Talking Batman on DoxCast

We were fortunate enough to make our third guest appearance on DoxCast, a podcast hosted by folks at our favorite comic book store, Paradox Comic-N-Cards!

We talk all about Batman characters in two of them (Batgirl, Robin, The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler, Two-Face, and Scarecrow)! You can check out both on Twitch here and here.

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Diagnosing the Dark Knight

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

Name:  Bruce Wayne, aka Batman
Date of Birth: February 19th
Age: 30 – 32 years of age (in the current Batman comics)
Ethnicity/Race: Caucasian
Education: Degrees in Criminal Science, Forensics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Engineering, Biology, Physics, Advanced Chemistry, and Technology
Date of Initial Interview: 3/01/2016
Date of Report: 3/24/2016
Therapists: Brandon Saxton, Kathryn Gordon

Presenting Problem
Bruce Wayne (Batman) presented as an approximately 30- to 32-year-old man, who was referred for treatment by his former guardian and current butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred primarily had concerns related to the traumatic loss of Bruce’s parents at a young age and the obsessive and unrelenting way that he wages war on the criminals of Gotham City which has resulted in significant distress, physical harm, and in some cases death to his family, co-workers and the individuals he apprehends.

History
Bruce Wayne was born on February 19th in Gotham City. Bruce was the only child of Thomas and Martha Wayne. In addition to his medical career, Thomas and his wife, Martha, owned Wayne Enterprises and were both dedicated philanthropists. They were both heavily involved in efforts to restore Gotham City which was battling a depression, rising crime rates and corruptions, and overall despair. Overall, Bruce reported mostly positive memories regarding his childhood, during which he lived with his parents and butler at Wayne Manor. Bruce identified two traumatic childhood events that helped to shape him into who he is today. The first occurred when he was very young and playing on the grounds surrounding Wayne Manor. While playing, he fell through a hole in the ground that dropped him into a cave system that ran under Wayne Manor. Unfortunately for young Bruce, the cave system was home to hundreds of bats. He reported that this instilled in him a strong fear of bats. Subsequently, he reported seeing one uniquely large bat from the cave system multiple times following the event.

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The second traumatic event that Bruce reported occurred a while after when he fell into the cave system. Bruce, along with his parents, attended the film The Mask of Zorro. As they were leaving the theater, the Wayne family was confronted by a mugger demanding their valuables. Thomas resisted the mugger which resulted in both he and Martha being shot and killed. Bruce was left alone with the dead bodies of his parents. Bruce identified this as being the most traumatic and defining moment of his life. With the passing of Bruce’s parents, Alfred, the family butler, became his guardian and caretaker. While processing his parents’ murder, Bruce reported experiencing a great deal of distress. At the peak of this transformative process, Bruce recalled finding himself standing in front of the graves of his parents. It was then and there that he vowed to get vengeance for what happened to his parents and to keep that from happening to anyone else ever again. Bruce reported that this was the moment where, in his mind, Bruce Wayne died, and Batman was born.

Holding true to the promise he made at the graves of his parents, Bruce threw himself into his schoolwork. He was very successful and reported performing at the top of his class. After graduating high school, Bruce left the country to travel the world training under a variety of martial arts masters. He sought out the best of each discipline to train under. When he felt prepared, he returned to Gotham City to begin his crusade against the criminal underworld. Bruce started off small by simply patrolling the more dangerous areas of Gotham City on foot. His goal was singular; to learn more about the criminals that ran Gotham City. Unfortunately, one night Bruce was attacked and involved in a street brawl. As a result of the fight, he was seriously injured. Bruce was fortunate enough to make it back to Wayne Manor safely and without being identified. Bloody, broken, and seemingly defeated, Bruce recalled sitting in his father’s study. Contemplating what went wrong, he realized that criminals, although cowardly and superstitious, would never fear a common, unarmed man on the street. At that moment, the large bat he had reported seeing previously made its return. The bat smashed through the window into the study. Though nearing unconsciousness, due to blood loss — the answer was obvious to Bruce. He would become the thing he feared most, a bat.

