11 March 2011

Bruce Wayne an Old Blue? Color Me Unconvinced

The latest Yale Alumni Magazine has three short articles—the longest by book designer, author, and Batman fan Chip Kidd—about indications that Bruce Wayne went to Yale. This possibility arose as part of a Yale Law School display on superhero comics last fall.

As an Old Blue and a fan of the Batman mythos, I should be among the last to object to this presentation. But its logic is so weak as to be embarrassing. It’s one thing to claim that Batman went to your college; it’s another to make that claim badly.

One piece of “evidence”: in the Batman TV show of the 1960s, Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet mentions that one of Bruce Wayne’s grandfathers founded Skull & Bones, the oldest of Yale’s secret societies. But where one of Bruce Wayne’s forebears went to college proves nothing about where Bruce Wayne went to college.

The second and compelling piece of evidence is a blow-up of a detail in one panel of the 1974 Batman story “Night of the Stalker,” penciled by Sal Amendola (shown here). In the background corner of one panel is a framed “Diploma of Law,” apparently in the name of Bruce Wayne, from “Yale University at Gotham / New Haven.”

Kidd’s article doesn’t mention how the word “Gotham” appears on the diploma, thus making it unlike any other known Yale diploma. That’s left to the usually thorough researcher Fred R. Shapiro, who also gives credit to the alums who dredged up the image. Shapiro concludes:

We can only speculate that, in the Bat-universe, Yale Law School has a branch campus in Gotham City. But whatever the case, the import of the plaque is unmistakable: Batman is a Yale alumnus.
Yale magazine editor Kathrin Day Lassila took the assignment of tracking down Amendola to confirm what he meant by that detail. He says about Bruce Wayne, “I thought Yale was a place someone like that would want to go. He wanted to develop himself as much as possible, physically and mentally.” Which could only mean Yale.

But I’m not convinced. There’s no mention of law school elsewhere in Wayne’s biographies, covering any and all versions of the character. Comics in the 1950s said he attended Gotham College (Batman, #96) or University (World’s Finest, #59), and later served on its board (Batman, #59). That history may or may not apply to the post-“New Look” Batman who still prevailed in 1974.

After the Crisis of 1986, Mike W. Barr’s “My Beginning…and My Probable End” in Detective, #574, shows Wayne pretending to be a lazy student deliberately coasting through an unnamed college while secretly studying the subjects he’s interested in; it’s not clear whether he graduates. The Batman Begins movie depicts Wayne dropping out of Princeton at some level to travel the world, and returning to Gotham in the role of a shallow playboy. Those Bruce Waynes wouldn’t have attended law school, particularly a high-level, visible one.

“Night of the Stalker” was published in a decade when DC Comics depicted Bruce Wayne as a respected philanthropist and social reformer; he even served as a senator for a while. A much simpler explanation for the diploma, therefore, is that it’s the symbol of an honorary degree the DCU’s Yale University gave Wayne to reflect his contributions to society, and Gotham in particular.

Finally, I was dismayed to see Kidd write: “when Robin finally came of age in the comics in the late 1960s and was allowed to go away to school, he went to Gotham University.” Dick Grayson went to Hudson University, in the small town of New Carthage, as shown in a series of stories in the 1970s; he managed to complete one or two semesters over the decade before dropping out. Dick attended and graduated with honors from Gotham State University in the DC Animated Universe established in the 1990s.


ericshanower said...

The detail of the comic page you use for illustration looks to me like it reads "YIALE." That's not spelled Y-A-L-E. Does anyone think that Yale would misspell its name on diplomas? And the Yale diploma in this household is in Latin. Why wouldn't Bruce Wayne's be too if it's from Yale?
Color me unconvinced.

J. L. Bell said...

As long as we’re parsing marks on the page, I should note that the inker for this issue was Dick Giordano.

Anonymous said...

As regards Dick's education, yes he dropped out of Hudson U, but later re-matriculated at Gotham U (During the Monk and Dala story arc in the early-ish 1980's), though he dropped out of there too, and did IIRC do some classes as New York U when he moved there full time around the time be became Nightwing

I've always detested that the important growing up period of Dick's time at Hudson U (during which he learned to work as a solo hero, and find his place in the world as someone who wants to help normal people live more peaceful lives rather than "just" fight supervillains), was dismissed when the Jason 2.0 origin came along, to "I went for a semester because Bruce kicked me out, but didn't get anything from it so just dropped out".

J. L. Bell said...

I actually get a kick out of the idea that in “comic book time” all of Dick Grayson’s collegiate adventures in the 1970s can be boiled down to one semester.

It’s like how Tim Drake’s tenure in Young Justice must have lasted about three months given how he’s aged since 1989.

But they were fun while they lasted!

Anonymous said...

I think what irks me is that with Dick never being a graduate, I don't think the DC heroes of his generation have a college degree between them (maybe Donna Troy, but I don't think so). That just... fails to send out a good message to me.

J. L. Bell said...

The DC Database (not authoritative, I know) says that Wally West and Kyle Rayner are college graduates, and that Victor Stone went to Newark City College. I don’t remember any of that myself.

As an engineer, Karen Beecher must have some advanced education—but of course she hasn’t been heroing full time. In addition, Garth got advanced training in his culture’s highest arts, so he might qualify as the equivalent of a college graduate.

But I know what you mean. In a culture that treats college as a prerequisite for any advanced career, it feels odd to show young heroes skipping that step. Of course, many real people who become famous and successful in their teens (actors, athletes, singers) also skip college, though others don’t, or go back and forth.

Things were different back when superheroes first appeared. I suspect that few big-city newspaper reporters had college degrees, and it was decades before DC told us that Clark Kent had one. Despite this law school paper, canon says Bruce Wayne still doesn’t.

As for DC’s even-younger heroes, I guess Stephanie Brown (who might be oldest by a year) is trying college, but anyone else? Googling brings up this fanfiction of a conversation about college among Young Justice alums, but who knows how canonical Bart Allen is using his time?