Secret Origins: Batman
Times Past, 1924
The Proper Thing to Do
A typically happy day in the life of a very young Bruce Wayne turns into a night of tragedy, a night that he will never forget, when his parents take him out for an evening at the cinema. It’s the tale of the day that gave birth to the Batman in a way you’ve never seen before — through young Bruce’s own eyes!
June 26, 1924:
Morning sunlight comes through the panes of the large, glass double doors that dominate one wall of your room. You feel a pleasant warmth on your face. Soft humming tells you that you are not alone. It is the same rich baritone that you have heard daily for the majority of your few years of life. The humming stops as the man approaches your bedside.
“Rise and shine, young Master Bruce,” he says with a heavy British accent.
“Good morning, Mr. Beagle,” you reply.
“Please, Master Bruce,” he says. “I’ve told you to call me Jarvis.”
“But Father says I should call my elders mister or missus,” you reply. “He says it’s the proper thing to do.”
You see the corners of the man’s mouth turn slightly upward as he changes the subject. “What does the young master have planned for today?” Jarvis asks.
“My friend Tommy is coming over today,” you say, excited. “We are going to play Zorro, and Robin Hood, and… and… and maybe cowboys. And then tonight, after dinner, Father is going to take me and Mother to the picture show.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Jarvis says with a smile. “Which one are you going to see?”
“I don’t know. Father said it was going to be a surprise.”
Jarvis smiles as he pulls your cover back. “Well, then,” he says, “we need to get you dressed and down to breakfast. One can’t be expected to endure such a busy day and then face a surprise without a proper meal to start the day.”
Within minutes, you are dressed and escorted downstairs to the breakfast table.
As you enter the small breakfast nook just off the main dining room, you are met by your mother, who wraps her arms around you and gives you a morning kiss. You take the seat to the left of your father, and he reaches over and tousles your hair.
Jarvis disappears into another room, and a short, pleasant-looking woman enters carrying a servicing tray. Missus Edna, as you have always known her, is smiling warmly. She places a plate bearing bacon, eggs, and toast in front of you, then places one similarly filled before your parents. She hurries back to the kitchen, then returns with two cups of coffee and a glass of milk. After giving you your drink, she returns to the kitchen.
You lean near to your plate and inhale deeply. Afterward, you look to your father, then bow your head. After a prayer of thanksgiving, your father places his hand on yours.
“Bruce,” he begins, and you know his words by heart, “you must always remember that we are but stewards of what we have been given. It is our duty to use the things we have to help those in need. The day you forget that is the day that everything will lose its value.”
“Yes, Father,” you reply.
“Now eat your breakfast.”
As you eat, Missus Edna returns twice to refill your parents’ coffee cups. On her second trip, she sets a saucer bearing orange wedges in front of you. You clean your plate and waste nothing. It is, as Father says, the proper thing to do.
After breakfast, you return to your room and prepare for Tommy’s arrival. You sort through a chest filled with toys. Digging past painted metal trucks and stuffed circus animals, you uncover two wooden swords, which were made by Jarvis especially for you with your parents’ permission. You place these on your bed, then return the other toys to the chest. Next, you go to your closet and retrieve two small bows, also made by Jarvis, and place these on the bed next to the swords. You wish you had toy guns, but pointed fingers work just as well, so you don’t dwell on the thought for very long.
An hour passes, and you hear Mother calling to you from downstairs. Tommy must have arrived, so you hurry to answer her call.
At the bottom of the stairs, you see Mother, Tommy, and his mother waiting patiently. You want to run down the stairs, but Father says it isn’t the proper thing to do. So instead you walk down the stairs like the little gentleman Mother says you are.
Tommy’s mother leans over and whispers something to your mother as you descend the stairs. Mother smiles and whispers something back. Tommy, who is only a few months younger than you, gives you a small wave; you both know that once you get back to your room, you can run and play without having to behave like little gentlemen.
You reach the bottom step and greet your visitors properly. “Good morning, Mrs. Elliot. Thank you for letting Tommy come to play with me.”
Mrs. Elliot smiles at you. “You are quite welcome.”
“Would you like a cup of tea before we leave?” Mother asks Mrs. Elliot.
