“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night. Black. Terrible. I shall become A BAT!” - Bruce Wayne, DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (November 1939)
B A T M A N
The Dark Knight…The Caped Crusader…The Dark Night Detective…
Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, although he is unaccredited, The Batman is one of the world’s most well-known comic book and literary characters.
The Batman is an American icon enjoyed by generations the world over for nearly 70 years.
The Batman -- greatest superhero ever created! You know why you love him -- you thought you could be him. Train really hard, pick up a few gadgets, nab a cool black costume, and BOOM -- you're The Batman.
Well, it sounded cool in our heads, didn't it? Come on, admit it. There was no WAY we were going to be Superman. Or Spider-Man. Or Captain Marvel. But there was always this, "You know, just maybe" with The Batman.
Not only is The Batman world famous, so is his supporting cast: Adopted son and sidekick Robin; Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon; and Alfred Pennyworth -- surrogate father, butler, and reluctant partner. Batman also has arguably the greatest gallery of villains in comicdon: Two Face, The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, and the infamous Joker. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
His real identity is Bruce Wayne, billionaire and philanthropist. As a child, his parents (Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne) were murdered in front of him. This tragedy led Wayne to train and study to the peak of physical and intellectual perfection, don the guise of a bat, and fight crime in his hometown of Gotham City (First mentioned in BATMAN #4, Winter 1941).
“The Bat-Man” first appeared in the year 1939 in DETECTIVE COMICS #27. The success of Superman in ACTION COMICS a year earlier led National Publications (later renamed DC COMICS) to request more “superheroes.” Kane (Inspired by Zorro, The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, the movie THE BAT WHISPERS, et al), brainstormed the idea of The Batman. Collaborating with Finger, they came up with a hero attired in a black cape and cowl who possessed no super powers -- just his wit, genius, superior detective abilities, a crime-fighting arsenal, and world class martial arts skills.
The Batman was such a huge hit in DETECTIVE COMICS, that the character was given his own comic book,
BATMAN (Spring , 1940 - see right), a year later. He also received a sidekick in the form of orphaned circus acrobat Richard “Dick” Grayson, aka Robin (DETECTIVE COMICS #38, April 1940).
Batman’s original incarnation was quite a dark and grim character. These first Batman stories were similar in the tone of film noir and the gothic horror films of that era. The Batman also carried a gun and was not apposed to using it on the criminals he hunted. When Robin appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #38 in 1940, the dark tone of the stories was softened, and remained that way until the early 1970s.
In fact, The Batman -- or now simply Batman -- became a honorary member of the Gotham City PD, far from the original dark vigilante incarnation as Bob Kane and Bill Finger had intended.
During the 1950s, Batman became virtually a science fiction character -- Superman in a Bat-costume. It was not uncommon for a Batman story to take place in outer space or involve various sorts of bizarre, sci-fi inspired characters. Among the peculiar adventures of this period in Batman's history included the aforementioned space travels, visiting the past and future, and transforming into many goofy forms including a merman!
The 50s also saw the inclusion of Bat-Mite,
Ace The Bat-Hound, Bat-Woman (Kathy Kane), and Bat-Girl (Betty Kane) into the world of Batman. These latter two characters allegedly were added to show the world that Batman and Robin were not gay! So now, Batman not only had a partner in Robin, but an elf-like creature in a Batman suit, as well as two women now dressed like bats.
It was also common in the stories of the 50s for Batman to appear in costume in the middle of the day! Batman was a Gotham City public figure and would regularly attend various Gotham functions along with Robin (Does that sound B&R familiar Bat-fans?).
By the late 50s and early 1960s, Batman was on the ropes. DC was seriously considering canceling the character all together.
Enter editor Editor Julius Schwartz. In 1964's DETECTIVE COMICS #327,
Schwartz made several changes to Batman to make him and his world more “contemporary.” Artist Carmine Infantino was brought in to assist in this Bat-makeover which came to be known as the “New Look.”
The Batmobile was redesigned, his costume was altered (including the yellow oval around the bat-logo across Batman’s chest. His overall look was less “cartoony.” The sci-fi/outer space/alien stories were no more -- as were many of the ridiculous characters (Bat-Mite, Bat-Hound, etc.). The public’s first look at the “New Look Batman” (left) occurred in DETECTIVE COMICS #327, May 1964.
The 1960s also saw the first edition of “Bat-Mania” with the BATMAN television show on ABC hitting the airwaves. BATMAN, an over-the-top, campy, parody of the character was a huge (albeit short lived) hit. The series starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The series also featured several big name actors as “guest villains,” such as Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, and a slew of others. The television show also spawned a feature length film, BATMAN: THE MOVIE in 1966.
What's funny about the "Zap, Pow, Wham" campiness of the TV series, is that the Batman of the comic books was trying to escape this sort of nonsense at that time. The 60s TV show definitely cast a long shadow over the character for years to come. To some people, this is Batman -- a funny guy in tights.
The 70s arrived with more changes in store for Batman. In fact, we would see a reemergence of “The Batman,” as the comic books returned to the character’s dark roots. Writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams are credited as being the most notable of the new "Batman men."
Making most Batman fans happy, DC reintroduced some of Batman's earlier darker elements, commencing with DETECTIVE COMICS #395 (see left) in December of 1970. Robin was sort of disposed of by having Dick Grayson go off to college, which now made Batman once again a solo crimefighter. O'Neil's tone influenced the various Batman comics through the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Also held in high esteem were the stories in DETECTIVE by Steve Englehart (writer) and Marshall Rogers (artwork). Artists Dick Giordano and Jim Aparo should also be given credit for helping shape the look of The Batman during this era.
