In exploring Bruce Wayne’s early life, Batman: The Knight shows that had he not become Batman, he’d have been Gotham’s ultimate criminal.
Spoilers ahead for Batman: The Knight #8!
After witnessing both his parents shot to death in a random crime, Bruce Wayne turned an unimaginably traumatic situation into the vigilante icon Batman. However, his path to donning the cowl was never assured, and he was often just one bad decision away from becoming Gotham’s Caped King of Crime.
Chip Zdarsky and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s Batman: The Knight limited series retells the origins of Batman with a particular emphasis on the process that Bruce Wayne went through between the time his parents were killed and his eventual return to Gotham as the city’s one and only Dark Knight. The series touches on various issues, such as how he learned to cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder, intense flashbacks, and anger at the murder of his parents. For instance, after training in multiple martial arts styles, in Batman: The Knight #8, Bruce seeks the counsel of Doctor Daniel Captio to learn how to fortify his mind against his ever-encroaching rage.
While Bruce was eventually able to conquer, or at least manage, his demons enough to become the Dark Knight, the series also exposes how close he was to giving into his anger and letting it drive him to criminality. Bruce’s initial trauma is characterized by aimless violence, as he lashes out with no clear idea of how to channel his anger. It’s clear that without his quest, Bruce is on track to become someone who loses himself to inflicting pain without purpose. Considering the totality of circumstances that surrounded the young Bruce – from his wealth to his lack of a support system to his anti-social personality – if he did turn to the dark side, there is no doubt that he would have been Gotham’s greatest criminal ever, as the series shows. Indeed, Dr. Hugo Strange, Bruce’s trauma therapist, says to him in Batman: The Knight #1, “You can do whatever you want, Bruce.”
Strange is not wrong on that point. Everything that allowed Bruce to be such an effective hero could easily have been re-purposed to make him nearly unstoppable as a criminal. Moreover, based on the history depicted in the series, not only did Bruce have a talent for criminality, but he also developed a profound experience in crime early on. This point is summed up best by Alfred, who confronts Bruce after bailing him out of jail in Batman: The Knight #1. Alfred explains to Bruce that getting into fights and committing minor crimes are desperate acts committed by those who have no other way of getting what Bruce can effortlessly obtain. It’s a conversation that Bruce takes to heart and eventually leads him to begin his quest to become the Dark Knight.
However, Bruce’s early criminality exposes one more trait that could have turned him into the ultimate criminal. The Wayne Family fortune means he can commit crime with complete abandon while also bringing the full force of his wealth, influence, and status to facilitate its perpetration. Batman: The Knight explores Bruce Wayne’s rage, showing that far from possessing inherent heroism, taking on the mantle of Batman was a choice to take ownership of his darker aspects and use them to do good – a decision that gave Gotham its greatest hero rather than its most accomplished hero.