It’s not easy being Batman. The caped crusader has had many ups and downs over the course of his almost century-long career. He’s not an easy man to knock down, but when he’s down, it’s usually bad.
From being physically crushed to psychologically pulverized, Bruce Wayne has suffered through it all, and although he always makes it through, he definitely has some battle scars that still ache him to this day.
We’re breaking down the top 10 times Batman was broken, from some of the more obscure Elseworlds moments to iconic conflicts in the dark knight’s history that have shaped him into the character he is today.
It takes a special kind of gusto to walk into the Justice League’s headquarters with the intent of beating up DC’s most established heroes. But that’s something Prometheus did. Created by Grant Morrison, this character had a special helmet and access to technology that would allow him to download information and abilities, not dissimilar to how Neo does it in the Matrix trilogy.
He manages to beat up the League members at the JLA Watchtower and downloads information about Batman’s fighting style along with a bunch of other fighting styles in order to whoop Bruce’s ass when the caped crusader tries to take him out.
Once upon a time, Batman had a cross over series with the Predator, known as Batman versus Predator Yes, it’s as wonderful as it sounds. Written by Dave Gibbons with art by Andy and Adam Kubert, the series initially came out in 1991, and was followed up by two sequels.
Batman is investigating a particularly grisly murder with ties to the mob, and the clues lead him to an abandoned junkyard. This invisible killer ends up being a Predator, who Batman is not at all prepared to fight. They duke it out and Batman is almost murdered.
He manages to get away and retreats to the Wayne Manor but is severely wounded. In his absence, a lot of bad goes down in Gotham, and the predator keeps killing, so Batman decides that even though he’s not fully healed, he needs to do something.
So he uses a custom-designed sonar exoskeleton suit, to help him walk, increase his strength and help him see (since his injuries rendered him temporarily blind). He ends up beating the Predator, who then commits an honor suicide and gives Batman the sword in which he killed himself.
Batman and Superman have had their fair share of brawls with one another Sometimes Batman walks away from the victor, sometimes it’s the man of steel. But on one occasion, during the New 52, the bat got his butt handed to him pretty badly.
This took place during Justice League Origin, a reimagining of their first meeting (and no, it didn’t take place on a cruise liner where both men got changed into their costumes in the dark). Batman had no idea who or what he was up against, and it took Green Lantern stepping in to ensure that Bruce wasn’t turned into a smear on the ground by the all-powerful Kryptonian.
Jason Todd’s death is something we’ll be talking about a little later on, but for the purpose of this number, we’ll skip the context of this number – the Joker killed Jason Todd, Batman’s second Robin, and Bruce has never fully forgiven himself for it.
For a very long time, it was believed that Jason Todd, along with Bucky Barnes and Uncle Ben, was one of the only characters in comics that was destined not to be revived, primarily because of the impact that his death had (Gerry Conway once called the character more interesting in death, too).
So when Jason DID return, he made a point of f*cking Batman up. When he returned after Infinite Crisis as the Red Hood, he made a point of going after Bruce, beating the crap out of him and then stealing the batmobile from him (which is kind of full circle for the character, since his second retconned origin had him and Bruce meeting when he tried to steal the batmobiles hub caps).
Case in point, Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia; a graphic novel penned by Greg Rucka published in 2002, a modern Greek tragedy of sorts in which Diana protects a woman who has committed murder; a vengeance killing against the man who murdered her sister. She is honor-bound to her, and while Batman wants her arrested, Diana won’t let that happen.
Batman is kind of the villain in this one. The two duke it out, and in a very iconic panel, she pins the dark knight to the ground, her foot on his cowl. She tells him to not get up, and eventually, he submits. Talk about breaking a hero’s pride.
Deathstroke is a character who has proven to be lethal to numerous DC superhero teams. Needless to say, he’s a tough cookie. And he’s also been a formidable challenge for Batman on numerous occasions.
Once, while Slade was wanted by the feds, Batman chased him down along the top of one of Gotham’s skyscrapers, trying to offer him protection if he just went with Batman calmly and worked with the authorities.
But that’s not Slade’s jam; he mocks Batman for being an ordinary man, while he has superhuman enhancements, which he then shows off by proceeding to kick Batman’s butt. As he put it, Batman has trained himself to fight, whereas Slade has trained himself to kill.
