Batman has always been a symbol for justice and hope. He wants to be an example to the citizens of Gotham that one man can make a difference. A man will age and eventually come to his end, but a symbol can live forever. Bruce Wayne is Batman in a majority of the DC Universes. His Batman is obsessed with justice, which originated the night he made an oath to protect Gotham in response to his parents demise. This childhood trauma also shapes Bruce’s moral compass; while he will do almost anything to protect Gotham City, he will not take a life. However, he isn’t always the man behind the mask.
There have been a host of characters who have put on the costume in an attempt to carry on the Legacy of Batman. Some have succeeded as a symbol for justice, leading to iconic stories that received praise from the fans. The most effective replacements are those who understand Gotham’s need for the hero and align with Bruce’s moral code. Others have had good intentions, but ultimately fail. They may come to abuse their power and as a result deal out harsher punishments, losing the trust of the citizens in the process. Finally, there are some characters who have stepped into the role in order to tarnish the Dark Knight’s reputation. They may start out as Batman’s enemies and decide that the most effective way to take down Gotham’s symbol of justice is to distort it from within. In this list we rank the top 20 characters who have taken over the cape and cowl from Bruce Wayne.
20 DAMIAN WAYNE
Damian, the son of Bruce Wayne who was trained at a young age by the League of Assassins, is a great character and a homerun idea for a Robin. The juxtaposition of this version of the Dynamic Duo provides so much opportunity for character growth in both father and son. However, despite Damian’s growth as a Robin, he is not a good Batman.
The proof of this comes in Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, when a glimpse of the future shows Damian take up his father's cape and cowl. He struggles in the role, not sure whether to do things his way or his father’s. In the end, Gotham and its citizens are nuked out of existence. His father would not be proud.
19 BLACK MASK
The comic book crossover event “War Crimes” ran in Batman and Detective Comics during August of 2005. It was preceded by “War Games” in which Black Mask took the life of Stephanie Brown, the first female Robin. In “War Crimes”, Black Mask plans to take advantage of the grieving Batman by committing a number of crimes disguised as the Dark Knight in hopes of directing the GCPD’s attention away from him and onto Batman.
The plan initially worked and it wasn’t until Joker, furious that someone else had defeated a Robin, was able to end Black Mask’s time as The Caped Crusader.
18 THREE GHOSTS OF BATMAN
During Grant Morrison’s run on Batman he would often pay homage to stories of the ‘50s and ‘60s, reviving lost concepts and retelling old tales in a new way. In a story similar to the 1963 comic “Robin Dies at Dawn”, Morrison reshapes the events that once caused Bruce to hallucinate Robin’s demise. Bruce was placed in isolation so Doctor Simon Hurt could study what drove him, as part of an attempt to train former GCPD members to replace Batman.
Hurt incorrectly concluded that rage and sorrow were the main factors to Batman’s success, so he destroyed the lives of the three replacement Batmen, in order to duplicate the Dark Knight. All of the replacements turned evil and became foes of Batman instead of replacements.
17 ROY KANE
In the 1989 Detective Comics story “Blind Justice”, a WayneTech employee named Roy Kane discovers the Batcave, where he finds a wheelchair bound Bruce. Seeing that Bruce is unfit for duty, Roy agrees to put on the Batman costume and let Bruce pilot his body using a mind-control device.
Unfortunately Roy’s body is not physically adept enough to be Batman and he ends up perishing in the costume. Even though Roy was being controlled by Bruce’s mind, his time in the cape and cowl was inadequate. At least his intentions were good and he didn’t cause Gotham to be nuked out of existence.
16 HUGO STRANGE
In the Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers story “Strange Apparitions”, Hugo Strange returns to the comics for the first time since the ‘40s. Upon his return, he is able to capture and unmask the Dark Knight. With Bruce Wayne safely in captivity, Strange disguises himself as both Bruce and Batman to drag the Wayne name through the mud on all fronts.
Strange is obviously a terrible Batman, as his sole purpose is to stain everything the Bat emblem stands for. However, he ranks above a few others on this list because of what his accomplice Magda says regarding his performance. She tells him that he copies both voices perfectly, implying that Bruce and Batman sound different and Hugo is can accurately imitate both.
