One of the things that likely has made Batman connect so well with readers over the years is that, when you boil the concept down, theoretically anyone could become Batman (given enough training and money). You're never going to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, have the proportionate strength of a spider or be the fastest man alive, but you could possibly put on a Bat costume and beat people up.
That is why for the first 20 to 30 years of Batman's existence, there were a multitude of stories where other people (bad guys and sometimes ordinary citizens of Gotham) wore Batman's costume. Over the years, though, there have been a number of times when other characters actually fully took on the Batman role instead of Bruce Wayne. Here, we count down the 15 most significant other Batmen, going from most significant to least.
The most famous replacement for Batman, Jean-Paul Valley became the first person to take over as the full-time Batman other than Bruce Wayne when the latter gave him the gig following the serious back injury Bruce suffered during "Knightfall." Jean-Paul had been taken in by Batman in a miniseries called "Batman: Sword of Azrael," where Batman first met the young college student who had discovered that he was the next in line to be the main assassin for a secret religious order. He had been programmed since childhood to take over the role of Azrael one day and kill for the order. Batman helped him break free of the programming and then agreed to train Jean-Paul to become a vigilante.
During "Knightfall," however, the villain known as Bane essentially broke Bruce Wayne's back. With Gotham in turmoil over Bane's control of the city, Bruce decided to let Jean-Paul become Batman. Jean-Paul defeated Bane, but soon his programming kicked in and his version of Batman became more and more terrifying. Eventually, a healed Bruce had to take the Batman mantle back from Jean-Paul, correcting one of the biggest mistakes Bruce ever made.
Clearly, in retrospect, the obvious choice for someone to replace Bruce Wayne once he became incapacitated was Dick Grayson, who had been Batman's partner in crimefighting, Robin, for many years before graduating to become his own hero, Nightwing. Bruce did not want to bother Dick, who had moved on to become the leader of the Titans (in reality, it was simply a matter of Nightwing being part of another series and the "Batman" offices not having access to the character at the time). Dick was angry that Batman did not give him the role and he helped Bruce get the Batman name back from Valley. Bruce then let Dick take over for him on a temporary basis soon after he returned.
Years later, when Bruce was seemingly killed by Darkseid during "Final Crisis," Dick took over the role of Batman full-time. Even when Bruce was revealed to have survived Darkseid's attack, Dick stayed on as Batman, with Bruce concentrating on the implementation of Batman Incorporated, a global initiative of Bat-operatives, with Dick concentrating on Gotham City and the Justice League.
Following their great successes with both "Batman: The Animated Series" and "Superman: The Animated Series," Bruce Timm and Paul Dini then launched a brand-new series (working with Alan Burnett) called "Batman Beyond." Set in the future, it starred a teenager named Terry McGinnis who took over the role of Batman from an older Bruce Wayne, who had retired from caped crimefighting years earlier. With Bruce serving as his mentor and sort of guidance counselor, Terry soon made a name for himself as hero in his own right, using a new futuristic Batman suit with abilities unlike any Batman ever had before (like being able to fly).
While "Batman Beyond" had a number of comic book series adaptations, it was not until years after the TV series went off the air that Terry was officially adapted into the DC Universe with his own ongoing comic book series set in the future of the current New 52/Rebirth DC Universe.
In 2011, the DC Universe was dramatically altered when Barry Allen went back in time to stop the Reverse Flash from murdering his mother (the Reverse Flash had already gone back in time and altered reality when he murdered Barry's mother in the past in the first place). Barry succeeded in saving his mother, but when he returned to the present, everything else was drastically different. One of the biggest changes in this new reality (dubbed "Flashpoint") was that instead of Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered in front of their little boy, Bruce, it was Bruce who was murdered in front of Thomas and Martha!
Thomas Wayne then became Batman, with Martha tragically becoming the Joker. Even after Barry went back in time again and let his mother die and the "Flashpoint" reality went away, Thomas Wayne was introduced in the pages of "Earth 2," the alternate reality comic book series where the Bruce Wayne Batman had died years earlier. Thomas took over the Batman identity in honor of his son.
Amusingly enough, the first time that Commissioner James Gordon took over as Batman was way back in "Detective Comics" #225 (a comic best known for a back-up story that introduced a certain Manhunter from Mars that we're all familiar with now), when Gordon and a few other prominent members of Gotham City society filled in for Batman for a day.
