Opinion: Under The Black Cowl: Five Best Batmen

by Andrew Lococo
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Everyone knows the best Batman is Bruce Wayne, for better or worse. He’s endured for over seventy years in many forms and many ways. However, Bruce is not the only one to carry the mantle of Batman, and as such, there are a few different Batmen out there. Though the premise of Batman Inc is that Batman is everywhere, I would like to focus solely on the Batman, the one who defends Gotham City and fights to keep it’s citizens capes. So who do I think are the five best Batmen under the cowl that aren’t Bruce? Well, let’s begin then, shall we? A warning though, there’ll be spoilers as most of these stories are self contained.

Number 5: Thomas Wayne


I might not have liked Flashpoint’s main series but boy did I love the side mini series. My favorite being ,of course, Batman: Knight of Vengeance. When Barry realized that it had been Bruce that had died that night in the alleyway after seeing the Mask of Zorro, my jaw dropped because that was an amazing idea. What if Bruce had been the one to die that night instead of his parents? Would that same darkness dig into their hearts like it had Bruce? Well, I got my answer, and what we got was a Batman that was far more brutal than the Dark Knight we’re all used to. This is a Batman that kills, brutally, viciously and has definitely giving up his hippocratic oath as a doctor to ‘do no harm’. He tracked down Joe Chill and brutally murdered him with his bare hands, instead of poisoning him like he originally intended, something Bruce never did as Batman, even during the Golden Age.

This is a Batman not unlike the one we see in the Dark Knight Returns. He’s an older, and certainly more gruff Batman, but unlike Bruce Wayne, this Batman has got a much darker edge to him. Thomas Wayne has lost any reason to go on beyond delivering vengeance to those who took his son away, and drove his wife to complete madness. Thomas Wayne helps Barry get his powers back in this alternate timeline and manages to save his life by killing Reverse-Flash so that Barry may change the timeline, making sure that it is Thomas and Martha that die instead of Bruce, so that he may finally save his son. He is willing to give up his life and existence to make sure Bruce is alive again, as even though his son will be tainted by the grief of losing his parents, it won’t destroy him like it would destroy Thomas and Martha to lose him instead. Thomas gives Barry a letter to give Bruce after he fixes the timeline, which he gratefully delivers, a letter that Bruce keeps in the Batcave as one of his most prized possessions. A note from his Father, and someone who understands exactly the pain he’s going through more intimately than perhaps anyone else could. Thomas Wayne is a sort of cross of the Dark Knight Returns, Golden Age Batman, and something new, and I really, really enjoyed it.

Number 4: “Batmankoff”/ Red Son Batman


I’m assuming in this universe that this Batman is not Bruce Wayne, since it seems every other DC character seems to still exist in their own country of origins besides Superman. This Batman, who sports a mighty awesome hat-cowl, was the son of a couple of Russian dissenters against the Communist regime, and they were purged along with many others as part of the Communist attempts to suppress any kind of negative opinion against the party. In this universe, Batman’s parents aren’t murdered by Joe Chill, but by the captain of the Soviet Police, Pyotr Roslov, who is the illegitimate son of Joseph Stalin, and a acquaintance of Superman. Despite not having Bruce Wayne’s assets from the get-go, this Batman made himself a force to be reckoned with, by taking on Superman and Wonder Woman at the same time, and almost won against them. He kidnapped and tied up Wonder Woman with her own lasso, and fought Superman under a red sun lamp, managing to take the Comrade of Steel down with his superior hand to hand combat ability. In fact, the only reason Superman did not lose that fight was because Wonder Woman broke out of her own lasso, heavily injured her in the process, and destroyed the red sun light rays. Realizing that he had lost, he had a backup plan, a bomb in his own intestines.  He kills himself by detonating it and brings down the entire building around them.

This is a Batman that could not defeat a Silver age-esque god-like Superman, but came dangerously close to doing it. A capitalist, much like the mainstay Batman, he fought to end the tyranny of Soviet Russia and deliver freedom to his people, but like many others, he failed to do it because of something going awry. However, his death served a purpose and gave rise to many Bat-rebels who tried to follow in his stead. This is again, a darker Batman. One who has been put through the wringer by not only losing his parents but living in a dark political setting that has a living god propagating it’s regime. Even after training himself to the absolute limit of human endurance and ability, he was not able to take down Superman, but he did what Batman is suppose to do. Serve as an example, to be a symbol for something. I also really, really, think he has one of the best alternate Bat-costumes around. This Dark Knight did not manage to survive his encounter with the Man of Steel, but his death was not in vain.

