WHAT IS it that
scares you? I mean, really gives you the willies? In 1939, a young man named
Bob Kane thought he knew – at least for one segment of society.
"Criminals," he posited, "are a superstitious, cowardly lot...."
had been asked by Vincent Sullivan, editor at National Comics, to create a
brand-new character, a follow-up to the previous year's "Superman".
The twenty-two-year old Kane produced a hero who was in many ways the antithesis
of the Man of Steel: skilled instead of super-powered, garbed in a costume of
black and mauve rather than bright colors, more a man of mystery than a man of action;
in short, he would be a perfect lead for National's premiere book, which had
been floundering without a strong cover feature. He would be the star and
anchor of Detective Comics.
Kane had almost literally grown up with a pencil in his hand. His father had
been a printer for the New York Daily News,
and had brought home for his son the funny papers, which Kane traced and copied
until he could draw the characters as well as some of the original artists. He
began his career at the Eisner/Iger studio, doing strips such as "Peter
Pupp" for Will Eisner, his former classmate at DeWittClintonHigh School. At
seventeen, Kane had gone to the Fleischer Studios, working on "Betty
Boop" cartoons. When the studio moved on to the new offices in Florida, Kane decided to stay in New York.
his new character, Kane drew on several sources of inspiration, including The
Shadow, Zorro, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, but the most important was the
colorful villain from Mary Roberts Rinehart's popular novel, play, and films: The
developed and designed "The Bat-Man" in coöperation with artist Jerry
Robinson, and writer Bill Finger, another high school-mate, whom Kane called
"...the unsung hero of Batman".
It was Finger who, after looking over Kane's tracings of Superman with a domino
mask and stiff bat-winged cape, showed the young artist a dictionary sketch of
a real bat and suggested the idea of a full-head cowl for the design. He also
suggested empty eye-slits to add an air of mystery to this grim figure. So
successful was this device that four generations of cartoonists have made it a
scripts defined all of the classic elements of the "Black Mask"
school of fiction in which the Batman worked. Coupled with Kane's stylized,
"Dick Tracy"-like art, this produced a classic of American popular
art. Batman panels, in fact, hang in the Museum of Modern Art.
first collaboration headlined Detective
Comics number 27, in May of 1939. This tale, "The Case of the Chemical
Syndicate", introduced Police Commissioner James Gordon and his layabout
friend, millionaire Bruce Wayne, as well as Wayne's alter-ego, a mysterious vigilante,
the "Bat-Man". It would be some time until the Caped Crusader would
become an officially recognized law-enforcement official.
story did not include any indication
as to why the Bat-Man fought crime.
That explanation waited until Detective
33 (November 1939), in "The Bat-Man Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom",
where we learned that, as a child, Wayne had watched his parents gunned down by
a robber, and had sworn on their graves that he would not rest as long as there
were lawless men preying upon the innocent. He had trained and studied for this
crusade, and found himself one evening pondering how to go about his new
career. "Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must
be able to strike terror into their hearts," he mused. "I must be a
creature of the night, black, terrible...a..a..." Suddenly, through his
open window flew "..A bat!" That was it: he would become a bat-man!
he acquired a companion, in the Boy Wonder, Robin, whose parents, highwire act
"the Flying Graysons" had been killed in mid-performance by a
gangster attempting extortion on a small circus. Thus young Dick Grayson went
through the same nightmare as had Bruce Wayne years earlier. This fact was not
lost on the Batman, who enlisted young Dick Grayson's help in wrecking the
gang's plans. To disguise Grayson, Wayne
presented the boy with a colorful costume and the nom de geurre Robin (named for the robin red-breast the coloring of
which his costume mimics, and for the Earl of Huntingdon, Dick Grayson's
childhood hero). Later, Wayne
arranged for custody of the orphaned Grayson, and Robin became Batman's
Batman quickly rose to the heights of his medium. Only Superman and Fawcett
Comics’ Captain Marvel were more popular. And he had something the other two
lacked: audience identification. No boy could realistically expect to grow up
to be the Man of Steel or the Big Red Cheese; but with luck and pluck, a kid could – just maybe – grow up to be the
Batman – could already be Robin.
fight those amazing villains, another important part of Batman's oeuvre. Foremost of these is the Joker,
the Clown Prince of Crime, whose terrifying Pagliacci face was inspired by
Gwynplaine, The Man Who Laughs in the
film of the same name. The Joker has faced the Batman nearly one hundred times
over the years since his introduction in Batman
number one (Spring 1940). With one marginal exception, the Joker is Batman's
oldest recurring foe.
Alfred, the Wayne
butler, who would become a cornerstone of the Canon, first appeared in Batman number 16, just, as shall become
apparent, in the nick of time.
the period of Batman's rise to fame, his owners were more concerned with the
shepherding of their top gun, Superman. They eventually signed a licensing deal
with Republic Pictures Corporation for a "Superman" serial, though
that arrangement would come to naught. But the other studios had been keenly
involved in the bidding, and were on the lookout for hot properties to adapt.
And National Comics had this one other superstar...
Charles Lee Jackson has revised and updated his legendary Filmfax profile of the Batman phenomenon.
Now only 99 cents for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Born in the mind of a young comicbook and movie fan in 1939, the character Batman went on to take the world by storm. Donning a costume in the shape of a bat to terrify criminals when he came swooping in out of the night, Batman had to rely on extreme physical training and a lightning-fast mind in his battles with criminals, supervillains and others. Batman's dark, implacable and human vulnerabilities were to make him DC Comics' most beloved hero.
Soon newspapers and movie serial makers wanted to capitalize on the Dark Knight's (as Batman came to be called) popularity. The result was a legendary newspaper series and one of the most memorable Saturday matinee cliffhangers of all time. So popular was the serial that it resulted in a sequel, "Batman and Robin".
Screen historian Charles Lee Jackson II tells the whole exciting story of Batman, from the beginning through the unforgettable 1960s television series to the award-winning animated show to the Dark Knight's latest screen portrayals and comicbook adventures. This unique ebook edition features drawings, stills and posters from Batman’s many incarnations
"Charles Lee Jackson's knowledge of film history is encyclopedic" -Forrest J Ackerman.
Revised, updated edition of an article originally appearing in Filmfax.