It’s hard to picture a DC Universe without the one and only Batman. Since Bruce Wayne’s inception of the Caped Crusader, Batman has made his legacy as integral a part of his motif as a Batsuit, Batarang or Batmobile. Over the years, plenty of individuals have taken or attempted to take the mantle of the Bat, from allies and heroes to villains and anti-heroes. In fact, entire runs were based on this, from “Battle For The Cowl” to Batman Incorporated. After all, the world needs to prepare for a time when Bruce Wayne is no longer.
But taking on the role of Batman is a tall order. For some, like Jim Gordon, Damian Wayne or Tim Drake, the mantle of Batman comes with a weight that might just be too much to handle, but it’s a necessity. For others, like Red Hood or Azrael, the mantle was an excuse to let loose and toss their moral code to the wind, not knowing that they were tarnishing Bruce Wayne’s legacy. Some of those who became the Bat were great. Others — not so much.
15. BETTER: ALFRED PENNYWORTH
While calling Alfred Pennyworth a “Batman” might be a bit of a stretch, his short stint in the Batsuit just goes to show just how influential the butler is on the life and legacy of Bruce Wayne. After years out of action, Alfred finally donned the Batsuit early on in Tom King’s Batman run, as Batman went head-to-head with Gotham, the oddly-named hero who broke bad after some Psycho Pirate influence.
As Bruce Wayne goes one way, Alfred goes the other, donning the costume in the Batmobile and approaching Gotham to distract him. It works — and Alfred breathes a sigh of relief when Bruce shows up to relieve him of his duty. Sure, he didn’t do much, but when we take into consideration Alfred’s military training, his raising of Bruce and his general demeanor, it’s hard to not picture him as the perfect Batman.
14. WORSE: JEAN-PAUL VALLEY
Following the events of “Knightfall,” Jean-Paul Valley, better known as Azrael, was given the Batsuit and a blessing from Bruce Wayne after Bane broke his back. Quickly, the Bat-Family realized that might not be the best idea, as Azrael gets incredibly brutal and violent with the criminals of Gotham. He eventually takes down Bane and gains prominence of Batman, which leads to some even more increasingly terrible stuff on his part.
Donning a pretty terrifying costume, Azrael descends into madness while defending the city, becoming unhinged as he attempted to clean up the streets of Gotham. After confrontations with Robin, Nightwing and the one true Batman himself, Azrael removes his armor, relinquishes the mantle of Batman and returns to the streets to wander as a homeless man.
13. BETTER: JIM GORDON
Love it or hate it, but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman run after Bruce Wayne’s “death” was surprising. As part of the “Superheavy” arc, Commissioner James Gordon dons a giant robot Batsuit as part of a new initiative sponsored by the GCPD to defend the city. While in the suit, Gordon continues his clean streak on taking down criminals, even coming to blows with Mr. Bloom — a villain that could terrify even the worst of Bruce Wayne’s rogues.
Gordon’s Batman also serves to show just how important the legacy of Batman can be, whether it’s working with Duke or Damian, or teaming up with the Justice League. It was a quirky, almost cartoon take on Batman, one that not only made us love Jim Gordon more (he quits smoking!), but made the return of Bruce that much more bittersweet.
12. WORSE: RED SON BATMAN
If you’re familiar with the events of Superman: Red Son, then seeing this Batman on this list will come as no surprise to you. After his parents were murdered by agents of Joseph Stalin (brought on by a decision from Pyotr Roslov, Stalin’s illegitimate child) he became Batman, a masked vigilante on the run from the government of the Soviet Union. When Superman arrives and becomes the leader of Stalin’s part, Batman goes on a terror spree looking to end Superman’s reign.
As part of an estranged partnership with Pyotr Roslov, Batman kidnaps Wonder Woman, fights Superman, dies, and ends up causing Roslov to become a lobotomized robot in Superman’s regime. While his legacy continued in the years following his death, this Russian Batman doesn’t hold a candle to Bruce Wayne.
