As the Bat-Family steps up in 2022, we rank Batmans best supporting characters

Batman is a loner, but over the past 80-plus years the Dark Knight has cultivated a group of heroes we affectionately call ‘the Bat-Family.’ From costumed heroes like the Caped Crusader himself to police, doctors, and even a fatherly butler, the Bat-Family is as big a part of the Batman mythos as, well… Batman.

And that Bat-family will be put to the test in the coming months, as Batman (both Batmans, in fact) are leaving Gotham City. Without the Dark Knight(s), the extended Bat-family is stepping up to be Gotham City’s protectors in the classic Detective Comics title, as well as the spin-off books Nightwing, Robin, Robins, Batgirls, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and more.

This new Batman-less status quo serves as something of a mirror to the upcoming game Gotham Knights.

So as we’re about to turn the page into a new year, it’s as good a time as any to rank the best members of the enterprising Batman family.

Dr. Leslie Thompkins

Doctor Leslie Thompkins

Doctor Leslie Thompkins (Image credit: DC)

With all the fights Batman gets into, duct tape and stitches from Alfred (when he was alive) can only get you so far. Doctor Leslie Thompkins is in effect the Wayne family physician, often dealing with Batman and his associates’ wounds from their war on crime. But she’s more than that.

Introduced by Dennis O’Neil and Dick Giordano back in 1976’s Detective Comics #457 (opens in new tab), Thompkins was revealed to be a family friend and medical colleague of Bruce Wayne’s father and was one of several stand-in parental figures to Bruce after Thomas and Martha’s murders. And it was that tragic event that pushed Thompkins to set up her own street clinic to help the poor and indigent of Gotham City.

And she’s not afraid to stand up to Batman, taking him to task on more than one occasion for his deeds and for working outside the law. She’s criticized him for his penchant for bringing children such as Robin, Spoiler, and Batgirl into dangerous situations while keeping an open door for whenever he needed it.

Tim Drake / Robin / Red Robin

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

To some, Tim Drake is just one in a long line of boy wonders to take the mantle of Robin and fight alongside Batman. But for fans who came of age in the ’90s and ’00s, Tim Drake is the definitive Robin.

“[Tim Drake] is ‘the smart one’ of the Bat-family, the thinker and planner,” writer Fabian Nicieza told Newsarama. “I mean, of course, Bruce Wayne/Batman is what he is, and Tim isn’t quite there yet, but Tim at 17 has a more developed intellect than Bruce at 17 did. That’s not to say Dick Grayson or Barbara Gordon are dumb, of course, they’re not, but Tim’s level of thinking is a bit… thicker… than theirs. For me, Dick is about superior reflexive thinking, Barbara about superior operational thinking, and Tim is about superior comprehensive, or all-encompassing, thinking.”

Unlike his predecessors, Tim Drake’s time as the main Robin showed him as a more holistic hero, soaking up in-the-field experiences and training exercises like a sponge no matter who or what the source. At age nine he was able to figure out Batman’s secret identity as Bruce Wayne, and as a teenager, he grudgingly earned the respect of Batman arch-nemesis Ra’s al Ghul.

Damian Wayne / Robin

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

Bruce Wayne’s single-minded war on crime as Batman all began when he found himself an orphan in the bloody shadow of his parents’ murdered bodies. The presence Bruce’s parents have on him to this day plays a big part in who he is as a man. So what would he be like as a father? And what kind of son would he raise?

Those are the kinds of questions raised by Damian Wayne. Introduced by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert in 2006’s Batman #655 (opens in new tab), he literally was the son that Bruce Wayne never knew he had. Conceived from a one-night tryst between Batman and Talia al Ghul and subsequently kept a secret from the world, Damian was raised by the League of Assassins to be the ultimate warrior. 

Impetuous and unrefined, Damian still sees the truth in his father’s quest and abandons the League to fight by his father’s side and try to gain his approval.

Barbara Gordon / Batgirl / Oracle

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

Although Gotham City’s top cop James Gordon, is her real father, Batman is a father figure to Barbara Gordon, who has fought crime as both Batgirl and Oracle.