He leaves Batman bruised and bleeding on the ledge of the building, and when the caped crusader gets back up, he smashes him into a bookcase, which then topples on top of Bruce, letting Slade get away for good.,
In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, we saw a future version of Gotham, one in which the caped crusader has aged significantly, but has chosen to return to crime-fighting, feeling that Gotham needs him now more than ever.
This alternate future has fallen on hard times. Technology is a prominent feature now, and a hyper-violent gang known as the Mutants now terrorize the city, having formed shortly after Bruce retired, with a crime at an all-time high. Bruce returns to the cape and cowl.
He takes on the gang, attacking their headquarters, shooting them down with rubber bullets and staying inside the Batmobile. Their leader, known only as of the Mutant Leader, calls him out on this. Bruce gets cocky; he gets out of the batmobile after the leader challenges him to a one on one fight.
Bruce has aged, and he’s a little rusty.
The Mutant Leader, on the other hand, is a beast. He gives Bruce one of his worst beat downs, nearly killing him, almost impaling him, until Carrie Kelly (his new Robin) shows up to distract him long enough for Batman to knock the mutant leader out. Later, they have a rematch, and Batman is much more prepared, defeating him and the gang for good.
8Bane Breaks his Back
When we think of Batman breaking, we think of this full-page panel; Bane literally breaking Batman’s back in one of the dark knight’s most iconic moments.
In 1993 through 1994, there was a Batman story arc called Knightfall in which Bruce is systematically assaulted and eventually crippled by Bane, a super-enhanced supervillain with a genius-level intellect capable of outsmarting even the caped crusader. Which is what he does. And he breaks Batman’s back in the process.
The story arc itself made a major impact on Bruce’s character, with Batman having to rebuild the trust of the police, the public and several other heroes after he makes the mistake of giving Jean-Paul Valley aka Azrael the Batman mantle to maintain while he’s healing. Azreal notoriously brought shame to the mantle with how violent and homicidal he was.
9Court of Owls
One of the standout parts of the New 52 came at the hands of Scott Synder and Greg Capullo with their run on the main solo Batman title. They managed to introduce a sinister new group of villains, the Court of Owls, whose roots were deep within Gotham’s history.
When Batman first fully faces off against them, they bust him up psychologically when he’s trapped inside of their labyrinth. He’s in there for days, missing from Gotham’s streets, slowly going mad under the hallucinations and mind tricks the Court has inflicted upon him, weakening him, driving him closer and closer to insanity as their assassin Talon waits to strike.
Bruce manages to get out, but over the course of Batman issue 4, 5, 6 we witness Bruce’s decline, not only visually, but physically with the comic’s form in issue 5; readers had to turn the issue sideways and eventually upside down in order to continue reading, mimicking the mental state that Bruce was in as he navigates through this seemingly endless maze, witnessing himself becoming an owl and being tormented by the court and its terrors.
Eventually, despite being fatally wounded, his willpower is strong enough for Bruce to break through and defeat Talon, managing to break free and escape.
10The Joker – Killing Jason Todd
As we learned from a Court of Owl numbers, Batman can be broken psychologically, not just physically. And while that is rare, there have been a handful of instances that have made an impact on the dark knight.
Arguably the moment that has broken Bruce Wayne the most is when the Joker, his arch-nemesis, killed the second Robin, Jason Todd. Arguably, no other event in the caped crusader’s past has damaged him more than the death of Jason Todd.
After Dick Grayson had retired as Robin and had taken up his Nightwing alias, focusing on his work with the new teen titans, DC felt that Batman needed a replacement. The character’s sales always did better when he had his young ward in tow.
Jason Todd was introduced as a carbon copy of Dick Grayson and eventually was retconned to have a more distinguished personality from his predecessor, which involved making him a spunky rebellious street kid.
After his reinvention, DC president Jenette Khan wanted to address this widespread dislike, and after Dennis O’Neil approached her with the idea of a phone poll (an idea he had gotten from a Saturday Night Live skit with Eddie Murphy that involved viewers weighing in on the fate of a lobster by calling in), it was decided that Jason Todd’s life would be determined by the same method.
Long story short, he died, largely thanks to one dude setting up a computer program to call in and vote repeatedly; it came down to a 72 vote difference. The Joker beat Jason to death with a crowbar. And Batman has never been the same since.
From the main continuity to extended alternate universes the likes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, we see how Jason’s death and Bruce’s guilt over it have shaped the character and made him more grim, more cynical. It haunted him and gave him a further edge to his already very prominent darkness.