11. BETTER: THOMAS WAYNE
While we wouldn’t necessarily want Thomas Wayne to be our prime Batman, his exploits as the vigilante are an exaggeration on the morals of Batman — taking each and every facet of revenge to the extreme. He’s brutal, sure, but he’s not unhinged the way Azrael or Jason Todd were. Thomas Wayne is driven by the death of his son and the corruption of his wife, who goes insane and becomes The Joker.
But the real power of Thomas Wayne comes from his sacrifice. After making a connection with his son (in an alternate timeline) in the form of a letter, Thomas essentially destroys his existence, and does so again during the events of DC Universe Rebirth’s “The Button.” He’s a tattered soul, but he wears the Bat symbol well. We could do with a little less brutality, though.
10. WORSE: SUPERMAN
Superman has donned the Batsuit a handful of times, from his sneaking into a yacht party in Max Landis’ Superman: American Alien, to him swapping places with Batman in the pages of 1954’s World’s Finest. But while Clark Kent is a true beacon of hope and wonder, his motif doesn’t necessarily suit the mantle of Batman. They exist as universal balances to each other, and to throw that out of balance could be catastrophic.
Superman never goes as far as Batman. Neither kill, unless we’re counting the events of Injustice: Gods Among Us, but having Clark Kent as Batman would deny the world the power of Superman. After all, Superman likes to protect everyone and can be anywhere in a matter of moments, and we all know Batman prefers Gotham.
9. BETTER: ZUR-EN-ARRH
The original Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, Tlano, is basically all you could want from someone under the mantle of the Bat. Tlano was a lawful good Batman, who defended his planet against giant alien robots that sought to wipe out existence. With a colorful costume to boot, Tlano looked to be a version of Batman without a call for revenge after the death of his parents. That was in 1958.
In 2006, Grant Morrison’s Batman run referred to plenty of classic elements, including Zur-En-Arrh, and it became a major plot point in “Batman R.I.P.” With that, one of the perfect imaginings of Batman became a part of Bruce Wayne’s legacy, too. Can’t ask for more than that. After all, this new Zur-En-Arrh persona was built to outlive Bruce Wayne should he ever lose his memory and fail Gotham.
8. WORSE: HUGO STRANGE
Hugo Strange has long been a keystone in the world of Batman’s rogues gallery. After discovering the identity of Batman very early on, Hugo became obsessed with building a psychological profile on the vigilante, doing everything from dressing as Batman to acting like him in an attempt to think like Bruce Wayne. It’s a short-lived stint and never serves to replace Bruce Wayne, and for those that know the kind of villain Hugo Strange becomes, thinking of him as Batman is more than terrifying.
On top of that, his obsession with Batman continues as the years go on, yet Hugo Strange never destroys Bruce Wayne or Batman, and even when Bruce passes the mantle to other members of the Bat-Family, Hugo is left dumbfounded. Keep dreaming, Hugo Strange.
7. BETTER: TERRY MCGINNIS
In the future, when Bruce Wayne is retired and members of the Bat-Family have left for greener pastures, Terry McGinnis inherits the mantle of Batman in the Batman Beyond animated series and its subsequent comic book follow-ups. As Batman, Terry handles the mantle with grace, learning from the best as a teenager and becoming a defender of the future with his own rogue gallery as his time as the hero continues.
Recently, he returned to the Batman mantle after Tim Drake had held it in the Batman Beyond alternate future, and finds out Bruce Wayne is still alive. Together, they rebuild the Bat-Family and continue to defend Gotham City. Terry works so well as Batman because he grows into it. He isn’t driven by rage and revenge, but eager to learn and impressionable, with his own capacity to think and feel. It’s awfully sweet.
6. WORSE: DAMIAN WAYNE
What’s worse than a Batman that lacks a moral code and kills his enemies? Well, how about one that literally sells his soul to the devil. Damian Wayne’s stint as Batman in the alternate future of Grant Morrison’s Batman #666 is dark, dreary and mostly on fire. Damian patrols the streets as a darker Batman than his father, from his lack of empathy and eagerness to kill, to the sinister look of his costume, Damian is a far cry from Bruce Wayne.