“That sounds just lovely,” Mrs. Elliot replies, taking her hat off.
As the two women walk off arm in arm, you and Tommy watch them go.
“Your mother looks like that lady in the Rin-Tin-Tin movie,” you tell your friend.
“Yeah, she likes the way that lady fixes her hair,” Tommy says.
“Hey, you know what?” you ask, stepping closer to him.
“What?” he asks.
“You’re it!” you yell as you tap his arm and run back up the stairs. You hear laughter behind you and know that the chase is on.
An hour after your mothers have left to go shopping, Jarvis interrupts a sword fight that has done little more than disrupt the tidiness of your bed, which, moments ago, presented itself as the deck of a Spanish galleon.
“Your father has been called to the hospital,” he tells you. “Until I return, Missus Edna has graciously volunteered to check in on you. I shan’t be long.”
At the mention of Missus Edna, you and Tommy decide that even hard-fighting pirates need to take a break for sweets. You follow Jarvis downstairs and tell your father goodbye.
“Will we still be able to go to the picture show?” you ask him before he leaves. Since Father is a doctor, you know that sometimes he has to spend a really long time with his patients.
“I should be back in plenty of time,” Father answers. He gives you a hug, then pats Tommy on the shoulder. “You boys mind Missus Edna,” he says as he follows Jarvis to the car.
You and Tommy stand in the doorway and watch as Father’s Rolls Royce Silver Ghost drives away. It is only after the car disappears behind the hedges that you and Tommy close the door and go in search of Missus Edna.
The scent of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies tickles your noses as you and Tommy run toward the kitchen. You enter to find Missus Edna placing two glasses of milk and a plate of cookies on her serving tray. Like excited little puppies after a bone, the two of you follow her into the breakfast nook.
After a delicious snack, you and Tommy race back up to your room and grab your little wooden bows; it’s time to play Robin Hood. Even though they are your bows, you let Tommy be Robin Hood.
You give him a head start, then, as the Sheriff of Nottingham, you begin the chase to capture the likeable thief. As you run, you fire your pretend arrow, claiming in your high voice that you hit him; he responds, in an equally high voice, that he had ducked just in time. You both laugh as another pretend arrow streaks down the hallway.
Were they real, the arrows would have scarred most of the oak trim in the upstairs by the time you hear Missus Edna calling the two of you down to lunch. You take time to hang the bows back on their hooks in your closet.
Missus Edna has two plates waiting for you on the table in the breakfast nook. Neither of you can suppress a smile as you see what she has prepared.
“Pancakes!” you yell in unison.
“And for dessert,” Missus Edna says with a smile, “ice cream.”
You hurry through your lunch and begin clamoring for the promised dessert. When it appears, you and Tommy tap spoons to toast your good fortune. After licking your bowls clean, Missus Edna removes all evidence from your faces with a damp towel, and the two of you race through the hall with the intent of returning to your room.
You hear the voice just as you are starting up the stairs.
“I don’t believe running through the house like wild savages chasing a wounded deer would be considered the proper thing to do.”
You turn to find Father removing his jacket just inside the foyer.
“Father,” you yell with delight. “You made it back.”
“Such enthusiasm for your father,” you hear a feminine voice say, “but what kind of greeting do you give your poor old mother?”
You run to Mother’s outstretched arms, where she catches you and lifts you off the ground.
Tommy’s mother appears and removes her peekaboo hat. “Are you so disappointed to see me that you don’t want to give me a hug?” she asks Tommy. He grins, then rushes to his mother’s arms.
You and Tommy wiggle free of your mothers’ arms and make a beeline to the stairs.
“You’ve got five minutes to help Bruce straighten up his room,” you hear Tommy’s mother say, “and then we have to leave.”
Once the Elliots have gone, time slows down for you, and you wish the evening would arrive. You wander through the mansion checking every clock you can find. You see Father in his study and ask him how much longer until it is time to go to the picture show.
“We still have about three hours before it is time to go,” Father tells you.
“Which one are we going to see?” you ask.
“Well,” Father says, with a smile, “I guess it’s OK to tell you now.”
You assure him that it is definitely OK to tell you the name of the picture show.
“We are going to see… the picture,” he says, “then we are going to walk to the restaurant for supper.”
