Batman was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, and first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). Originally referred to as “the Bat-Man” and still referred to at times as “the Batman,” the character is additionally known as “the Caped Crusader”, “the Dark Knight,” and “the World’s Greatest Detective,” among other titles. He has been around for 75 years and we want to celebrate the Batman of one of the most well know of American Icons.
In early 1939, the success of Superman in Action Comics prompted editors at the comic book division of National Publications (the future DC Comics) to request more superheroes for its titles. In response, Bob Kane created “the Bat-Man.” Collaborator Bill Finger recalled “Kane had an idea for a character called ‘Batman’, and he’d like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane’s, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of … reddish tights, I believe, with boots … no gloves, no gauntlets … with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign … BATMAN.”
Finger offered such suggestions as giving the character a cowl instead of a simple domino mask, a cape instead of wings, and gloves, and removing the red sections from the original costume. Finger said he devised the name Bruce Wayne for the character’s secret identity: “Bruce Wayne’s first name came from Robert Bruce, the Scottish patriot. Bruce, being a playboy, was a man of gentry. I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock … then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne.” He later said his suggestions were influenced by Lee Falk’s popular The Phantom, a syndicated newspaper comic-strip character with which Kane was familiar as well.
Kane and Finger drew upon contemporary 1930s popular culture for inspiration regarding much of the Bat-Man’s look, personality, methods and weaponry. Details find predecessors in pulp fiction, comic strips, newspaper headlines, and autobiographical details referring to Kane himself. In his 1989 autobiography, Kane detailed Finger’s contributions to Batman’s creation:
One day I called Bill and said, ‘I have a new character called the Bat-Man and I’ve made some crude, elementary sketches I’d like you to look at’. He came over and I showed him the drawings. At the time, I only had a small domino mask, like the one Robin later wore, on Batman’s face. Bill said, ‘Why not make him look more like a bat and put a hood on him, and take the eyeballs out and just put slits for eyes to make him look more mysterious?’ At this point, the Bat-Man wore a red union suit; the wings, trunks, and mask were black. I thought that red and black would be a good combination. Bill said that the costume was too bright: ‘Color it dark gray to make it look more ominous’. The cape looked like two stiff bat wings attached to his arms. As Bill and I talked, we realized that these wings would get cumbersome when Bat-Man was in action, and changed them into a cape, scalloped to look like bat wings when he was fighting or swinging down on a rope. Also, he didn’t have any gloves on, and we added them so that he wouldn’t leave fingerprints.
An American cultural icon, Batman has been licensed and adapted into a variety of media, from radio to television and film, and appears on a variety of merchandise sold all over the world such as toys and video games. The character has also intrigued psychiatrists with many trying to understand the character’s psyche and his true ego in society. In May 2011, Batman placed second on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time, after Superman. Empire magazine also listed him second in their 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters of All Time. The appearance of Batman has changed over the years check out the Infographic here to see the history of change in the Batman suit over the years. The Batman character has been portrayed in films by Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and soon by Ben Affleck.
The first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” was published in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). Finger said, “Batman was originally written in the style of the pulps,” and this influence was evident with Batman showing little remorse over killing or maiming criminals. Batman proved a hit character, and he received his own solo title in 1940, while continuing to star in Detective Comics. By that time, National was the top-selling and most influential publisher in the industry; Batman and the company’s other major hero, Superman, were the cornerstones of the company’s success. The two characters were featured side-by-side as the stars of World’s Finest Comics, which was originally titled World’s Best Comics when it debuted in fall 1940. Creators including Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang also worked on the strips during this period.
The elements of the Batman began changing early in the characters development. Batman’s characteristic utility belt was introduced in Detective Comics #29 (July 1939), followed by the boomerang-like batarang and the first bat-themed vehicle, the Batplane, in #31 (Sept. 1939). The character’s origin was revealed in #33 (Nov. 1939), unfolding in a two-page story that establishes the brooding persona of Batman, a character driven by the death of his parents. Written by Finger, it depicts a young Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents’ murder at the hands of a mugger. Days later, at their grave, the child vows that “by the spirits of my parents [I will] avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals. Batman started to soften in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) with the introduction of Robin, Batman’s kid sidekick. Bruce Wayne takes in an orphaned circus acrobat, Dick Grayson, who becomes his acrobatic sidekick, Robin. Batman also becomes a founding member of the Justice Society of America. Robin was introduced, based on Finger’s suggestion Batman needed a “Watson” with whom Batman could talk. Sales nearly doubled, despite Kane’s preference for a solo Batman, and it sparked a continuation of “kid sidekicks”.