Fortunately, in this continuity, he goes on to chill out and train a young Terry McGinnis, priming him to become the next in the line of Batman mantle-holders. While not so great as Batman himself, Damian does seem to respect the legacy of the family and his father. Let’s just hope that’s actually how it shakes out, should we ever really get there.
5. BETTER: WAYNE WILLIAMS
OK, so maybe this one is a bit of a cheat, but of all the individuals to take on the mantle of Batman, Wayne Williams might be the most literal. Wayne was thrust into a world of revenge after his father was killed. After defending a mob boss named Hanz’s girlfriend, he’s left framed. He goes to prison, meets a scientist and the two become fast friends, with Wayne being convinced to work on his strength, muscle and “reach peak human condition.”
He eventually becomes a wrestler going by the name “Batman,” and continues his quest for revenge against Handz. He dons an augmented version of his wrestling costume that looks looks literally like a giant bat, hence “Batman.” He eventually has a showdown with Handz, who falls to his death, recruits his girlfriend as a secretary and transitions into a costumed vigilante.
4. WORSE: JASON TODD
During “Battle For The Cowl” after Batman’s death, Jason Todd was one of many to throw their hat in the ring as a potential fit for Batman’s successor. Jason Todd brought plenty of his time as Red Hood into being Batman, donning a dark costume, two handguns and utilizing lethal force against the criminals of Gotham. Of course, this isn’t really how Batman operates, so his adopted brothers in arms Damian Wayne and Dick Grayson needed to put a stop to him.
Of course, Jason ends up shooting Damian, cementing the fact that he might be one of the worst choices to become Batman. Dick eventually takes down Jason, offers to help him, but Jason seemingly falls to his death after refusing Dick’s help. And so ended the reign of Jason Todd’s Batman. We can’t say we’ll miss the creepy notes and, you know, killing, all the much.
3. BETTER: TIM DRAKE
Tim Drake is often defined as not really wanting to become Batman. But he has dabbled. In “Battle For The Cowl,” he dresses up as Batman while hunting Jason Todd. In the alternate future of The New 52: Future’s End, he’s trapped in the timeline and takes over from Terry McGinnis as the Batman of that time. And more recently, Tim Drake is shown an alternate version of himself who has become the Batman of the future, even using a gun. OK, so we’re not down with that last one.
But Tim’s cool, calm and calculated crimefighting would be the perfect successor to Bruce Wayne. Drake understands logic, but he doesn’t lack emotion. In this, he’s a great amalgamation of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. He’s not unhinged and he doesn’t want revenge. He wanted to be Robin so he did it. Good on you, Tim Drake, good on you.
2. WORSE: THE JOKER
In a more recent development via the events of “Dark Nights Metal,” we learn that the Dark Multiverse is home to The Batman Who Laughs, a mashup of Bruce Wayne and The Joker. The Batman Who Laughs is no hero, and holds his decrepit Robins on a leash, each one modeled after a real Robin, as his sinister appearance puts the fear into basically everyone he encounters. As an agent of the demon Barbatos, The Batman Who Laughs is set to wreak some serious havoc on the DC Universe.
That being said, The Joker is a terrible Batman. He’s a murderer, he’s sadistic and he has no sense of do-good. Alternatively, another recent series, Batman: White Knight, has a newly-reformed Joker basically swapping places with Batman. How that shakes out, however, remains to be seen.
1. BETTER: DICK GRAYSON
You can say Dick Grayson doesn’t have what it takes to be Batman, but since the moment Bruce Wayne took Dick Grayson in as his own, Dick was set to be better. He’s mostly shied away from the legacy, going out on his own as Nightwing or the leader of the Teen Titans to stand for something different and craft his own legacy. But when Bruce “died”, it was Dick who came out of “Battle For The Cowl” as the new Batman.
He carried the mantle with style and grace, taking on Damian Wayne as his Robin and facing off against some of the cruelest in Batman’s lineup of Rogues. His run as Batman with Damian was one of the best, and Scott Snyder’s “The Black Mirror” cements anything else we were weary about it. Dick Grayson is not only a better Batman than Bruce — he’s the best Batman.
Do you agree or disagree with this list? Let us know in the comments!
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