Batman is one of the most iconic faces in pop culture today, and when it comes to flagship characters at DC Comics, only Superman and Wonder Woman can rival his popularity. His stories usually come from very dark places, given the circumstances of the tragedy that saw Bruce Wayne lose his parents to crime. This, of course, has inspired writers to craft very thought-provoking stories, which usually push Batman to his mental limit. That’s no easy feat, however, and has often led to quite a few scandals in the hero’s universe.
How else can villains destroy the Bat, after all? Such scandals are prevalent because protecting Gotham doesn’t just revolve around the Dark Knight, but also other parties like the Justice League, Batman’s own family of superheroes such as Robin and Batgirl back in Gotham, as well as Bruce Wayne’s personal connections. The latter has his family’s business, quite a few love interests and of course, Alfred the butler to take into consideration. With all of this in mind, CBR decided to scour Batman’s history and find some of the most scandalous stories that have added drama, tension, suspense and horror to the Caped Crusader’s life.
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for several Batman-related stories.
15. DEATH IN THE FAMILY: A ROBIN DIES
In 1988, A Death in the Family, written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by Jim Aparo, gave us a chilling and scandalous end to the life of Jason Todd, the Robin who took over from Dick Grayson. Fans were allowed to call in and vote if DC Comics should kill him off and they did just that, with a very thin margin. In the ensuing story, Jason was tricked by his mother and trapped by Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime then beat him mercilessly, killing his mother and ending Jason’s torture with a lethal explosion.
It rocked the entire industry, and to this day, the story stands as the definition of controversy in Batman’s history. Not only was it violent and absolutely brutal, it left Jason’s fans wondering how haters could be so cruel, not to mention how nonchalant the publisher was with killing off such a young character.
14. THE KILLING JOKE: ROOFTOP LOVE
Batman: The Killing Joke, a 1988 one-shot graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, is one of the most revered (and reviled) pieces of art in the industry today. It focused on Barbara Gordon’s paralysis at the hands of Joker and it was adapted into a 2016 animated film. Here, a new dimension was added via a very scandalous relationship between the Dark Knight and Barbara as a young Batgirl, still in university.
While Bruce Timm’s animated series and the Batman Beyond universe made it clear Bruce and Barbara engaged in a relationship as adults, here it came off as creepy. Batgirl saw him as a mentor and father figure so when she jumped Batman to engage in rooftop nookie, fans were understandably taken aback. Bruce Wayne took advantage of a young girl’s fantasies and then shockingly dismissed her like an annoying fan. It was uncharacteristic and distasteful, at best.
13. THE WIDENING GYRE: BLADDER PROBLEMS
Batman: The Widening Gyre, written by Kevin Smith and illustrated by Walt Flanagan in 2009, was neck-deep in scandal as it toyed with the idea of Bruce finding true love. He proposed and revealed his identity to Silver St. Cloud while taking on a partner, Baphomet, in crime-fighting. Fans didn’t like the humor Smith injected, which got out of hand when Batman revealed he wet himself during the classic Batman: Year One story.
Baphomet — later revealed to be Onomatopoeia — made it clear to readers that this meant that Batman peed himself. Apart from this awkward revelation, Smith made sure there was more scandal in Bruce’s romantic endeavors, with Catwoman becoming jealous of his happiness, and also, in the shocking finale where Onomatopoeia slit St. Clouds’s throat, right after Bruce welcomed him into his circle. It was an intense story, but one that still leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths today.
12. HOLY TERROR: BATMAN VS. AL-QAEDA
In 2006, Frank Miller pitched the story Holy Terror, Batman!, which would have focused on him fighting the terrorist group called Al-Qaeda. However, with memories of 9/11 still lingering, that would have been risky. Thus, in 2010, he announced it was no longer being worked as a DC Comics project. Instead, he crafted the story using the Fixer, a new (but still very Batman-inspired) hero in the war against terror.
This was a very bloody story, which would have been intriguing had it not been so inherently racist and xenophobic. The resulting book was also viewed by many as Islamophobic, so it’s understood why DC didn’t move forward with it. Seeing the Caped Crusader in this battle would have been certainly polarizing and also, highly unsettling.
