Batman fans have discussed this for decades. Since his debut in 1939, Bruce Wayne has not lacked for love interests, but who was the girl, the lady somebody should have smacked the millionaire playboy in the head and said, “She’s the one, stupid!”?
Golden-Age veterans usually opt for either Julie Madison or Linda Page. Society deb Julie actually made it as far as becoming Bruce’s fiancée before she broke off the engagement over his lack of ambition. Julie went on to become a successful actress and, shades of Grace Kelly, eventually married the prince of Moldacia. Linda Page was a wealthy heiress who renounced her life of ease to become a nurse. She was Bruce Wayne’s main squeeze for the first half of the 1940’s, then faded away without a trace.
The Silver Age presented two strong contenders for the part. News photographer Vicki Vale was a redheaded clone of Lois Lane, devoting most of her appearances to snooping out Bruce’s secret identity as the Batman or just generally getting in his way. In her own way, Kathy Kane was just as much of a pain. Kathy was a circus trapeze artist and motorcycle stunt rider who inherited a pile of dough. With nothing better to do, she adopted the costumed identity of the Batwoman, earning a heavy dose of disapproval from the original Caped Crusader, who felt that super-heroing was no job for a female. Her relationship with Bruce Wayne wasn’t much healthier. Since he knew that Kathy was Batwoman, but she didn’t know he was Batman, Bruce often patronised her, enjoying his superior knowledge.
Later fans preferred his more mature relationships with Silver St. Cloud and Selina Kyle, a.k.a. the Catwoman. Silver was yet another of the seemingly endless string of Gotham City socialites, only she had a bit more on the ball than either Julie Madison or Linda Page, at least when it came to Bruce Wayne. Unlike Julie or Linda, she managed to put two and two together and figure out that Wayne was the Batman. Silver dumped him because she couldn’t deal with the drawbacks of his night job. Selina Kyle was probably the closest to being Bruce’s equal, physically, mentally, and having a costumed identity of her own. While she and Wayne had their moments, he just couldn’t get past the way she hopped back and forth between both sides of the law.
And the modern era no doubt adds a few more to Bruce Wayne’s list of lovelies, and I’d mention them, if I knew who they were.
But, of all the potential mates thrown at Bruce Wayne, my top choice for the one he should have stuck with rarely gets a mention. She appeared in only two stories before disappearing as quickly as she arrived. She made quite an impression on me, though---but that’s what you’d expect from Policewoman Patricia Powell.
Patricia Powell was introduced at the beginning of her career, in “The Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter”, from Batman # 165 (Aug., 1964), and you can’t say she didn’t hit the decks running. At the annual graduation ceremony of the Gotham City Police Academy, rookie Pat Powell is honoured as the first recruit in academy history to rank first in all four categories of training---academic, physical, firearms, and overall. She comes by it honestly. Her father is Detective Lieutenant Mike “Bulldog” Powell. That Pat is a knockout blonde is the one thing that she didn’t get from her father.
The Batman is on hand to present the award to the newly minted officer, and after the ceremony, he sticks around to indulge in some small talk with both Powells and Commissioner Gordon. After Gordon and Lieutenant Powell get back to work, the Masked Manhunter, clearly smitten with the beauteous Pat, pulls the old “Why don’t you give me a tour of the academy?” move. Turning on the old Wayne charm, Batman and Pat are chatting like best friends in no time. That’s when the girl confesses to having developed a serious crush on a fellow.
“Lucky man,” replies the Gotham Gangbuster. “Who is he?”
“Bruce Wayne!” says Pat.
The Batman is caught off guard by that curve. He’s never seen Patricia Powell before to-day. But a couple of “innocent” questions bring forth the solution to that mystery. Though she has seen Bruce Wayne on several occasions, he has never seen her face. The first time was during a sorority rush stunt, when Pat, disguised as a pirate, asked Bruce for the brass knocker from the front door of Stately Wayne Manor. Then, while diving, she had a chance encounter with him, but her scuba mask obscured her features. The last opportunity arose at a New Year’s Eve masquerade party they both attended, but Bruce suddenly departed (“Look! It’s the Bat-signal!”) before the mid-night unmasking.
