I remember a few years ago there was a Facebook post that went around asking a bunch of questions in order to get to know people better. One of the questions was “what superpower would you want?” I answered that I didn’t want any superpowers, just money like Batman.
Batman’s often held up as the prime example of a superhero that doesn’t have super powers. It makes some sense. He may be obscenely wealthy, but the extent of his origin is that he experienced tragedy and used it as motivation. Through hard work and extensive resources, he transformed himself into someone who could match, or even surpass, the rest of the Justice League. It makes a great feel-good story about how humans aren’t as weak as they may seem when compared to the rest of the DC universe.
It’s also completely false. Batman has shown time and again that he possesses superhuman abilities. The only difference between him and any other superpowered being is that, for some reason, Bruce Wayne isn’t aware that his abilities fall into the realm of the superhuman.
Power 1: Superhuman Intelligence
Let’s assume for a moment that Bruce Wayne is a normal human, meaning that he doesn’t have superpowers. Normal humans need to sleep. Even the Uberman sleep schedule, in which a person sleeps for a total of 2 hours during a 24 hour period wouldn’t work for Batman, since it requires a 20 minute nap every 4 hours. There’s no flexibility in the schedule, and Batman can’t just stop chasing down the Joker because his Bat-nap alarm goes off. The Everyman schedule (3 total hours of sleep, but with some flexibility) may be a bit better, but is still likely to cause Batman problems during a crisis. (Not to mention the fact that polyphasic sleep schedules have been shown to reduce, not eliminate sleep deprivation symptoms.)
Since Bruce needs to sleep, let’s put him on the Everyman schedule. That gives him 3 hours of sleep a day, so 21 hours per day to train/eat/do Batman stuff. We’ll also say that he started this schedule about the same time he started training to become Batman around age 14. According to Batman: Year One, Bruce is 25 when he first starts fighting crime as Batman. That gives Bruce 11 years to travel and train (from DC’s official Batman Wiki):
While abroad, he studied and received training in multiple martial arts under various instructors and in different countries, man-hunting under Frenchman Henri Ducard, stealth and reconnaissance under the Japanese ninja Kirigi and other certified shinobi, hunting under the African Bushman (the Ghost Tribes of the Ten-Eyed Brotherhood, among others), hand-to hand combat under the tutelage of Ted Grant, a World Champion Boxer and David Cain, one of the world’s premier assassins; traditional healing disciplines under Nepalese monks and even ventriloquism under skilled practitioners . Bruce was also trained in archery by Oliver Queen.
Technically, he did all that by age 20, but we’ll give him a little extra time. For the sake of ease, let’s follow Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which states that world-class mastery of any skill requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. (I know it’s been debunked, but it still works as a general guideline.) If Bruce focuses on a single skill exclusively for the entire 21 hours that he’s awake every day, then it would take him about a year and three months to master it. If he takes an hour each day to eat and practice basic hygiene, then that adds an extra month. There are 8 skills listed in that quote above, so mastering all of them would have taken the entire 11 years. The problem is that Bruce also studied in several Universities during that time and, according to the Batman Wiki:
He has studied Biology, Technology, Mathematics, Physics, Mythology, Geography, & History. Gained degrees in Criminal Science, Forensics, Computer Science, Chemistry and Engineering by the time he was 21. He has mastered Diverse Environmental Training, Security Systems, and illusion/sleight of hand by the time he was 23. He gained even more degrees in Biology, Physics, Advanced Chemistry, and Technology by the time he was 25. He has learned Forensic, Medical Sciences, Expanded Computer and Engineering Sciences, and Expanded Device Pool use of personal powered armor and system, database creation on underworld crime bosses, rogue’s gallery foes and other supers; improved material sciences for body armor and micro-machinery by the time he was 26.
That’s more than 20 additional skills that he’s supposed to have mastered by the age of 25. Add to that the fact that he’s able to speak at least 8 languages, and he’s probably sitting at close to 40 skills that he should have mastered by his mid twenties. Even if he’s an exceptional prodigy in every one of those fields and can master them in a mere 3000 hours (about 6 months if practicing 20 hours per day), it should have taken him over 15 years to accomplish the feat. 15 years! And, that’s assuming he didn’t take a single break the entire time. No recreation, no relaxing, just constant study and practice for 20 hours every day, but, somehow, he did it in less than 11 years.
