Let me start by saying I think that, from a writing standpoint, the Bruce Wayne/Batman seen on Titans is the worst version of the character ever put to screen.
There is good reason to take issue with the way the one-time DC Universe Original – now HBO Max – series portrays the dual-identified billionaire, played by Game of Thrones star Iain Glen, and opts to use him sans the cowl.
But things are worse than him just being blithely and inexplicably shoved to the sidelines.
I have no other way to say it: Titans Season 3 goes further off the rails by turning Bruce into a complete nutjob, as if Frank Miller was the only author to ever write The Dark Knight, taking elements from All-Star Batman (a graphic novel infamous for the declaration “I’m the G–da– Batman!”).
Do you recall seeing Jason as Red Hood in that book? Because I don’t.
To begin with, short of locking Robin in the Cave to feast on rats – though he may have, and it’s just not shown to us – it’s confirmed that, on this Earth, Bruce used a number of rather uncaring and unorthodox methods to train Dick and Jason. What’s more, their training ground was a cabin in the woods surrounded by rabid animals.
At one point, Dick hides himself and Scarecrow (Vincent Kartheiser) away in the cabin, which leads him to recall the day when he encountered a wolf exploring the surrounding grounds and was left to its mercy.
He also remembers Bruce told him not to venture too far ‘or else’ – meaning he wouldn’t do anything if Dick was attacked – which seems to be the nonsense takeaway of that story.
We learn pretty quickly that this case of “tough love” was not an isolated incident, but sadly a sign of what Bats thinks of his sidekicks. As further seen when Jason goes missing, the second Robin is not even gone for more than a day before Bruce is already combing through files he has on random young Gothamites in search of a replacement.
In some fun Easter eggs, names including Carrie Kelly and other Bat-Family cast members appear on the list, but this wink at fans is where the jocularity stops.
Eventually, Dick finds this data, and when he questions a pained and broken Bruce about it, the Dark Knight cravenly admits, for once, that he can’t protect Gotham alone.
What follows is not only the inference that Bruce needs to retire, but the shocking revelation that he’s broken his one rule.
Rousing Dick from a sound sleep, Bruce produces a bloody crowbars, which he indicates was used to bludgeon The Joker to death as punishment for killing Jason, which happens (in a rather organic fashion) early in the season premiere in order to more expediently introduce Red Hood.
From here, it’s clear Bruce has gone over the edge and was, honestly, losing his touch the whole time. Not only does he show no inkling or interest in the fact that Jason is alive and consolidating the underworld, but upon further digging by Dick, he discovers that Bruce failed to notice a drug deal being orchestrated by Red Hood.
Defeated and at the end of a long rope, Bruce quits and departs Gotham once more, leaving Wayne Manor and the burden of protecting the city to Dick and the Titans.
Yet, not once has Titans shown that Bruce has figured out what’s going on or even attempted to expiate his sins by helping the team. Instead, we’re simply left with Batman being weirdly written out of the show.
However, the message is clear: Bruce Wayne is a psychopath- just as much as the various criminals and villains he brings in – who did a better scarring his adopted sons than raising or protecting them.
There were signs of this scarring in Season 2, particularly when Dick was seeing and talking to an imaginary Bruce who would pop up to taunt him worse than The Joker would. As a manifestation of Dick’s id, Titans’ writing team could get away with this stunt for a period of time – though it was disconcerting to acknowledge that such a bizarre caricature is how, deep down, he viewed Bruce.
But in Season 3, they overstate their case by revealing Dick’s bewildering delusions are true to life, all while having the ex-Robin continually making excuses for the old man and his mission.
Jason sees through it – after all, his treatment by Bruce was part of his motivation to become Red Hood – but he takes his ‘clarity’ too far by trying to decimate his former teammates one by one.
You could blame the influence of Scarecrow, whom Jason reached out to after being left for dead, as Crane, with his chemicals and his psychiatric tricks, could really be the one to have set Jason on this path under either consent or coercion.
The depth of Crane’s actions or plans – if he has any – haven’t been revealed yet, but there may be another culprit with an influence off-camera: the writers.
Poor writing abounds in Titans. Ideas fans will recognize and possibly tune in for – like Red Hood and Death in the Family – are incorporated into the script, but without any regard for the build, context, or meaning that made them work in the first place. It’s a pastiche of Batman’s greatest hits that lacks proper story beats and patience, choosing to instead substitute them with a dark tone that’s more obnoxious than edgy.
Batman suffers the worst, and you just know they’re coming at him with the contemporary agenda of tearing down the old guard patriarchal heroes to introduce the young, hip, diverse new ones who were ‘held down’ prior to their debut in the story.
To that effect, they’re serving up a Bruce Wayne who isn’t very heroic, let alone worthy of being called Batman. Whatever compassion he has in Titans, he has a funny way of showing any of it.
Contrast that with the Caped Crusader who, though being hard and obtrusive with his wards and trainees, remained a father figure to them through the years – one who would fight and die for them.
For an example of such an incarnation of Batman, look no further than the Animated Universe, where, on multiple occassions, what is considered by many to be the penultimate version of Batman never hesitated to run to the rescue or sacrifice himself.
Taking it back to Scarecrow, Batman rolled the Batmobile off a cliff and wound up in Arkham when, under the influence of fear gas in the Animated Series episode “Dreams in Darkness,” he merely thought he was going to run over and kill Robin.
Later on in the series, when Bane kidnapped Dick to use him for bait, he correctly deduced Batman valued Dick like a son and would come running to his rescue, as opposed to shrugging and finding a new partner.
Glen’s portrayal of Bruce would probably do the latter even if he killed Bane – and that’s a dismaying indictment of Titans, which ultimately needs a new creative team that understands the characters they’re in charge of.
Have you watched Titans? Do you agree that they blew it with Batman? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!