Policewoman Powell starts work the next day. Because of her exceptional performance at the academy, she has been assigned to plainclothes duty, working for---surprise, surprise---her dad, the ol’ Bulldog himself. Their first case together is investigating the disappearance of Professor Ralph Smedley, who has developed a flashless, smokeless explosive for the U.S. Army.
Somewhat surprisingly, given that most of the time he was ready to pull the switch on the Bat-signal if there was an outbreak of hubcap thefts in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon is perfectly satisfied with letting two of his detectives handle the case. But he rings the Batman on the hot-line anyway because . . . .
“ . . . You wanted me to let you know what Pat Powell’s first job would be! She and her dad are on the Smedley case!”
Purely a professional interest on the Masked Manhunter’s part, no doubt. Heh heh.
Sending Robin off to follow another thread, the Batman rushes to Professor Smedley’s home, only to find Patricia there already. The rookie policewoman has already strung together minute clues establishing that the professor was taken away against his will. It’s a reasonably good bit of deduction, too. But Batman has caught one sign that Pat has missed, one which reveals where Smedley has been taken.
The Batman and Pat rush to that location, where a gang of safecrackers is forcing Professor Smedley to prepare some of his special explosive. The Caped Crusader draws the crooks’ attention while Pat slips into the stronghold and rescues the professor. The hero makes a good accounting of himself, good enough that the fight is almost out of the bunch by the time Robin, Lieutenant Powell, and a squad of Gotham’s Finest arrive. No slouch at sleuthing himself, the Boy Wonder decyphered a clue to Smedley’s whereabouts that the professor himself had managed to leave and rounded up the cavalry.
Patricia Powell appeared in the fourth month of Batman’s “New Look”, editor Julius Schwartz’s renovation of the bat-titles. It was a return to the character’s roots as a detective. In were more realistic plots and bad guys; out were the outer-space adventures and bug-eyed monsters. Schwartz also jettisoned all of the bat-hangers-on that had grown like barnacles on the series. Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Alfred the butler all got pink slips.
After that purge, Schwartz needed to expand the bat-cast. Aunt Harriet was moved into Wayne Manor, mainly to blunt accusations of latent homosexuality in Bruce and Dick’s living arrangement. The Mystery Analysts provided Batman with a professional circle. And then came Pat Powell, who not only validated Bruce Wayne’s red-blooded heterosexual credentials, but was skilled enough to work alongside the Masked Manhunter, when necessary.
Being the 1960’s, Pat could not be the Batman’s equal. She was brainy, sharp-eyed, athletic, but unseasoned. Quickly, Batman assumed the rôle as mentor to the rookie policewoman. He called her attention to the overlooked clue at Professor Smedley’s house and walked her through its importance. (While Pat’s other deductions were impressive, frankly, the one she missed was the most obvious one; it would have been the first thing I noticed, and I’m no Batman.)
The wrinkle of Pat being love-struck over Bruce Wayne, whom (as far as she knew) had never seen her unmasked face, was entertaining, but obviously had a short shelf-life. Now that Bruce was aware of her interest, and it was mutual, it would be difficult to prolong the never-having-officially-met business without seeming contrived.
It appeared that Julius Schwartz and writer France Herron had figured that out. After the wrap-up of the Smedley case, Bruce, that ol’ sly dog, sends the Powells a couple of tickets to a hospital charity affair being held at the Wayne estate that week-end. “The Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter” ends with Pat, dressed to stupefy, arriving at the charity event and prepared to meet Bruce Wayne.
Or so it would seem. The next issue, # 166, brought the sequel, “A Rendezvous with Robbery”, picking up right where the previous story left off. But Pat and her father never get one step closer to Bruce.
Suddenly, a loud-speaker warns the party guests to freeze. Their lives depend on it. The grounds of the Wayne estate have been mined with explosives which are now activated. And to prove the point, one of them is detonated by a waiter. All of the waiters, it develops, are in on the crime. Forced to remain still, Bruce, Bulldog Powell, Pat, and the rest of the guests are helpless to prevent the crooks from taking their wallets, purses, and other valuables.
