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Comic Book / The Untold Legend of the Batman

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The Untold Legend of the Batman is a three-issue 1980 Batman miniseries written by comic book writer Len Wein and illustrated by John Byrne and Jim Aparo. It is basically a unified retelling of several Golden and Silver Age stories which cover Batman's origin story, his first meetings with Robin (Dick Grayson), Alfred and Commissioner Jim Gordon, and the origins of several members of his famous Rogues Gallery.

The story begins with Batman in the Batcave, opening a package that turns out to contain the shredded remains of a bat-costume—one that his father, Thomas Wayne, had worn to a masquerade party years earlier. However, the suit in question should have been safely encased in a glass display in the cave...only when Bruce goes to check it out, he is greeted with the case empty save for a note taped on the inside, threatening to destroy Batman. Now, as the Dark Knight puzzles over who could have removed his father's suit from its casing and how they could have done it, he reminisces over his own early life and the training and studying he had to undergo to prepare for his role in wearing the cowl, as well as how he would eventually meet his sidekick and the various costumed criminals who would become his enemies.


Tropes present in this miniseries include:

  • The Atoner: Part of why Mrs. Chilton cared for Bruce was because her son, Joe Chill, had orphaned him.
  • Badass Bookworm: Alfred was a trained stage actor who fought during the latter part of World War II. There's also Barbara, who we know is Batgirl; she graduated from college summa cum laude with a PhD in library science and, at that time, had secured a brown belt in martial arts.
  • Beta Outfit: Bruce's very first costume was a variation of Dick Grayson's Robin suit, which he wore in an effort to meet a famous detective so as to convince the man to teach him his trade (this was still early in Bruce's life before the bat crashed through his window). This technically made Bruce himself the first Robin.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Dick recalls how, on one occasion while at school, a bully tried to pick a fight with him, taunting him when Dick refused to fight back. Since he'd just recently become Robin at the time, Dick could easily have crippled the bully "with both hands tied behind (his) back," but he deliberately opted not to.
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  • Contrived Coincidence: Although Batman always remembered the face of his parents' killer, he never knew the man's name for years...until one day when Commissioner Gordon informed him of a new racket where criminals were being smuggled across state lines through a trucking company owned by one Joe Chill. One look at the man's photo was enough for Batman to immediately recognize who he'd been looking for all this time.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • The cover for the first issue (as depicted above) shows Joker, Penguin and Riddler opening up a book which supposedly contains information that will allow them to destroy Batman. In the comic proper, they only show up on one page as part of a brief montage of the costumed criminals Batman has faced in his career.
    • The second issue's cover shows Robin driving the Batmobile while Batman jumps on board. In-story, Robin does briefly get behind the wheel, but he only gets as far as turning the ignition switch before hurriedly bailing seconds later as the car is wired to blow up.
  • Death Glare: The second issue has Batman stalking into a Bad-Guy Bar with this expression, and as the narrative puts it, "one glance into his murderously cold eyes sends burly men who pride themselves on their viciousness scrambling out of his path."
  • Defiant Captive: Crime boss Lew Moxon sent two of his goons to take Thomas Wayne hostage in order to give medical treatment to Moxon, who'd suffered a bullet to the shoulder. However, Thomas knew that once he extracted the bullet, Moxon would never let him he proceeded to kick all three thugs' asses.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Guess.
    Batman: I don't like guns—or the cowardly creeps that use them!
  • Easy Amnesia: Sometime after the Wayne murders, Lew Moxon (who orchestrated their deaths via Joe Chill) suffered an accident that resulted in a head injury, which unfortunately meant he honestly couldn't recall knowing Thomas Wayne. It's how he was able to pass the Lie Detector test below. Seeing Batman in Thomas's bat-costume sometime later shocks his memory back.
  • External Combustion: The story's mysterious antagonist tampers with the Batmobile's ignition switch, setting the car up to explode. Fortunately, the Dynamic Duo and Alfred are able to get clear seconds before the blow-up.