That’s inhuman. At bare minimum, Batman’s superpower is mental and physical intelligence that’s far beyond the realm of humanity (and I didn’t even mention his perfect recall of all those skills).
Power 2: Superhuman Strength
Batman’s second power is his physical strength. While it may not be in the same realm as Superman, Aquaman, or Wonderwoman, it’s still far greater than any non-superpowered human.
I’m not going to take the time to detail many of the examples, let’s just say that Batman has repeatedly shown the ability to lift over 1000 lbs. (453 kgs). That’s not just doing a bench press either. That’s overhead lifts, dead lifts, and a variety of pulls, rows, squats, and just about anything else you can think of.
The world record for a bench press is just over 1100 lbs. (500 kg.), and only the elite powerlifters can get anywhere near 1000 lbs. if they use a bench shirt. Without the specialized equipment, the world record is less than 750 lbs. (340 kg.) The comics have shown Bruce Wayne doing strength training (sometimes while injured) with about that much weight. If he’s comfortable lifting 700+ lbs, while injured, or without a spotter or bench shirt, then he’s not just a world class powerlifter, he’s easily the best in history. Not only that, but he doesn’t even specialize in lifting. He stays agile and isn’t even close to being as bulky as pretty much every other world-class power lifter. Add together those factors and it becomes clear that his physical strength is far beyond what an unpowered human could accomplish.
Batman’s superhuman strength isn’t just in terms of raw power either. It’s in the strength of his tendons and bones. When Batman jumps/is thrown/pushed off of a building and catches some protrusion in order to stop his fall, he’s showing that his body is far more durable than that of a standard human. While scarce, and often rationalized, there’s evidence that Batman also has some low level healing factor (I know he received a healing device from Supergirl, but many of his injuries happened long before he got that piece of tech). It’s nothing compared to other characters like Wolverine or Superman, but Batman has survived numerous injuries that would, at minimum, cripple a normal human. He’s also shown an extreme resistance to poisons and toxins.
Power 3: Invisibility or Superhuman Speed
It’s hard to tell which one is really at play here. Either Batman can become invisible (and not just stealthy, ninja, ‘you can’t see me’ invisibility, I’m talking literal invisibility) or he moves at superhuman speed. This is evidenced by the so-called ‘vanishing act’ that Batman pulls. It’s pretty common. Batman’s there, talking to someone about something, then the next instant, he’s gone, leaving the other person alone, talking to the air.
Batman pulls this stunt on Jim Gordon most often, but he’s also done it to members of the Justice League. The fact that he’s been able to do it to Superman, Martian Manhunter, the Flash, as well as many other superpowered beings indicates that his vanishing act is much more than just moving really quietly. When Batman pulls this stunt, he seems to be immune to Superman’s x-ray vision, as well as his super-hearing (there’s an instance in which Batman is using a device to mask his heartbeat, but that still doesn’t explain how he muted his cape or footsteps). He also seems immune to Martian Manhunter’s telepathy. In multiple instances, Batman vanishes in the time it takes to blink. Rarely, he’s even vanished while being directly observed. This implies that invisibility is the actual power (though moving at near light speed is still possible).
Power 4: Psychic Powers
These are less defined than his other abilities, but Batman does seem to have some level of psychic ability. Most often this is shown by his resistance to mind control. While the justification is that he accomplishes that resistance through sheer willpower, the fact that he’s able to resist the abilities of those who have subdued other superpowered characters indicates that Batman’s ability is superhuman.
Batman also radiates fear in a way that suggest some form of psychic manipulation. His ability to strike fear into others is powerful enough that he was recruited to the Sinestro Corps, and has demonstrated the ability to use their yellow power rings.
Lastly, and this is mostly speculation, I believe that Batman has some level of clairvoyance. Usually this ability is called deduction and is considered to just be a combination of his extraordinary observation skills, intellect, and preparation. However, he regularly makes huge deductive or logical leaps without any supporting evidence. Along with that, he’s almost never wrong. That combination suggests to me that Batman is working with some sort of subconscious knowledge of what will happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Batman is a great character. I’m also willing (usually) to suspend my disbelief enough to assume that he doesn’t have any powers. But, when looking at his entire history, it’s hard for me to say that Batman’s just a very dedicated human. I can believe it in an individual story, or even over a few story arcs, but the longer Batman’s around, the more apparent it’s going to become that he’s superhuman.