Batman is a fictional superhero first appearing in Detective Comics in May, 1939. The creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Batman remains one of the most famous and recognizable of the superhero genre, resulting in the creation of several television series, motion pictures, and graphic novels. The original comics are highly-prized by collectors and routinely fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars on the auction block.
The man who was to become Batman is Bruce Wayne, a Gotham City socialite who inherited his wealth from his father, a prominent doctor and philanthropist named Thomas Wayne. A trip to the movies with the family ended in tragedy: Thomas and his wife Martha are murdered by a common thug in front of Bruce, whose childhood effectively ends at the age of eight. Wayne's anger at his parent's murder causes him to vow revenge against the criminal element in all of its forms.
Growing up in the care of his father's butler, Alfred Pennyworth, he inherits a vast fortune, his father's business and philanthropic empire. Wayne uses his wealth to travel the world during his teenage years, seeking out instruction from experts in various fields including martial arts, chemistry, psychology, forensics, meditation and engineering among other things. He returns to his home of Gotham city and is nearly killed as he attempts to stop a robbery.
While recovering in his study at Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne's brooding is disturbed by a bat as it crashes through the window of his room. He reflects, "Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot." The bat inspires Wayne to create an alter ego for himself, one that will create fear and panic in those he targets, he decides to become the Batman. Wayne fashions himself a costume and arms himself with a small arsenal of bat related weapons and gear, specifically shunning guns. The refusal of Wayne to use guns stems not only from his professed belief that they are tools of the weak and cowardly, but also from a psychological block against them due to the one used in his parents' murder. In the last issue of the DC series Final Crises, Batman overcomes his disdain of guns and uses a special bullet to mortally wound the villain Darkseid. Batman is seemingly killed by Darkseid in the process and as of yet his fate is unknown.
Batman is unusual for superheroes in that he has no superhuman powers, though he is certainly an unusually gifted human being: an athlete who would "win or place" in any Olympic event, master of a dizzying array of martial arts forms, genius detective and capable scientist, and a billionaire to top it off. Despite this, he uses his brains, training, and resources to not only keep up but excel in comparison with many heroes with great superpowers, a testament to man's will in the face of adversity.
Vin Sullivan was the publisher of National Periodical (the forerunner of DC Comics), and during the end of the 1930's was basking in the success of Superman, the first true comic book superhero; Sullivan was looking for another such character to publish. The Detective Comics series would soon provide him with one, a costumed hero no less, having great intellect but without Superman's strength. Bob Kane, influenced by Sherlock Holmes, Zorro, a recent comic character called "The Shadow", the sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci, and a film titled The Bat, came up with a character in a gray suit, black boots, and a black cape and cowl; the creation was called the Bat-Man. The drawings were taken to artist/writer Bill Finger, and by May 1939 an excited Sullivan published the character in a story called "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," part of several stories in Detective Comics issue number 27, which became an immediate and successful hit.
By November of that year, Batman's origin story - the murder of his parents - was set; this storyline of a boy growing up to avenge his parents struck a chord with readers, and sales of the comics grew. The following year he appeared in his own series under the "Batman" name - published alongside Detective Comics - which also introduced "Robin, the Boy Wonder", a successful attempt to gain younger readers as well as creating the popularity of the "sidekick" in the comics industry; Green Arrow and Speedy, the Human Torch and Toro, and Captain America and Bucky would be prime examples of this trend.
The combination of Bob Kane and Bill Finger (Finger was largely uncredited after Batman's creation) in the early 1940's also introduced to the comics world several of the most recognizable villains in fiction. Created were "Two-Face", a scarred villain reportedly based upon Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; the "Cat", a sensuous woman who became better known as "Catwoman"; and the "Joker" - which Kane based upon the image he saw of actor Conrad Veidt in the silent film The Man Who Laughs - a nightmarish version of a clown who is the antithesis of everything Batman is, and who became one of the best known villians in fiction.
Film and television
The first dramatic appearance of Batman appeared as a reoccurring guest star on the "Superman" radio series. Interestingly, during the initial story line, Batman and Robin didn't interact with Superman, but Clark Kent. Batman's young side-kick, "Robin", was created specifically as an exposition device, desperately needed in radio. Although a pilot episode was recorded, Batman never received his own radio series.
The first film dealing with the Caped Crusader was a 1943 12-chapter serial from Columbia Pictures starring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft as Batman and Robin. The plot of the film centered on a nefarious, stereotypical Asian scientist, Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish), who has a plan to steal valuable resources from the United States in order to support the Axis during the World War II. Although low-budget, Batman introduced the concept of the Batcave (called the "Bat's Cave" in the film) and the hidden entry to it, as well as altering the appearance of Alfred from a portly servant to a leaner, robust individual. Batman and Robin would follow it in 1949, also as a serial, starring Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan (Muir, 9; 72)
Batman television series
In January 1966, ABC released a "Batman" television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. During the series pre-production, there was a heated debate over which direction the Caped Crusader should be taken. Eventually, Producer William Dozier's vision won out - "Batman" would be a high budgeted, camp series which often made the character more droll than stern. This portrayal of the character, while it was in line with the comics of the time, came in later years to be reviled by fans, particularly during the '80s and '90s. During the summer of 1966, Dozier released a "Batman" feature film, also starring Adam West.
Although the series caught on quickly, its ratings fell just as suddenly. During the series' third season, Yvonne Craig was hired to portray "Batgirl", but this did nothing to slow the ratings plunge. The last few episode of "Batman" were among the lowest rated television series of the 60s.
