Batman 75: Len Wein says Bruce Wayne isn’t psychotic — he’s neurotic
"Batman" No. 307, cover-dated January 1979, marked the first issue of writer Len Wein's run on the series -- and the debut of Bruce Wayne's trusted associate Lucius Fox (created by Wein and artist John Calnan). Cover art by Jim Aparo. (DC Entertainment)Link
Catwoman and Batman tussle in "Batman" No. 323, cover-dated May 1980. Len Wein played with the characters' relationship. Batman thinks Selina Kyle has resumed her Catwoman ways when museum items are stolen. One complication: Bruce Wayne and Selina have dated, and she comes to him for help. Cover by Dick Giordano. (DC Entertainment)Link
Batman is on his way to apprehend Catwoman on the first page of "Batman" No. 323. Art by Irv Novick and Bob Smith, with colors by Glynis Wein. (DC Entertainment)Link
The end of the issue reveals that the thief wasn't Catwoman after all -- but Catman (no relation). The story continues in "Batman" No. 324. This two-parter, No. 307, "The Untold Legend of the Batman" and many more stories will be included in the 560-page hardcover "Tales of the Batman: Len Wein," set for a Dec. 30 release. (DC Entertainment)Link
In 1980, Len Wein presented a new take on Batman's origin story with the three-issue limited series "The Untold Legend of the Batman," with artists John Byrne (first issue) and Jim Aparo (second and third). Cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. (DC Entertainment)Link
Len Wein became the regular series writer on "Batman" in the late 1970s and later edited the title. Here, he sports a Swamp Thing shirt -- he created the character with artist Bernie Wrightson. (DC Entertainment)Link
Do you think the Batman is psycho? You’re wrong, Len Wein says.
The accomplished longtime comic book writer and editor, co-creator of such popular characters as Wolverine and Swamp Thing, argues that Bruce Wayne is neurotic, not psychotic. It’s an idea he explored in his time writing “Batman” in the late 1970s and early 1980s — when he also had the billionaire dating Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.
Yes, it seems crazy that a man would don a bat costume to fight crime. But in 1980’s limited series “The Untold Legend of the Batman,” Wein went into why Bruce chose vigilantism over law enforcement — and had the nascent hero’s first costumed identity be Robin. That story, and many others he wrote, will be included in “Tales of the Batman: Len Wein,” a 560-page hardcover scheduled for release Dec. 30, the tail end of the Dark Knight’s 75th anniversary year.
Wein was at WonderCon last weekend, where he participated in events including “That ’70s Panel,” with lifelong friend and fellow former Marvel editor-in-chief Marv Wolfman and moderator Mark Evanier. Later Saturday afternoon, he sat down with Hero Complex at the DC booth — perched in a director’s chair, resting his hands on a cane with an “Alien” head, and his hair springing out over his ears from under a black hat bearing Batman’s symbol — to discuss his time writing about the Caped Crusader, the hero’s “frenemies”-turned-romantic relationship with Catwoman, the first Batman stories he read and more.
Hero Complex: I caught some of your “That ’70s Panel,” and when Evanier asked what character you most wanted to write before getting into comics, you said Batman. What about the character grabbed you when you were young?
Len Wein: Apparently everybody on Earth is either a Superman fan or a Batman fan. I was the latter. I always said when I was younger it was because I didn’t have a chance of being born on a foreign planet and rocketed to Earth as an infant. But they could knock off my folks any day … and that was really it. Anybody can be Batman. You can’t really be most of the other characters.
HC: DC is releasing a hardcover collection of your Batman stories in December. Have you revisited that material recently? Anything you’re particularly proud of?
LW: There’s a lot of stuff I’m proud of from working on Batman – some of the short stories, some of the artists I’ve worked with. I did a couple with Walt Simonson which are just iconic. I love the character so much that anything I get to do with him always makes me happy. I’m still doing Batman stories. I did a “Batman Black and White” story about six months ago…. I will do anything Batman at any time.
HC: I’ve been thinking about Batman origin stories recently with “Zero Year” going on; I revisited Frank Miller’s “Year One,” saw Tim Burton’s 1989 screen version again. Your take – the “Untold Legend” – really is quite different, with having Bruce be the first Robin. Can you think back to how you approached your telling of the origin story?
