Part of Batman’s success lied in his mental prowess and physical skills. But a significant part lied in psychological warfare. Civilians weren’t sure that he actually existed. Criminals weren’t sure who or what he was. Some believed he wasn’t human. Some believed he was death itself. Some believed he was an urban myth, which made him all the more terrifying when they encountered him.
So when Dick started noticing more and more people commenting on the existence of the Batman in the comments section of assorted articles on the Gotham Gazette and local tabloids, he decided it was time to start embracing the Batman myths in the digital realm. First, he convinced his father to let him start multiple fake profiles on the assorted comment hosts in order to muddy the waters, as it were. Actually, he tricked him into agreeing by asking with just the right tone when his father was just distracted enough. Either way, the plan was a go.
Whenever Batman was mentioned with too much certainty in his existence, or whenever a theory that wasn’t half bad and might cause others to start asking some very good questions came up, Dick would utilize these fake profiles. He’d throw in a theory that fed into the criminals fear while making civilians roll their eyes and close the tab, thinking the comment section was being overtaken by conspiracy theorist, idiots, or trolls.
Through assorted fake profiles, Dick suggested that the Batman was a vampire who fed off the souls of the wicked. He proposed that the Batman was a golem, called forth to avenge the loss of one of the many victims of crime in the city. He theorized that the Batman was a poltergeist born from all the victims killed in Gotham who’s killers never faced justice. He declared that Batman was a government experiment set loose to test future cyborg-soldiers in one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world. He warned that the Batman was a demon, given power by all the sin that had been permitted to permeate Gotham City. He preached that the Batman was an angel, sent to protect the innocents who were failed by humanity.
There were some who bought into the theories, of course, but that wasn’t a problem. Believing in any of the crazy theories Dick put out there meant they weren’t any more likely to discover the truth about the Batman than if they hadn’t believed in him at all. And having them spread the crazy theories meant that the desired effect of such theories was expedited. Upper-class citizens avoided the subject of the Batman in fear of having to deal with more inane drivel or worse, being mistaken for the type of person who spread the drivel. Working-class citizens simply didn’t want to waste their hard-earned free time with such nonsense or frustrating debates. Criminals scoffed and said it was foolish, but then quietly asked each other if such theories might be true.
Dick had been pleased with the results (as had his father). He’d thought it couldn't have gone any better. Until he started taking Tim under his wing in order to train a new and improved Robin and ended up with an awesome little brother in the process. Naturally, he let Tim in on the ruse. He’d been expecting an accomplice and he had one. He hadn’t realized that turning a kid with Tim’s strategic sense and skills with technology loose on such an endeavor would be a total game changer.
Tim didn’t just muddy the waters. He changed the direction of the tides. He psychologically profiled the people who left comments most often and knew exactly which buttons to press to get them to behave in a way that worked in the family’s favor. He’d watch and wait, learning what he needed and then acting at precisely the right moment. Typing precisely the right words. He got people to argue against or outright disprove a comment made by one of his fake profiles, and in doing so they would end up arguing against or disproving other people’s theories as well, sometimes even their own. People who once would have argued to their deaths that the Batman was real (and a real man living in Gotham) would end up becoming the strongest voices against such a character existing.
The boy was the ultimate troll playing the ultimate game of chess. He would get someone who had been narrowing down a list of ‘suspects’ to argue against a well-phrased comment (designed to make the person compelled to strike out at him), pointing out that just because a theory couldn’t be disproved didn’t mean it was true. That just because Commissioner Gordon was the one to turn on the Bat-Signal before the Batman arrived and that he was never seen alongside the Caped Crusader (who no one could ever proved had been sighted) didn’t mean the Commissioner was ‘obviously’ the Batman. This logic was then turned against them by either one of Tim’s other fake profiles or (usually) another online user who Tim had noted was likely to do so. By the time the boy left the comments, the two users were pulling apart every ‘the Batman is real’ theory ever proposed and convincing many people that he was, in fact, an urban myth after all.
After Jason returned to the family, Dick and Tim let him in the task. Again, Dick gained an accomplice. Again, said accomplice-slash-little-brother changed the game. Jason embraced the idea and ran with it in a way that he claimed was more fun, but which sounded truly crazy. Like most of the other crazy things Jason did, it was ultimately effective.
Watching Jason troll the comments section to protect Batman was like taking a master class in how to create chaos. He didn’t propose well thought out theories that would be expected from a conspiracy theorist. Although he did suggest a lot of theories. He didn’t carefully manipulate people to take up specific arguments for him. Although he did start plenty of arguments. He tossed small, seemingly random and unsupported theories into the ring and let everyone else have at it until they all looked or felt like complete morons.
Jason’s fake profiles said that the Batman was a mutated bat. There was no further explanation offered, but others argued it for months rather than have any sort of rational discussion on the hero. They said that Batman was the illegitimate child of the Midnighter and Dr Mid-Nite. Never mind the facts that Midnighter was a good ten years younger than Batman, that Dr Mid-Nite wasn’t gay, or that they were both essentially human males who physically couldn’t produce a child together…the theory still picked up steam. They said that the Batman was a bounty hunter from the future. People spent more time arguing the possibility of time travel than questioning why anyone would think that about Gotham’s dark knight.
