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History
History

General Overview | Bob Kane | Timeline | Media |

INTRODUCTION:

Since 1939 Batman has been an imporant character in the comic book universe. BYTB is going to take you on a journey. We'll learn how he was created, to how he effects the world today.

Batman's legacy is a great one, one that has lived for over 65 years, and beyond!

*Note: This History has been used from many sources, THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF BATMAN, The Dark Knight Net, HERO MAGAZINE, plus many freinds who helped contribute.

PRE-HISTORY:

Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, has himself been known to say that around every ten years or so Batman has to go through some sort of change in order to keep up with the times. This has certainly been the case as seemingly with each passing cultural tide Batman makes a subtle shift, and sometimes not so subtle, in order to make way as the hero for a new time. Ultimately, however, his legacy stands in timeless form as he has truly become a piece of history and culture in every way.

Kane, born in 1916, taught himself to draw by imitating newspaper strips and was known for creating ads for neighborhood merchants even as early as high school. Later in life he worked briefly on Betty Boop cartoons for the Max Fleischer studios but gave the majority of his efforts to what was then the beginnings of the comic book industry.

In the beginning of Kanes comic book history, he worked on things such as Peter Pupp and Ginger Snap. Yet, while then his efforts were more with humorous titles in time he shifted toward more serious stories. In 1938 he sold Rusty and His Pals to Adventure Comics and Clip Carson to Action Comics in 1939. Both strips were written by Bill Finger whose role with Kane continued on into what is now known as the Batman legacy.

Bill Finger, who originally had hoped to be an artist, wound up being a writer. Though not his original passion, Finger quickly became known as the best comic writer of his generation to those artists in the industry at the time. His flare for writing always contained a certain visual element that worked strongly with the artists work. In the Batman world, Finger was certainly the dreamer where Kane was the business leader.

At the time at DC Comics, publisher Vin Sullivan was looking for something fresh for his new Detective Comics title. He was looking for something that would capture the imaginations of American kids as did Superman in the Action Comics title yet something new. Sullivan spoke as much to Kane who credits Sullivan for being instrumental in the very creation of Batman. Without the dreams of Sullivan, Batman may have not ever been.

Kane immediately went home to his drawing board in the Bronx to start hashing out ideas on a possible new character that would meet with Sullivans dreams. He started with a basic Superman-esque character complete with tights and trunks. He then overlaid a piece of tracing paper so he could more easily work with varying concepts.

What started with a pair of bird-like wings then evolved into the more scalloped concept even know to this day as Kane remembered upon an early flying machine rendition called the ornithopter created by Leonardo Da Vinci. The device, similar to a glider, had wings similar to a bat that lead Kane in the right direction.

A second influence for our favorite hero came when Kane remembered one of his favorite films, The Bat Whispers, from 1930. Directed by Roland West, this film featured Chester Morris a detective who in secret is the costumed character The Bat. This film was an adaptation of a classic thriller from an even earlier time.

The character of The Bat was seen in a 1920 smash Broadway play rightly called The Bat. His creator, Mary Roberts Rinehart, was one of the most successful mystery writers of her time and her best selling The Circular Staircase of 1908 was then adapted to Broadway. The play was filmed under its own title in 1926 and 1958 as well as a 1930 version. The dark themes of this play still are evidenced in horror films of this day but ultimately the concept of a slightly dark sided good guy appealed to Kane.

A third source of influence for Kane came via a film he say as a boy called The Mask of Zorro. Douglas Fairbanks, who played the energetic Zorro, showed off his stuff as a wealthy man destined to serve as a masked crusader for justice in California. This concept stuck with Kane. This dual identity aided in making the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman work as well as it has over the years.

Immediately, Kane designed his hero donned in a black mask like Zorro as well as with the black wings like da Vincis ornithopter. In the earliest drafts, our hero wore red tights similar to those of Superman. When Bill Finger saw the sketches he quickly went to a dictionary and looked up a picture of a bat which inspired the distinctive points upon the cowl his character would wear. These points were also introduced in the cape as well as on the gloves as Finger suggested.