LW: There were a number of things that I just picked up from previous stories and tried to refold into the overall story – it’s kind of the same thing I did with “Legacies.” But there were things that had never been spoken about, about Bruce as he grew up that I wanted to address where I could – principally, the one: Why did he become the Batman? “OK, my parents have been murdered. I want to avenge their murder. I’ll become a policeman. I’ll become an attorney. I’ll become something that fights crime.” Where do you go and discover, “I’ll put on a Batsuit and fight them” …
So I introduced the secret that he was taking law classes to become a cop or an attorney, and there’s a case put forward to him as a student, “How do you deal with this?” (I actually had my wife, the attorney, help me with that) where somebody who’s essentially innocent ends up getting sent to prison for a long time because of the legalese. There’s a line which I always remember from an old episode of the “Naked City” TV show … “Is that justice? No, it’s the law.” And that’s exactly what happens. He talks to his professor and says, “But this guy is innocent. Is that justice?” And the guy says, “No, it’s the law.” At which point Bruce realizes there’s a big difference between justice and the law — and so decides he’s going to fight for justice as opposed to upholding the law.
HC: You wrote some stories for “Detective Comics” in the early and mid-’70s, and then came on as the “Batman” writer in the late ’70s. At that time, what was your idea of what the character’s book should be, and has that changed over the years?
LW: I don’t think it’s changed. My idea of what it should be was – so many people talk about Batman the psychotic, and I’ve never believed him to be psychotic. I believe him as Batman the neurotic and compulsive.
In my very first issue when I took over the book on an ongoing basis, there’s the scene that introduces Lucius Fox, where Lucius comes in at the end of the day to discuss some important business. And Bruce is talking to him but at the same time he’s sitting at his desk with his back to Lucius, looking out the window, and he watches the sun go down. In the middle of the conversation, when the sun disappears, he says, “Sorry, I’ve got things to do. We’ll talk tomorrow,” and leaves. It’s night. It’s time for the Batman. He’s compulsive. He’s not crazy. Although I suppose compulsive’s crazy too.
HC: What’s the experience been of seeing Lucius Fox go on to be portrayed in other media, and do you have a favorite screen representation of him?
LW: Well, I mean, you’re never going to beat Morgan Freeman, for God’s sake. No matter who else they get. If he shows up in the next Batman / Superman movie, I’m very hopeful they’ll get someone terrific. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate that the actors who’ve played many of my characters over the years in film and television have been perfect for the roles.
HC: Looking at the Batman-Catwoman relationship, what do you think is the key to that, and what is the long-lasting appeal?
LW: They have been frenemies almost from the beginning. She’s attracted to what he is and, despite himself, he’s kind of attracted to what she is, the fact that she’s as brave as he is, as ingenious in her own way. And I figured, what the heck, he had just been getting over Silver St. Cloud, and I thought, “Let’s see if we can finally play it with the Batman-Catwoman – well, more the Bruce-Selina – relationship, and see what happens.”
HC: What’s the most memorable moment from your time as “Batman” writer and then editor?
LW: I actually don’t have a moment I can think of. I love writing him so much. I was fortunate with some of the people I got to work with – Neal Adams on several stories, Walter Simonson and so many other great artists. Jim Aparo.
HC: Can you talk about a particular Batman story by someone other than yourself that you especially admire?
LW: Weirdly enough, the first two Batman stories I read as a kid both stick with me to this day. I don’t know who wrote them – back then there were no credits. Everyone believed it was Bob Kane. But they both, remarkably enough, featured the villain Professor Milo, who had never been seen before or since. And one of the things I did when I was writing “Batman” was to bring back Professor Milo [in "Batman" No. 255] – I figured I owed him at least that much. The first was called “The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career” [“Detective Comics” No. 247] and it was about Milo making Batman bat-phobic. So he becomes Starman, with a whole different set of – it’s great being a billionaire, just build a whole new thing. Now it’s the Starcave. We’ve got star equipment. And the other was called “Am I Really Batman?” [“Batman” No. 112], where Milo gives Batman amnesia and he has no idea who he is, and Robin has to reteach him how to be the Batman until he gets his memory back.
RECENT AND RELATED: