Martha Wayne is the mother of Bruce Wayne. As a result, she tends to be best-known because she is one of the two characters whose murders inspired Bruce to become Batman, thus making her very well-known indeed. With that said, while Martha started out as nothing more than a means to set up the plot, later Batman stories have elaborated upon her character.
How Has the Character Changed Over Time?
For example, it has been established for some time that Martha was the heiress to the Kane family, which owned Kane Chemical. The stories see some variation on her behavior when she was still young, but generally speaking, they agree that she eventually developed a social conscience that caused her to push against corruption as well as child abuse. It was Martha’s choice to back up her beliefs with her actions that led to her meeting Thomas Wayne, who tends to be depicted as a physician as well as a philanthropist.
With that said, comic books being comic books, it should come as no surprise to learn that there have been Batman stories that have sought to add complexities to the relatively simple and straightforward story of the good couple who were murdered in a robbery gone wrong. For example, there have been Batman stories that suggest that the Waynes weren’t killed because of bad luck but were instead deliberately targeted by an assassin who made the whole thing look like a robbery gone wrong. Furthermore, there have even been Batman stories that brought up the possibility that Martha and Thomas’s relationship was much more troubled than it seemed, whether because Martha was being exploited by Thomas who had no interest in her save for her money or because Martha was having an affair with Alfred Pennyworth behind Thomas’s back. In fact, there have even been suggestions that Thomas was the one who arranged for the assassination of Martha, though these suggestions have always been promptly laid to rest.
Regardless, the scene of the Waynes’ murder has changed over time as well. For instance, the initial version of events saw the criminal shooting both Thomas and Martha. However, this was later changed to the criminal shooting Thomas, which caused Martha to die of shock because of a supposedly weak heart. Unsurprisingly, this was changed back to the criminal shooting both Thomas and Martha, which is the version that exists in the present time. Having said this, one of the most dramatic changes came with Frank Miller’s version in The Dark Knight Returns, which featured the criminal breaking Martha’s pearl necklace, thus resulting in a very memorable cascade of pearls.
What Is the Problem with the Pearls?
There is just one problem with the scene. In short, pearl necklaces are knotted. Partly, this is to keep the pearls on the necklace in case it breaks, and partly, this is to keep the pearls from experiencing wear and tear by rubbing against one another. As a result, Martha’s pearl necklace shouldn’t have been able to show that dramatic cascade of pearls.
Of course, realism wasn’t exactly a huge consideration for Frank Miller when he came up with the scene. After all, his plan was to come up with something memorable rather than being concerned about details that a lot of people wouldn’t be familiar with. However, it is entertaining to note that subsequent Batman stories have offered various explanations for exactly what was going on with the pearls.
One example would be the theory that Thomas put a hit on Martha. Essentially, the idea is that he gave Martha fake pearls so that the assassin would know who to shoot, which is the theory that was suggested by Martha’s own mother following the shooting. However, that theory isn’t particularly believable. Instead, a better theory comes from a later Batman comic, which essentially says that Martha was wearing fake pearls because she was sensible enough to wear something that looked good but wasn’t actually that valuable for a visit to a movie theater. Granted, this claim came from what was probably Bruce’s hallucination of Martha, but it nonetheless explains everything perfectly without having to resort to outlandish speculation that take away from the power of Batman’s origin story.