Posted: Apr 25 2015
by: Neal Haworth

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Origins and History of Batman

Batman is arguably one of the most popular and prolific superheroes of all time. The Caped Crusader has been featured in dozens of full-length movies, serial films, live-action TV shows, animated shows, audio books and records, and video games – and let's not forget the wide variety of Batman-themed merchandise that's been produced and sold over the years, ranging from action figures and toys to costumes and trading cards.

In 2011, the video game review website IGN ranked Batman second on its list of the Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time (Superman was first). Empire magazine also ranked Batman second on its list of the 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters of All Time. Forbes magazine even named Bruce Wayne as the eighth richest fictional character of all time, with a net worth of $6.8 billion. Of course, these are just a few of the countless number of Batman's honorable mentions in the media. This begs the question: how did Batman become such an influential icon?

Batman: The True Beginning

The story of Batman dates back to the late 1930s, long before Christian Bale of Ben Affleck filled the shoes of Bruce Wayne. During this time – an era rightfully known as the “Golden Age of Comics” – people of all ages and background were hooked on comics, which was due in largely in part to the success of Superman in the Action Comics series. This prompted editors and designers at National Publications (now known as DC Comics) to request more superheroes to use in its comic books.

Bob Kane of National Publications is largely credited with Batman's creation. In 1939, he created a rough sketch of a character called “Batman,” which looked strikingly similar to Superman. Both superheroes sported reddish tights, boots, and a mask. Kane contacted another designer at national Publications, Bill Finger, for a second opinion.

Kane described this historic encounter with Bill Finger in his 1989 autobiography, saying the following:

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.”

The two comic book designers initially had the idea of placing wings on Batman so he could fly. After much discussion, however, the duo decided top use a bat-wing-like cape instead. Inspiration for Batman's cape actually came from a Leonardo Da Vinci sketch of an ornithopter Kane had saw when he was a child. “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,” wrote Kane in his autobiography.

While Finger offered some invaluable suggestions on how create Batman, Finger was ultimately responsible for creating the Bruce Wayne. Finger reportedly devised the name for Batman's alter identify by combining the last name of the Scottish patriot Robert Bruce with the last name of the United States Army officer, statesman, and House of Representatives member Anthony Wayne. Robert Bruce was a playboy, whereas Anthony Wayne was a gentry. This created the perfect combination to use for Batman's alter ego.

With the general idea for Batman's appearance and alter ego now on paper, Kane and Finger proceeded with the task of refining their newly created superhero's persona. The two men reportedly drew inspiration from popular 1930s culture, including the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro,The Mask of Zorro, the Bat Whispers, Dick Tracy and Sherlock Holmes.

The Case of the Chemical Syndicate

In May 1939, the first ever comic book (or any media for that matter) in which the Caped Crusader appeared. “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” was published in Detective Comics #27, featuring Kane and Finger's newly created superhero.

This wasn't the same Batman that most of today's generation knows, however. Because the story was written in the same style of the pulps, Batman showed little-to-no remorse for killing criminals. Regardless, Batman was an instant hit, and it wasn't long before he received his own self-titled comic book series in 1940 (note: the Detective Comics continued to feature Batman in parallel with the self-titled series).

Batman's Transformation

While most of these elements were overlooked by your typical comic book reader, Kane made several change to Batman's appearance over the course of the first few issues. This included reshaping the Caped Crusader's jawline to make it more pronounced, elongating the ears on the Batman suit, adding an all-purpose utility belt, adding a boomerang-style “batarang,” and adding Batman's first official vehicle, the Batplane. In Detective Comics #33, Batman's origin was revealed in a special two-part story covering the murder of his parents. After witnessing his parents being murdered by a criminal, a young Bruce Wayne vows to avenger their death by spending the rest of his life “warring on all criminals.”

In Detective Comics #38, Kane and Finger introduced a sidekick for Batman named Robin. The concept of Robin originated during a conversation between the two designers in which they agreed that Batman needed someone to talk to. Kane initially rejected the idea of a sidekick, but he soon changed his mind following the immense success of Detective Comics #38. In fact, Robin was such a hit that it prompted an entire new generation of kid sidekicks.

Shortly after Detective Comics #38, Batman received his own self-titled comic book series. In the first issue, both the Joker and the Catwoman were introduced. What really made this issue stand out, however, was the story's ending in which Batman shoots and kills some large giants. Following this story arc, Whitney Ellsworth, Batman's leading editor, said that Batman could no longer kill his enemies, nor could he use a gun.

1942 Batman

The writers, designers and collaborators behind Batman had created most of the Caped Crusader's “mythos” by 1942. Of course, this was a time when World War II erupted, sparking controversy over some of the more violent elements associated with comic book superheroes. Following the end of World War II, the Batman comics adopted a new policy: to portray Batman as an upstanding citizen.

1950s Batman

Fast forward to the 1950s, Batman was one of the few select superheroes who remained popular as demand for comic books declined. In 1952, DC Comics created a story arc in which Batman teamed up with Superman to fight crime. This spurred a newfound popularity for comic books, revitalizing the superhero genre. DC Comics followed this formula by releasing several subsequent comic books featuring the Caped Crusader with other superheroes.

1960s Batman

The 1960s was a pivotal time for Batman, as DC Comics was planning to kill Batman off due to ever-declining sales. While the Batman and Superman story arc had brought new life into the genre, it was ultimately short lived. Editor Julius Schwartz made some sweeping changes to the Batman series, including redesigning the Batmobile. The new Batmobile was sleek, stylish and embodied the tone of Batman. Furthermore, Batman's costume was redesigned with a yellow insignia. Schwartz also retired several of the series' characters, including Ace, Batwoman, and Bat-Mite.

The Dark Knight Returns

Originally launched February 1986, The Dark Knight Returns was a limited series created by DC Comics editor Frank Miller. It centered around Batman, who was 55 at the time, coming out of retirement to fight crime once again. In terms of popularity, Miller's The Dark Knight was an instant success, bringing Batman back into the lives of millions of fans worldwide.

Batman Today

Batman remains as one of the most popular comic book superheroes of all time. But his influence isn't limited strictly to comics. Batman has appeared in over a dozen movies, as well as TV shows, video games, novels, and more.

Want to learn more about the Caped Crusader? Check out our previous blog post titled 10 Fun Facts About Batman.

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