Martha Wayne (née Martha Kane) was an heiress to the Kane Chemical family fortune. In her early years, she may have been described as a debutante, or, more charitably, as a socialite, but her sense of social justice became galvanized in college, where she helped organize a student government on campus at The Gotham Ladies Academy for Distinction.
The Gotham Ladies Academy for Distinction or GLAD (which would later become co-educational and be known as Gotham Harbor College), was a private women’s college that was, truth be told, even farther away from Gotham City proper than Wayne Manor. GLAD’s mostly-male administrators thought it a farce to allow its young women to play at the formation of a student government when women weren’t afforded the right to vote in the United States.
Martha would tell you she was radicalized by Professor Amanda Klotzman, a German expatriate teaching mathematics at GLAD who encouraged Martha to join the Gladhanders. Professor Klotzman described the Gladhanders as a social club, but left out the whole “involving yourself in campus politics” part.
“The promise of Democracy is to be treated as an adult” called Martha into her megaphone, holding a handful of leaflets and shouting from atop an actual soapbox. “Our parents make decisions for us when we are babes, but we are the ladies in Gotham Ladies Academy for Distinction! Shouldn’t we distinguish ourselves by governing ourselves?”
It was a simple rallying cry, but it made sense to the girls who passed what would come to be known as Martha’s Crossing, on mornings before their classes.
When she graduated, Martha Kane had not sought electoral office, but instead, helped young ladies whose vision for the school she believed in. Her hand was behind all three of the Presidents of the GLAD student government.
Martha found herself bored when she returned home to her family. That is until one evening, at her parents’ insistence, she attended a fundraiser for the reelection of District Attorney Tucker Cobblepot, whose tough-on-criminals policy toward law enforcement seemed to be making Gotham worse –– there were more police, and more arrests, but nobody seemed to want to tell that to the increasingly more bold criminals.
It was at this fundraiser that she was charmed by Thomas Wayne, an up-and-coming corporate executive who seemed every bit as disinterested in this kind of political theater as she was.
Their courtship was, remarkably, blessed by her parents, who typically bent away from new money. In Thomas, Martha saw an opportunity: for a family that would have the grounding of an unlikely tycoon from a blue collar background, to do the most good. Her parents saw an opportunity to get Martha out of their house and married like a proper young woman. It was no small bonus that they wouldn’t have to account for her political boisterousness once she was married off.
Martha’s Parents would live to see their engagement and wedding, but not to see the birth of their only grandchild: Bruce Wayne, in 1907.
By 1912, Thomas Wayne was a wealthy industrialist having a crisis of consciousness: How could his family have so much when there were so many who had very little?
The American Experiment was failing, and Thomas Wayne, one of its newest and most famous success stories, was being courted by radical labor organizers, and they were persuasive.
Not “persuasive” as is often thought of when radical labor is discussed. There were no threats of violence. Persuasive as in Thomas Wayne was able to see, with clarity that was quite uncommon for a man of great wealth, that a rising tide lifts all ships.
Wayne Enterprises unionized in March of 1915, and became a democratically controlled worker cooperative in December. Thomas Wayne stepped down from his position as Chairman of the Board in early 1916, but continued to work for the company he had built as a part time inspector. He donated his salary to the company pension fund, and dedicated his off-work time and substantial resources to improving the lives of Gotham’s most vulnerable.
Bruce Wayne was an only child, but he had myriad brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles: families who were down on their luck were always welcome for a hot meal and a place to stay at Wayne Manor, some of them would be taken on as workers on the grounds, and others were advocated for fiercely by Thomas for jobs at Wayne Enterprises.
A group of workers from Wayne Enterprises, with the backing of union bosses from across Gotham started to encourage Thomas Wayne to run for Mayor of Gotham City in the 1916 municipal election. His name recognition would be second-to-none and he could make significant policy advancements for working people throughout the city. Thomas, to the disappointment of many (and more than one stern admonition from Martha) refused on the grounds that until his wife had the right to vote for him, he would not consider the suggestion.
Of course, when you are a person of great wealth and fame, statements that are politically unpopular with vast swaths of the country make headlines, and thus it was that Gotham City, New Jersey, became a stronghold for the Women’s Suffrage movement, with Martha Wayne and her husband Thomas, as staunch and outspoken advocates.
When the Nineteenth Amendment passed, the celebration at Wayne Manor was legendary, not for debauchery or excess, but for Martha’s announcement that she, not Thomas, would be running for Mayor of Gotham in the election.
If elected, she would be the first woman mayor of any major city in the United States, and she was the immediate frontrunner.
Thomas was a vociferous supporter, and, very authentically, played the role of a doting husband and cheerleader for Martha. The campaign, which many speculated would be self-funded, received an unprecedented number of donations: The Wayne family had changed lives in Gotham, and people wanted to return the favor by supporting in any way that they could.
Martha’s only Primary Election opponent, Councilman Douglas Lutz, decided to withdraw his candidacy the day after the Ford statement, and Martha easily won the nomination with more than three times as many votes as her eventual opponent in the General Election in November, Spencer Stagg.
The campaign was heated and contentious –– partisans rallied around their respective candidates, but Martha’s ability to sell complicated ideas packaged as digestible, plain-spoken, common sense combined with Thomas’s relationships with some of the most talented journalists on the East Coast made for a campaign that could practically write its own headlines. When Wayne Enterprises, Gotham’s largest employer, announced that Election Day would be a paid holiday for their workers, it made the front page of The Daily Planet.
