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A Brief History of Batman

BatmanEver wonder about how Batman came to be? Well, this quick history lesson should catch you up on why Batman is as popular as he is.


Batman was created in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger as a response to the success of Superman. Although Kane is considered to be the creator of Batman (and receives credit on all Batman comics published to this day), Finger did make several important contributions of his own. For example, it was Finger who influenced the look of the character. Not many people know this, but Batman came very close to wearing a red costume with a bat-like wings and a tiny domino mask much like the one later worn by Robin. Finger came up with the idea of Batman wearing a cowl with pointed bat ears and a cape. He also suggested going with a darker costume to give Batman a more imposing appearance.


Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939 and was an instant hit with comics fans. The Batman stories back then were written in the style of pulp magazines, with Batman being a ruthless vigilante who had no problems with killing criminals, a sharp contrast with later stories in which the character refuses to take a life. His personality was also based on pulp heroes of the time, most notably Zorro. Batman's secret identity of the rich socialite Bruce Wayne was very similar to the rich socialite Don Diego de la Vega, the secret identity of Zorro. Both characters acted as costumed vigilantes who hid their faces behind masks and both even had secret crime-fighting lairs underneath their opulent mansions. Other characters that influenced Batman included Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow.


Batman's origin story is well known by comic book fans everywhere by now, but it was first told in the November 1939 issue of Detective Comics. For the few people who do not know, Bruce Wayne dedicated himself to fighting crime as Batman after witnessing his parents' murder at the hands of a mugger. The origin is first told in a two-page story that shows the murder as well as young Bruce Wayne standing over his parents' graves vowing to avenge their deaths by spending his life "warring on criminals."


By 1940, it was decided that Batman needed a crime-fighting partner that he could talk to. That partner arrived in April of that year with the introduction of Robin, the Boy Wonder. Although Robin did have a dark origin story that mirrored that of Batman, the presence of a kid sidekick softened the gritty, pulp-inspired stories. It was soon decreed that Batman would not be allowed to directly kill his enemies or use a gun, two things he frequently did in early stories. It was also about this time when Batman received his own title in addition to appearing in Detective Comics.


Batman's popularity was steady during the 1950s, even as superhero comics began to lose popularity. It was during this time that the stories became very bizarre and full of science fiction elements, such as aliens and weird transformations. They also became campier and softer. The series was overhauled again in 1964 with DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz took over the stories. Schwartz brought the series back to its detective roots while keeping the camp that had been dominating the stories, a concept that made its way into the popular 1966 Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The show lasted for three seasons and had a profound influence on Batman's popularity.


By the 1970s, it was decided to bring Batman back to his gritty roots. While he was never as cold-blooded as he was in the beginning, he went back to being a "dark avenger of the night" thanks to stories by writer Dennis O'Neal and artist Neal Adams. The dark, gritty interpretation of Batman has survived to this day and has inspired comics fans everywhere to enroll in art college. Batman stories got even darker in 1986 with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a story that sees an older Bruce Wayne come out of retirement to take back a dystopian and crime-ridden Gotham City. The story was a major inspiration to filmmaker Tim Burton, who released his own film version of Batman in 1989 to great acclaim. It was followed by three sequels before the franchise was rebooted in 2005 with the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins as its sequel, The Dark Knight. Another sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2012.


Batman has been one of the most popular and influential characters in comics since he was first introduced. He has appeared in print, film, television, video games, and even computer animation. With new comics being published every month and a new movie on the way, Batman's popularity doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.


Posted by Dustin Fritschel

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