Most often in the Bat-verse we’re either following Bruce in the present era or flashing back to his origins for different spins and takes on his path to vigilantism. But at times we have jumped ahead to see Bruce as a grizzled veteran as well. To see where his life choices have led him. Does he become a crazed, isolated madman or is he actually capable of developing a life outside of the Cape and Cowl (spoilers: not really)? Read on and you’ll find more Elderly Bruces than you can shake a Bat-cane at.
While Titans: Season 2 will feature Dick Grayson trying to reunite the Titans after facing Trigon, it will also give form and shape to Bruce Wayne, a man who’s had a monumental effect on Dick’s emotional journey. Iain Glen’s debonaire Bruce looks to be the commonly agreed-upon psychological endgame for Batman in his autumnal years: a man who’s devoted so much of his life to being Batman that all of his actual interpersonal relationships, with real people, are in shambles. And after playing poor Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones for nearly a decade, Glen now gets to be the one neglecting those who love him. It’s only fair.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
The most famous Old Man Bruce Wayne can be found in Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, where Bruce, having retired following the death of Jason Todd, returns to the Bat-scene with a fanatical devotion to cleaning up Gotham. His crazed, tunnel-visioned application of violence – in an effort to save the city from the likes of Two-Face, Joker, and a cluster of thugs called the Mutants – gains him a brutal cult following and eventually lands him on America’s Most Wanted list. Superman’s sent to stop him, prompting Bruce to use their fight to fake his own death and go underground. It’s one of the most hardcore Bat-tales ever, featuring one the most “Get Off My Lawn” Bruce Waynes ever depicted.
In 1996, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come gave us a version of Old Bruce that was Dark Knight-lite. Meaning, the elder Mr. Wayne was indeed a crusty, battle-damaged hero in his twilight years, now supported by metal braces to protect his obliterated body, but he wasn’t a completely insane husk who wound up on the country’s list of criminals Superman should pummel. In fact, it’s Superman who’s retired in Kingdom Come and Bruce who’s kept his shenanigans going – now out of the ground game, relying on surveillance, robots, and protégées to do the heavier lifting.
On the animated series front, the Old Bruce shown in Batman Beyond is unanimously heralded as one of the best conceptions of the elder vigilante. In fact, Iain Glen appearing as Bruce on Titans started up a swirl of rumors about a possible live-action Beyond on the horizon. Here, Bruce fell out of the game after a heart attack forced him to almost use a gun to save himself – which is Batman “no-no” numero uno. The wicked weapon that killed his parents. No way, no how. Ashamed of almost shooting a dude, Bruce retires, only to later on mentor Terry McGinnis as the new Batman. This Bruce was aware of his limits, understood his code, and knew when it was time to stop before he went too far. It’s the true pinnacle of “Passing the Torch” Batman.
This take on the character was extended superbly in 2000’s Return of the Joker, which gave Old Bruce some darker shading, revealing that his second Robin, Tim Drake, had been psychologically tortured by Joker – to the point where Tim had turned on Joker and killed him. Decades later, when Joker mysteriously returns to the scene, Bruce is forced to come face to face with the true damage done to Tim, realizing that his former apprentice had all-but been destroyed by the Clown Prince of Crime. The story gave Bruce an extra layer of guilt beyond just having almost used a gun once.
John Byrne’s unique four-part Generations story starts in 1939 and ends in 1999 (er, 2919) – aging both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent in real time while following their exploits and adventures through the decades. What you get are Batman and Superman dynasties, with both heroes’ kids taking up the respective super-mantle of their dads – the second and third Batmans are Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne Jr. while Kara Kent becomes Supergirl – accompanied by the triumphs and dark tragedies that usually accompany a generations-spanning saga.
One of the most intense and demented representations of Old Bruce Wayne is – er – Old Thomas Wayne. Yes, in the Flashpoint escapades, Flash’s timeline meddling switches up the Crime Alley tableau so that Joe Chill shoots and kills Martha and young Bruce – leaving Thomas to go mad with rage, become Batman, and start taking down criminals with lethal force. Never forget that the real monster, despite Batman being a murderous marauder, is Barry Allen.
Which old Batman do you heart the most? Discuss in the comments!Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.