Councilman Lutz was gracious in his concession, and that relationship may have secured his eventual seat on the board of Kane Chemical, a company founded by Martha’s late father.
Kane Chemical frequently hosted tours of their facility for investors, politicians, and schoolchildren, and it was during one of these tours (including the student’s of young Bruce Wayne’s junior high school class), that Councilman Lutz announced his endorsement of Martha Wayne for Mayor of Gotham and that Kane Chemical would be following Wayne Enterprises’ lead and paying workers for a day off on Election Day.
Bruce, separated from his class to join his mother at the councilman’s announcement looked down from the catwalk at bubbling vats of toxic chemicals, and his mind raced. He and his mother were photographed with the councilman following the endorsement, and he verbalized his concern.
“This seems dangerous. Why did grandpa build this scaffolding above hazardous chemicals?” The boy asked. “The fumes seem like they could make you dizzy, and, that could lead to somebody falling in, couldn’t it?”
“A cover while the chemicals are heating to mix could ruin the solution, or build up pressure and explode,” replied Councilman Lutz.
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose, exasperated at the tendency of adults to constantly underestimate him.
“Use a metal gate,” Bruce sighed.
Douglas chuckled at a boy he assumed was being precocious, but Martha knew better; she escorted Bruce down to where the lead engineers were discussing something.
“Gentlemen,” she began, thrusting Bruce front and center, “this is my son, Bruce. And he had an idea about some ways to make the main floor safer. Bruce?”
“I just mentioned that the tanks being open might lead to people falling in from the catwalks. It seems needlessly dangerous,” Bruce said. “Maybe you could cover them with a grate to keep pressure from building up; it’s unlikely to protect from pollutants, but at least people and large debris wouldn’t fall in…and maybe throw a circus net in between the catwalks for good measure?”
The two men in lab coats conferred for a moment, and the younger-looking one leaving abruptly.
“Mister Wayne,” the older-looking man said, extending his hand to Bruce, “I believe we met at the Christmas party when you were a bit younger. What an excellent idea. Barney just left to begin doing some sketches. Bright boy you’ve got here Martha. Really going places!”
Martha and Thomas Wayne were true stewards of Gotham City and the people in their employ. They were building a legacy –– in public, and in real time –– for all of Gotham, and much of America to witness.
They also made the time to be good parents. Busy, and sometimes overworked, to be sure, but they were supportive and nurturing to their child, and tried to engender in young Bruce a standard of empathy and compassion toward those less fortunate than him.
When neither could be with the boy, he could often be found exploring the grounds with Alfred Pennyworth, who the couple lovingly referred to as the household’s chief of staff. Alfred was an indispensable family member to the Waynes, having grown up in the house where his mother and father worked. When he left them for Europe in 1917, it took three workers just to do an acceptable impression of Alfred. Bruce had idolized the man in the same way a boy might idolize his much older brother, and sought Alfred’s guidance on everything from schoolwork to romance.
Bruce’s other haunt was their well-appointed library, reading whatever piqued his interest when he arrived. He was an insatiable reader, absorbing even the most esoteric volumes in the library, and often progressing through two or three books at once.
Fearing that he would consume every book they owned, Martha sent away for several magazines; weekly digests with multiple stories that Bruce could read and anticipate and talk to his parents (and Alfred) about.
Martha and Thomas knew that the sun was setting on their son’s requited affection for them. He’d grown up too fast, as is the way with children. But his eagerness to share the stories he was reading with the family was a way to delay the dusk just a little longer.
In 1919, one of these pulp magazines, All-Story Weekly, published the first installment of a serialized novel titled The Curse Of Capistrano. It was the first appearance of the masked, swashbuckling swordsman in the black cape, Zorro.
Bruce loved the fantasy of costumed heroics, and mystery stories. He wouldn’t call these his favorite genre, but the boy definitely had a certain affinity for the fast paced stories of heroes seeking to avenge an injustice.
Throughout Martha’s campaign, Bruce revisited The Curse Of Capistrano many times, often discovering new elements to the story in his rereads or his discussions about it with Alfred.
The rumor, which had been supplied to Bruce by his parents and substantiated by the director himself, was that Capistrano would be made into a movie by Mr. Douglas Fairbanks’ new production company United Artists, and Bruce would picture the story being adapted into a motion picture in his mind’s eye.
And so it was that a telegram came in the morning on Thursday, April 1st, April Fool’s Day, and the Feast of the Ascension:
Tom and Martha
I have an exciting motion picture in production which I believe I’ve mentioned.
I would love for you and your son to join me on April 17 at six sharp for a private reception followed immediately by a screening of
THE MARK OF ZORRO
Hosted at The Highwayman Theatre.
Please won’t you join me?
Signed, Douglas Fairbanks
April 17th. Bruce’s thirteenth birthday.
Typically for his birthday, Bruce would be taken to dinner at his favorite restaurant, Casa Giannerini. Thomas didn’t think pushing the reservation back to Friday would be a problem, and Martha made the call herself to confirm.
Surprising Bruce with an early showing of The Mark of Zorro would certainly make this a memorable birthday celebration.
And maybe it would delay the dusk just a little longer.