Created back in the mid-’60s when the Adam West Batman television show was looking for a shot in the arm, Barbara (who would become affectionately known as ‘Babs’) was ushered into comics continuity in 1967’s Detective Comics #359 (opens in new tab) under the sizzling story title ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl.’ 

Dressed up as a female Batman for a costume ball, Barbara winds up thwarting a kidnapping attempt while in costume. Although admonished by Batman to stop her costumed crime-fighting, Barbara already had taste for it, and her days as a superhero were only just beginning.

Working as a librarian by day, for decades Barbara fought crime as Batgirl in both solo adventures and team-ups with Batman. In 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke (opens in new tab), she was targeted by the Joker in an attempt to punish James Gordon and left paralyzed after being shot in the spine at point-blank range. That tragic event took a while for readers and even DC’s comic editors and writers to process, but a year later writer Jim Ostrander started a new chapter for Barbara, introducing her as wheelchair-bound but highly capable Oracle. One part hacker, one part crime-fighting traffic controller, Barbara became the key source of information for Batman and other heroes while adapting to her paralysis and learning combat techniques she could use from her wheelchair.

In 2011, Barbara Gordon returned to her role as Batgirl thanks to some technical innovations. In recent months, however, Babs has begun to embrace her Oracle role more often as it’s been implied the technology that repaired her spine is wearing down with hand-to-hand crimefighting accelerating the process. 

Although she hasn’t fully retired her Batgirl persona yet, Barbara has recently taken on Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown as protege Batgirls leaving the fieldwork mostly to them.

Jason Todd / Robin / Red Hood

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

It’s hard to measure up when you’re constantly compared to someone else. And it’s harder yet to come back from the dead. But Jason Todd has done both and lived to tell the tale.

Originally introduced in the ’80s as a replacement for Dick Grayson (who moved on to his now long-time Nightwing identity), Jason first met Batman when he was caught trying to steal the wheels off the Batmobile. Admiring that spunk, Batman took in the indigent youth and groomed him to become the second Robin. Although less acrobatic than his predecessor, Todd had more of a fighter’s spirit having grown up on the street. But at the end of the day, Todd could emerge from the shadow of the original Robin, and fans voted via a 1-900 number to have him killed off by the Joker.

But Jason wouldn’t stay dead (few comic book characters do), and he returned to life post-Infinite Crisis. For most of his career since his return, Jason has been something of the black sheep (red-hooded black sheep) of the Bat-family, fighting on his own as a violent antihero and never quite fitting into the mold of traditional Batman supporting cast.

In recent months, however, Jason has found himself gravitating back towards being a member of the Bat-family in good standing.

Selina Kyle / Catwoman

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

Who else can get under Bruce Wayne’s skin and still remain on his good side as much as Selina Kyle? Through her years fighting against and fighting alongside Batman, Catwoman has shown him that she’s more than just a villain, more than a crime-fighting colleague, and more than just another in a long line of love interests to Bruce Wayne.

Originally inspired by actor Jean Harlow, Catwoman has grown from skirted Betty Page type to be a modern-day Robin Hood of sorts, using her full arsenal of skills to stomp out injustice through frequently less-than-legal methods.

As far as Bruce and Selina’s relationship goes, it’s complicated. Their on-again-off-again romance seemingly peaked when the pair very nearly got married – however, Catwoman ended up leaving Batman at the altar. 

Batman and Catwoman’s relationship is currently in a liminal state, although former Batman writer Tom King is in the middle of an alternate continuity storyline in a series called Batman/Catwoman in which the two do end up together, and even have a child.

Dick Grayson / Robin / Nightwing / Batman

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

Trust is a big issue. And it seems of all the heroes that Batman has chosen to fight alongside, it’s Dick Grayson he trusts most. Trusts with all his secrets, and as we’ve seen on more than one occasion, trusts to take on the mantle of Batman when Bruce cannot.