In Batman #1 Also Batman #1 in 1940 brought 2 of the long lasting nemesis of Batman the Joker and Catwoman. In a story the gun carrying Batman shoots some monstrous giants to death. That story prompted editor Whitney Ellsworth to decree that the character could no longer kill or use a gun. By 1942, the writers and artists behind the Batman comics had established most of the basic elements of the Batman mythos. DC Comics “adopted a postwar editorial direction that increasingly de-emphasized social commentary in favor of lighthearted juvenile fantasy. The Batman story’s changed removed from the “bleak and menacing world” of the strips of the early 1940s, Batman was instead portrayed as a respectable citizen and paternal figure that inhabited a “bright and colorful” environment.
Editor Whitney Ellsworth assigned a Batman story to artist Dick Sprang in 1941. Anticipating that Bob Kane would be drafted to serve in World War II, DC inventoried Sprang’s work to safeguard against delays. Sprang’s first published Batman work was the Batman and Robin figures on the cover of Batman #18 (Aug.-Sept. 1943), reproduced from the art for page 13 of the later-published Detective Comics #84 (Feb. 1944). Sprang’s first original published Batman work, and first interior-story work, appeared in Batman #19 (Oct.-Nov. 1943), for which he drew the cover and the first three Batman stories, and penciled the fourth Batman story, inked by Norm Fallon. Like all Batman artists of the time, Sprang went uncredited as a ghost artist for Kane.
Batman comics were among those criticized when the comic book industry came under scrutiny with the publication of psychologist Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent in 1954. Wertham’s thesis was that children imitated crimes committed in comic books, and that these works corrupt the morals of the youth. Wertham criticized Batman comics for their supposed homosexual overtones and argued that Batman and Robin were portrayed as lovers. Wertham’s criticisms raised a public outcry during the 1950s, eventually leading to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority. Scholars have suggested that the characters of Batwoman (in 1956) and the pre-Barbara Gordon Bat-Girl (in 1961) were introduced in part to refute the allegation that Batman and Robin were gay, and the stories took on a campier, lighter feel.
In the late 1950s, Batman stories gradually became more science fiction-oriented, an attempt at mimicking the success of other DC characters that had tried to capitalize on that popular theme. New characters such as Ace the Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite were introduced. Batman’s adventures often involved odd transformations or bizarre space aliens. In 1960, Batman debuted as a member of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 (Feb. 1960), and went on to appear in several Justice League comic series starting later that same year.
The Silver Age of Comic Books in DC Comics is sometimes held to have begun in 1956 when the publisher introduced Barry Allen as a new, updated version of The Flash. Batman is not significantly changed by the late 1950s for the continuity which would be later referred to as Earth-One. The lighter tone Batman had taken in the period between the Golden and Silver Ages led to the stories of the late 1950s and early 1960s that often feature a large number of science-fiction elements, and Batman is not significantly updated in the manner of other characters until Detective Comics #327 (May 1964), in which Batman reverts to his detective roots, with most science-fiction elements jettisoned from the series.
By 1964, sales on Batman titles had fallen drastically. Bob Kane noted that, as a result, DC was “planning to kill Batman off altogether.” In response to this, editor Julius Schwartz was assigned to the Batman titles. He presided over drastic changes, as before mentioned with 1964’s Detective Comics #327 (May 1964), which was cover-billed as the “New Look”. Schwartz introduced changes designed to make Batman more contemporary, and to return him to more detective-oriented stories. He brought in artist Carmine Infantino to help overhaul the character. The Batmobile was redesigned, and Batman’s costume was modified to incorporate a yellow ellipse behind the bat-insignia. The space aliens, time travel, and characters of the 1950s such as Batwoman, Ace, and Bat-Mite were retired. Batman’s butler Alfred was killed off (though his death was quickly reversed later) while a new female relative for the Wayne family, Aunt Harriet, came to live with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.
The debut of the Batman television series in 1966 had a profound influence on the character. The success of the series increased sales throughout the comic book industry, and Batman reached a circulation of close to 900,000 copies. Elements such as the character of Batgirl and the show’s campy nature were introduced into the comics; the series also initiated the return of Alfred. Although both the comics and TV show were successful for a time, the camp approach eventually wore thin and the show was canceled in 1968. In the aftermath, the Batman comics themselves lost popularity once again. As Julius Schwartz noted, “When the television show was a success, I was asked to be campy, and of course when the show faded, so did the comic books.
Starting in 1969, writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams made a deliberate effort to distance Batman from the campy portrayal of the 1960s TV series and to return the character to his roots as a “grim avenger of the night.” O’Neil said his idea was “simply to take it back to where it started. I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after.”