  • Felony Murder: As told in this miniseries, Bruce's decision to become Batman instead of a cop with a badge (as he'd originally planned) came about following a discussion with his law professor that had him faced with the question of whether to follow the law or do the right thing despite the law. The professor had posed a hypothetical situation to his class, in which two boys stole a car for a joy-ride, one of them changed his mind and asked to be let out of the car, and then the car struck and killed a pedestrian before the thief's friend (who was driving) could comply with the request. When asked his opinion, Bruce said that he would find the repentant thief guilty of car theft, but not manslaughter; the professor countered that that answer was incorrect, as under the law the repentant thief would be just as guilty of the pedestrian's death as if he had been the driver. When Bruce protested whether that was really justice, the professor coolly replied that that was the law.
  • Foreshadowing: While discussing the case with Robin, Alfred notes that Bruce has been far more driven in recent times, and that it's not just about Thomas's tattered bat-costume—ever since Batman was caught in a warehouse explosion sometime prior to the events of the story, Alfred thinks the Dark Knight has seemingly been struggling to deny his own mortality. It turns out that same explosion gave Batman a temporary case of schizophrenia and paranoid delusion, resulting in his Bruce Wayne identity actively trying to kill the Batman identity.
  • Friend on the Force: Commissioner Gordon, natch, although he himself recounts that his relationship with Batman didn't start off on such good footing; in fact, Gordon had been looking to arrest Batman for (unintentionally) making the police look useless.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: From Batman's recollection, the sight of his disfigured face was what drove Harvey Dent off the deep end and turned him into Two-Face; prior to that moment, even when he was initially scarred by acid to the face, he'd kept relatively sane up until the moment the bandages were removed and he saw himself in the mirror.
  • Heroes Fight Barehanded: The unarmed Thomas Wayne versus three thugs with guns; winner—Thomas Wayne. Hey, Bruce had to have gotten it from somewhere.
  • Hurting Hero: Batman himself.
    Robin: He's known a lot of pain in his life!
  • I Owe You My Life: The reason the famous detective Harvey Harris agreed to train Bruce (disguised in an early Robin costume) in his craft, after Bruce foiled a would-be assassin's attempt to snuff out the older man's life. Likewise, this is the reason mechanic and stunt-driver Jack Edison built the Batmobile, since Batman saved him from a fire several years earlier.
  • Idiot Ball: For a gifted doctor and an intelligent man, Thomas got a moment to hold the ball when he happened to meet Lew Moxon again after his courtroom testimony sent the man to prison. Moxon frankly admitted that, while he couldn't afford to attack Thomas directly lest the cops immediately suspect him, he'd just get someone to do the deed for him. Did Thomas inform the authorities? Not according to Bruce's recollection; weeks passed after that meeting, and then the Waynes took the fateful walk into Park Row and met upon Joe Chill.
  • In the Blood: Alfred believes he's destined to serve, just as his father had given service before him. Incidentally, the senior Pennyworth had served as Thomas Wayne's butler for years before his death...and now Alfred is serving as Bruce's butler.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: In the third issue, a mugger is in the process of robbing one of Batman's informants when the Dark Knight intervenes and throws the thug to one side. The mugger starts reaching into his jacket; Batman dares him to go ahead and pull out whatever weapon he's reaching for; the mugger remembers who exactly he's facing and wisely surrenders. Batman ends up letting him off with a warning not to try harming the informant again; the mugger agrees and bolts off into the night.
  • Lie Detector: Lew Moxon willingly subjected himself to one of these to prove he had nothing to do with the Wayne killings. Unfortunately, he passed (as it turns out, due to Easy Amnesia) Batman had to resort to other methods to get a confession out of him.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Since this miniseries was published eight years before The Killing Joke came about, Batman's exposition on the Joker in-story would suggest that the clown was actually pulling this. Similar to Bill Finger's back-story for the character in the earlier "The Man Behind the Red Hood," Joker's back-story in this series involves him having previously and willingly being the criminal mastermind Red Hood (as opposed to the later idea that he was a patsy forced to wear the helmet) who escaped Batman by knowingly jumping into a chemical vat (versus accidentally falling in while backing away from Batman in panic), only to be horrified by the change the chemicals did to his appearance when he unmasked at home later; according to Batman, though, that horror only lasted a moment before the man realized that his new look could also terrify others, and thus he decided to just run with the obvious new gimmick.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Joe Chill's reaction when Batman revealed his secret identity to him.