With the help of Alfred, Bruce worked tirelessly to design a functional, yet frightening suit, weaponry, and base of operations for the Batman. Ultimately, Bruce settled on the cave system under Wayne Manor which he coined “the Batcave.” Bruce reported that he grew quickly as the Batman. As he combined experience to his years of training, he become much more effective and competent. The police force, ripe with corruption, demonized and hunted him. However, there was one officer, James Gordon, who held out against the corruption. After some time, Batman and James Gordon began what would be a long-term professional partnership. As Batman gained more notoriety, the villains he faced evolved from common criminals to supervillains. Bruce reported that some of the more fearsome foes he faced included Edward Nygma, known as The Riddler, Oswald Cobblepot, known as The Penguin, Harvey Dent, known as Two-Face, Pamela Isley, known as Poison Ivy, Dr. Jonathan Crane, known as Scarecrow, and perhaps most fearsome of all, the Joker, whose identity is yet unknown. As the criminals of Gotham City evolved, Batman knew he had to as well.

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To ramp up his war on crime, Batman decided to take a sidekick. Dick Grayson, known at the time as Robin, joined Batman. For quite some time, the two worked well together in what was a major change in the way Batman, who was used to operating alone, battled crime. However, as the criminals became more dangerous, Bruce decided he did not want to place Robin in more danger than was necessary. As such, Batman started to keep Robin on the sidelines. Eventually, the two split, with Dick Grayson taking up the mantle of Nightwing and leaving to operate independently of Batman. Sometime later, Batman took his second Robin, Jason Todd. Todd was a young man whose parents were killed by Two-Face. Bruce reported empathizing with Todd’s experience and wanting to help guide the young man down a path where he could channel his emotional responses for good. Despite this, Todd was much more rebellious and angry in his approach to crime fighting than Dick Grayson was before him. One night, while working solo, Jason Todd was taken, tortured, and killed by the Joker.

Bruce reported that the loss of Jason Todd hit him hard. He returned to fighting crime alone as a much darker force than he ever had been before. This new, darker, less refined Batman was noticed by a young boy named Tim Drake. Tim, an extremely bright young man, was able to work out the identity of Batman and the original Robin, Dick Grayson. He urged Dick Grayson to return to his role as Robin, as he felt that Batman needed someone to stabilize and support him again. Dick Grayson refused to return as Batman’s sidekick. However, through this pursuit, Tim Drake himself ended up becoming the third Robin. Bruce reported refusing to make the same mistake again and insisted that Tim train with the individuals from whom Bruce learned. As a result, Tim was a Robin who was much closer in ability to Batman himself.

Bruce then reported what he identified as the most challenging moment of his career, a time where he was not able to wear the cape and cowl. This period of time was the result of Batman battling and ultimately being defeated by the criminal known as Bane. Bane was able to defeat Batman, physically overpowering him and breaking his spine. While Bruce recovered, one-time villain, Azrael, took the mantel of the Bat. Azrael proved a poor Batman though, becoming so unstable that he was eventually close to executing criminals. Bruce was able to recover and defeat Azrael to reclaim the cowl.

Tim Drake moved onto a new, more independent role as Red Robin. Meanwhile, Bruce’s son, which he didn’t know he had, Damian Wayne, stepped into the role as the next Robin. Damian’s mother was Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, leader of the League of Assassins. As such, Damian received training from the league and was exceptionally skilled. Bruce, however, clashed with his son’s assassin training and reported trying his best to instill in him the values he had gotten from his parents. However, in an event outside of his control, Damian was killed battling an adult clone of himself known as The Heretic. Bruce reported that this event would have ended him without the support of the Bat-family and Alfred.

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Assessment & Diagnostic Impressions
All diagnostic assessment information was obtained through this interview and behavioral observation (i.e., Batman comics, television shows, and movies). Based on the client’s history and presenting problems, diagnoses related to posttraumatic stress disorder, cluster B personality disorders, and cluster C personality disorders were considered. Bruce does exhibit some symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder. Specifically, he met the following criteria: 1) exposure to actual of threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence (the murder of his parents), 2) presence of intrusion symptoms associated with the traumatic event, beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred (Bruce experiences repeated distressing memories, dreams, flashbacks, and distress at symbols of the death of his parents), and 3) marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event, beginning or worsening after the traumatic event occurred (the war Bruce wages on Gotham could be defined as reckless or self-destructive behavior with elements of hypervigilance). Ultimately, a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder was ruled out because Bruce does not meet all of the required criteria, specifically avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event, as evidenced by his being the Batman.

A diagnosis related to cluster B personality disorders, specifically borderline personality disorder, was also considered. Bruce only meets the requirements for two of the five or more symptoms required to make the diagnosis. Bruce does experience some identity disturbance (e.g., he sometimes seems unsure of whether he is Bruce Wayne or Batman, many times moving between the two). Bruce also experiences inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger at times when dealing with criminals. Taken together though, these two symptoms do not constitute borderline personality disorder.

