Imagine for a moment that you are but 8 years old.

For many, this would have been an exciting time, filled with joyous memories from childhood. Imagine that your parents are loving, caring people as wealthy as they are kind, giving back to the community as often as possible. They are beloved by the citizens of your home city, and you are their whole world. Now imagine that in a single instant, a faceless, random, petty thief murders them before your eyes, taking them from you long before they should have been. Certainly this act would have severe consequence, resulting in multiple damaging character and behavioral flaws rooted in one’s psyche. Such is the story of young Bruce Wayne, the young boy who would one day grow into the masked vigilante the Batman, the Dark Knight who protects the fictional Gotham City from predators and criminals who feed from the terror they strike in their victims. Batman is, of course, a work of fiction; fantasy personified only in the pages of comic books or the reels of film. However, the character has existed for over 70 years as the subject of countless stories, ranging from the science fiction days of the 1950s and over-the-top camp of the 1960s, to the serious, solemn stories in the 1980s and dark, psychological thrillers of today’s films. In each story, the most important aspect of the character is that which made him; that is, even without being explicitly mentioned, the Batman will always have been spawned through the death of his parents as a child, a very real, very human tragedy. And just as characters in a story develop over time, people also develop, both physically and mentally, throughout their entire lives. Certainly, a parallel can be drawn between the two, blurring the lines and bridging the gap of what is real and what is fictional. Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development can do exactly this when applied to the life of Bruce Wayne. If examined in depth alongside select comic books that detail important stages in Bruce’s life, Erikson’s theory can be better understood and expanded

upon. Erikson believed that a person’s identity is established through various stages in life. For those well-versed in psychology, a similarity to Sigmund Freud’s famous theory of psychosexual stages will be found. Erikson’s theory is corresponding in this regard, but it differs greatly in the details. Where Freud believed that a person develops in search of that which is pleasurable to the body and creates an identity based upon each stage, Erikson theorized that the identity is developed through social interactions. The paramount idea in Erikson’s theory is that of the ego identity, the sense of self one gains through mastery of each social interaction. The ego identity is constantly shifting throughout life as new experiences present themselves to an individual. Driving the person to mastery of each stage, or ego quality as Erikson described it, is the want or need to feel competent in life, resulting in a higher quality existence as defined by the individual. Essentially, each person is compelled to prevail by his or her own personal idea of success. If a stage of life is not handled correctly, a person risks developing a sense of inadequacy. Furthermore, each stage of Erikson’s theory is defined by both a person’s age, and by a conflict that will, if overcome favorably, allow for personal growth and development of a necessary psychological quality. Stories that reference the early days of Bruce Wayne before donning the signature cape and cowl of Batman such as “Batman: Year One,” and “The Man Who Falls,” as well as stories that focus on Bruce later in life, such as “The Dark Knight Returns” can provide interesting insight into Erikson’s theory and how it relates to the character of Bruce Wayne. If, as many say, every piece of fiction contains traces of the truth, then analyzing these stories in this manner will also provide insight into how people in reality can be affected by negative outcomes in these conflicts. Very little is said of young Bruce’s infancy. However, we can use the aspects of his later childhood to theorize about his first few years. It is important to the character’s later years that he

was raised by not only his birth parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, but also the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth. This presents the idea of the first and most influential stage in Erikson’s theory, focusing on the conflict of Trust versus Mistrust. From this stage, which begins at the time of birth and lasts through the child’s first 18 months, the child creates a series of expectations about the world based upon care that is given to him or her by parents and/or parental figures. In the case of Bruce Wayne, it is known that at the time of his parents’ deaths, he felt nothing but unconditional love from the two since birth, and he viewed them as the safety in an unpredictable world; Gotham City is a far cry from the safest place in the world. In addition to his parents, though, Bruce has an attachment to Alfred, and even after becoming Batman years later, Bruce still sees Alfred as the closest thing to a father he has. Perhaps if he did not know that Alfred would be there to dress his wounds after a rough night out, Bruce never would have felt confident enough to wage his one man war on crime in Gotham. In essence, the love Bruce felt from his parents and Alfred showed him that the world can be good, and many years later, the thought still drives him to attempt to inspire that very idea in Gotham’s citizens. Erikson’s second stage of development is said to take place from 2 to 3 years of age. During this period, children are said to take control of their body functions. For Erikson, and Frued as well, this meant that toilet training provided a monumental sense of accomplishment for the child. While there are not any stories about a toddler Batman facing off against the menace that is the potty, the stage also expresses an importance in asserting a sense of independence and taking control of physical skills. For Bruce Wayne, this was made apparent in a brief section of the story “The Man Who Falls” in which young Bruce is shown climbing all around the furniture within Wayne Manor and running through the halls of his home. Eventually, he finds a short decorative pillar that he cannot climb. He tries and tries, and soon he falls and hurts himself. At

