There may be no fictional origin more well-known around the world than that of the Batman, the Caped Crusader of Gotham City who began a lifelong campaign of vengeance on the criminal elements of the world after his parents were slain in an alley. Bruce Wayne might be the most prominent figure who turned his tragic backstory and considerable resources into significant martial prowess on a quest for justice, but he’s not the only one. There are some who come from the pages of actual real-world history.
There are actors from old Hollywood who could surely pretend to be him, but they wouldn't be equivalent to the real Dark Knight. That doesn’t mean, however, there haven’t been legions of passable Batmen throughout history. The character of Bruce Wayne was reportedly inspired by both Robert the Bruce and “Mad Anthony” Wayne, and each of them certainly qualifies as historical figures that would have fit in well in Gotham City, but they’re not the only ones!
What does it take to be the Batman? Many things, but most importantly a tragic background; a sense of justice and individuality; some serious fighting skills and tactical brilliance; and, of course, as much money and influence as possible.
The “billionaire playboy with a love of danger” aspect of Batman’s character is perhaps best embodied in real-world history by Howard Hughes in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Like Bruce Wayne, Hughes inherited enormous wealth and influence at a young age when his parents perished, and he used that money to fund a life of adventure.
Hughes wasn’t just an aviator; he was an innovator. As does the Dark Knight, Hughes designed and built most of his own rides, including military planes. He even invented the first retractable landing gear. He wasn’t afraid to put his considerably privileged life on the line, either, setting several speed records, including the fastest-ever flight around the world in 1938 of 91 hours and 14 minutes.
Just like Batman, Hughes occasionally teamed up with the authorities, such as the time he helped the CIA cover up its plot to recover a lost Soviet sub. Several versions of Bruce's tale, including The Dark Knight Rises, feature him eventually becoming a recluse similar to Hughes, a famed obsessive-compulsive germaphobe who lived and worked from the top floor of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, NV.
5425The Dark Knight?
- Age: Dec. at 71 (1905-1976)
- Birthplace: Texas, USA, Humble
Abraham Lincoln’s sense of justice can’t be questioned, but it’s actually his fistic prowess that marks his greatest similarity to Gotham’s Caped Crusader. In addition to being a fantastic wrestler in his youth, Lincoln was always willing to fight. During an infamous incident, he accepted a duel against a political enemy and then selected broadswords as his instrument of choice. In the end, mutual friends intervened before either man could get injured.
Lincoln even had his own Joker of sorts in John Wilkes Booth, who conspired for years to bring him down and harm his allies. The night in which he slayed Lincoln, Booth had a larger plot that the Clown Prince of Crime would surely endorse. It was meant to be a mission of multiple coordinated strikes aimed at bringing down the whole US government. It could be said that this was Booth’s own Legion of Doom, built up to counter Lincoln’s Social Justice League.
5740The Dark Knight?
- Age: Dec. at 56 (1809-1865)
- Birthplace: Hodgenville, Kentucky, USA
In many ways, Alexander of Macedonia’s story mirrors that of Bruce Wayne. Spurred on to vengeful greatness by the political slaying of his father King Philip II in 336 AD, Alexander the Great channeled his grief into a campaign of imperial expansion the likes of which the world had never seen - and he did it all through strategic brilliance and masterful planning. Much like the Batman is said to have a plan for everything, Alexander won conflict after conflict by analyzing his enemy and the terrain until he could devise yet another ingenious method of ensuring victory.
Alexander didn’t give commands from his proverbial Batcave, either. His tactics often involved making himself and his cavalry the centerpiece, charging headlong into their enemies’ weak spots and slashing through henchmen in an attempt to get his hands on "big bads" like Darius III. That’s because Alexander had a multifaceted upbringing in which he was trained martially by his father and academically by Aristotle, mimicking Wayne’s globetrotting journey of enlightenment on the way to becoming the Dark Knight.
3822The Dark Knight?
- Age: Dec. at 33 (355 BC-322 BC)
- Birthplace: Pella, Greece
Born in the late 18th century, the life of James "Jim" Bowie shares some surprising similarities with that of the Caped Crusader, not the least of which is the invention of his own signature device. While some sources differ on whether Bowie or his brother created the bowie knife, the blade definitely came to be associated with Bowie - much like Batman and his Batarangs.
Despite his reputation as a ruffian, Bowie eventually garnered enough wealth to join the high society of New Orleans, making him the baddest bourgeois since Bruce Wayne. He’s also got some fights on the record that wouldn’t look out of place in a Silver Age comic, such as the time Bowie supposedly won a knife fight with his arm tied to his opponents’ - or, in another version, fought while held to a log by nailed-down pants.
Perishing at the Alamo is even further evidence of Bowie’s superheroism, upstaging Batman himself who, too, has been known to make his own brave last stands.
2814The Dark Knight?
- Birthplace: USA, Kentucky