When fully considered, the symptoms that Bruce Wayne is presenting with are best represented by obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. He experiences 1) an excessive devotion to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (he often disregards relaxation and social activities to pursue his mission of justice), 2) is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (Bruce refuses to deviate from his moral compass under any circumstances), 3) is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his way of doing things (this is demonstrated both in the way he mentors his sidekicks but also in the way he serves as a tactician for the Justice League), 4) shows rigidity and stubbornness (once again, Bruce does not deviate from his moral compass and refuses to abandon his war on crime even if it means he dies in the line of duty).

Treatment Recommendations
In summary, the most fitting diagnosis for Bruce Wayne (Batman) is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Currently, there are not any well-established treatments for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder that have been tested in large randomized clinical trials. It is worth noting that obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is different from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a disorder that does have clear evidence-based treatment for it. Approaches that have been used effectively with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder include cognitive therapy, which focuses on challenging maladaptive thoughts related to the disorder. Following his experience of trauma due to an act of evil (i.e., witnessing the murder of his parents as a young boy), Bruce developed a strong moral code focused on helping others through his pursuit of justice and committed firmly to upholding it. While this has been of great benefit to the people of Gotham City and beyond, at times, it has come at the cost of his personal health and happiness. A therapeutic approach that prioritizes flexibility and healthy balance as goals may help Bruce to improve his mental health and experience less symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

Status at Termination
Six months later, Bruce returned to our office. He reported that a lot had happened since our first appointment. During this time, Batman faced off against Joker in what Bruce reported was the hardest battle of his life. The Joker was set to release the Endgame Virus in Gotham City. During the conflict, it appeared that both Batman and the Joker had died. Ultimately, Bruce ended up surviving, but lost all of his memories. The loss of his parents, his training, and his time as Batman, everything that made Bruce the Batman, was gone. Bruce reported that he started living a normal life, getting more involved in Wayne Enterprises, and even meeting someone to whom he got engaged. Bruce was seemingly happy and healthy. However, after some time, it all fell apart. Even without conscious access to his memory, Bruce knew he was supposed to be doing and giving more. His engagement ended and he withdrew from his more active role in Wayne Enterprises. He demanded to a heartbroken Alfred to be taken to his cave, of which he had no memory of. Even though he did not necessarily want to, he decided to be the Batman again.

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THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

1. Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?

The symptoms that Bruce Wayne experiences related to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder appear to be accurately depicted. Beyond that, Batman serves as an example of someone who takes what is an extremely traumatic event and uses it to find meaning and purpose in life. He uses the death of his parents as a drive to make positive changes in the world around him as both Bruce Wayne (e.g., pursuing philanthropic efforts such as an orphanage funded by the Wayne Foundation) and Batman (e.g., by keeping criminals off the street to prevent other children from experiencing what he did.

2. Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?

We find the portrayal of mental illness most broadly seen across mediums portraying Batman to be compassionate. Although authors do not typically set out to depict Batman as experiencing mental illness, it is clear that he has experienced severe trauma that influences him throughout his life. Beyond that, many of Batman’s greatest villains experience mental illness more explicitly. Particularly, in the seminal Batman: The Animated Series, these individuals are portrayed very compassionately, with Batman often empathizing with their experiences and seeking to rehabilitate them.

Overall rating: From a rating from Superman (e.g., the worst ever) to Batman (e.g., the best ever) we rate the overall depiction of Batman as… Batman (sorry Superman fans!). For the reasons above, we believe that Batman’s universe serves as an accurate and compassionate depiction of mental illness. Even as a fictional character, Batman has served as a real-life inspiration for others who are also pressed to overcome insurmountable challenges and odds (e.g., such as depicted in the documentary Legends of the Knight) or want to make a difference for those in need (e.g., organizations such as the real life Wayne Foundation).

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**Disclaimer**

Bruce Wayne, the Batman, made his debut in Detective Comics #27 on May 19, 1939. Over the last 75-plus years, Batman has been portrayed in comics, novelizations, video games, television shows, and movies by a variety of different actors, authors and directors across multiple timelines in the DC Comics Multiverse. As such, this evaluation focused on the most well-known canonical story as presented by Bruce Wayne during the timeline in the current Batman series by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo (which we recommend!)