However, his more prominent gig as Batman took place a number of decades later, when the "real" Batman was seemingly killed after the events of the "Endgame" crossover (which ended with both Joker and Batman being "crushed to death" in a massive cave-in beneath Gotham City). Gordon was appointed Batman as part of a joint program between the Gotham City Police Department and a private technology firm that put Gordon into a powerful Bat-themed suit of armor. Gordon served the mantle well, but was more than happy to give the name up when the real Batman returned.
Damian Wayne is the son of Batman and Talia Al Ghul. As a result, he has a background in both heroism and villainy, and has tried to find a good balance between his two distinct upbringings in his day-to-day life as Robin to his father's Batman. However, what if he no longer had a role model like his father to serve with (or Dick Grayson, who was the original Batman under which Damian took on the role of Robin)? That was the result shown in "Batman" #666 (by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert and Jesse Delperdang), where we see that, in the future, Damian took over as Batman.
As the Batman of the future, Damian is decidedly darker than his predecessors, and the main gist of the future Damian stories is that, ultimately, Damian probably was not yet prepared to take on such a prodigious mantle. Amusingly enough, Damian occasionally has worn his future Batman costume in the present, including one memorable weekend when he sent his father out of the country on a scavenger hunt.
There was a long stretch of time during the 1950s (and even into the early 1960s) where the "Batman" line of comic books were, in effect, just copying the format of the more successful "Superman" line of comics, which continued to be one of the biggest-selling comic book series throughout the 1950s (even as superhero comics in general declined in sales as crime, horror, western and romance comics became bigger sellers). One of the most prominent examples is how reporter Vicki Vale kept trying to prove that Bruce Wayne was Batman, just like how Lois Lane would try to prove Clark Kent was Superman.
Around this time, a very common occurrence in both series is that the two heroes (who co-starred in "World's Finest Comics" together, the only regular team-up series in all of comics at the time) would fill-in for each other to help foil plots of their girlfriends of figuring out their identities. This practice then carried over into "World's Finest" frequently, as Superman would seemingly repeatedly trick bad guys by dressing like Batman and surprising them with "Batman"'s sudden superpowers.
While Superman did his fair share of filling in for Batman over the years, so, too, did his trusty butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Amusingly enough, when Alfred was first introduced, he did not know the secret identity of Batman and Robin, despite constantly being around them at Wayne Manor. This was despite Alfred fancying himself an amateur detective (which led to a series of comedic back-up features at the time showing Alfred trying to solve crimes). When he figured things out (by accident, of course), he quickly became an invaluable tool in their war on crime. This mostly involved working as Batman's support staff, but it also occasionally meant filling in for Batman on rare occasions (including, yes, to trick Vicki Vale into thinking Bruce Wayne was not actually Batman).
Recently, Alfred sprung into action in the pages of the post-Rebirth "Batman" to help Bruce fight against the hero-turned-villain who went by the name Gotham. Bruce needed a Batman to show up to slow Gotham down before the real Batman could get there, so Bruce enlisted Alfred's help (along with the Batplane to get Alfred there in time). Alfred was glad to help, but he was also similarly glad when Bruce showed up to take over from him.
Jason Todd was the second hero to use the name Robin, but unlike his predecessor, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd was a lot more reckless of a hero. His recklessness ended up costing him dearly. After he discovered his birth mother working as an aid worker in Africa, he revealed his secret identity to her right away. This proved to be a problem when it turned out that his mother was a bit of a crook. She sold him out to the Joker and the Joker then beat him nearly to death, finishing the job with a bomb. When Jason was resurrected years later by Ra's Al Ghul's famed Lazarus Pit, Jason was now even more on edge.
He took the name Red Hood and straddled the line between hero and villain. When Bruce Wayne was seemingly killed in "Final Crisis," Jason decided to take over as a new, brutal Batman. When he lost the "battle for the cowl," Jason then decided to go back to the Red Hood name. Over time, Jason has mellowed out considerably and is now more of an actual ally of Batman and the extended Bat-family.
The third hero to go by the name Robin, Tim Drake was a bit of an oddity in the world of superheroes in that he seemed to actually be fairly well-adjusted (don't worry, that would not last long). He wanted to help people, of course, but he did not see his superhero career as being one that would continue into adulthood. He was one of the rare Robins who did not see himself as taking over the role of Batman when he got older.
However, after Bruce Wayne seemingly "died" in "Final Crisis," and Dick Grayson initially refused to take on the Batman mantle, Tim felt that he was forced to take over the Batman identity because he could not let Jason Todd be the new Batman. During a battle between the two Batmen, Jason nearly killed Tim with a batarang to the chest. This led Dick to finally get his act together and adopt the Batman mantle and take Jason down. Tim then became Red Robin, which he has been ever since.