In 1969, Dick Grayson attends college as part of DC Comics’ effort to revise the Batman comics. Additionally, Batman also moves from his mansion, Wayne Manor into a penthouse apartment atop the Wayne Foundation building in downtown Gotham City, in order to be closer to Gotham City’s crime. Batman spends the 1970s and early 1980s mainly working solo, with occasional team-ups with Robin and/or Batgirl. Batman’s adventures also become somewhat darker and more grim during this period, depicting increasingly violent crimes, including the first appearance (since the early Golden Age) of the Joker as a homicidal psychopath, and the arrival of Ra’s al Ghul, a centuries-old terrorist who knows Batman’s secret identity. In the 1980s, Dick Grayson becomes Nightwing.
O’Neil and Adams first collaborated on the story “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” (Detective Comics #395, January 1970). Few stories were true collaborations between O’Neil, Adams, Schwartz, and inker Dick Giordano, and in actuality these men were mixed and matched with various other creators during the 1970s; nevertheless the influence of their work was “tremendous.” Giordano said: “We went back to a grimmer, darker Batman, and I think that’s why these stories did so well…” While the work of O’Neil and Adams was popular with fans, the acclaim did little to help declining sales; the same held true with a similarly acclaimed run by writer Steve Englehart and penciler Marshall Rogers in Detective Comics #471–476 (August 1977 – April 1978), which went on to influence the 1989 movie Batman and be adapted for Batman: The Animated Series, which debuted in 1992. Regardless, circulation continued to drop through the 1970s and 1980s, hitting an all-time low in 1985.
After the 12-issue limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics reconnected the histories of all major characters in an attempt at updating them for newer audiences everything changed for the Dark Knight.
Frank Miller’s wrote the limited series The Dark Knight Returns (February–June 1986), which tells the story of a 55-year old Batman coming out of retirement in a possible future, reinvigorated the character. The Dark Knight Returns was a financial success and has since become one of the Batman’s most admired stories. The series also sparked a major resurgence in the character’s popularity.
That year Dennis O’Neil took over as editor of the Batman titles and set the template for the portrayal of Batman following DC’s status quo-altering miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths. O’Neil operated under the assumption that he was hired to revamp the character and as a result tried to instill a different tone in the books than had gone before. One outcome of this new approach was the “Year One” storyline in Batman #404–407 (February–May 1987), in which Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli redefined the character’s origins. Writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland continued this dark trend with 1988’s 48-page one-shot Batman: The Killing Joke, in which the Joker, attempting to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, cripples Gordon’s daughter Barbara, and then kidnaps and tortures the commissioner, physically and psychologically.
The Batman comics garnered major attention in 1988 when DC Comics created a 900 number for readers to call to vote on whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, lived or died. Voters decided in favor of Jason’s death by a narrow margin of 28 votes (see Batman: A Death in the Family). The following year saw the release of Tim Burton’s Batman feature film, which firmly brought the character back to the public’s attention, grossing millions of dollars at the box office, and millions more in merchandising. However, the three sequels, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns and director Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, did not perform as well at the box office. The fourth film in the series, the Schumacher-directed Batman & Robin, meanwhile, was a critical and commercial failure. The Batman movie franchise was rebooted with director and co-writer Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005, The Dark Knight in 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. In 1989, the first issue of Legends of the Dark Knight, the first new solo Batman title in nearly 50 years, sold close to a million copies.
Batman was now very popular and become an important part of the DC Universe. The 1993 “Knightfall” story arc introduced a new villain, Bane, who critically injures Batman. Jean-Paul Valley, known as Azrael, is called upon to wear the Batsuit during Bruce Wayne’s convalescence. Writers Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant worked on the Batman titles during “Knightfall,” and would also contribute to other Batman crossovers throughout the 1990s. After the end of “Knightfall,” the storylines split in two directions, following both the Azrael-Batman’s adventures, and Bruce Wayne’s quest to become Batman once more. The story arcs realign in “KnightsEnd,” as Azrael becomes increasingly violent and is defeated by a healed Bruce Wayne. Wayne hands the Batman mantle to Dick Grayson (then Nightwing) for an temporary period, while Wayne trains to return to the role.
The 1994 company-wide crossover Zero Hour changes aspects of DC continuity again, including those of Batman. Noteworthy among these changes is that the general populace and the criminal element now considers Batman an urban legend rather than a known force. Similarly, the Waynes’ killer is never caught or identified, effectively removing Joe Chill from the new continuity, rendering stories such as “Year Two” non-canon.
Batman once again becomes a member of the Justice League during Grant Morrison’s 1996 relaunch of the series, titled JLA. Batman and Gotham City face catastrophe in the decade’s closing crossover arc. In 1998’s “Cataclysm” storyline, Gotham City is devastated by an earthquake and ultimately cut off from the United States. Deprived of many of his technological resources, Batman fights to reclaim the city from legions of gangs during 1999’s “No Man’s Land”.
