Detective Comics #457 might seem like a random issue of Batman’s long-running comic series to bestow much significance to, but it introduced someone who would come to play a major role in shaping Bruce Wayne’s life and in many ways become the protector of Gotham that he never could. I’m talking, of course, about Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who first appeared in a panel comforting Bruce after the death of his parents in Crime Alley. Bruce’s connection to Leslie was cemented then and it was later revealed that each year on the anniversary of that fateful night he would visit the woman who had shown him such compassion.
Leslie Thompkins is one of the few stable things in Bruce’s life. Throughout the ever-shifting Batman canon, readers came to learn that the elder woman had once been close friends with Bruce’s father Thomas, and just like Alfred Pennyworth, took on a surrogate parent role in the young child’s life after his mother and father were taken from him. One of the biggest criticisms often leveled at Batman is that he could be putting his resources back into Gotham rather than into his habit for vigilantism. Leslie reflects a more charitable version of Bruce’s wish to change the city they both love, as after she saw the loss that Bruce faced, she dedicated her life to helping others as both a youth worker and a doctor.
Batman’s relationship with women is something that’s been explored in many of his comic book adventures, from the loss of his mother to romantic dalliances with any number of fleeting women who often betray or hurt him, but his connection to Leslie is something entirely different. It’s one built on trust, love and respect. Her place and role in Gotham is one that reminds Bruce of who he could be and why he still fights for the streets of the city that he loves.
While Batman utilizes his fighting prowess and deductive brilliance to fight crime in Gotham, Leslie uses her compassion and intelligence. She’s established multiple health and drug treatment clinics throughout her tenure in the Bat-canon and even managed to create a zero-crime zone in one of the establishments so that no matter who came through her doors, they would be protected. Her reach was so extensive that even some of the city’s most violent criminals respected the request, keeping patients safe under the watchful eye of Gotham’s guardian angel.
Simply being a female character who has survived since the 1970s makes Leslie stand out, especially as she’s essentially a surrogate mother to Bruce and would be a prime target for any of his enemies and/or writers who want to make the audience feel for him. What really showcases the resilience of Leslie Thompkins, though, is the fact that as much as she loves Bruce, she’s not afraid to challenge and stand up to him, even when it puts her and her life at risk.
One of Bruce and Leslie’s deepest disagreements is over his constant use of children as sidekicks. It’s long been one of the most controversial aspects of Batman’s crimefighting career, and during the massive “War Games” and “War Crimes” events it came to head in a shocking way. After Stephanie Brown was taken to Leslie’s clinic after a fight with Black Mask, she apparently died. Bruce was devastated, but not nearly as much as Leslie, who was once again furious with her friend for his disregard for the lives of the young people he takes under his wing. If that wasn’t shocking enough, it was later revealed that Leslie had in fact purposefully allowed Stephanie to die to prove a point to Bruce. Batman was so angry upon learning this that he declared Leslie a criminal and vowed to hunt her down and see her in prison if she ever returned to Gotham.
If Leslie’s actions don’t sound like those of the woman that we’re celebrating, it’s because they weren’t. In actual fact, Leslie helped Stephanie to fake her death in order for the young girl to start a new life away from the horrors of Gotham and the responsibility of being a member of the Bat-Family. This act is a perfect example of how Leslie and Bruce ultimately differ. Whether he means to or not, Bruce’s actions almost always put his young charges in the line of fire, while Leslie was willing to put herself in Batman’s sights just to save a young girl’s life.
Present throughout much of his comics life, and even in some of his animated and live action adventures, Leslie is a powerful force for good in Gotham. Whether she’s covertly treating Batman’s injuries or trying to solve Gotham’s problems on the most literal street level, Dr. Leslie Thompkins is one of the city’s most impactful and underrated heroes.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. Check out her issue-by-issue breakdown of The Batman Who Laughs and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.