Batman, can you spare a dime? For the past year the Dark Knight’s wallet hasn’t been what it once was. After the events of 2020’s “Joker War,” Bruce Wayne lost his fortune, he’s been ousted from his company, and Wayne Manor has been repossessed, turning him into a Batman on a budget. With the conclusion of “Fear State,” Batman is now one year into this new status quo, which means it’s the perfect time to grade his performance. Is the Caped Crusader more effective as a hero without his money? How has he adapted to his new financial challenges?
Let’s start by clarifying that while Bruce Wayne is no longer a billionaire, he won’t be shopping at thrift stores anytime soon. According to 2020’s Batman #101, the Wayne Enterprise board of directors agreed to pay Bruce “a generous annual fee.” How generous is that fee? According to Detective Comics #1034, Bruce can no longer afford a ticket to Gotham’s elite fundraisers, but his reputation guarantees him a table. He can afford a Brownstone in Gotham’s Fort Graye neighborhood, and is still funding his operations as Batman—albeit with a budget. So, while Bruce Wayne is no longer a member of Gotham’s ruling class, I don’t think he’ll be overdrawing his bank account or skipping meals to make mortgage payments anytime soon.
In some ways this takes Bruce Wayne back to basics. This might surprise some of you, but Batman hasn’t always been one of the richest men in the world. Wayne’s wealth has always been a part of his character, but it’s something that has been exaggerated over time, to the point where he’s become a billionaire. Batman’s first appearance in 1939’s Detective Comics #27 simply describes Bruce Wayne as a socialite, and during his origin in Detective Comics #33 he states, “Dad’s estate left me wealthy.” 1941’s Batman #5 and 1942’s Batman #10 describe Bruce Wayne’s home as an apartment, rather than a mansion.
There was no Wayne Enterprise in those days, Bruce Wayne was just an unemployed trust fund kid. In fact, his Golden Age girlfriends Julie Madison and Linda Page frequently chided Bruce for not having a proper job. In Detective Comics #105, Bruce Wayne tried to finance a motor company, but went broke after an employee embezzled all the funds. Dick Grayson was forced to work as a paperboy to pay the bills and Alfred mowed lawns, until the Dark Knight regained his fortune by the end of the story.
By 1951’s Batman #64, the writers began referring to Bruce Wayne as a millionaire, and in World’s Finest Comics #52, a reporter is surprised to learn that Bruce Wayne is worth exactly one million dollars. World’s Finest Comics #99 implies that $1,000,000 is a rare sight for Batman and Robin, and ends with Bruce telling Dick that he won’t be getting a bicycle for his birthday because “I haven’t got money to throw away.” The point is, Bruce Wayne’s financial status is something that has evolved over time, and it was never an essential part of the Batman mythos.
But now it’s time to get into one of the most controversial discussions among Bat-Fandom—does Bruce Wayne spend his money responsibly? There is a longstanding debate that Bruce Wayne’s money would be more effective if it was used to fight poverty in the city, instead of funding his operations as Batman. However, the truth is that Bruce Wayne has actually been doing that for years. The Wayne Foundation has donated millions to help combat poverty, rehabilitate criminals, repair Gotham’s infrastructure and help the sick. 2008’s Catwoman #82 revealed that Bruce Wayne pays for every door and window he breaks as Batman, which is frankly a lot. Bruce Wayne has also poured a significant amount of money into the Gotham City Police Department over the years. In other words, the argument that Bruce Wayne needs to put his money into the city ignores the fact that he’s already doing that.
So, how Batman has been operating without his wealth in the past year? One of the biggest challenges has been setting up micro-Batcaves throughout the city. Wayne Manor was built above a large natural cave, but most cities aren’t known for having huge caverns under their streets. As a result, Bruce had to build a new Batcave himself in Detective Comics #1034. It took him three days of digging, and by the end of it, Bruce commented, “I never truly understood what it means to work in a cave.”
Bruce Wayne has spent the last year in a Brownstone in the heart of Gotham, which comes with its own set of challenges. The neighborhood has street parking, and Bruce has noted that he isn’t always able to find a space, which is probably the most relatable experience Batman has ever had. Bruce also has to deal with neighbors who don’t always respect his privacy, which resulted in a 911 call after loud noises were heard from the Wayne home. For more on the Dark Knight’s neighbor troubles, check out “The Neighborhood” storyline, which ran in Detective Comics #1034-1039.
The new status quo has also forced Bruce to come to terms with the fact that being Batman is expensive. When he crashes a Batmobile, he now has to repair it himself instead of buying a new one. This means he has to be a more careful driver, something that is a struggle for him. A car like the Batmobile also requires a lot of gas, so Batman needs to pick and choose when to drive it. Gadgets have also become a challenge, since he can’t just 3D print an infinite amount of Batarangs. When your supply is limited, every Batarang matters and he has to make the most of it.
Batman’s new financial difficulties have also changed the power dynamic between him and his fellow heroes. For years, Batman had been able to use Bruce Wayne’s money to finance the Justice League. However, in 2021’s Justice League #63, Batman awkwardly asked Green Arrow who was funding the League and Oliver revealed that he was picking up the tab. Batman admitted that he had been putting off the question for some time, which suggests it made him uncomfortable. The League hasn’t treated Batman differently, but one has to wonder how much this is bothering him.
Interestingly enough, Nightwing is richer than Batman right now. During Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s “Leaping into the Light” arc (available soon in trade paperback), Dick learned that he had inherited a large inheritance from Alfred, making him Blüdhaven’s newest billionaire. Initially, Dick tries a few creative ways to help people with his money, like trying to buy pizza for every hungry person in the city. Eventually, he settles on starting a charitable foundation named after Alfred Pennyworth. The foundation’s goal is to end homelessness in Blüdhaven and ensure that nobody in the city ever has to experience poverty.
We’ve gone over the challenges that come with Batman’s new financial state, and with that in mind, let’s ask ourselves if the Dark Knight needs money to be a better hero. There’s no doubt that the money makes things much easier, but we shouldn’t confuse ease with effectiveness. The recent “Fear State” event pushed Batman to the limit, but he was able to overcome the Scarecrow’s takeover without his fortune. Batman’s lack of money is forcing him to rethink how he accomplishes his mission and think outside the box for the first time in years.
For example, Bruce put aside his pride and begun working with Ghost-Maker, and if it wasn’t for his assistance, Bruce never would’ve been able to survive Crane’s attack. Batman, who usually has a reputation for being a “know-it-all,” has begun seeking advice from people like Miracle Molly on his approach to crimefighting. For years, the Dark Knight used money as a crutch, but without it, he’s been forced to grow as a crimefighter and accept help from unlikely sources. Was Batman’s money holding him back? Maybe not, but it arguably made him too relaxed and set in his ways.
We’re one year into this new status quo, so naturally there will be a learning curve. Like most people living on a budget for the first time, Bruce Wayne will make mistakes and find unusual ways to stretch a dollar. “Fear State” was his first real test as a Batman without money, and the Dark Knight passed with flying colors. I’m reminded of a moment from Zack Snyder’s Justice League, where Flash asks Batman what his superpower is. Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight smiles and replies, “I’m rich.”
It’s a good joke, but I think after the past year we can say that being rich isn’t Batman’s superpower, his ability to adapt is.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.