In the late 1930’s, comic books were emerging as a cheap form of printed entertainment for Depression era readers. After one of the first costumed superheroes, Superman, made his first appearance in 1938 with Action Comics #1, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications introduced a new character in their Detective Comics with #27 that would change the face of comic books and popular culture for the next 75 years…BATMAN!
Batman is one of the most recognizable and influential comic book superheroes of all time, and this year celebrates the 75th Anniversary of one of the most iconic characters. Created by cartoonist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939, Batman has since been adapted into every form of media including radio, TV, film, and video games. Beginning as a mysterious, Dark Knight, detective, the Batman would change and evolve drastically over his 75 year history. In 1940, he received his very own comic book simply titled Batman along with his youthful sidekick Robin, who appeared in Detective Comics #38. Over the years, Batman would fight crime in Gotham City including characters from his vast rogue’s gallery, support the troops during World War II, and even defend the Earth against aliens, robots and the occasional interdimensional imp. As the series started to decline in the late 1950’s, DC Comics’ editor Julius Schwartz helped bring about a new look for Batman in 1964 with Detective Comics #327 featuring a new version of “The Caped Crusader” with a bright yellow circle around the bat symbol on his chest. With renewed interest and popularity, Batman soon made his debut on the 1966 TV series starring Adam West, and the accompanied movie and “Batmania” had begun! After all the camp and craziness of the 1960’s, Batman would return to his darker design in 1972 with the efforts of writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams.
The 1980’s were a time of great change and experimentation with Batman and comic books. From writer/artist Frank Miller came The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, featuring an older, grizzled Batman taking Gotham back from a rampant gang of Mutants to the re-imagined origin with Year One in 1987. In 1988, Batman would suffer tragedy with the death of the second Robin (Jason Todd) at the hands of The Joker, which caused a major outcry from fans. As the 1980’s drew to a close, one seminal film would change the way the world looked at “The Dark Knight” with director Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. That summer a new era of “Batmania” was born and gained millions of new fans (including myself), with that began a franchise of popular movies during the 1990’s until 1997’s Batman & Robin directed by Joel Schumacher which would bring an end to another era. In the comics Batman would gain even more popularity and comic book titles until he succumbed to defeat at the hands of a new villain: Bane who broke Batman’s back in Batman #497, July 1993. With Batman #500 came a new Batman and a long multi-title crossover that would leave Batman fans eager for the return of the Dark Knight.
With the start of the new millennium, comics and Batman grew up a little and in 2002 a new comic series by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee which sparked a renewed interest (and sales) in Batman. With director Christopher Nolan’s new Batman film trilogy beginning in 2005 with Batman Begins starring Christian Bale and the phenomenal reaction from its sequel, The Dark Knight in 2008 with Heath Ledger as The Joker. The trilogy ended in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises as the comics had already begun to reboot the DC Universe with “The New 52!” in 2011 featuring a newly redesigned Batman.
Why has Batman endured so long? Despite all of his imitators, his dark beginnings, to his child-friendly years, from camp to dark and gritty, then back again, and so forth; it is his human nature that remains with us. Batman is a superhero in name only for he possesses no superpowers. He is human through and through, and despite the gadgets and gizmos, fancy cars and vast array of villains; Batman is unlike any of his fellow comic book heroes. Born out of tragedy, struggled through adversity, Batman is relatable and admirable. We identify with Batman because he is the personification of fear and loss, but taking control of that fear, he uses it to his advantage to accomplish something great and become something wonderful. Batman is “The Caped Crusader”, “The Dark Knight”, or simply “The Bat”, and he has lasted for 75 years, becoming an integral part of our popular culture and our lives. May he continue for generations to come.