martha wayne

“Why did you say that name?!”

(spoilers for The Batman ahead)

I’m back from seeing The Batman and it’s a very good movie, absolutely deserving of all the hype. Excellent deconstruction of Bats and his supporting cast. But there’s one character I want to single out specifically…

As the founder of the Dead Fictional Mothers Club (it contains one member, me) I’ve always been quite interested in how Martha Wayne is used in Batman stories. I recollect the Nolan movies barely acknowledged her as anything other than an afterthought, and I admit it, I have quite a lot of goodwill towards Batman vs Superman and that scene simply because it didn’t do the same thing.

Now we have The Batman and Martha gets a new backstory, or I gather a mostly new one anyway: after witnessing a horrible tragedy as a child she suffered serious mental health issues and was sent to an institution. This information was used by a journalist to blackmail Thomas Wayne and it led to not only his and Martha’s deaths but also the various increasingly horrific things we see taking place throughout the movie. And I walked out of the theater thinking, “WAIT A MINUTE. Could a lot of this have potentially been prevented if a woman’s mental illness hadn’t been treated like a shameful thing?!”

Unfortunately the movie doesn’t go much into this, which is fair in many ways, it’s got a lot going on. But I do think – and bear in mind I’m not thrilled about the portrayal of the Riddler here either – that the Batman franchise in general has A LOT of heavy lifting to do when it comes to mental health stigma. So I really wish they’d taken the opportunity to delve into Martha’s backstory here. Hell, her thoughts, even. There’s lots of talk right now about potential Batman spinoffs, well, I want a Martha Wayne one.

By the way, that picture up there is seen for a couple of seconds in the film, but is also found on the secret tie-in website built for the movie. You can find it here! But I wonder what that image is meant to invoke when the audience sees it. Fear? Revulsion? I hope not.

The “Martha” scene in Batman v Superman gets so much flack and I’ve never understood why

like, to me – that was a big deal. I mean, why do Martha Kent and Martha Wayne share a name in the first place? Because back in the days they were invented, no-one cared enough to differentiate them! For ages, they (like so many mothers in comics) were merely minor satellites of their famous sons, and not nearly as important as their sons’ fathers either. (The way the Nolan Batman movies treat Thomas Wayne as Batman’s driving force, with Martha only an afterthought, is SUPER INFURIATING you guys)

But the Martha Scene! It suddenly made both of them THE MOST IMPORTANT! Shaped the whole plot! Made the fact that these women existed and were mothers A HUGE FRIGGING DEAL! It was really satisfying, you guys. It honest to god felt like a correction of an injustice.

Obviously they bothered to show us the definitive origin story again, so we have to think why. Most interpretations of the Waynes’ demise, Martha Wayne’s presence is constantly underplayed. Her significance, really, is the fact that she wore pearls and they fell off when Joe Chill pulled that trigger, an imagery that eventually became iconic and immediately associated to the lore of Batman. I don’t have to raise many examples, but one that we all are familiar with: in the Nolan trilogy, Martha Wayne’s influence to her son is almost non-existent. …While in BvS, Thomas Wayne is the one being overlooked. That (gorgeous) shot of the gun and the pearls lingered for a good few seconds — so his mother is what Bruce remembered the most from that fateful night. When present-day Bruce had a nightmare about it, it became apparent that his mother’s passing haunts him more than his father’s: it is Martha’s tombstone that is dripping with blood, it is Martha’s death that contains the demon,  all while Thomas Wayne’s name is blocked by the bouquet of flowers.

Let me put it this way: if Bruce Wayne is Hamlet, then Martha Wayne is his ghost. So Martha is important. Martha is the reason why Bruce does what he does, Martha is what he is avenging for — Martha is the lynchpin of Bruce Wayne’s existence, Martha is his purpose, Martha is (literally?) the mother to the idea of Batman. ‘Martha, Martha, Martha.’ If anything can wake him up from this state of confusion and anguish, that would be his mother, his ghost: Martha Wayne (or a mention of that name, as it turns out to be).