The 80s brought readers two of the most famous and influential Batman projects to date -- BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (see right) in 1986 and “YEAR ONE,” originally a 4-part story arch in BATMAN #404-#407 in 1987. What both of these have in common is writer/artist Frank Miller.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is a story set in The Batman’s “possible future.” A 50ish, alcoholic Bruce Wayne once again dons the mantle of The Bat to fight crime in an out of control Gotham City. It is considered a modern day comic book classic and was a prime example that comic books were not for kids. It also served had a major influence on the Tim Burton directed BATMAN (1989) -- particularly the idea that Bruce Wayne is not a mentally stable guy.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE (with art by David Mazzucchelli, see left), revamped the origin of Batman to go along with the dark tone established by TDKR. Later released as a one-volume graphic novel, it is considered a “must read” by Batman fans. YEAR ONE also strongly influenced the 2005 live-action film BATMAN BEGINS.
The team of Alan Moore (writer) and Brian Bolland (artist) produced another graphic novel classic, 1988's THE KILLING JOKE (see right). It is the story of The Joker gunning down Barbara Gordon (Which ends her career as Batgirl), as part of a plan to drive the kidnapped Commissioner Gordon crazy. A “possible,” albeit ambiguous, origin for The Joker is also provided.
In 1988, one of the most controversial moments in Batman’s history occurred in the “A Death in the Family” storyline. Via a 1-900 number, readers were allowed to vote whether or not Jason Todd -- “Robin 2” -- would survive a crowbar attack at the hands of The Joker. The votes were tallied and the voters had spoke -- Jason Todd had to go. Thus Robin was murdered by The Joker.
The 1980s also brought the first serious, live-action theatrical film based on The Dark Knight in the Tim Burton directed BATMAN. The film starred Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Michael Keaton as The Batman (Keaton in 1989's BATMAN, see right). BATMAN was the highest grossing film of 1989 and spawned three sequels in the 90s: BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN FOREVER (1995), and BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997).
In the 90s, Batman returned to the small screen with the debut of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Many fans considered the series and its follow-up THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN (AKA BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS) the best adaptation of the character outside the comic books.
The Batman of the 1990s and 2000s has remained the dark creature of the night that he was briefly in 1939 and 40, and following the reboot given the character in the early 70s.
Bruce Wayne even gave up the mantle of The Bat, although briefly, in the 90s. Jean Paul Valley, AKA Azreal, became Batman during the "Knightfall" and "Knightquest" storylines. And Dick Grayson, Robin 1/Nightwing, wore the cape and cowl for a time.
The Batman has gained several crime fighting allies in the comic books as well: Robin 3 (Tim Drake), Nightwing (former Robin 1 Dick Grayson), Spoiler/Robin 4 (Stephanie Brown), Batgirl 2 (Cassandra Cain), and Oracle (former Batgirl Barbara Gordon).
In 2005, the 5th live-action Bat-Film produced by Warner Bros., hit theaters on June 15th (in the U.S.).
Lauded by fans and critics alike, BATMAN BEGINS is considered to be the best and most faithful of all the previous BATMAN films. Released only eight years after BATMAN AND ROBIN, BEGINS has nothing do with the previous four Bat-films and is considered a "reboot" of the film franchise. BATMAN BEGINS was directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Christian Bale as The Batman/Bruce Wayne (Left, Bale as The Batman in BATMAN BEGINS).
Back in the comic books, The Batman has gone through a few changes of late.
Following Infinite Crisis, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake retrace the steps Bruce had taken when he originally left Gotham, to, well, “reboot” The Batman.
In the "Face the Face" storyline, Batman and Robin return to Gotham City after their year-long sabbatical. The Batman has left Harvey Dent (Yes, the former villain Two Face) in charge of protecting the city. However, the investigation into several murders of The Batman’s “lesser” rogue’s gallery leads to Harvey as the prime suspect.
The Batman never doubted Harvey, and he indeed proves to be innocent. But the pressure of the entire situation is “two” much for Harvey to bear -- if you know what I mean?
At the end of the “Face to Face” storyline, Bruce offers to adopt Tim Drake (the current Robin) -- not because he feels obligated to, but because he wants to do it.
Tim accepts and moves into Wayne Manor, as well as the old room occupied by Richard Grayson (Nightwing/Robin I) and Jason Todd (Robin II).
The Batman’s personality as undergone a change as well. He’s no longer “Ass-Hole Batman;” yet he’s still the dark character that he has been for most of his existence. This writer feels that he is very much the “70s Batman/Dark Knight” (whom I grew up with) as depicted so eloquently by Denny O’Neal and Neal Adams some 30 years ago.
On the movie front, the second Bat-movie of the “Nolan Era” is about to go into production. Slated for a June 2008 release, the sequel to the highly acclaimed and box office success BATMAN BEGINS is about to, uh, begin.
Clearly, The Joker will be featured in this film -- which is yet untitled -- and will be tremendously different from the way the character was portrayed by Jack Nicholson in 1989’s BATMAN. In fact, word has it that The Joker of the BEGINS sequel may be extremely secretive during the film and may not be revealed fully until the end.
The sequel will also feature D.A. Harvey Dent who will make a pact with The Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon to take down the major riff-raff of Gotham.