Why Batman went to Yale

Batman has no superpowers; he is a great detective thanks to sheer brains and drive. The man is an overachiever.

Anyone in my job spends too much time thinking about the Meaning Of Yale. Journalist Jay Carney '87 became Obama's press secretary? Well, Yale was founded in part to prepare "Youth … for Publick employment," even if they don't get there till middle age. Actor Emily Jenda '10, not a year out of college, made the Backstage list of "Memorable NY Performances"? Yale has the strongest arts tradition in the Ivies. Artist Natasha Zupan '87 used undergarments in a recent series of collages …? Hm. Sometimes historical precedent is harder to find.

But Batman? What does it say about the Meaning Of Yale that someone decided this university was the ideal place for a nocturnal vigilante in a bat costume?

We can speculate. Batman's Yale education didn't show up in the comics until his diploma appeared in the 1974 story "Night of the Stalker." He therefore belongs to the modern Yale, Yale in the era when meritocracy had overtaken aristocracy. He has no superpowers; he's a superhero because he's smart. Batman is one of the world's greatest detectives (or the world's greatest; scholars differ) thanks to sheer brains and drive—only fitting for a graduate of one of the world's greatest law schools. In sum: the man is an overachiever.

Then too, like Yalies of every era, Batman makes use of connections in high places (Commissioner Gordon). He forges productive partnerships through networking (Robin; the occasional special-issue team-up with Superman). As Bruce Wayne, he boasts a great deal of inherited wealth—still true of a solid minority of Yale alumni. He believes in public service, an ideal espoused by Yale at its founding and energetically promoted by Yale today. And, like many Yalies, he works out a lot.

But the truth is, only one man really knows why Batman went to Yale.

Sal Amendola, an illustrator and teacher, started at DC Comics in 1969 and spent more than 20 years in the business, earning a 1987 nomination from the National Cartoonists Society as Best Comic Book Artist. In comics, sometimes the artist is the author; before any words were added to "Night of the Stalker," Sal drafted the story outline and drew all the panels, including the final panel that features the historic diploma.

I called Sal in Brooklyn to ask him about that scene. At first, it seemed he might not have the answer. When I introduced myself and said I wanted to discuss "Night of the Stalker," he was puzzled. Why would someone at Yale be calling him? And about a story from so long ago?

Because, I said, in that final panel, Batman is crying in Bruce Wayne's study, which is filled with sculptures and upscale 1970s accessories, and on the wall—and here Sal interrupted: "Oh, yeah. I put a diploma from Yale on the wall."

Sal explained, first, why he gave a law degree to a superhero who operates outside the law: "I always thought of him as a dual personality. As Bruce Wayne he is a bleeding-heart liberal do-gooder, and as Batman he is a vigilante conservative." And both are "so determined to right wrongs and end injustice."

And why Yale? Sal said he'd been living in Connecticut at the time, and he had visited New Haven. "I thought Yale was a place someone like that would want to go," he said. "He wanted to develop himself as much as possible, physically and mentally. It just all seemed to be logical."

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best. Yale: a place where you go in order to grow and improve. Thank you, Sal.

And a final note to alumni. If you happen to run into Bruce Wayne at a reunion, do drop us a line.  


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