BATMAN #1 (Spring 1940)
Author: Bill "Jett" Ramey (Follow @BATMANONFILM)

EDITOR'S NOTE: For BOF's article on the history of The Joker, CLICK HERE.

If DETECTIVE COMICS #27 (June 1939) isn’t the most important Batman comic book of all time, then it’s definitely BATMAN #1.

Published in the Spring of 1940 – about a year after Batman’s first appearance in the aforementioned DC #27, BATMAN #1 not only gave us Batman’s classic origin story, but it also introduced the world to Catwoman – known originally as “The Cat” – as well as the most famous and the best comic book villain ever, The Joker.

BATMAN #1 consisted of five short, but complete (sort of) stories which are…

“The Legend of The Batman: Who He Is and How He Came to Be”
This is the classic Batman origin story and has changed very little – if at all – at its core since appearing in BM #174 years ago.

Some 15 years before the “current day,” a mugger named Joe Chill attempts to rob Thomas and Martha Wayne ends up murdering them, leaving their young son, Bruce, an orphan. Bruce swears to avenge his parent and spends the next several years training both his body and mind. Needing some sort of disguise to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, a bat flies into the study of Wayne Manor. Considering it to be an omen, Bruce decides to “become a bat” and The Batman is born.

While The Batman’s origin has been tweaked here and there over the decades, the core aspects of how Batman came to be as introduced in this issued remain to this day.

“The Joker”
“The Joker” is arguably the single most significant single Batman story ever as it introduced The Joker – one of the greatest villains ever in the history of literature.

A new criminal in Gotham known as The Joker begins to announce his crimes – before they take place – over the radio. Despite the fact that both The Batman and the Gotham City Police know the when, where, who and how when it comes to The Joker’s villainous acts, neither are able to prevent them from happening.

Sound familiar?

The Joker commits his murders with a substance known as “Joker Venom” – a poison that leaves the victims with a hideous and distorted smile on their face.

When Batman and Robin finally close in on the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker appears to fall to his death, only to be saved by The Batman and sent to jail.

Again, sound familiar?

There are several aspects of BATMAN #1 found in Chris Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) live-action film (The Joker even disguises himself as a GCPD officer!), but Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN film as well (Joker Venom = Smylex).

The 2005 graphic novel, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS by Ed Brubaker, is based on “The Joker” from BATMAN #1.

“The Giants of Hugo Strange”
Dr. Hugo Strange is back with a drug that transforms prisoners/asylum inmates into 10 foot tall “Man-Monsters.” Of course, Dr. Strange unleashes his giants on Gotham and they cause all sorts of mayhem throughout the city. The Batman himself is even captured by Strange and injected with the drug. However, before The Dark Knight is transformed into a gigantic man-monster, he is able to concoct an antidote. The Batman then jumps into the Bat-Plane and is able to take down Strange and his band of monsters.

This story was the basis for Matt Wagner’s wonderful graphic novel, BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN, which was set in the very early years of Batman’s career.

“The Cat”
The Batman and his sidekick Robin take on a jewel thief known as “The Cat.” While The Dynamic Duo are able to put an end of her crime spree, Batman allows her to escape. Apparently, The Dark Knight was quite taken with The Cat. This marks the first appearance of the character that will gone on to become Catwoman.

“The Joker Returns”
As he promised in “The Joker,” The Clown Prince of Crime escapes from jail and goes on yet another very Joker-ish crime spree. And he’s up to his old shenanigans as well – announcing his crimes before he actually carries them out. After stealing a lot of stuff and killing people, Bruce Wayne has a meeting with Commissioner Gordon and they come up with a plan to capture The Joker. In the end, The Joker is cornered by The Dark Knight and ends up stabbing himself.

Bat-Historical Note: The Joker was supposed to die from his self-inflicted knife wound, but a DC editor – THANK GOODNESS! – decided that the character was too damn good to let die. Thus, via an after-the-fact panel added to the story, the reader was informed that The Joker would survive.


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