“But what show are we going to see?” you plead for Father to tell you.
“OK. We are going to see Don Q, Son of Zorro.”
You squeal with delight and begin to dance around, an invisible sword held tightly in your hand.
“I assume you told him,” Mother says from the doorway.
“We’re going to see Zorro,” you say as you continue to dance around and carve imaginary zees in the air.
“Do you think he’s excited?” you hear Mother ask Father.
“I think it will be a night to remember,” Father answers.
You follow the example of the dozen or so other children exiting the picture show and begin waving your imaginary sword in the air.
The conversations of adults are interspersed with the chattering of excited children, everyone discussing either the picture show, or where to go for supper, or a dozen other topics of personal importance.
“Where’s Mr. Beagle?” you ask, lunging between your parents in an attempt to fight off invisible villains.
“He will be waiting for us once we leave the restaurant,” Father tells you.
The din of the crowd begins to fade as your family walks away from the movie house. You continue to dance around, facing invisible foes and clearing the way for your parents.
“Bruce,” Father says, “you need to settle down before you run into someone.”
“Yes, sir,” you reply.
“Remember, you should always be mindful of those around you; it is the proper thing to do,” Father tells you.
As you walk, Father glances up at a street sign that says Park Row and smiles. “We should be able to cut through the next alley and be very close to the restaurant,” he says.
Mother questions the decision, but Father assures her that everything will be all right.
You hold Mother’s hand as you leave the well-lit sidewalk and enter the shadow-filled alley. The only light comes from the half-hidden moon overhead.
Somewhere ahead of you, the sound of metal rolling across brick catches your attention. You glance up at Father and notice that his head is facing the other end of the alley, but his eyes are darting back and forth. You wince as Mother squeezes your hand.
Almost as if by magic, a man appears in the alley before you. Father stretches his arm out in front of you, and Mother then takes another step forward. You wrap your arms around Mother and wait to see what the stranger wants.
“Hey, w-what is this?” Father asks the man.
“A stick-up, buddy!” the man replies. “I’ll take that necklace you’re wearin’, lady.”
“Oh, my God,” you hear Mother whisper.
You are confused. Things like this only happen in the picture shows. Moonlight falls across the man’s hand, and you see a glint of metal. “Father?” you ask.
Your father steps forward, startling the man.
“Stay back, you!” the man warns your father. “Don’t try playin’ hero on me.”
Father has always been stern, but this is the first time you have ever seen him so threatening.
“Leave her alone, you!” he starts to say.
Mother reaches out and takes his arm. “Thomas, don’t!” she pleads.
“You asked for it,” you hear the man growl.
You jump as two gouts of flame leap from the barrel of the man’s gun. Echoes of thunder ring in your ears, a sound you will never forget.
Everything begins to move in slow motion. You watch as Father’s knees buckle, and he crumples to the ground, groaning. You hear Mother scream as the man rips the necklace from her body.
The man screams something back, and gun smoke and thunder fill the alley a third time.
As Mother spins toward you, you feel something wet splatter against your face. She reaches toward you as she falls, her eyes rolling back in her head.
The man disappears into the night, leaving you alone with the lifeless bodies of your parents. You drop to your knees, shocked at what you have just witnessed. You feel your pants legs begin to moisten as the blood of your parents soaks in.
This isn’t how things are supposed to be. Tonight was supposed to be a fun night, a night to remember. Tears roll down your cheeks as you realize that it is a night you will never forget.
From what seems a thousand miles away, you hear voices and the pounding of feet. Who they are and where they are running, you could care less. All you can think of is your loss.
The strangest of thoughts comes into your anguish-filled mind. You remember something your father once told you about anger after you had had a scuffle with Tommy.
“Holding onto one’s anger,” he said. “It’s not the proper thing to do.”
You feel yourself being gently pulled away from your parents. You look up into the face of a policeman.
You glance back down at the bodies that will no longer hold you, no longer kiss you, no longer be there to love you and teach you and guide you. You bury your face into the policeman’s chest and cry.
You make a vow in your broken heart. One day, you shall make sure that no other child has to go through something as horrible as this.
And you can’t help but wonder: would Mother and Father think this is the proper thing to do?