Detective Comics no. 164.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1939
Creators: Bill Finger (writer) and Bob Kane (artist)
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The Batman, a masked hero in the tradition of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel, first appeared in Detective Comics #27, dated May, 1939. (That's the comic his publisher, DC Comics, is …

continued below

… named after, by the way.) Of his entire cast of characters, only he, Police Commissioner Gordon, and, of course, Bruce Wayne, the hero's then-foppish alter ego, appeared in that first outing.

The set-up remained almost exactly the same for nearly a year. Bruce's girlfriend, Julie Madison, turned up during that time, but she was pure cardboard and soon disappeared. A minor recurring villain, Professor Hugo Strange, also made his debut in the first year. It was not until Detective Comics #38, April, 1940, that the series took the turn that made it a classic. That was the issue that introduced the best-known and longest-running of comicdom's kid sidekicks, Robin the Boy Wonder. (no relation). Officially, the whole scenario was created by cartoonist Bob Kane (who later did a couple of animated self-parodies, Courageous Cat and Cool McCool), but in reality he had a great deal of help from writer Bill Finger (Green Lantern, All Winners Squad).

Batman and Robin were soon stars of their own comic, in addition to their monthly billet in Detective Comics. They also appeared quarterly in World's Finest Comics, where they shared the limelight with Superman, and Robin had a series of his own in Star Spangled Comics. The cast of characters grew to include a butler, Alfred Beagle (later Pennyworth), and a list of recurring bad guys, including The Joker, Two Face, The Penguin, The Scarecrow, and many others grotesque enough to rival those of Dick Tracy. One of his more prominent villains, The Catwoman (who has played both sides of the law at various times) was also a source of sexual tension for a hero who, atypically, tended to lack love interests.

The Dynamic Duo have appeared in many media, and have been handled in many different ways. In comics of the 1940s, they were just colorful adventurers. Their two movie serials (1943 and '49) duplicated the atmosphere of the contemporary comics. In the '50s, liberal doses of science fiction were added to the comic book. The 1966 TV show, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, played them for laughs, and the comic book of the time followed suit. But in a major motion picture feature 23 years later, Michael Keaton, though best known for comedy roles, played Batman as a grim avenger. In Super Friends, a 1970s TV cartoon, they're cheerful and friendly, teaming up with Superman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. In Frank Miller's groundbreaking 1986 comic book mini-series, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is in his 50s, and just coming out of retirement. In a late 1970s series set in an alternate world, Batman enjoyed a long and happy marriage with The Catwoman (and was the father of The Huntress, herself a superhero). Batman has been the subject of possibly more newspaper strips than any other character, with separate series appearing in the 1940s, '50s, '60s, and '80s. He was occasionally seen as a member of The Justice Society of America in the 1940s. He was a charter member of the JSA's 1960s successor, The Justice League of America, but quit that group in the early '80s to head up a superhero team of his own, The Outsiders.

Since 1992, Batman has been the star of a series of popular and critically-acclaimed made-for-TV animated adventures. The intelligent, engaging stories of this series, combined with its bold, open design, have made it a favorite not only of the youthful audience for which it is intended, but also of more sophisticated adult fans — and have garnered two Emmy Awards.

Through it all, the Batman comic book series continues, with well over 500 issues now under its belt. Detective Comics, too, is still running, and Batman has long since crowded all the other characters out. Robin (the third — the first grew up and the second was killed off) has his own comic now, and a separate series is devoted to Batman's very early adventures. A comic book was spun off from the cartoon, and that, too, is marketed as part of DC's now-huge Batman line. A "future Batman", marketed under the name Batman Beyond, is also part of the line.

One indicator of how widely-known the character has become occurred when the Berlin Wall came down. News footage of the first traffic between sides of the formerly divided city included at least one young man wearing a Batman T-shirt — coming from the Eastern side.


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Text ©1999-2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.