So in Batman Eternal #29…
What? No I didn’t promise that I wouldn’t write about Batman Eternal this week, I promised I’d try. Also I’m not really writing about the year-long Batman story that is certainly living up to its name, so chillax. (Chillax. How is that even a word? Sounds like a murder weapon in Alaska.) This week I’m writing about what came after Batman Eternal #29. With a little of what came after Batman Eternal #34 thrown in. Which means what I’m writing about is Arkham Manor #1.
In Batman Eternal #29, Arkham Asylum – the hospital for the criminally insane located on the outskirts of Gotham City that houses Joker, Two-Face, Mister Zsasz, and most of the rest of Batman’s rogue gallery – blew up. Although how and why isn’t really important what the hell, I’ve got some time to kill. To put it succinctly, Deacon Blackfire, a magically delicious villain was using his magic in a fight with Jim Corrigan in the tunnels below Arkham Asylum. Blackfire was attempting to pull the Spectre, the ghostly spirit of God’s vengeance that lives inside of Corrigan’s body, out of Corrigan’s body. But Blackfire wasn’t adept enough for this kind of magic and in Batman Eternal # 29, his attempts resulted in …
Usually, this is where I’d warn you I’m going to tell you how Batman Eternal #29 ended. This time I’m not. Arkham Manor #1 came out about a month before Batman Eternal # 29, even though it takes place after that story, and it gave away the ending to Batman Eternal #29. If DC didn’t mind spoiling its own story, why should I?
… an explosion. An explosion which caused Arkham Asylum to collapse in on itself in Batman Eternal #30.
Hundreds of people died when Arkham Asylum came tumbling down. But wouldn’t you know it, they were incidental deaths. Collateral damage, as it were. Somehow Joker, Two-Face, Mister Zsasz, and most of the rest of Batman’s rogue gallery survived.
Arkham Asylum’s destruction left Mayor Hady and Gotham City with a big question, where to put “the city’s most dangerous lunatics.” Any time someone suggested a possible new location for all those dangerous lunatics, the citizens of Gotham City basically responded, “Not in my backyard.” Even the ones who lived in brownstones and didn’t have back yards.
Fortunately for Mayor Hady and the city fathers, in Batman Eternal #34 the federal government seized control of Wayne Enterprises and all of its assets. I talked about the how and why of this three weeks ago, so you can go there to read about it, if you don’t already know. (BTW, I really recommend that you go to my old column to read about how and why the Feds took over Wayne Enterprises rather than reading Batman Eternal #34. Not because my new web-based home for the column needs the hits, I just think the experience will be more pleasant.)
Anyway, Bruce Wayne was left largely penniless. (Well, he does have this one giant penny sitting around doing nothing, but I’m not sure it’s negotiable.) Bruce had moved out of Wayne Manor and was living in an apartment in Gotham City. So Gotham City used eminent domain to take over Wayne Manor and make it Arkham Manor, the new home for Gotham’s criminally insane.
Eminent domain, the process by which the government may take private property for public use, is not a new concept. The concept dates back to biblical times, when King Ahab of Israel, offered to purchase the vineyards of one of his subjects, Naboth. Naboth declined Ahab’s offer, so Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, framed Naboth for blasphemy and had him stoned to death. After which Ahab got the vineyards. Since that time, they’ve refined the concept of eminent domain. It’s a little more fair and a little less killy. After the French Revolution, the French formally adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. Among it’s provisions is the sentence, “Property being an inviolable and sacred right no one can be deprived of it, unless the public necessity plainly demands it, and upon condition of a just and previous indemnity.” The Founding Fathers drafted similar language in the Fifth Amendment of Constitution of the United States, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Like I said, a little less killy. (Yes, there’s a bit of a history lesson here, but history is important. To paraphrase George Santayana; those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Usually in summer school.)
So Gotham City decided to take Wayne Manor through eminent domain and convert it to Arkham Manor. In order to invoke eminent domain, the government must prove four elements” 1) there’s some private property, that 2) the government plans to take, for 3) a public use, after 4) making just compensation to the owner of the property.
Wayne Manor is clearly the private property of Bruce Wayne. Yes, even though the federal government seized Wayne Enterprises’s assets, Wayne Manor would probably still have been Bruce’s property. Remember, Wayne Enterprises was a corporation. The reason a business incorporates is to protect the property of the owners from lawsuits. After the corporation is created, it becomes a legal entity of it’s own and is solely responsible for its actions. If the corporation is sued, those harmed by the corporation can seize the corporate assets but not the assets of the corporation’s owners, that is to say the shareholders.
When the Wayne family established Wayne Enterprises, none of their lawyers would have allowed the Waynes to transfer ownership of Wayne Manor over to the corporation. Such an act would have completely negated the whole reason behind creating the corporation in the first place, limited liability. An attorney would have to be the Chief O’Hara of lawyers to let a client do something that stupid. So let’s assume, even after the Feds seized Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne still owned Wayne Manor.
The government wanted to take Wayne Manor and convert it into a hospital to house the criminally insane, which would be a public use. The only question left would be the just compensation element.
Usually the just compensation happens this way. The government makes an offer which it considers to be fair market value for the property. Generally it’s a lowball offer, because we all know the government never overpays for anything. The property owner rejects the offer as too low and makes a counter offer of what the owner thinks is fair market value. Generally it’s high. The two parties negotiate over what is a fair market value for the property. If they reach an agreement, that amount is paid and the government takes over the property. If the two parties can’t reach an agreement, then they go to court and there’s a condemnation hearing during which the court will determine fair market value.
Sometimes the property owner doesn’t want to lose his property. So he might argue that the taking isn’t for public use. Again there’s a condemnation hearing, this time to determine whether the intended use is really a public use. If the judge rules it is a public use, the condemnation goes forward. I’ve never been able to figure out why these are called condemnation proceedings. No one is condemning the property, they’re just putting it to a new and different use.
None of those steps happened in the case of Wayne Manor. Why not? It wasn’t because the story got the law wrong. It was because Bruce Wayne knew he presently didn’t have the assets needed to maintain Wayne Manor or, in all probability, pay its property taxes. Bruce also believed his father, a doctor who advocated for better treatment of the mentally ill, would have given Wayne Manor to the city in the face of this emergency were he still alive. So Bruce voluntarily agreed to the condemnation proceedings and gave up Wayne Manor.
Bruce apparently believed in the old concept of noblesse oblige. And that makes him a better man than I am. Me, I would have held out for some money from Gotham City. Maybe I wouldn’t have soaked them, but if I just lost my personal fortune and was sitting on a house that was easily worth ten or twenty – and more probably thirty or forty – million dollars that the government wanted to buy, I would have wanted a little something something to get myself back on my financial feet.
But Bruce asked for nothing. He let his ancestral home go not for a pittance, not for a song but for nothing. Because he felt it was his duty. With a sense of noblesse oblige that strong, had Bruce lived back in the times of Caesar, he would have been the noblesse Roman of them all.