11. JLA: TOWER OF BABEL: TRUST NO ONE
In 2000, JLA: Tower of Babel from Mark Waid and the art team of Howard Porter and Steve Scott gave us one of the most untrustworthy versions of Batman in history. In the story, Ra’s al Ghul stole the remains of Bruce’s parents, distracting him from an assault on the League. Ra’s stole much more though and used plans, engineered by Batman himself, on how to incapacitate the heroes. Everyone, from Superman to Flash to Martian Manhunter, faced life-threatening crises.
However, they would rise above and with Batman’s help, the scheme was foiled. Bruce returned his parents to their graves, but the League voted whether to keep him or not. The deciding vote was left to Superman but Bruce walked out by that time, reminding them he truly was a loner. This story was animated later on as Justice League: Doom, but ended with Batman being given a second chance.
10. BATMAN BEYOND: DADDY ISSUES
The Epilogue story was part of Justice League Unlimited but also served to wrap the Batman Beyond cartoon. Here, we saw that Amanda Waller safeguarded some of Batman’s biggest secrets, which wasn’t just limited to his identity. She met with Terry McGinnis and talked about Bruce’s history as Batman, while rocking Terry’s world with the major revelation that Bruce was actually his biological father.
Waller used cloning and tampering with genetics to ensure that there would always be a Bruce Wayne as Batman. Eventually, her schemes ran down to the McGinnis family, choosing Terry’s mother as a host for Bruce Wayne’s genetic material, eventually producing Terry himself. It shocked fans who simply thought the old man was his mentor. Whether or not you felt this was forced or an unnecessary retcon, if you were a fan of Terry, it did feel right, as it made up for Bruce never passing the torch down to a Robin.
9. THE RETURN OF THE JOKER: TIM DRAKE’S WOE
The Return of the Joker animated movie was set in Batman Beyond’s continuity, and introduced Terry to Bruce’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. The levels of scandal were off the charts here, firstly because we would find out from Barbara that in the old days, Joker and Harley kidnapped Tim Drake as Robin and mentally broke him. Tim ended up killing the Clown and subsequently retired as Robin due to the emotional trauma inflicted upon him.
Years later, Joker resurfaced and the scandal got even worse as Terry discovered that, using microchip technology, Joker imprinted his genetic code into the young Robin, which transformed the older Tim into the villain. It stunned the Bat-family and showed us how far Joker would go to become immortal. Terry would eventually save Tim, who made amends with Bruce. Ironically, Terry would later hand the Batman Beyond suit to Tim in the comics.
8. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: FIGHT THE POWER
In 1986, Frank Miller worked with artist Klaus Janson to give us The Dark Knight Returns, which inspired Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman film. This comic universe was built on conflict and scandal, which went off the rails in this chapter. Joker emerged once again with a thirst for murder and lured Batman into a trap, framing him for his own death. Joker wanted to show the world that Batman was evil, and the illusion worked.
The United States government then sent Superman after the Dark Knight and their famous battle took place. Superman eventually won but Batman pulled off a scandal of his own, faking his death only to go underground and start an army in the name of justice. Miller’s vision was a cynical one against capes, and Batman showed us here that he had contingency plans for everyone and everything. As usual, he trusted almost no one, including (especially?) the government.
7. KNIGHTFALL: BREAKING A LEGACY
The Knightfall arc, spearheaded by the likes of Chuck Dixon and Dennis O’Neill in 1993, remains a major milestone in Batman’s history. Not only was the character physically broken, but the Batman legacy was incurably tainted. Bane proved to be a formidable villain and did what we thought we’d never see — breaking Batman’s back and putting him out of commission. Things got darker when the replacement, Azrael, took the Batman mantle to murderous heights by killing criminals.
Many fans were shocked to see DC gamble in this playground because such vigilantism wasn’t associated with Batman. It was a bleak and violent chapter, which Bruce had to come back to wipe clean and prove once more that he was a symbol for good. This ended up being the inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, showing how influential it was to all Batman fans.
6. UNDER THE HOOD: JASON TODD RETURNS
Batman: Under the Hood, also adapted as an animated film, emerged in 2004 from writer Judd Winick and artists such as Doug Mahnke, Eric Battle and Shane Davis. It tied the vigilante called Red Hood to the killing of criminals in Gotham, which came full-circle when he was revealed to be Jason Todd — back from the dead. He hated the Bat-family for not avenging him and killing Joker, but apart from his deception, the scandal ran deeper, as it was linked to the al Ghul family.
