Batman made his debut in Detective Comics in 1939 and then 18 years later a similar character showed up in the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. That character is Francisco d’Anconia. These are two of my favorite fictional heroes, and I was delighted to discover that they have a lot in common with each other. They are both fabulously wealthy businessmen who use their power and influence to change the world for the better. And I’m going to reveal how Bruce Wayne and Francisco d’Anconia are different sides of the same coin.
Bruce Wayne wears a mask and calls himself Batman to hide his identity. He does this to prevent anyone from discovering his true intentions and preventing him from doing his job effectively. He goes out at night to fight crime and defend the helpless citizens of Gotham City.
Francisco d’Anconia hides in plain sight, making people believe he’s an irresponsible loafer when he’s really a man of action. At two points in the novel, he goes by the name of Frank Adams to prevent anyone from stopping him from taking jobs that seem to be far below his station. He mostly comes out at night to attend parties and give elegant speeches in defense of the voiceless.
In most iterations, Bruce creates the façade of being a worthless playboy by pretending to sleep with beautiful supermodels. In reality, he’s merely being photographed with them in order to provide an alibi for his escapades as the Caped Crusader. The floozies he associates with mean nothing to him and he ditches them without a second thought.
Francisco takes it a step further by creating the impression of sleeping with women to not only make himself look like a playboy, but also to make the women understand their own worthlessness. Each woman who attempts to seduce him wants the prestige of being known to the world as the one who triumphed over such a great man by dragging him down to her bed. But when they discover that he has no interest in having anything to do with them, they lose any self-esteem they once had and realize that they would have to lie to the world about sleeping with him in order to create the impression of being great in others’ eyes. Even though they can make others believe they did what they say they did, they know that they are actually frauds. He accomplishes the same result as Bruce, but Francisco adds another layer of purpose to his actions.
Bruce fights injustice with his fists while Francisco fights with his words. Neither one wishes to kill anyone, but they also don’t wish to spare them the consequences of their actions. This is epitomized by Batman’s line to Ra’s al Ghul at the climax of Batman Begins, “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”
The equivalent line from Francisco comes after giving his famous speech on the nature of money. A woman tells him he is heartless, and he responds, “Madam, when we’ll see men dying of starvation around us, your heart won’t be of any earthly use to save them. And I’m heartless enough to say that when you’ll scream, ‘But I didn’t know it!’—you will not be forgiven.”
Bruce spends decades fighting the criminal element in Gotham City and, in most cases, he is no closer to ending criminality than when he began. Francisco, on the other hand, spends a little over a decade fighting the evil that is destroying the world, and he actually succeeds at bringing it to its knees by the end. Of course, Batman exists in the world of comic books where a never-ending supply of villains and storylines is a must while Francisco exists in a novel with a clear beginning, middle, and end. So it’s not fair to judge them against each other because they exist on two different planes of storytelling.
Rescuing the Innocent
Bruce’s goal is to prevent any other innocent children from being orphaned the way he was. To do this, he dresses as a bat and strikes fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere.
Francisco’s goal is to prevent any other brilliant minds from being tortured the way he was because of his greatness. To do this, he speaks to them privately once they’ve seen enough of their enemies’ tactics and convinces them that the only way to win is to stop supporting their oppressors.
Heir to the Family Business
Bruce is the last in a long line of Waynes dating back at least to the Civil War. His company Wayne Enterprises has existed for generations, and it’s the source of his family’s wealth. Upon his parents’ untimely death, Bruce became the owner of Wayne Enterprises, but he mostly leaves the day-to-day operations to other men who he can trust so he can devote his attention to fighting Gotham City’s crime and corruption.
Francisco is also the last in a line of d’Anconias dating back at least to the Spanish Inquisition. His company d’Anconia Copper has existed since his ancestor left Spain and came to South America to start a mining concern. Upon his father’s death, Francisco became the president of d’Anconia Copper, but he mostly leaves the day-to-day operations to less-able men so he can devote his attention to ridding the world of corruption.
Bruce doesn’t seem to care much about his company except as a tool to help him fight criminals. Francisco, on the other hand, cares deeply about his company, which makes his actions that much more ironic.
Destroying a Fortune
At the end of the 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, Bruce fakes his own death as he destroys Wayne Manor and eliminates his family fortune. Every stock is sold and not a single penny is left in any of his bank accounts. He remains a mystery to the end.
Near the end of Atlas Shrugged, Francisco disappears as he destroys every piece of property owned by d’Anconia Copper and spends every last cent of his fortune. Nothing is left for the looters to exploit.
In Batman: Year Two, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, among other stories and iterations of the character, becoming Batman costs Bruce the woman he loves. His desire to avenge his parents and wage war on crime comes at a terrible price, but he’s willing to pay it.
Francisco also has to give up the only woman he ever loved, Dagny Taggart, in order to complete his mission of ridding the world of evil. His pretense of being a playboy pushes her away for years and breaks her heart, and she never fully recovers from the loss, even when she learns the truth about him. She winds up falling in love with another man, much like what happens to Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight.
A Bright Future
Returning to The Dark Knight Returns, after Bruce fakes his death, he goes into hiding with an army of young people he will train to be like him. This groundswell of disciples will hopefully reform the world in the coming decades, long after Bruce has died.
At the very end of Atlas Shrugged, we learn that Francisco survived and is now living in a valley far away from the notice of mankind. He is surrounded by other like-minded individuals he has gathered out of the world, and they intend to work together to forge a new society in their own image once the old one’s corrupt structures have collapsed. They don’t have to wait decades, but they begin right as the novel concludes.
I love looking for similarities in movies, characters, and people in general because doing so gives me a new perspective on the things I already enjoy. Two things with seemingly nothing in common, such as a comic book and a philosophical novel, take on even greater significance when compared to each other.
Now we know that these two iconic characters have an awful lot in common. Perhaps we’ll start calling this comparison of Bruce Wayne and Francisco d’Anconia Batlas Shrugged.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Very cool. These are also two of my favorite characters, and it is fascinating to consider the ways they are similar. Thanks, Rob.
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The Scarlet Pimpernel is arguably a precursor of both characters. A wealthy man who pretended to be a fop, even at the risk of alienating his wife, to infiltrate revolutionary France. The Dark Knight Rises featured a revolutionary court pulled right out of the French Revolution.
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