    • Also Lew Moxon's reaction on seeing Batman in Thomas Wayne's bat-suit.
    • The thugs at the Bad-Guy Bar when Batman stalks in through the front door.
  • Origins Episode: Not just for Batman, but also for Robin, Commissioner Gordon (in terms of his becoming the Friend on the Force), Alfred, Lucius Fox (regarding how he got to make acquaintance with Bruce Wayne), Batgirl, and to a lesser extent Joker and Two-Face.
  • Parental Substitute: By Bruce's own testimony, his Uncle Phillip's housekeeper Mrs. Chilton was somewhat of a second mother to him during the time he was staying at his uncle's mansion (Uncle Phillip himself was often absent due to travelling). Alfred doesn't fill this role quite so much as he's usually known to do, as in this continuity he first met Bruce long after the latter had begun his crime-fighting career.
  • Pride: Bruce's problem, according to Lucius Fox. It's also evident in his personality as Batman.
    Lucius Fox: You wouldn't ask for water if you were dying of thirst—that's just not your style!
  • The Resenter: Bruce Wayne himself has felt some deep animosity toward Batman for some time, and lets it be known near the end of the story.
    Bruce persona: Because of you, I've lost my friends—the women I've loved—maybe my very sanity!
  • Rogues Gallery: They're showcased during the story, of course. At one point Batman pulls out a batch of photographs specifically depicting the Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Ra's al Ghul, Gentleman Ghost, the Riddler, the Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Professor Milo, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Catwoman, Killer Moth, and the Black Spider; and Professor Hugo Strange is mentioned among the list of suspects who could've sent the tattered bat-suit to Batman.
  • Secret Identity Identity: Deconstructed. While Batman is often depicted in some media as viewing the mask as the "real" identity and Bruce Wayne as the actual mask, in this story it comes up that Bruce actually wants to experience the happiness he's had to deny himself for the sake of Batman's crusade. To the point that the Bruce identity is subconsciously trying to kill the Batman identity so as to give Bruce a chance to have that happiness.
  • Secret Keeper: Commissioner Gordon is aware of his daughter Barbara being Batgirl (but not Bruce's identity as Batman).
  • Secret Secret-Keeper:
    • Harvey Harris, the first teacher Bruce had in detective work, was able to suss out Bruce's true identity (Bruce sought his tutelage while disguised as "Robin"), but Bruce himself never learned that fact until years later, after the man had died.
    • Alfred knows that Mrs. Chilton, the housekeeper of Bruce's uncle Phillip, cared for Bruce as her way of atoning for the actions of her son Joe Chill. He has vowed that Bruce must never learn the connection between Mrs. Chilton and Chill.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: The Bat-family, natch. Lampshaded by Commissioner Gordon when first Batman, then Robin, give him this treatment in his office.
    Gordon: Doesn't anyone around here bother to use the door anymore?
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Bruce had originally intended to use his training to become a police officer as part of his crusade to avenge his parents' deaths, but he ran into this problem while pursuing his law degree at college. He later lamented about the issue before his parents' graves following graduation.
    Bruce: Forgive me, Mom...Dad...but I can't become a policeman as I'd intended to—they're too often hamstrung by the very laws they're sworn to uphold!
  • Tragic Keepsake: Thomas Wayne's bat costume.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: In the climax of the third issue, Batman goes back to Wayne Manor and enters the Batcave...only to discover that the mysterious antagonist rigged the walls right inside the cave's entrance to squash him this way.
  • Wham Line: In the climax of the third issue, when Bruce finally meets his mystery enemy.
    Antagonist: I do have a name, you know! Why don't you simply call me— (hallucination appears) Bruce Wayne!

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