Another writer who rose to prominence on the Batman comic series, was Jeph Loeb. Along with longtime collaborator Tim Sale, they wrote two miniseries (“The Long Halloween” and “Dark Victory”) that pit an early in his career version of Batman against his entire rogue’s gallery (most notably Two-Face, whose origin was re-envisioned by Loeb) while dealing with various mysteries involving serial killers Holiday and the Hangman. In 2003, Loeb teamed with artist Jim Lee to work on another mystery arc: “Batman: Hush” for the main Batman book.
In 2005, DC launched All-Star Batman and Robin, a stand-alone comic series set outside the existing DC Universe. Written by Frank Miller and drawn by Jim Lee, the series was a commercial success for DC Comics though widely panned by critics for its writing and strong depictions of violence. Starting in 2006, the regular writers on Batman and Detective Comics were Grant Morrison and Paul Dini, with Grant Morrison reincorporating controversial elements of Batman lore (most notably, the science fiction themed storylines of the 1950s Batman comics, which Morrison revised as hallucinations Batman suffered under the influence of various mind-bending gases and extensive sensory deprivation training) into the character. Morrison’s run climaxed with “Batman R.I.P.”, which brought Batman up against the villainous “Black Glove” organization, which sought to drive Batman into madness. “Batman R.I.P.” segued into Final Crisis (also written by Morrison), which saw the apparent death of Batman at the hands of Darkseid. In the 2009 miniseries Batman: Battle for the Cowl, Wayne’s former protégé Dick Grayson becomes the new Batman, and Wayne’s son Damian becomes the new Robin. In June 2009, Judd Winick returned to writing Batman, while Grant Morrison was given his own series, titled Batman and Robin.
After his death at the hands of the alien villain Darkseid in Final Crisis written by Grant Morrison in 2010, the storyline Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne saw Bruce travel through history, eventually returning to the present day. Although he reclaimed the mantle of Batman, he also allowed Grayson to continue being Batman as well. Bruce decided to take his war on crime globally, which is the central focus of Batman Incorporated. DC Comics would later announce that Grayson would be the main character in Batman, Detective Comics and Batman and Robin, while Wayne would be the main character in Batman Incorporated. Also, Bruce appeared in another ongoing series, Batman: The Dark Knight.
With the remaking of the DC Universe in 2011 in the New 52, Batman titles were was canceled and relaunched with new #1 which included Batman, Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, and Batman: The Dark Knight. Dick Grayson returns to the mantle of Nightwing and appears in his own ongoing series. Batman Incorporated was relaunched in 2012 to complete the storyline. Oddly enough this is the series that Damian Wayne – son of Batman died. Writer Grant Morrison introduced the character way back in 2006, made him Robin in 2009, and ended his life in 2013.
Since the beginning of The New 52, Scott Snyder has been the writer of the flagship Batman title. His first major story arc was “Night of the Owls”, where Batman confronts the Court of Owls, a secret society that has controlled Gotham for centuries. The second story arc was “Death of the Family”, where the Joker returns to Gotham and simultaneously attacks each member of the Batman family. The newest story arc is “Batman: Zero Year”, which redefines Batman’s origin in The New 52. It follows Batman #0, published in June 2012, which explored the character’s early years.
On the small screen Gotham is an upcoming American superhero television series created by Bruno Heller, based on characters appearing in and published by DC Comics. Heller serves as executive producer on the project along with Danny Cannon, who will also direct the pilot. Gotham received a series order from Fox on May 5, 2014 and is scheduled to premiere on September 22, 2014. As originally conceived, the series would have served as a straightforward story of Gordon’s early days on the Gotham City Police force. The idea evolved not only to include the Bruce Wayne character, but will also tell the origin stories of several Batman villains, including the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, the Joker, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Hugo Strange, Harvey Dent and Mr. Freeze. The first season will consist of sixteen episodes.
On the big screen is the heavily anticipated movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which will premiere in March of 2016. It is the intended sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel and the second installment in the DC Cinematic Universe. Ben Affleck was cast as Bruce Wayne / Batman. A billionaire turned crime fighter for Gotham City. This is Affleck’s second outing as a comic book superhero, the first being Daredevil in the 2003 film of the same name. Josh Brolin had been in discussions for the role prior to Affleck’s casting. Director Zack Snyder remarked on the casting, “Ben provides an interesting counter-balance to Henry’s Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Dawn of Justice part of the title implies the movie involving the full Justice League will be coming in the foreseeable future. Batman a man of no apparent super powers demands the respect of the DC Universe and is one of the most popular comic characters of all time. We honor Bob Kane and Bill Finger for bringing us The Batman and celebrate his 75th Birthday. We look forward to more entertaining stories about The Dark Knight and the Batman family of characters. Stay right here at Comics Talk for more Batman and comic faithful for more. 🙂 Walt