first, he cries until his father comes to his aid and tells him, “Bruce, we fall for one reason: to pick ourselves back up,” a proverb that would stick with Bruce through his entire life. Days later, Bruce is again playing in the house when he sees that very same pillar. Trying again, he wraps his arms around it, knowing that he may once again hurt himself. This time, however, he reaches the top and stands on it, proclaiming his strength. Though he originally did so to impress his father, Bruce realizes the importance of being able to depend on himself, a trait that would prove to be beneficial once he decides to live a life jumping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of a criminal. Erikson named the conflict during this period Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt. A short Batman story called “Of Mice and Men” perfectly represents the conflict of Initiative versus Guilt, Erikson’s third stage. In this story, 5-year-old Bruce comes home from school with a black eye from a bully, Konik. Bruce is questioned about the black eye by his father, but he refuses to tell either of his parents about the incident, and he is sent to his room without dinner. In his bedroom, Bruce watches as stronger animals kill smaller and weaker ones outside his window. Alfred, empathizing with Bruce’s situation, sneaks food into Bruce’s bedroom, where Bruce asks him if the “big things always beat the little things.” Alfred tells Bruce that the difference between animals and humans is that humans can use their minds to overcome adversity. The next day at school, Bruce sees the same bully picking on another boy, Harry, and instead of letting the boy get hurt, Bruce devises a plan that lures Konik away from Harry and into a trap that ends with a bucket of molasses falling on the bully’s head. In this stage of development, Erikson described the child as dealing with new social interactions, such as children at school, by asserting power over the environment, much as Bruce did by setting the trap and luring the bully away. Success in this stage leads to a child with the ability to lead others and an overall feeling of capability. Failure in this stage leaves a child feeling guilty, doubting him or herself, and having

no initiative in life. Bruce shows his success in this stage later in life by being able to direct the socalled Bat-Family, consisting of Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, etc. The fourth stage of Erikson’s theory is defined by the conflict of Industry versus Inferiority; the child needs to focus energy on education and intellectual skill. It takes place from the ages of 5 to 11 years. This makes it the most important stage in Bruce’s life; after all, during this stage, at 8 years, is the time during which Thomas and Martha are murdered. Because of the feelings of remorse, Bruce enters a deep depression, refusing to leave his room for weeks upon weeks, abandoning school for a life spent at home in solitude, with the exception of Alfred. During this period, Bruce develops a strange inferiority complex, questioning whether or not he is what his parents what him to be, professing guilt for his parents’ murder. In later years, this fear of his parents’ disapproval would be tapped by the fear toxin used by the villain the Scarecrow, which gives the victim hallucinations of his worst fears. This shows just how significant of an impact the failure of this stage is; granted, the death of Bruce’s parents would prove to be the defining moment in his life, but the fact that this causes him to essentially put his life on hold as he grieves at a very early, undeveloped age deeply roots the fear in his mind. Though he is able to subdue the possible disapproval as he ages, the fear never quite leaves his mind, even if it only stays within his subconscious until brought to the forefront. At times, this is a defining trait of the character, as seen in “Batman: Scarecrow Year One.” Erikson’s fifth stage, from 12 to around 20 years of age, is the adolescence stage, and is centered on the conflict of Identity versus Identity Confusion. This is the time during which a child is emerging into adulthood, trying to discover who exactly he or she is. For Bruce Wayne, it is a very interesting time. Having already made the decision that he would spend his life attempting to rid his home city of crime, a 14-year-old Bruce decides to trek around the world,

learning from the best chemists, detectives, and martial artists that he can find. It can be argued that this is actually the time when Bruce actually succeeds in the fourth stage, and overcomes his inferiority complex, but he also does seem to lose a sense of identity during this period of his life. This is detailed in both “The Man Who Falls” and the 2005 film “Batman Begins,” though for the film the character is aged for continuity purposes. As Bruce travels the world, he ages away from home. The expectation that he is to grow up into the billionaire playboy stereotype that dates supermodels and “buys things that aren’t for sale” falls to the wayside. Instead, he lives like a thief, trying to understand why it is that someone would choose to live a life of crime. Upon returning to Gotham City many years later, he has found the education that he desired, but at the price of his own identity. Though he has not exactly transitioned into the Batman just yet, he still has forgotten what it is to be “Bruce Wayne.” Erikson states mastery of this stage is complete when an adolescent explores possible roles in a healthy manner and arrives at a positive path to follow in life. While Bruce’s idea is good, choosing to live a life that involves hiding in shadows, beating criminals to a pulp, and ridding oneself of any type of human relationship (other than Alfred, who, again, is like a father to Bruce) is far from healthy. Because of this, Bruce has to essentially be two people. By day, he is the stereotypical playboy, too reckless and self-centered to be The Dark Knight; by night, his true self emerges. This is most certainly confusion on a fantastic scale, but confusion nonetheless. In a 2008 story, “Batman R.I.P.,” Batman even has a third identity that emerges as his mind falls under severe trauma brought on by a group of villains hoping to destroy him psychologically. This third Bruce Wayne is the personification of Freud’s brooding id; this identity loses all sense of who Bruce Wayne the person is, and acts on Batman’s most innate desire—fighting criminals. That is an identity crisis! The sixth stage in Erikson’s theory is one of the most significant in the story of Batman