Number 3 Batman One Million


The Batman of the 853rd century actually has a darker story than anyone else on this list. You see, in the future, there’s a tyrannical Government that as a show of force, rounded up over 14,500 families of guards on the prison planet Pluto and systematically murdered them in front of their children after a prison break occurred. Half of ’em just carried on like normal, as the Government had demanded their obedience, and the other half just killed themselves out of despair. But one boy did not break, as he had seen the massacres of not only his own family but of so many others. He would become the hero that would topple this inhumane society, and would do it not as himself, but as someone who carried justice, and power. He became the Batman of the year 85,265, and would bring justice to the future. Batman had already been many different people at this point in history, the symbol of the Bat had become something of a mythic image of Justice. Something that he would take up and wear to honor the legacy of Batman, and to avenge the populace of the future. This is a Batman that had trained in every martial arts that had and will exist millennia in the future, taking in all gadgetry that he could, and he even had his own robotic Robin, the Toy Wonder.

In a lot of ways, Batman One Million is the kind of culmination of Batman’s legacy. A normal human that has exceeded all possibilities thanks to the future of technology and advancement of  martial arts, science and other things that Humanity and beyond has accomplished. Yet when it comes down to it, he had inherited what makes Batman such a force for good, the sheer will power it is to look into the darkness of the world and have the courage to try to change it. Batman One Million is a worthy successor to the legacy, and a Batman I was really glad I got to see again briefly during Batman #700. On top of having an awesome costume, this Batman has really made an impression in my mind as someone who embodies all of that greatness of Batman in his determination of to topple a corrupt society for the sake of justice, and pushes himself to his absolute limits, which grants him a spot among all the great heroes of the 853rd century.

Number 2: Terry McGinnis


The Tomorrow Knight was one of my first exposures to the idea of Batman having a real, long lasting successor in the cartoon Batman Beyond. Yeah, the idea has always been toyed with, but Bruce Wayne is a mortal man, and he must eventually be succeeded by someone. In Batman Beyond, that someone is Terry McGinnis, an average high schooler with his own problems, and a deep rooted need to atone for his delinquent past. Terry accidently finds out that Bruce Wayne is Batman after helping him into his home after old man Wayne schools a gang of thugs that emulate the Joker. Shortly afterward, Terry’s father is murdered, and he avenges him by stealing the Batsuit, as well as becoming the protege of Bruce Wayne to bring Batman back to the Gotham of the future.  Terry McGinnis is really an amazing successor to Batman because you always have to wonder ‘what happens when someone who isn’t nearly as single minded as Bruce Wayne takes on the role of Batman’. Someone who has to grow into it. In a lot of ways, Terry reminds me of Spider-Man. He’s got to juggle his own personal life with that of his super heroics, he has to constantly lie to his loved ones about what he’s doing, and his love life is something of a mess at times. This makes him far more relatable a hero than say, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. That said,  Terry has some real growth into being not just Batman, but his own Batman. Batman Beyond’s arc is that Terry grows as a detective, and as a hero that doesn’t always have to rely on his boss’s know-how and intelligence to get the job done.

What really made me love Terry McGinnis and solidified him as one of the best Batmen were two things. One was ‘The Call’ two parter in Batman Beyond, where Terry joins the Justice League Unlimited to discover a traitor in their midst. He finds out that Superman is the traitor, under control of the alien starfish Starro, and has to fight the Man of Steel in his own Fortress of Solitude, as well as the entire Justice League that has been put under the control of cloned Starros. Terry has to fight the entire Justice League by himself, and manages to win through quick wittedness, and determination, all things that make Batman, well, Batman. The second is “The Return of the Joker’ movie that serves as the finale of the Batman Beyond series, aside from the epilogue in Justice League Unlimited entitled simply enough ‘Epilogue'”. Terry has to fight the Joker, and through detective work, and embracing the differences between him and Bruce, manages to topple the greatest foe the original Batman ever faced, The Joker. I love this because Terry manages to break the Joker in a way the original Batman would have never in a million years thought of ; making fun of him. Terry likes to make cracks and talk trash, like Dick Grayson before him, whereas Bruce was silent and wouldn’t let the Joker have the satisfaction of a response. What happens is one of the best and complete verbal beat down of the Joker ever, with Terry breaking out into complete laughter at the patheticness of the Joker, causing him to flip out and giving Terry the opening to beat him once and for all. While his training in the martial arts leave something to be desired, and his suit doing most of the work in the early days, Terry continue to grows in the suit and out, and over time becomes as capable without the Bat-suit as he is with it, making him a proper heir to the legacy of Batman, as well his own kind of hero.

