Batman: Is Wealth a Superpower?

by Mark Wallace

When Batman is asked in The Dark Knight Rises why he donned the mask to carry out crime-fighting, he answers “The idea was to be a symbol. Batman could be anybody. That was the point” (425 [page refs to The Dark Knight Trilogy: The Complete Screenplays, Faber and Faber]). In case that wasn’t clear enough, late in the film he tells Jim Gordon: “A hero can be anyone. That was always the point” (505).

The thing that has separated Batman from the other major superheroes, that has made him the most relatable figure in the genre, is the fact that he has no superpower. This is somewhat of a cliche of comparative superhero discourse. It is also the view of the director of the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan:

The thing about Bruce Wayne is he doesn’t have superpowers other than his extraordinary wealth. Really, he’s just someone who does a lot of push-ups. And in that sense, he’s very relatable[.]

So if Batman has no superpower, maybe anyone could be Batman. Why not? But while noting Batman’s lack of a true superpower, Nolan does mention the character’s “extraordinary wealth”. The implication, then, is that wealth is a sort of superpower, or at least a substitute for one.

Can we imagine Batman without his wealth? A superhero who not only does not have a superpower, but is also not that rich? Probably not. Throughout the Batman canon we find that the Knight’s exploits are wholly dependent on his wealth and resources. In Nolan’s final film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Returns, for example, this is clear at many points. How could Batman defeat Bane without his gargantuan wealth? His wealth and resources count in several different ways:

1 His mind: Batman can know everything because he has access to police databases to track down Selina Kyle after she burglarizes his manor (369). Later his relationship with her becomes key to defeating Bane.

2 His body: Batman’s body manages to overcome wear and tear through the carbon fiber leg brace that makes him capable of physically competing with Bane. This leg brace is not exactly available through the Public Health Service, rather it is an advanced prototype developed by the research team at Wayne Corporation (395).

3 His appliances: He has The Bat, a flying car developed by the research team at Wayne Corporation in conjunction with the Defense Department. He uses this to fight criminals and later to transport the nuclear fusion bomb out of Gotham, saving the city from destruction (386). Without this specialised vehicle, Gotham is toast.

4 And, of course, he owns a secret and very well-equipped hideaway below ground in the Batcave, property he inherited from his father.

And all these resources despite being nominally an outlaw during this story, wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent, and despite having no official position in the police/military/government. It is clear, then, that Batman’s accomplishments could not be achieved without his wealth, and wealth is his real superpower, giving him resources beyond anyone else’s wildest dreams.