The lives of everyone living in this city is influenced, in some way, by the man I am here to see.
We may know in some abstract manner that Wayne Enterprises is Gotham’s biggest company, but how many of us realise how far its reach extends?
We eat in restaurants supplied by Wayne Foods, housed in buildings erected by Wayne Construction. We watch TV shows by Wayne Entertainment, on phones and computers by WayneTech. When we fall ill, Wayne Pharmaceuticals and Wayne Healthcare are there to nurse us back to health.
So perhaps it is fitting that my appointment takes place in Wayne Tower itself. You can’t miss it, looming over the rest of the city like a giant monolith, a testament to triumph of modern capitalism. Wayne Tower is the first thing a visitor sees when flying into the Archie Goodwin International Airport.
It reminds everyone that the Wayne name and Gotham City itself are synonymous, perhaps also symbiotic, linked by tradition and time.
Whether this invokes a sense of civic pride or dread that one family, one man is more or less responsible for the lives of millions, that is entirely up to you.
I am ushered through a rigorous set of security checks at the ground floor. My bag is examined by serious-looking guards, my press pass scrutinised with scientific care. It would have been intimidating, if not for the Wayne Enterprises assistant who waits for me and gives me a personal escort to our meeting room.
He offers a boggling array of drinks to fortify me while I wait, everything from pineapple juice to Japanese green tea. I opt for a simple glass of iced water while I await the arrival of the Chairman of the Board of Wayne Enterprises, one of the richest men in the country, and the world.
The real Bruce Wayne
Everyone in Gotham has a Bruce Wayne story. Have a coffee near the Monarch Theatre, or hang out by the docks, and sooner or later you’ll hear one.
A picture soon emerges. The dilettante, the playboy. The rich kid who hares around town in the flashiest of imported cars. Someone who has Oscar winners and pop megastars and supermodels hanging off his arm at red-carpet events.
“I heard Mr Wayne bought an entire restaurant on a whim just so he could eat in private.”
“I heard Mr Wayne owns both the Gotham Rogues and the New England Patriots and he makes them take a dive every time they face each other.”
“I heard Bruce Wayne is a real germaphobe in private, he fired a secretary after he saw her blow her nose.”
And so on and so forth. Everyone’s heard of some fantastical, implausible thing that Bruce Wayne has supposedly done.
But if you go off the beaten path — admittedly, a daunting prospect in this city — you will find stories that speak of a man at odds with his public image.
I spent a few pleasant afternoons at the Martha Wayne Memorial Orphanage, where an employee who wished to remain anonymous told me that Bruce Wayne has never missed a Christmas visit since the place was built. Everything the directors have asked for, Wayne provides, without thought as to the cost.
The same goes for the Thomas Wayne Free Hospital in downtown Gotham, whose homeless outreach programme has gotten better results than similar efforts in Chicago, Star City, or Metropolis.
How does one reconcile the two images I have in my head of Bruce Wayne? The playboy or the philanthropist? Who is the real Bruce Wayne?
Everyone has a Bruce Wayne story. This is mine.
The prodigal son
Bruce Wayne laughs when I ask him why he remains in Gotham.
“This is home,” he said, extending a hand to the ceiling-to-floor window that offered a spectacular view of the city. “Where else would I go?”
Wayne speaks in measured tones, never raising his voice. He has the accentless speech of the true international businessman.
But something of the hometown Gothamite lingers in the way he describes his favourite street food (a falafel cart near the First Bank) and his love for the Rogues (he owns a part share, but the Patriots are all Robert Kraft).
You can take the boy out of Gotham, but not Gotham out of the man.
Thomas and Martha Wayne
Despite the image of wealth and privilege that Wayne is immersed in, with his perfectly-cut charcoal suit and shoes that must have cost more than my apartment, he seems somehow more relatable, more raw when the conversation turns towards his parents.
“My mother and father had the same options I did. They could have hopped over to New York, or struck out West for California. Or even beyond. But they stayed because they believed in the city, and I could do no less.”
The senseless murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne must have been traumatic for the young boy who witnessed it. But over 20 years on, Wayne seems at ease with his past.
“It was terrible, of course, and I still miss them every day. But it happened a long time ago. I decided the best way I could honour their memory is to make their dream of what Gotham could be come true.”
The Fox in the box
It’s hard to argue that he hasn’t. Gotham has seen its fair share of wealthy families, like the Elliotts and the Cobblepots. But only Wayne has taken an admittedly sizeable family inheritance and turned it into a global empire.
Yet, he demurs when I ask him why he has succeeded where others have failed.
“I’m fortunate to have good people working with me,” said Wayne. (With, not for.) “Without someone like Lucius, we wouldn’t have been as successful as we are today.”
Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises, is a true financial and technical wizard. His rise from the bowels of the company to its pinnacle is worth a book or two of its own. Some people say that Fox is the true brains of the operation, with Wayne supplying little more than the family name and seed capital.
I put this to him, and he laughs again.
“If that’s what they think, I can’t stop them. All I can say is that Lucius is a loyal and valued member of our family here, and his work has been good for Gotham.”
A man of the arts
We discuss plans for the future of this corporate behemoth. Without giving anything away, a real concern when a single word from your interviewee can shake the markets, Wayne shares that he is interested in expanding into the arts and culture scene.
“I have always loved the performing arts, since I was a boy,” he explained. “Science and tech is all well and good, but truth be told, I’m no engineer. You’d want Lucius for that.”
Wayne also “lets slip” that the Gotham Opera House is one of his favourite haunts. It makes sense — seated in a dark theatre hall, he can let the worries of a billionaire fade away and become absorbed in the performance itself.
And what about the visits to the hottest nightclubs in the city, where many a photographer has earned a living by getting a shot of Bruce Wayne rocking up with a bevy of beautiful ladies in his wake?
“I don’t go to the opera all the time, you know,” he said. He also mimed zipping up his lips when pressed on his love life. It seems like Bruce Wayne really doesn’t kiss and tell.
Bruce Wayne: “I don’t fear the Joker.”
I mention my own ruminations on the awesome power and responsibility he wields, as Gotham’s biggest employer and public face. Does he see it as a burden?
For the first time in our interview, Wayne doesn’t have a quick answer ready. Instead, he looks out of the window for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Then he answers:
“I suppose in a way I do feel responsible for the city’s future. But doesn’t that apply to anyone who lives here? We’ve all chosen to put down roots in Gotham and commit ourselves to making it a better place. As someone with more privilege than others, it’s on me to do more.”
Perhaps this is why Wayne hasn’t done what many a Gothamite has said they would do, which would be to up stakes and leave for another town with far fewer supervillain attacks.
But instead of laughing at my quip, Wayne looked quite serious indeed. I sense steel beneath the silk in his next answer.
“For me to leave Gotham because I fear what the Joker or the Riddler or Two-Face could do would be an admission of surrender. I refuse to give in to them out of fear.”
My twenty minutes are soon up, and I find myself wishing I had more time to spend in Wayne’s company. But I know his schedule is probably as ironclad as my own deadlines.
Later, as the fog rolls in and another chilly night descended on Gotham, I find myself wondering what Wayne was doing at that moment to make the city a better place.
Writing out a cheque for Superman to swoop in and save the day would do the trick.