They used the Lazarus Pit as part of Jason’s rebirth, which drove him insane and developed in him an unslakable bloodlust. This shook everything up in Bruce’s life and threatened to bring down his crime-fighting empire. What also left fans stunned was that Bruce actually contemplated if Jason was right when he blamed Batman for the deaths of all the innocents at Joker’s hands.
5. BATMAN #666: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
Batman #666 from Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert gave us a look into a dystopian Gotham where Damian Wayne took over the mantle from Bruce. The son of the Bat was now the Batman of tomorrow and it was a trippy issue that dealt with the occult, more specifically Damian, and deals with the devil himself. This story is yet to be wrapped in main continuity but it left fans wondering what truly happened to the Bat-family and just how Damian could come to be a savior.
It was very controversial because at that point, Damian showed few virtuous qualities. That changed over the years but it still doesn’t erase how disturbing it was seeing Batman in a mystical and psychedelic story fighting for the very soul of Gotham, and apparently his own family.
4. REBIRTH: THREE JOKERS
The DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot in 2016 saw Geoff Johns recalibrating the publisher’s stories away from the New 52 and more towards the characters we loved from the ’90s. With artists like Ivan Reis and Gary Frank on the book, Johns shook the core of the Batman mythos with a revelation that there wasn’t just one but three versions of the Joker existing in Batman’s world.
This left us all wondering who did what during which time! Seriously, one Joker isn’t enough? Many fans felt that three would just complicate things — though that’s usually the case when a background of any kind is applied to the character. Johns has promised answers in 2018 when we learn more of the Comedian’s button in the Bat-cave and more about the Watchmen link to the DC universe.
3. HUSH: SINS OF THE PAST
Batman: Hush was created in late 2002 and early 2003 from the minds of Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair. It was a cerebral tale that put Bruce through the wringer as Thomas Elliot, a disturbed childhood friend, emerged. The scandal ran way back to the past as Thomas had Bruce believing he was actually his half-brother, named after Bruce’s dad. As the bandaged villain, Hush, he would also employ several key figures in Batman’s life to wreak emotional havoc.
Clayface, Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy were all part of this chess game, with Jason Todd also making an appearance. Few writers ever accomplished such drama with the Waynes and their history but Loeb did just that. Hush was very intelligent and proved to be one of Batman’s biggest mental foes, coming very close to tainting his family’s name forever.
2. IDENTITY CRISIS: BATMAN’S MIND-WIPE
Identity Crisis is a 2004 story from writer Brad Meltzer and the artistic team of Rags Morales and Michael Bair, which led to a lot of distrust within the Justice League. It focused on Doctor Light raping the Elongated Man’s wife, Sue, with the League using Zatanna to mind-wipe him so that word wouldn’t get out. It was a very deceptive tale filled with twists and murder, which resulted in the Atom’s wife, Jean Loring, sent to Arkham Asylum after she turned out to be the story’s true criminal mastermind, not to mention a psychotic murderer.
What stood out as well was that Batman disapproved of Light’s mind-wipe, only to be restrained and mind-wiped himself. He would eventually find out and go on to monitor his fellow heroes, no longer trusting them, which led to the Brother Eye fiasco with Max Lord. This scandal and attempted cover-up justified Batman’s cynicism against his fellow Leaguers, but for many fans irreparably ruined the reputation of DC’s greatest heroes.
1. THE KILLING JOKE: BARBARA’S ASSAULT
The Killing Joke comic is going to be tough to replace as the biggest scandal in Batman’s lore. Apart from Batman toying with killing Joker, it’s what drove him to this point which really makes it such an iconic and haunting story. Joker found Barbara and shot her, while photographically documenting her sexual assault. He also tortured Jim Gordon later in an attempt to prove that he could mentally break anyway, thus justifying his own warped existence.
But it’s the Barbara incident which, to this very day, leaves fans terrified as to what Joker’s really capable of, while using rape as a plot device continues to leave comic readers in an uproar. Joker’s actions remain highly-debated by fans and this story remains one of the most gut-wrenching reads in DC Comics’ history. It left the Bat-family torn apart and changed Barbara’s life completely, painting Joker as a ruthless monster.
Let us know in the comments which scandalous Bat-stories you think changed the course of the character!
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