For decades after, the "Batman" television series defined the filmed comic book template, which can be seen feature films such as "Doc Savage" and the television productions of "The Justice League" and "The Spirit". In 1978 Adam West and Burt Ward would both be reunited in the two-part television special "The Legend of the Superheroes", in which Batman and Robin were part of a group of DC superheroes thwarting the attempts of a rival collection of villains to take over the world in a combination of camp and comedy; the second part of the special has both groups in a celebratory roast by Ed McMahon. The camp-template was broken with the success of 1978's "The Incredible Hulk" starring Bill Bixby, and based on the character owned by rival publisher Marvel Comics. Meanwhile, the course of the character in the comics since 1973 had returned him to his darker roots as writers and artists placed him in more compelling storylines and situations, culminating in 1986's four-part The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, a work which helped influence director Tim Burton prior to putting Batman on the big screen once more.
Batman also found a new home on Saturday mornings, courtesy of the Filmation and Hanna-Barbera studios. In 1968, Batman appeared with Superman in Filmation's "Batman/Superman Hour", a program divided into individual shorts featuring "Dragnet" character-actor Olan Soule as the voice of Batman, and radio disk jockey Casey Kasem as Robin. The following year the show would be cut to thirty minutes, with just the Batman shorts in Filmation's newly-titled "Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder", also lasting a year.
Hanna-Barbera created the "Superfriends" in 1973, again using Soule and Kasem for voice work, and placed Batman and Robin alongside Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman in a "hall of justice" as the team fought minor villains around the world with a built-in moral message for children watching it. The "Superfriends" proved a success, ultimately spinning off several creations through the early-1980s.
Tim Burton films
Batman film took a darker turn in 1989, when the Tim Burton-directed film, starring Michael Keaton, portrayed Bruce Wayne as a reclusive, quirky billionaire who probably was not entirely sane. While at first wary of an actor known primarily for comedies playing Batman, some fans ended up going to other movies before its release just to see the trailer for the Batman film, and then walked out, not even watching the movie they paid for. The film was a success, and was widely-lauded for Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Batman's nemesis, the Joker. It was followed up with 1992's Batman Returns, which, while not as well-reviewed or successful, was still accepted by the fans, and brought the iconic figures of Catwoman and the Penguin into the movie universe.
Tim Burton was replaced with Joel Schumacher for the third Batman movie in the new movie canon, Batman Forever (1995), which introduced Robin (Batman's iconic sidekick), and the villains the Riddler and Two-Face. Whereas Burton had tried for a more dark and Gothic look, Schumacher went with bright neon colors and brought back some of the camp of the '60s TV series. The movie did well at the box office, but received mixed reviews. The fourth and final film of this "universe" was Batman and Robin, released in 1997. Widely regarded as the worst of the series by fan and critic alike, Batman and Robin returned fully to the campy tone of the TV series, featuring "candy-coated" sets, poor special effects, weirder science than normal from Bat-Media, character derailment, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the lead villain Mr. Freeze, with barely 100 lines of dialogue, over half of which centered around cold-themed puns. This film was reviled for years as having "killed" the franchise, and performed relatively poorly in ticket sales.
The tone of the new movies influenced the 1991 critically-acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, a cartoon shown at first in prime time. Some of its takes on certain villains - such as Mr. Freeze - became iconic, and it introduced several characters that eventually "immigrated" to the comics, such as Detective Renee Montoya, and the Joker's hench-girlfriend, Harley Quinn.
Sandy Collora short
Attempting to get attention for his directing skills, Sandy Collora spent $30,000 dollars to create a demonstration reel strictly for the fans. The result was the 2003 short Batman: Dead End, a film which drew on the imagery of comic artist Alex Ross, in addition to previously-published work by Dark Horse Comics, which pitted Batman against the Alien and Predator from the Hollywood films of the same names. Starring Clark Bartram as Batman and Andrew Koenig as an escaped Joker, the film earned critical praise from comic veterans and fans alike.
Christopher Nolan films
The film series was rebooted again in 2005, with Batman Begins, a grittier, more "realistic" take on Batman. In this film, director Christopher Nolan took Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, halfway around the world in search of the answer to the riddle of criminality. He learns to fight multiple opponents, conceal himself, and gains the will to act in defense of others. Returning to Gotham after being declared legally dead, he deftly maneuvers himself back into the control of his murdered father's company and resolves to terrify the criminal element by making himself seem inhuman...and chooses the mantle of a bat, because bats scare him.
Several critically-acclaimed comic book stories - among them The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke - were used as in the most recent entry in Nolan's series, The Dark Knight, which has thus far exceeded all expectations. Almost universally lauded by critics and shattering numerous box-office records, The Dark Knight featured the final performance of Heath Ledger as a monstrous version of the Joker, a psychotic who thinks the only sane way to live is without rules and wants to prove it to the world - and at the same time gave artists and writers who penned the Batman stories the version of the Joker they thought was closest to their own. Though the tone at the start of the film is hopeful - Batman has inspired citizens to stand up for themselves again and has organized crime in the city reeling - it quickly spirals downward, embodying the theme that Nolan chose for the movie: things have to get worse before they get better.
The Dark Knight Rises - the title of the third Nolan installment is scheduled for release in July 2012. Most of the cast from the previous two films have reprised their respective roles, while Tom Hardy will play the villain Bane and Anne Hathaway will play Catwoman. The film will be set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight.
- Kane, Bob (with Tom Andrae). Batman & Me, Eclipse Books, Forestville, California (1989).
- Goulart, Ron. Comic Book Encyclopedia, Harper Entertainment, New York (2004).
- Muir, John Kenneth. The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina (2004)
- Collora Studios: Batman: Dead End
- The Man Who Laughs, uploaded to YouTube