15 JEAN-PAUL VALLEY
In the early ‘90s, some of the Marvel characters such as Wolverine and Punisher were seriously challenging Batman in popularity. Fans were saying that Batman’s policy of never taking a life was outdated. Denny O’Neil took this to heart and planned a year long story arc in which a physically broken Bruce would have to find a temporary replacement. The idea was to remind fans of why they loved Batman so much in the first place.
The replacement was Jean-Paul Valley, who had his own psychological problems. Although he got off to a good start, eventually he snapped and began dealing out justice executioner style. Once Bruce returned, he had to rebuild the Dark Knight’s reputation that Valley had destroyed.
14 JASON TODD
After the perceived end of Batman's life, a number of his allies battled for the right to take his place in the comic Batman: Battle For the Cowl. The first to put on the costume was Jason Todd. He combined his complex feelings towards Batman with his lack of morality, which resulted in a very dangerous and morally-void Batman who claimed to be the true and only Batman.
This obviously came across as a disappointment to the Batman costume and turned Jason into the villain of the story. It was clear to Tim Drake, Dick Grayson and the readers that Jason Todd did not make a good Batman.
The highest ranking villainous version of Batman is Bane, who donned the cape and cowl in the DC event “Forever Evil”. After Batman had gone missing and the Crime Syndicate had taken control of the world, Bane took matters into his own hands. He recognized that Batman is a symbol and the only hope to save Gotham. He rallied an army of inmates and created bonds with the GCPD to reclaim some semblance of order.
Although Bane was eventually sent back to Arkham upon Batman’s return, he deserves his spot on this list. Much like his predecessor, Bane saw a need in Gotham and became a symbol the city needed.
12 JOE COLLINS
The 1998 comic Batman: I, Joker is a strange one. It takes place in a world that is ruled by an evil Batman. He forces his citizens to undergo physical transformations into his greatest foes and defeats them for entertainment purposes.
One of those citizens is Joe Collins, who is physically transformed into Joker, but is able to resists the implantation of Joker’s memories, allowing his own personality to remain. Collins heads up a rebellion to overthrow the evil Batman and eventually succeeds. He decides to become the new Batman and restore the heroic image everyone once had of the Dark Knight.
Over the years Superman has often put on the Batman costume when Bruce needed a hand. Our favorite of these instances is in the 1977 story “Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?”. In this story, Lex Luthor explains that he switched Superman’s mind into Batman’s body so that he could destroy Batman’s human body, which as a result would be destroying Superman’s mind.
The plan appears to have worked, except for the fact that the World’s Finest knew about it all along. When Luthor thought he was sending Batman’s human body into space to perish, it was actually Superman wearing the mask, who just flew back to earth safely.
10 BRANE TAYLOR
The 1944 comic Batman #26 featured the story “In the Year 3000”, which took place on a future Earth that was invaded by Saturnians and forced to submit to their will. On this Earth a man named Brane, a descendant of Bruce Wayne, finds a time capsule from 1939 where he learns about Batman and Robin from newsreels.
He and his ward Ricky go into action as the new Dynamic Duo, inspiring the people to fight against the injustice of their alien rulers. The rebellion eventually works and the invaders are sent back to their home planet. Brane returns in a few more Batman stories to lend Bruce a hand, but it is this triumphant beginning that earns his spot on the list.
9 BATMAN OF ZUR-EN-ARRH
The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh is an interesting entry on the list. In the ‘50s he was only known as an alien from a different planet who observed Earth from a powerful telescope and became the Batman of his own planet. This alone would not qualify him for this list as he never “took over” for Bruce.
However, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh is another aspect of the ‘50s that Grant Morrison revived in his Batman run. He established that this Batman was actually an alternate personality that Bruce could access if he was ever under psychological attack, to keep Bruce Wayne safe. So under this definition, whenever Batman of Zur-En-Arrh is accessed, he is in fact taking over from Bruce.
8 ALFRED PENNYWORTH
On the most recent run of Batman, Alfred puts on a Batsuit and even drives the Batmobile to assist Bruce in his fight against the villain Gotham. However, our favorite time Alfred took over as the Dark Knight was in 1955 in the pages of Batman #92. The comic tells the first story of Ace the Bathound, who is saved by Bruce Wayne and later appears fighting crime with Batman.