In 1957, France Herron, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris took the whole "make the 'Batman' titles like the 'Superman' titles" plan to its extreme with "Batman" #113, where Batman was contacted by someone from a mysterious planet and then transported to the planet. While there, Batman discovered he had powers just like Superman! But who called Batman to the planet? Why, it was that planet's Batman! Yes, on the planet Zur-En-Arrh, there was a guy who studied Batman from afar and then became his planet's Batman, only with fancier technology that Bruce Wayne had to work with (including the powerful Bat-Radia, which could control the weather). Batman of Zur-En-Arrh needed our Batman's help to stop an alien invasion, because he knew Bruce Wayne would gain superpowers on their planet.
Decades later, Grant Morrison brought the concept of Batman of Zur-En-Arrh back to the "Batman" title by revealing that "Batman of Zur-En-Arrh" was an alternate identity that Batman had developed that he could use if his mind was ever under siege by bad guys. His real personality would be kept dormant and protected.
The very first alternate Batman appeared way back in 1944's "Batman" #26, in a story called "The Year 3000" by little-known "Batman" writer Joseph Greene, paired with legendary "Batman" artist Dick Sprang (who had only started drawing Batman a year earlier). The story was set, naturally enough, in the year 3000, where Earth had been conquered by aliens. A man named Brane and his son discovered a time capsule featuring newsreels from the past. They learned about the American Revolution and they learned about Batman and Robin.
Brane and his son became the new Batman and Robin and helped lead their people in a revolution against their alien overlords. In the end, after they succeeded, we discover that in the future, people's first and last names were combined. So Brane's full name was Bruce Wayne, a descendant of the Batman! Do note that the story of freedom fighters took on a deeper meaning back when the issue came out, with the world still caught up in World War Ii.
For years, DC Comics maintained a line of comics called "Elseworlds," which would feature alternate reality versions of their famous superheroes. One of their most successful "Elseworlds" miniseries was the classic "Red Son" by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong. The concept of that series is that instead of baby Kal-El landing in Kansas, he landed in the Soviet Union under the control of Joseph Stalin. As the child grew up, Superman helped make the Soviet Union a true "Super Power" in the world.
However, Superman was not without his enemies. Pyotr Roslov (a twist on Pete Ross from Superman's Smallville days) is a Russian operative who hates that Superman has taken over the country and works with the American Lex Luthor to take Superman down. One of their plans involved a young man who was orphaned by Roslov years earlier. He became the Batman and through the use of some red sun lamps, was almost able to beat Superman to death. Superman was saved when his lover, Wonder Woman (who was the bait that lured Supermanto Batman) destroyed the lamps. Batman then killed himself.
In 2001, famed Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee came to DC Comics for a line of comics called "Just Imagine..." The conceit was "What if Stan Lee created the DC Universe?" Lee was then paired with some of the greatest comic book artists of the 21st Century on a series of prestige format one-shots where they would re-imagine a famous DC superhero. Batman (drawn by Joe Kubert) was about a young man named Wayne Williams, whose police officer father was murdered. Williams lived in a bad part of town and after he stood up to a local thug, the gangster ruined Williams' life by framing him for robbery and attempted murder. Williams built himself into a perfect physical specimen while in prison and also took on a bat as a pet.
After he gained a pardon, he became a successful professional wrestler. When a scientist friend of his from prison got out of jail, he enlisted the scientist to create a super-suit that would allow him to fly and have other bat-like abilities (night vision, enhanced hearing, etc.). Williams began fighting crime as Batman and ultimately tracked down the gangster who ruined his life and killed him.
As noted before, DC had a long-running line of comics called "Elseworlds" where they could do different versions of their famous heroes, without any sort of limitations as to how the stories would go. For the most part, though, if a comic book starred Batman, it also starred Bruce Wayne. It would often be a much different version of Bruce Wayne (like "Holy Terror," where Bruce was a priest or "In Darkest Knight," where Bruce Wayne became a member of the Green Lantern Corps), but it would still be Bruce Wayne.
There were a few notable exceptions, one being the star of Max Alan Collins and Eduardo Barreto's "Scar of the Bat," the famed crime fighter Elliot Ness, who adopts the identity of the Batman (based on the serial heroes Zorro and the Bat) to get information to take down Al Capone. In this instance, the name "Batman" also refers to Ness' use of an actual baseball bat on some bad guys!
Who is your favorite non-Bruce Wayne Batman? Let us know in the comments section!