Batman. I like the idea that if I had enough money, time, and vengeance I could become him – Todd Howard
The Dark Knight is, always has been, and always will the four-color world’s quintessential avatar of justice.
A schizoid avenger who plays the part of the perpetual playboy Bruce Wayne by day and fulfills his role as the sworn protector of Gotham by night, Batman is the embodiment of the idea that all men, regardless of how rich and powerful they are, are equal when caught in the malevolent glare of misfortune.
Batman has become, as far as his devoted audience and the writers and artists who create his ever-evolving story are concerned, almost immortal.
In his career as a crime-fighting crusader, he’s saved the world more times than he can possibly remember, invented the Batusi, had his back broken by Bane, and has been “killed” at least twice in the last decade.
That’s a lot of adventure to pack into one life, especially when it’s also been filled with battling a rogue’s gallery of villains who are almost as famous as Batman is, which begs the question, how did he manage to do all that?
When most of us can’t even find the time to catch up with our favorite shows and can barely make it to the store to pick up our pull list, how has Bruce Wayne managed to accomplish everything that he has?
Which leads to the next and inevitable question, just how old is Batman?
It’s A Matter Of Historical Record
Historically speaking, Batman is eighty-two years old having made his debut in Detective Comics in nineteen thirty-nine.
Originally a stereotypical character who followed the millionaire with a secret identity blueprint that the pulp magazines of the era had popularized with antiheroes like The Shadow and The Spider, Bob Kane, and Bill Finger’s masked vigilante was, merely the star of another short story and would almost certainly have faded into obscurity if he hadn’t had that mysterious “X” factor that ingratiated him to the funny book fans of the time.
But if that’s true, and Batman is a senior citizen, how can he fight crime, battle the forces of darkness and continue to lead the Justice League?
Age, like death, is immaterial in the four-color world, and the Batman who appears on the big and small screens and continues his mission in the pages of monthly comic books is, apparently the same age now, as he was when he first appeared in a DC book more than eight decades ago.
Does that mean he’s immortal? Did Bruce Wayne discover the secret of the Lazarus Pit and was he granted the same eternal life as his long-standing nemesis, and former mentor Ra’s Al Ghul?
If the secret of Batman’s longevity was that simple, he would be a mere footnote in the annals of DC Comics, as it’s humanity, his fragile mortality that he’s willing to risk time and time again, that lies at the heart of his enduring appeal.
How Old Are You Bruce?
If he isn’t immortal, that means Batman ages the same way that every mortal does. Or at least it would if he wasn’t a fictional character who was, and is subject to the whims of writers and the demands of the particular story that they’re telling.
And it isn’t just the comic books in which Batman’s age, which is usually assumed to be somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five changes.
Cinematically, Bruce Wayne was in his mid-thirties when he was played by both Micheal Keaton in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns and Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman trilogy.
But by the time Ben Affleck wore the cowl in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Bruce Wayne was in his mid-forties, and in the upcoming The Batman starring Robert Pattinson in the title role, he’s a man in his late twenties who is just beginning to take his first tentative steps into the murky underworld that he’ll soon become subsumed in.
And the same is true of television, in the live-action sixties series, Batman Adam West captured the collective imagination of fandom as the suave, sophisticated man about town and officially deputized hero who was in his late thirties, while in the more recent Gotham, the Bruce Wayne who is slowly learning to adapt to, and assume his new identity, is barely twenty years old.
The Four Color Miller Fix
The truth is, nobody ever really gave much thought to how old Bruce Wayne or Batman was in comics until Frank Miller came along.
While it’s generally accepted that the event that altered the course of Bruce Wayne’s life, the murder of his parents, happened to him somewhere between the ages of seven and twelve, the rest of his life was generally seen as conforming to established canon.
That Batman was always going to be a man approaching middle-age, but not quite ready to capitulate to its inevitable onslaught.
Miller changed the rules with his groundbreaking series The Dark Knight Returns in which Bruce Wayne was fifty-five years old when he once again became Batman, after having been forced into retirement by an increasingly autocratic government.
And in Batman: Year One, Miller portrays his flawed hero as a twenty-six-year-old eager avenger, struggling to find his way and define his purpose during his first, formative year as the caped crusader.
It was Miller’s willingness to liberally toy with the age of Bruce Wayne and Batman according to the needs and demands of the story that opened the door for other writers, and Batman’s ever-eager audience to follow suit.
It’s Just A Number
How old is Batman? He’s as old as a writer needs him to be in order to tell the story they’re creating, and his age, while hardly ever straying far from the parameters that Bill Kane and Bob Finger instituted, is completely fluid.
Batman might get younger, and he might get older, but he isn’t about to retire anytime soon. Not as long as Gotham still needs him.