* Warning: this article contains spoilers for the Joker War arc and subsequent storylines in Batman comics.*
The lives of high-profile billionaires often read like works of fiction. Whether they are pioneering space travel, innovating Earth transport, or crossing a street, we’re used to learning about the super-rich from headlines and social media posts. No matter how unreal those snippets seem, they don’t come near the life and career of one of comics’ most famous billionaires.
In the pages of DC Comics, billionaire Bruce Wayne is best known as the playboy owner of Wayne Enterprises, but criminals and villains know him better in the cowl and cape of his alter-ego Batman.
As the Dark Knight is sometimes best explored in the context of a team, the fortunes of his billionaire alter-ego may make more sense in the company of DC’s rich and famous. After all, what does a massive personal fortune mean in a multiverse packed with metahumans, magic, and cosmic threats? Arch-criminal Lex Luthor, who once used his clout and wealth to become President of the United States, is a significant rival. Unsurprisingly, he and Wayne have clashed on battlefields and in board rooms, although their corporate tangles tend to be more tit-for-tat than their deadly scraps.
In the Arkham Knight video game, Luthor failed in an attempt to take over Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences Division. After the fallout of the comic book event Infinite Crisis, with Luthor facing disgrace, Wayne snapped up LexCorp stocks.
After the devastating events of No Man’s Land, Wayne found legal routes to stop Luthor from taking control of Gotham. Ever vengeful, the Metropolis billionaire subsequently had his Gotham rival framed for murder. Both can afford high-stakes games, and they’re evenly matched in many ways, but it’s clear Wayne hasn’t gained his fortune in the same infamous and ruthless ways as Luthor. So how has Bruce Wayne done it?
The Wayne fortune
Bruce Wayne’s fortune is tied to his tragic childhood. Orphaned at a young age, he was the sole heir of Wayne Enterprises, a company with roots reaching back to 17th century Gotham.
As it developed into a diversified multinational conglomerate, Wayne Enterprises remained headquartered in Gotham City’s Wayne Tower for many years. Wayne Enterprises presents much like the global companies we come into contact with every day, albeit with an endless number of subsidiaries. These include Wayne Aerospace, Wayne Energy, Wayne Construction, Wayne Entertainment, Wayne Foods, and many more.
Although he’s been the majority shareholder and chairman for much of his life, Wayne’s attention has been elsewhere. While he’s benefited financially, running Wayne Enterprises and its philanthropic wing, the Wayne Foundation, is something the billionaire leaves to his confidant Lucius Fox.
Money, what is it good for?
You may remember Barry Allen asking Bruce Wayne about his special powers in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The billionaire’s response is funny as it is true: “I’m rich.”
Batman wouldn’t be possible without access to the massive resources of the Wayne Family fortune and his corporate business. Wayne’s wealth allowed him to run and maintain the Bat Family, and ensure that the shadow of the bat didn’t fall far from Gotham City.
After the comic event Final Crisis, Wayne returned from the dead (actually, he crawled through time after disagreeing with Darkseid’s Omega Beams), an event that changes a man. After publicly declaring that he’d been funding Batman for years, Wayne founded Batman Inc. to extend that financing to Batman’s allies worldwide.
Aligning Wayne with Batman was a calculated double-bluff. Wayne’s fortune is essential for funding the Dark Knight’s activities as much as providing a cover. It pays for the expensive cars, high-profile events, and benefactor’s balls, with leftover money for seltzers and pain killers.
Wayne’s childhood tragedy is an immovable part of Batman’s myth, but his immense fortune has been changeable. Batman is one of the most adaptable characters in popular culture, and his wealth has also fluctuated.
How much is Bruce Wayne worth?
The recent Joker War comic book arc confirmed Bruce Wayne’s wealth peaked at $100 billion.
That figure places Wayne in the top ten of Forbes’ rich list 2022. He would be lodged between technology giants Steve Ballmer and Larry Ellison, neither of whom, as far as we know, operate as secret vigilantes.
That’s a leap from Forbes’ 2013 analysis, which calculated the Wayne of Batman Begins to be worth a cool but underwhelming $9 billion. The variation is all part of Batman’s changing fortunes over eight decades.
Batman without a fortune
The Joker War saga had a reason to pin a value on Brue Wayne’s wealth: he lost it. During the James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez’s 2019 storyline, Joker launched one of his sanest and most effective plans to undermine Batman. Having uncovered his secret identity, he stole Wayne’s fortune. Hitting the alter-ego is a tried and tested method that’s supported classic comic arcs over the years. One of the best examples is Frank Miller’s Born Again storyline, in which Kingpin discovered Daredevil’s true identity and systematically destroyed Matt Murdock’s life. Over in Gotham, it reversed the fortunes of Joker and Batman.
The comics had explored a wealthy Joker before. In Detective Comics #180, the Clown Prince of Crime inherited a fortune from an enemy and attempted to become a Gotham socialite. It went surprisingly well until Joker realized it was a trap and that he owed the IRS a huge inheritance tax bill. What could he do but return to crime?
It wasn’t the first time Bruce Wayne’s fortune had changed either. In fact, it took him a while to become a billionaire.
Fortunes of Wayne
Bruce Wayne was introduced as a socialite in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. That implied he was well known but not necessarily wealthy. Early girlfriends repeatedly teased him about not having a real job, and the young Bruce Wayne kept it cool when he explained, “Dad’s estate left me wealthy.” He was a long way off describing himself as a billionaire, which would have been quite a statement. A billion dollars in 1938 money would have 20 times that purchasing power today.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Bruce Wayne was called a millionaire. In World’s Finest #52, a reporter was surprised to learn that Bruce Wayne was worth $1 million. Even then, comic writers were happy to use Wayne’s wealth as light relief. The punchline to one bizarre Silver Age story, in which Batman was desperate to spend a briefcase of $1 million, was the Caped Crusader warning Robin Dick Grayson that he didn’t have the money to buy him a bicycle for his birthday. Looking back, that may be where Batman’s darker persona began.
Joker War wasn’t the first time Bruce Wayne had lost his fortune. As far back as Detective Comics #105, Batman had fallen prey to bad investments. When his treasurer embezzled funds from his new motor company, Wayne lost his $3 million fortune. Fortunately, those were simpler times, and Robin and Alfred took on odd jobs to make ends meet. A brilliant cover showed the Dynamic Duo trying to sell the Batmobile, although the Wayne fortune was restored by the end of the story.
Joker War made sure the consequences stuck, even if we are yet to see a garage sale in the Batcave. As Batman #101 confirmed, the Joker’s plot didn’t leave Wayne penniless. Lucius Fox managed to recoup the Wayne fortune, but there was a catch: with increased Board scrutiny, Wayne was no longer able to finance his nighttime vigilante activities from the almost limitless pockets of his family company.
The “generous annual fee” Wayne Enterprises allows him means Wayne can continue his nocturnal and day activities, albeit on a severe budget. There’s better drama to be drawn from a Batman working on a shoestring than a destitute Dark Knight. An added twist is that the events of Joker War left Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, richer than his former guardian after inheriting billions from Alfred Pennyworth. It’s a fascinating shift in familiar characters that is grounded in personal crises. Plus, the former Robin can now afford any bike he wants.
Wayne’s wealth is currently well below its peak of $100 billion, but history suggests it won’t be for long. His fortune has a historic tendency to increase. Green Arrow, ally and fellow billionaire, put it best in Justice League #63 when he told Batman he’d taken over funding the Hall of Justice:
“I know you’re cash poor at the moment, so don’t sweat any of this. I’ve been there. You’ll bounce back.”