When Ace’s owner comes to claim him, Batman shows him a picture of Bruce Wayne lending him Ace for crime fighting purposes. Little does the owner know, it was Alfred wearing the Batman costume in the picture. If it was enough to fool the dog owner, it is enough to fool us.
7 BATMAN ONE MILLION
In the year 85,300, on the planet Pluto, the criminal Xauron lead an uprising in the prison when he rounded up 15,000 security guards and forced their children to watch as he destroyed them. Most children mentally broke after witnessing this, but one child who was aware of the Batman Legacy vowed to wear the costume and become Justice.
Just as the original Dark Knight had done thousands of years earlier, he began to hone his mental and physical abilities. After many years of preparing he took the fight back to the dangerous Asylum Planet Pluto, where the nightmare began.
6 JAMES GORDON
In Batman: Digital Justice, James Gordon, the grandson of Commissioner Jim Gordon, takes up the mantle of Batman in a futuristic version of Gotham City. After making himself familiar with Batman from old newspaper clippings, he puts on the Batman costume Bruce had given Jim as a souvenir. As the new Batman, James sets out to avenge his partner and free the city from a sentient computer virus created by the late Joker.
James is aided by a self-aware computer called the Batcomp, which was programmed by the deceased Bruce Wayne. James does a wonderful job as Batman in this interesting take on a futuristic Gotham City.
5 BATMAN YEAR 100
The Batman in Batman: Year 100 is another interesting entry on the list because it is never specifically stated that he is not Bruce Wayne. However, it is clear to us that the objective of this story is to keep Batman’s identity mysterious. It is set a hundred years after Batman’s first appearance, so it is a time when Bruce could not possibly still be Batman.
The story stresses the concept that Batman is an idea, a symbol for justice that can be taken up by anyone. It doesn’t matter who is behind the mask, all that matters is the symbol on the chest. This concept is inspiring and ranks the Batman (or Batmen) of Year 100 high on our list.
4 JIM GORDON
After Batman’s disappearance at the conclusion of “Endgame”, Commissioner Gordon realizes his city needs a Batman. Lacking the physical strength required to be Batman, Gordon takes to the streets in a robotic Batman suit. The suit’s long ears resemble a rabbit’s and has lead some fan circles to call this incarnation Bat-Bunny.
As silly as the suit may look, Gordon is a fantastic stand-in for Batman. He shares the same hope for Gotham as Bruce and he struggles to figure out what it means to be a symbol of this hope, just as Bruce did in his earlier days. This run is often written off, but the comparison between the two men’s differing approach to vigilantism enriches both of the characters.
3 TERRY MCGINNIS
Terry McGinnis first appeared on the animated television show Batman Beyond. Twenty years since Batman had been seen on the streets of Gotham, Terry stumbled upon the Batcave while assisting an injured Bruce back to Wayne Manor. Bruce kicks him out, but after returning home to find his father has passed, Terry steals a Batsuit and swears vengeance. Despite the initial mistrust, Bruce does agree to help Terry as the new Batman, due to their shared tragedy.
Terry is a fantastic character to be Batman. He is a young man that must carry all the pressure that the Batsuit brings, while trying to figure out how to be a hero at the same time.
2 TIM DRAKE
Tim Drake has been depicted as the future Batman many times. It fits well because Tim is a fantastic detective. Even though detective work is not always present in a Batman story, it is a crucial trait of the character. Tim was able to deduce who Batman and Robin were all on his own, which makes him a great successor to Bruce.
Tim is not only a great detective, but he is also intuitive. He is always able to know when someone is not feeling like themself and better yet, he can figure out how to help them. As Batman, he is able to use these skills to help his allies and defeat his foes.
1 DICK GRAYSON
Out of all the characters who have stepped into the role of Batman, Dick Grayson is by far the best. As the first Robin and an original member of the Dynamic Duo, Dick was groomed to succeed his mentor. He brings a more slender frame and higher aptitude for acrobatics to the role and overcomes the initial struggle to find his identity as the Caped Crusader.
Outside of Bruce, Dick is the most effective character to wear the suit. He protects the citizens of Gotham by working alongside the GCPD to ensure a higher conviction rate. It is the truest form of a coming-of-age story that a Batman comic has to offer and Bruce’s greatest success.