aside, in #570, Batman terrified an underworld informant, Profile, into telling him where the Joker's current base of operations was. It was at the abandoned Jester Novelties warehouse.

"Jester Novelties"? Batman actually needed to be TOLD that the Joker was in a JESTER-related location? Even Gotham can only so many warehouses (or similarly lair-friendly locales) like that, only so many places that the Joker would feel so very much "at home" -- because OF COURSE the Joker isn't going to settle for some unassuming anonymous edifice, that's simply not who the Joker IS -- and for that very reason there's really no excuse for Batman not already being familiar with ALL of them (just as he should be familiar with all the bird-themed locales for when the Penguin's at large, all the double-themed locales for when Two-Face is at large, and so on). Checking those places for himself should have been his FIRST move.

Sure, getting Profile to tell him right off the, uh, bat which particular clown-themed location the Joker was using spared Batman the twenty minutes or so that it would have taken him to learn (via the all-purpose bat-computers) which clown-themed locale had recently had its electricity turned back on (OSLT), and yet.


As an aside on an aside, Batman frightened Profile into cooperating by threatening to frame Profile for grand larceny and thus have him sent to prison, where, as Batman noted, Profile (a stereotypically "effeminate" implicitly gay man) would be "real popular." Using the implied threat of prison rape as a "bargaining" tactic, yeah, keep it classy, Batman. :-|

Anonymous said...

Maybe Bruce Wayne should create a dummy corporation that buys warehouses and gives them names like "Clown Novelties", "Twice-Good Doubly Awesome Dueling Supplies", and "Puffin Bird Awk Awk Awk Umbrellas". Then hide like a million knockout gas grenades in them.

Scipio said...

"I'm just not sure I see proto-Batman painting sets or rigging lights"

And you think the Bat-Cave decorated itself? Cuz that place is one HELL of a set.

cybrid said...

comment on my own comment: "asking such incisive questions that some instructors wanted to give him a scholarship to lure him away from whatever other college he was supposedly from"

I'm not sure that Theater/Drama classes lend themselves to academic insights that are quite THAT impressive (much less subjects that it was worth breaking into instructors' offices to learn about), so even if Bruce was a theater/drama major (and presumably pretended to be just as bored by drama classes as he was by any others), he implicitly took courses that dealt with more abstract concepts, such as Law and Philosophy and Criminology and Advanced Logic and so on.

Of course, that version of Bruce's college years was probably retconned away long ago to begin with. :-|

Bryan L said...

It's not the specific task I object to. I mean, the dude has a branded spotlight on police headquarters, so of course he can rig lights. It's the fact that those are time-consuming tasks, and that means the superstitious, cowardly lot are out murdering pearl-wearing parents while he's painting "Dogpatch" on the L'il Abner backdrop (he would subsequently play Abner in the production, because theater departments don't waste guys who look like that).

The question in my mind is not the theater major (I'm quite taken with the idea) but the concept of whether Bruce could put his war on crime on hold for a few years. But if he could find an all-hours sensei near Gotham U, he could work on that as well. Batman is nothing if not a mulit-tasker.

John C said...

The "Yale diploma" reminds me a little of the joke about Harvard Bridge in Boston. The story goes that the city asked Harvard and MIT to submit proposals to name the bridge after their school. Harvard's listed important historical alumni, documenting their careers and contributions to Boston. MIT's statement explained that the bridge wasn't designed for expected traffic patterns in the upcoming century and seems to have been made of substandard material, so please name it after Harvard.

So, maybe "Yale Law, Gotham City campus" is Gotham University's way of quietly disassociating themselves from the worthless fop. I mean, cripes, his father doesn't even specialize in diseases of the rich, so he's basically middle-class in all but bank account...

Another possibility is that, in the Golden Age (despite the Yale panel being very not Golden Age), the overwhelming majority of institutes of higher learning were Off-Brand Yale, with Elay (which probably outs the writers as crossword puzzle addicts) being common. So, Gotham U might be DCU-Yale when actual-Yale isn't available to shame them into individuality.

Either way, I still find it suspect that millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne would ever be caught showing enthusiasm for something that's important to others. The hours put in seem like they'd be irrelevant, given that we know that Bruce also traveled the world and so couldn't be fighting crime in Gotham. But if Bruce had been conscientious enough to hack a theater degree, it'd be weird that nobody mentions it now that he constantly misses everything important.