Chances are, if you’re reading this column then you probably think Batman is an effective hero. That’s why we’re all here, right? The Dark Knight has saved Gotham and the world countless times, and he’s pretty darn good at it. But is he a good leader? That’s not the same thing as being a good hero. Sure, he commands the Batman Family and has trained some of the DC Universe’s greatest heroes, but training and leading aren’t the same thing. This thought recently hit me, and I decided it might be fun to look at the recent Bat-books and compare the leadership techniques of the different Batman Family members.
Damian might be an arrogant lad, but you can’t deny that the Teen Titans respect him…most of the time. Remember, though, Damian is only 13 and he’s already leading a superteam. When I was 13, I was…well…reading the Teen Titans. Have you ever heard someone say they would follow their leader to the depths of Hell? That’s just what happened in Teen Titans #40 when Damian convinced the Titans to take an antidote that would kill them. Their teammate Djinn was trapped in the afterlife, and the only way to save her was to temporarily die themselves.
Asking your teammates to die for you is a risky move, but Robin motivated his troops. There’s a plan to bring everyone back, but it remains to be seen if it will work. Teen Titans #40 does end with Robin and the team flatlining, presumably stuck in Hell. I have faith that the Brat Wonder can get them out of this, but if the heroes are still dead by the end of Teen Titans #41, I might have to change my views on Damian’s leadership skills.
Tim Drake, who is now using the costumed alias Drake, is back with his original team Young Justice, and they’ve been keeping themselves busy. The reformed team hasn’t been together very long and they’re already a well-oiled fighting machine. Young Justice recently helped Superman defend Metropolis from the Legion of Doom in Action Comics #1020 and #1021, and Drake’s leadership skills were on full display. Superman trusted Drake to coordinate his team, while the Man of Steel targeted the enemies. Tim also knew that protecting civilians was the bigger priority and told Young Justice to concentrate their efforts on that, trusting that Superman could save himself. Young Justice trusts Tim, and even the Man of Steel appears to hold him in high regard. (You notice there’s a lot of trust going around in general between all of these heroes—a major difference from how Damian tends to do things.)
Tim Drake knows his team, and he knows that leadership is all about strategy. In Young Justice #14, Drake ordered three of his most powerful players—Wonder Girl, Impulse and Sideways—to leave the battlefield and help Conner. Removing three fighters did put Young Justice at a disadvantage, but Tim was smart enough to know how to divide his teammates, realizing that their power was needed elsewhere.
Speaking of Boy Wonders, did everyone read the Robin 80th Anniversary Super Spectacular that came out last month? It reinforced why Dick Grayson is one of the greatest leaders in the DC Universe. Nightwing understands that if a group is bonded as a family, they’ll perform better as a team. Writer Devin Grayson (no relation) made this her mantra when she wrote the 1999 Titans series. Grayson was given another chance to demonstrate this thesis in the story she wrote for the Robin 80th Anniversary special. In it, the members of H.I.V.E. are reviewing footage from a recent battle with the Titans and marveling at Nightwing’s leadership skills. We told you he was one of the universe’s greatest leaders—even the villains are impressed!
Nightwing even gave the H.I.V.E. leader, Damien Darhk, a tip for good team building—having a pizza night. Is it possible that’s the secret to the Titans success? Pizza parties tend to put people in a good mood, and I’d probably be inclined to follow a leader who offered me a few slices.
I’m going to say something that might make me unpopular: Batman needs to work on his leadership skills. Before you all start tweeting angry words at me, take a look at how he treats the Outsiders! This incarnation of the team has been together less than a year and the Dark Knight is having trouble keeping the group from imploding. In Batman and the Outsiders #9, Bruce’s lack of empathy causes Black Lightning to leave the team. Granted, Ra’s al Ghul is partially responsible, as he manipulated events to drive a wedge between them, but ultimately Batman couldn’t connect with Jefferson.
We could try blaming it on Black Lightning, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. Later that same issue, Batman chastises Orphan and Signal for keeping secrets from him and the duo storms off when Superman interrupts their reprimand. Batman has Cassandra and Duke’s best interests at heart, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with them. In the most recent issue, Batman and the Outsiders #11, the Outsiders fought off a group of assassins without Batman’s help and they didn’t do too badly. The battle makes it clear—the Dark Knight has put together a great team, he just doesn’t know how to lead them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Batman fan. I wouldn’t be writing this column if I wasn’t. But it’s important to recognize the Dark Knight’s flaws. Most people love Batman because he’s human, and being human means making mistakes and being imperfect. Batman is a master tactician, a skilled fighter, and one of the best trainers in the hero business. As a team leader though, he needs some work. Maybe a pizza night would do the trick?
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.