The mines deactivate an hour after the robbers flee. Pat loses her chance to meet Bruce when her father insists they go after the crooks. (“No more time for social activities, Detective Powell! Let’s move! We’ve got a case on our hands!”) Of course, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson plan to do some investigating on their own, as Batman and Robin.
Since Wayne has used the same catering business for years, the Dynamic Duo works the case from the angle of discovering how crooks were able to take the place of the trustworthy caterer’s usual wait staff. Backtracking in this manner, Batman and Robin collect sufficient information to locate the robbers’ hide-out, a suburban house in the near-by suburb of Plainview. But when the crimefighters burst in on the place, they discover it’s unoccupied---except for Bulldog Powell and Pat, whom they find locked in a closet.
Pat really shines here. She worked the case from a completely different angle, using clues she spotted at the party itself. With her father in tow, she found the hide-out a half hour before Batman and Robin did. Unfortunately, they were captured by the gang before they could move in and got stuffed in the closet so the crooks could make their getaway.
The lady cop has another ace to play. On the chance something would go wrong, Pat planted a miniature transmitter on the crooks’ car before they were nabbed. Using the receiver in their police vehicle, the father-and-daughter cops lead the Batmobile right to Secret Villain Hide-Out Number Two, an abandoned gas refinery. Here, they surprise the robbers. Though the Dynamic Duo grabs the lion’s share of the crook-catching, both Bulldog and Pat handle their end of the action admirably. Especially the hood who figures the "dame" to be an easy mark, until she gives him a hip toss and he lands with his face in the dirt. In short order, the gang is in handcuffs and all their loot is recovered.
The story ends on the next day, with Bruce Wayne arriving at police headquarters where Pat is waiting to return his stolen wallet. As Wayne’s private thoughts reveal, “Nothing can stop Pat and me from meeting now!” The final caption would have it otherwise, though . . . .
Don’t be too sure, Bruce---and you either, reader! There are more surprises in store, in the follow-up story to appear in a forthcoming Batman issue!
The narrative had it right. Bruce and Pat would not meet this time, either. But not because of some bizarre twist in the follow-up tale promised in that final caption. The readers never saw that first landmark meeting of Patricia Powell and Bruce Wayne because there was no follow-up story. In fact, Patricia Powell was never seen, again.
Why Pat Powell disappeared after such an auspicious beginning is one of those comics mysteries which will probably never be solved. Going by readers’ comments published in the letters column of Batman # 168 (Feb., 1965)---including one by a Mike Friedrich, of Castro Valley, California---fan reaction toward Pat Powell was mixed, but mostly favourable. One liked the character, but did not want a romance between her and Bruce; the rest enjoyed Pat and the idea of a romantic attachment with Bruce, but---as predicted---thought the gimmick of not having them meet face to face had gotten old fast.
In hopes of picking up a hint of an answer, I reviewed the letters pages in every issue of Batman from ’64 to ’66, and could not find a comment about her. (In the interests of full disclosure, I’m missing about three or four issues of that run, so there might be something I couldn’t find; if anyone out there knows of something I missed, shout out.) To all appearances, Pat Powell just disappeared off the DC scope. And that’s a pity.
I liked Pat. She had the brains and brawn and beauty to be a perfect match for Bruce Wayne, without any of the baggage of his previous girlfriends. She wasn’t a snoop like Vicki Vale, who couldn’t wait to plaster “Batman is Bruce Wayne!” across the cover of Vue Magazine.
Unlike Julie Madison or Linda Page, she accepted Bruce Wayne for who he was. (Though, in fairness, the “New Look” gave us a more socially conscious Wayne than his “bored idler” days.)
And where Kathy Kane was a dilettante crimefighter, Pat was a professional.
A romance between Bruce and Pat would have set the stage for some intriguing plot developments. Imagine Pat tumbling to a crime in the making while out on a date with Wayne, who naturally would note the same things but forced to pretend ignorance to preserve his secret identity. Or them out for a stroll in the park and Pat saves them from a couple of muggers, while Bruce has to stand back “helplessly”.
And sooner or later---probably, sooner---Pat would surely start to pick up on things to indicate that her boyfriend was more than a simple millionaire playboy. She was a sharp cookie, and it wouldn’t take her long to get suspicious of those “fishing trips” Bruce and Dick were always taking.