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It’s official: Batman is broke

Someone who is good at the economy please help him, his bat-family is dying

Batman crouches on a rooftop on the cover of Batman #101, DC Comics (2020). Image: Guillem March/DC Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

It’s no secret that Batman’s been having some cash flow issues of late. Recent events hinted that they’d become permanent.

How much was Batman worth? At the beginning of DC Comics’ Joker War crossover, the Joker stole all of Batman’s money, with the villain’s worth then estimated to be around $100 billion. And at the end of Joker War, Catwoman stole it back, but wound up giving it to Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises and confidant of Batman, who’s now got a nest egg of “tens of billions” of dollars.

Now, thanks to Batman #101, we know it for certain: It’s all gone. And Batman’s finances are bringing him a little more down to earth.

[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for Batman #101.]

Batman and Catwoman swing through Gotham. “What are you going to do?” she asks. “I’m going to move into the city,” he answers, in Batman #101, DC Comics (2020). Image: James Tynion IV, Guillem March/DC Comics

In Batman #101, Batman and Lucius Fox sat down to hash all of that out. The bottom line: Batman has lost control of Wayne Enterprises, he’s moving out of Wayne Manor, and if he needs someone to fix the Batmobile, he’s going to have to do it himself.

It comes down to two things: Government oversight and corporate PR strategy.

In the process of stealing all of his money, the Joker revealed to the world that Bruce Wayne had been squirreling away tons and tons of Wayne Enterprises moolah in dummy corporations and offshore accounts — because he was reserving it for strategic Batman purposes. To use a technical term, that looked mega shady, but he couldn’t explain it to anyone because, again, he’s Batman.

That’s attracted the eyeballs of financial regulators, as Lucius explains. “I could give [the money] back to you, but it wouldn’t be like it was before. The government now has its eyes on you, Mr. Wayne. You are going to need to account for every penny, and they will not go easy on you. You would never be able to use any of it to fund Batman again.”

Lucius managed to convince the board of Wayne Enterprises that all that shady money stuff was a frame job by the Joker, but he can’t change public sentiment. If Wayne Enterprises’ philanthropy arm — not to mention its huge and progressive urban renewal plan — is going to keep going, it needs to divest itself from Bruce’s image.

“The Wayne Enterprises board has suggested removing you from your seat, paying you a generous annual fee, and letting you fall from public eye while the company rebrands and reassesses,” Lucius says. He and Bruce could fight the removal, but not without giving up some of the power of that money to make real change.

“By disassociating from me,” Bruce agrees, “it can still mean something.” And any time you’re talking about the Wayne fortune, the “it” isn’t just about money, but about his parents’ name and the future of their legacy.

Get ready for a different Batman

“Without the money you’ll be under far less scrutiny,” says Lucius Fox, “and you will be able to continue to operate as Batman. But it will have to be a leaner Batman. No more rocket shops or satellites or sophisticated AI drones that know how you’re going to get punched before you do. You won’t be able to print high-tech batmobiles off an industrial printer beneath Wayne Enterprises.” He smiles, “If you break a car, you’ll need to fix it yourself.” in Batman #101, DC Comics (2020).
Lucius explains that it’s not all bad.
Image: James Tynion IV, Guillem March/DC Comics

As I said back when James Tynion IV and the rest of the current Batman team introduced the idea that Bruce Wayne might be losing a chunk of his net worth, Batman’s functionally infinite reserves of cash have become a narrative crutch.

The hero’s endless fortune doesn’t just invite questions about his civic responsibilities, it’s also come to function as a deus ex capitalism, handwaving any level of property destruction and excusing any reveal of a new gizmo or vehicle.

Batman’s money allows writers to transform him into a grim version of Silver Age Superman, who could travel backwards in time by accidentally flying too fast. And while that may be a realistic depiction of the power of a multibillion dollar fortune, it’s not particularly good for creating high stakes comics.

Taking away Batman’s money — save for a “generous annual fee” that is almost certainly going to be commensurate with your average American CEO’s take home pay — has the potential to revitalize him in the same way that taking away Clark Kent’s secret identity did for Superman.

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