because the age range during which this stage occurs stretches so long. Beginning around 20 and lasting to about 40 years old, the conflict that is presented is Intimacy versus Isolation. This conflict is continually presenting itself within the Batman mythology as Bruce, a man obsessed with single-handedly defeating crime, shuts out most of the world in his quest. Dozens of friends and partners have joined Batman’s side in his war for justice, but Bruce almost always pushes their interests to the side if it means focusing more attention from his mission. And the idea is not limited only to other crime fighters who wish to aid Bruce; Batman has yet to find a romantic relationship in which he can be totally honest, secure, and safe. Countless times within the comics, Bruce takes an interest in a woman, whether it be Catwoman’s alter ego Selina Kyle; fellow billionaire entrepreneur Silver St. Cloud; or even Talia al Ghul, the daughter of one of Batman’s most formidable enemies; and the outcome is almost always the same. His obsession gets the better of him, and he soon realizes that he must make a choice. Does he reveal himself to be the Batman and risk his lover’s safety while also causing her added grief as she questions Bruce’s own safety night after night? Or does he sever ties, sneaking back into the shadows where he truly feels at home? From Bruce’s perspective, the choice is clear. According to Erikson, failure in this stage leaves a person unable to hold committed relationships with others, a trait that Erikson felt was incredibly important to the person’s identity. Because Batman has failed in this conflict, much of his time is spent in a state of emotional isolation and depression, which really explains a lot about the character. Perhaps this is why he chose fear as his weapon against his enemies; perhaps it is why he dresses as a bat and hides in the shadows each night. At any rate, it certainly makes for an interesting character. Only a few stories in existence describe Bruce Wayne at an older age. However, one incredibly important story detailing a possible future for Batman was written in 1987. The story

“The Dark Knight Returns” is critically acclaimed as one of the best Batman stories ever written as well as one of the best comics because it took such a psychological examination of Bruce Wayne. In the story, 50-year-old Bruce Wayne has dissolved the Batman persona from his personality and has not fought crime for over 20 years. However, he begins to take notice of the government corruption, violent gang warfare, and overall hopelessness around him. At first, he does nothing. With Alfred long dead, he has no other caring individual to talk him into becoming the costumed hero again, and he hides in his mansion alone. In one very epic scene, Bruce sits in the very study where he decided to become Batman, talking to himself in a possibly drunken state. He explicitly states that he did nothing as Batman; crime still exists, and the members of the Bat-Family either became disillusioned with the idea of heroics or ended up dead. He feels he has left behind no legacy, and he failed to fulfill the promise he made to his parents. Such is the conflict presented in the seventh stage of Erikson’s theory: Generativity versus Stagnation, ranging from about 40 to 65 years of age. Bruce has become uninvolved with Gotham City, trading the role he once held for one of despair and solitude. Of course, the story does not end there, and what follows is, as the title suggests, the story of how “The Dark Knight Returns.” The final stage of Erikson’s theory, Ego Integrity versus Despair, can only be related to Batman through pure speculation. This stage ranges from age 65 until the person’s death, and no story has ever been written that details Bruce past the events of “The Dark Knight Returns.” However, two possible outcomes can be explained. During this stage, the elderly person reflects on his or her life, hoping to see a sense of fulfillment. If they believe they have had a successful life and impacted their environment in a positive manner, Erikson believed they will die with a feeling of integrity and attain wisdom even in death. Bruce Wayne could definitely say that his life was positive. He inspired hope in hundreds of people and made a significant change in Gotham

throughout his life. However, there is also the other side to that coin. He could let his obsession get the better of him, and realize that he did not completely destroy crime as he promised he would. This would leave him with feelings of despair and bitterness, dying with the sense that his life was a failure. No one can really say for sure which way it would end for Bruce Wayne. Luckily, Batman is as immortal of an icon as they come, so he will fight crime for as long as people continue to read the stories. Essentially, Batman will never die, so the audience will never see how Batman reflects on his life in his final stages. What makes Bruce Wayne/Batman such an interesting character is his flaws. He is not perfect, both as a man and as a crime fighter. It is no wonder that these parallels can be drawn between the real-world aspects of psychology and the mind of a fictional character. As an audience, we read not only to be entertained, but also to gain insight into the world. With Batman as the example, we can see what can possibly happen if certain aspects of Erikson’s theory go unfulfilled within an entertaining medium. And in every story, there is a bit of truth; certainly the authors of these Batman stories have researched what would make this character the way he is. Through this, a better understanding of the material can be derived, and that is good for everyone.