Between their online efforts to cause disbelief in the hero and all their real-world efforts to remain hidden from the public consciousness, the family managed to stay in the shadows very successfully for how long they’d been doing the vigilante thing.
The boys traded stories on what theories they’d spread or managed to put to rest. Sometimes one would mention a crazy theory or change in attitude on such comment pages only to have one of the others explain that it had been their doing. Sometimes one of them would contact another to let them know they’d encountered someone in the physical world who subscribed to one of their crazy theories.
Jason laughed when he had holy water thrown on him by a criminal who thought he truly was a demon. Dick gleefully reported that Midnighter mentioned in passing one day that he’d been asked if he was the Batman’s father. Tim once reported, bewildered, that a criminal had thought he was going to suck out their soul. A low-level demon seducing Jason was surprised to discover that he was a mortal human because she’d been assured he was a fallen angel. Dick had several criminals ask him if it was true angels were hermaphroditic and a few ask him for absolution.
It wasn’t just them though. Kate once called up Dick to ask if he had any idea why so many criminals were suddenly thinking she was a vampire and offering to be her slaves if she spared their lives. Their father was baffled to discover that a criminal he’d arrested had not been high because the man kept going on about cyborgs taking over for good pure-blooded American soldiers as the Batman waited for GCPD to pick him up. Damian likewise had holy water thrown on him once, only he’d had no idea why the criminal had suddenly cried ‘begone demon spawn!’ and thrown a vial of seemingly normal water in his face. Cassandra hadn’t understood why an old lady refused to flee when she was fighting some criminals in front of the woman’s building, instead urging her to ‘go into the light’ the whole time. Their father once discovered a cult because they had one of their members keep calling out for help in alleyways until he arrived one night and then offered him any of their members to carry the Bat-Demon’s child.
Their father also once irritably reported that a serial killer he’d been tracking turned out to be a demon, which he learned when the demon turned itself in rather than fight the Batman. It did so because it had heard the Midnighter+Dr Mid-Nite=Batman rumor and wasn’t willing to piss off the Midnighter on the off chance it was true. Bruce was not amused when Dick explained how the rumor started. Jason, however, laughed for a solid three minutes when Dick called him up to tell him about it. It appeared to be one of the few theories of his that he was actively keeping alive after that.
Sometimes they used the myths to their advantage in the real world.
Jason once used the All-Blades to kill a monster that had currently been disguised as a drug lord and was witnessed by one of the man’s customers who immediately believed the glowing, vanishing blade was proof he truly was an angel, just like she’d heard the Batman was. Rather than correct the woman or simply leave, Jason confirmed that he was an angel and said he’d been sent to stop the man from interrupting the destiny of people like her. He told her she was meant for more and that she had to get clean to fulfill her destiny. He reminded her that she was always being watched and judged. He kept an eye on her afterwards and happily reported all of her recovery milestones to his brothers, such as when she got her ninety day coin, landed a job, and was granted visitation rights with her daughter again.
When pressed for time once, Tim convinced a kidnapper that he was actually feeding off the man’s soul and would continue to do so until the man was an empty shell doomed to walk the earth with no hope, unless he told him where the children were being kept. Fearful of losing his soul, the man not only gave up the kids but has since been reported to spend most of free time in the prison chapel, trying to repent. Dick once ran with it when a killer he’d been pursuing asked if he really was from the future. Using his ability to read people, he convinced the man he was and that he needed to stop him because someone he would later kill was going to take the first steps toward curing cancer if they lived. Not wanting to stop cancer from being cured in the future, the man turned himself in and told Nightwing he’d never kill again.
The Rogues they fought more often and other costumed heroes and vigilantes usually didn’t believe any of the stories, but once in a while, one wasn’t so sure.
Back when she was Batgirl, Casandra once had Clayface ask if she really was a clay golem and if that was why she kept her face covered. He’d looked so hopeful that she said she was and told him that just because they’d been created as monsters, didn’t mean they had to remain monsters. He’d since appeared to be one of the few Arkham patients who was truly trying to recover and make something of himself.
After Azrael stabbed Tim with the Sword of Sin, only to learn the boy was free of sin and had nothing to repent for, he began to question whether the boy truly was doing holy work. Later, after hearing some rumors about the Batman and his spawn being angels, he quietly asked Red Robin if it was true. Tim denied it, but the few interactions they’ve had since suggest the other man might not be entirely convinced he isn’t an angel.
While some of these situations were awkward or annoying, they were also proof that the rumors were making their rounds. That meant most people were less inclined to believe the Batman was real. After all, it was hard enough to sell someone on the idea of a vigilante dressed a bat running around Gotham for years without being caught on camera. Adding to that rumors of vampirism, ghosts, and the like just made it even harder to believe. It meant the standard criminals they faced were more inclined to be fearful of the family. After all, once they saw that the Batman was real and what he was capable of, the other stories didn’t sound quite so far fetched anymore.
Of course, Dick and his brothers also found it funny when most of those instances were reported.