Introduced in 1940 as a pint-sized injection of youth into the often dour Detective Comics, Dick was the first Robin and, to many, the best. Far from being a simple junior version of Batman the way some sidekicks are (or were, sidekicks are no longer in style), Dick-as-Robin was a spry and energetic soul with tremendous athletic ability.

When Dick discarded the Robin guise for the more mature Nightwing persona, he applied what he learned from Batman’s guidance but he also wasn’t afraid of being his own man. Although he’s had adventures on his own and with the Teen Titans and even for a short time abandoned superheroics to serve as more of a super-spy, Dick’s best place remains overlapping with Batman’s in the DC Universe Venn diagram but as more of an equal and a colleague than as a sidekick.

James Gordon

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

Batman fights crime outside of the confines of the law, and its top cop James Gordon’s job is to balance the needs of the famously corrupt and crime-ridden Gotham City by not getting in Batman’s way while still maintaining some level, of true law and order. 

Introduced way back in Batman’s first appearance, 1939’s Detective Comics #27 (opens in new tab), Gordon is one of the Caped Crusader’s oldest confidantes and allies. Much like Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock Holmes, he’s Batman’s man inside the system whether Gordon likes it or not. On most occasions, it is Gordon who calls Batman in via his trusty Bat-signal to consult on a case the police can’t solve on their own, but on several occasions Gordon has even served as a surprising backup just when Batman needed him.

The best example of this was one of the final ‘New 52’ Batman arcs, in which Bruce Wayne is presumed dead for a brief time and Gordon actually takes his place as Batman – complete with mechanized Bat-armor. 

In current DC continuity Gordon has retired from the police force (ceding the police commissioner role to Renee Montaya), but remains on the job in a single-minded pursuit of the Joker through the villain’s current ongoing comic book series.

Alfred Pennyworth

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

Whatever you do, don’t call Alfred Pennyworth a mere butler. In various stories, he’s been shown to be a former actor, combat medic, and British Special Forces agent. But most of all he’s Batman’s chief confidante and Bruce Wayne’s primary father figure.

Although originally introduced as a comedic funnyman to offset Batman, Alfred grew to become a multi-faceted and stabilizing force for Master Bruce. And of all the characters we’ve ranked so far, he’s one of the only allies in Batman’s orbit unafraid of disagreeing with the Dark Knight, sometimes providing a skeptical view on Batman’s high-minded goals along with some much-needed grounding when he needs it.

In some ways, he’s Batman’s own personal hero given how essential Alfred is to only the superhero but to the man himself. Although he’ll like never don a costume and hit the streets crime-fighting per se, Alfred combats injustice in his own way by helping make Batman the hero he is.

In the finale of writer Tom King’s Batman run in 2020, supervillain Bane ends up killing Alfred. As expected, the death of his surrogate father seriously traumatized Bruce Wayne along with the entire Bat-family for whom Alfred was a grandfather/uncle figure. 

He remains out of the picture for now but in true comic book fashion, he’ll almost certainly reemerge among the living eventually and probably sooner than later.

Thomas & Martha Wayne

Batman family

(Image credit: DC)

How can a pair of characters only seen in flashbacks be the most important supporting characters in Batman’s life? In life, Martha and Thomas Wayne gave their young son Bruce a foundation of goodness and an example of serving their fellow persons in need. In their death and the circumstance of their tragic murder, they serve as the driving force that makes Batman the most determined superhero at DC or any other publisher.

Take out any other character from Batman’s life and he’s still Batman, but if Martha and Thomas Wayne weren’t who they were and didn’t die the way they died, Batman would never exist.

Thomas Wayne was a gifted surgeon and one of the foremost philanthropists in Gotham City. With Martha, they were one of Gotham’s de facto royalty. Their deaths outside a crowded movie house set Bruce down a path that would eventually lead to becoming the Batman. 

In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: Dark Victory (opens in new tab), the creative team proposed that the murder of such a prominent family set off a chain of events that led Gotham to become the dark city that we know today, showing criminals that no crime was off-limits and showing cops that they couldn’t solve everything.

So in a way, Martha and Thomas weren’t just the catalysts for Batman, for they shaped the city that is such a prominent part of the larger Batman mythos. 

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