Number 1: Dick Grayson


Alright, it’s no secret I think Dick Grayson is awesome, and I constantly mention it, so I’ll just vent all my Dick Grayson fondness here. Dick Grayson is the best Batman that is not Bruce Wayne and he’s actually done it for a few years in the main comics. He didn’t just take over for Bruce as a placeholder, he did it incredibly well. Bruce Wayne’s first real recruit into his war on crime, Dick Grayson became Robin, the Boy Wonder, and helped ease the pain of the isolation of that comes with being the Dark Knight. Dick was a friend, a protege, a son, and a headache for Batman. The two had falling outs and reconciliations over and over again, but time proves that Dick and Bruce are forever tied together as the original Dynamic Duo, as they have a kind of kinship brought together by their mutual pain of losing their parents to criminals. They are family, and like any family, the child must eventually succeed his parent. Dick Grayson has always kind of been the heir apparent to the Batman Legacy, to the point he was actually mad Bruce passed him over for Jean-Paul Valley as Batman when Bane broke his back. This was due to the fact Bruce wanted Dick to continue to be his own man as Nightwing. Dick’s been Batman twice, the first was in the Prodigal arc after Bruce ousted out Jean-Paul Valley as Batman. The second time was when he was taking over the main Batman titles after Bruce was thrown backwards in time in Final Crisis, and continued to be Batman even after his return until DC rebooted their universe with the Nu52, much to my chagrin. At least we got another Nightwing title out of the deal, so you win some, you lose some.

Dick’s always been the better athlete than Bruce; a natural acrobat that can do a quadruple somersault, and a top notch fighter second only to his adopted father. What Dick has over Batman beyond his own physical prowess is that he has something Batman does not. He has leadership skills, charisma, and a multitude of personal friendships and connections to draw upon. Batman has a few relationships he draws upon from time to time, but he keeps his inner circle very closed off, and narrow. He tries to stay away from any kind of leadership roles because of his inability to be a leader that is both firm and fair, as people are not his forte. Dick Grayson has all of that, and more. Dick has been more or less raised in the DC Hero community as  really the forerunner of the ‘second generation’ of heroes. The Boy Wonder has grown up raised by a whole community of experienced heroes, served along other kid sidekicks, and set up teams like the Teen Titans as well as serving in the Outsiders, and the JLA. It’s also due to his social skills that Dick surpassed his mentor in being a mentor himself.


Damian Wayne was not Bruce’s Robin, in the traditional sense. In their time together before his death, Damian was more like his son accompanying his Father. It was a Father/Son dynamic, not a partnership in the strictest sense. Damian was really more of Dick’s Robin, as they were on far more even ground then Bruce and Damian were. Dick’s endless patience with Damian’s constant attitude problems, and rashness, as well as their own growing brotherly relationship helped change Damian from an almost  sociopath to a hero in his own right. Their relationship remains one of my absolute favorite in the DC Universe, as they were so many things to each other. Brothers. Partners. Mentor and Protege. Comrades. Dick’s ability to teach and help nurture Damian helped create the foundation of what let Damian’s relationship flourish with his Father by helping to humanize him, and giving him a friend. You can see when Damian wasn’t quite ready to be Bruce’s sidekick in the first issue of Batman Inc, vol 1, when their first outing together was disastrous. While Dick’s first outing with Damian wasn’t much better, they had far better chemistry due to Dick’s own good naturedness and patience. Even after Dick stopped being Batman, their relationship never stopped being close, with Dick really giving Damian a sort of goal post, the Robin he has to aspire to. In the War of the Robins arc in Batman & Robin Vol.2, Dick really shows his tact and respect to Damian by giving him an escrima stick, letting him know that he approves of Damian carrying on his legacy as Robin.

I bring up this relationship to show why Dick is a great Batman. He has the capacity to raise and create non strained relationships with even the most troubled of people, something Bruce just can not seem to do very well due to his own inner pain. Dick has exorcised that pain, with it gone, can focus on the present, as on top of honing his skills. He can be a detective, martial artist, and leader that surpasses Bruce Wayne’s Batman. He’s everything a successor should be, someone who carries the legacy of the predecessor and improves upon what has been done. Dick has always been his own man, and brought new things to Batman, showing that he didn’t have to dark and brooding to be incredibly effective. I love it when we have Nightwing around, but having Dick as Batman was just a really fun time in comics for me, as a fan, and to look at critically as well. Wally West managed to honor the legacy of Barry Allen and continue to be his own hero as the Flash for an entire generation of readers, and while I know Dick Grayson will perhaps never be Batman as long as Wally was the Flash, I still feel Dick was the perfect follow up to Bruce Wayne’s Batman, managing to be his own unique Batman. Dick’s own natural abilities, combined with everything Bruce has taught him, and his own experiences as a solo hero, creates what I consider to be the best Batman that is not Bruce Wayne.

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