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.

Friday, May 07, 2021

College Days: Superman

Verdict: Yes, Clark Kent has a college degree.

This is one of the easiest ones, for two reasons.

First, Clark Kent's profession as a journalist nearly requires it.  

Perhaps in the Golden Age, when Superman was introduced, this was not the case.  After all, in 1940 fewer than 5% of the U.S. adult population had college degrees. So, it's easy to imagine that in 1938, even a Great Metropolitan Newspaper didn't have the luxury of ONLY hiring college graduates as reporters.  Perhaps they just looked for reporters who knew how to treat his editor-in-chief with the proper respect, had a snappy, punchy prose style, and were fast typists.  But nowadays, only 11% of full-time journalists don't have a college degree, and it's pretty likely that Clark Kent isn't one of them.

Lana Lang, however, MIGHT be one of them;
because ain't nobody in comics stupider than Lana Lang.

Second, we've actually seen stories set during Clark's college days.

It's important to remember how little interest Golden Age comics had in character's backstories. Your planet blew up, you came to earth, were raised by foster parents, and then they promptly died so that you could move to the big city with a clear conscience to go adventuring. And all that took two, three pages, tops.  The character's career began in medias res, with immediate action, setting forth what the hero was confronting and how he would overcome it.  Whatever 'worldbuilding' there was went forward in time, not backwards.

Pictured: immediate action.

The Silver Age, well, now, that's a very different stories. THOUSANDS of very different story, in fact, as the Otto Binders of the world poured forth shiploads of ink on every conceivable aspect of every possible point in Superman's life and career. Superboy (the adventures of Superman when was a boy!) got  his own title.  There were Superbaby stories. Jimmy Olsen babysat little Kal-El on Krypton (don't ask).  So naturally "Clark Kent's College Days" became a subject to explore:

If your college doesn't have a working cannon,
why even bother going there?

In fact, college is where SuperBOY became a SuperMAN!

Ugh; the only thing I hate worse than the Silver Age is:
all the ages that followed it.

Quite possibly a mermaid made him into a man.

"Her story seems somewhat... FISHY!"

John Byrne had the nerve to retell this story, even though there was ZERO REASON to reintroduce mer-folk in a post-Crisis world, and the point of the reboot was to jettison exactly that sort of vestigial deadweight.

Lack of nerve was never one of John Byrne's failings.

But, merfolk aside, the post-Crisis stories clearly established that Clark Kent was a college graduate.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

College Days: The Justice League

 Did the Justice Leaguers go to college?

Villains almost always go to college. And Marvel heroes, but I don't make much distinction between the two groups.

When I say "Leaguers", I am speaking of, you know, the real original Leaguers

The ones who will their clothes off whenever they feel a funny tingling sensation.  Just in case.

Because who really cares about the likes of the Mighty Bruce or the Yazz?  I mean Barry, Arthur, Clark, Ollie (almost original), Hal, Bruce, Diana, and J'onn; did they go to college?

One time when I dared raise the issue of the class and educational status of superheroes, it burned down the internet. Fortunately, nowadays no one reads blogs so I feel safe(r). So, this next series of posts will examine this question for each of these iconic heroes.  And Ollie.