One of Fingers significant dislikes were the gangly wings that Kane had constructed. He encouraged a more simple, scalloped cape so that when the cape was spread it resonated with the appearance of a bat. Kane bit on this idea as well as changed the eyes to simple white spots reminiscent of the empty eyes of the bat. In later times, Finger acknowledged that some of his personal inspiration came from the Phantom, a character from the newspapers in 1936. The Phantom wore a black mask with no visible eyes as well. In the end, the final character sketches included a black cowl and cloak that were highlighted in blue due to the requirements of comic conventions of the day. So, in effect, the original Batman was blue and gray where he previously had red tights. A darker, and more sinister, character was now on the horizon.

This final character was taken back to Vin Sullivan for review. Promptly received, Sullivan commented simply that he thought this new character would pep up the magazines. Kane himself admitted that originally he wasnt thinking in light of stories but instead simply to create a new character that was different. Furthermore, he admitted that as an artist he was more concerned with image rather than plot. This is where Bill Finger comes in.

Finger, born a story man, had a strong enough knowledge of the artistic element that he had enough sense to know what would work in comics. His strong working knowledge of literature also aided as well as the Batman began to take form. Where Kanes influences came from images, Fingers written influences came from the character of Alexandre Dumas in The Three Musketeers of 1844. As well, Finger also drew his style from the ever famous character Sherlock Holmes who first appeared in 1887.

At this very point is where everything started. A character, a writer, and a publisher ready to publish. Here is when Finger started to strut his stuff openly admitting that his original works on Batman were written in the style of the famous pulps of that day. More, he also admits that he viewed the Shadow as Batmans pulp predecessor who appeared in his own magazine from 1931 through 1949.

The well known stories of the Phantom, as well as those of the Spider and the Phantom Detective, served as a springboard for the original storylines to be seen in the first Batman stories. What is interesting to know as well is that even in the pulp world were many less notable bat figures themselves that ultimately never reached the widespread acclaim that our new Batman character would receive. Undoubtedly, however, the inspiration of these characters came from The Bat as well.

THE BEGINNING OF THE LEGACY:

Batman made his first official debut in Detective Comics #27 although his first printed appearance was in an advertisement in Action Comics #11. In DC #27, one finds a short six-page story called The Case of the Chemical Syndicate. Finger himself admits that this first story was inspired by one of the original Shadow stories. This was a typical pulp story minus the overabundance of words as were often seen in the pulps. Kanes artwork was crammed into each page with even as many as eleven frames per page! In the beginning, his style was clearly more simplistic and needed developed. Kane stated that it took him about a year before he arrived at the full figure he intended as Batman.

With now the Batman legend officially started the job was to continue. In Detective Comics #29 one finds Batmans first recurring villain Doctor Death. The script for this story has been attributed to Finger but authorship was claimed later by Gardner Fox who has always been acknowledged for Batmans fifth and sixth stories.

Fox later was known for his script work for the Flash, Hawkman, Sandman, Dr. Fate and the JSA. Fox was known for providing Batmans first fiance Julie Madison and is even contributed with being the one who started Batmans ever growing arsenal of weapons and vehicles.

Ultimately, no one has ever known what Finger felt about Fox replacing him for a couple of stories but he was able to regain his control by better defining his environment. Finger did not like Foxs attributing Batmans home town as New York so he decided that something needed to be done. In the end, titles such as Civic City, Capital City, and Coast City were tested before finally settling on the now famous Gotham City.

Shortly hereafter, Finger returned in Detective Comics #33. This story quickly became the most famous Batman tale as in it one found Batmans first origin story. In this two-page tale called The Batman and How He Came to Be. In it, the story recounts the horrible murder of Bruce Waynes wealthy parents. Later, upon the flight of a bat entering the Wayne mansion, Bruce Wayne decided it was time to avenge his parents death.

At this point, one other outside influence must be mentioned regarding Batman. Dick Tracy, the popular comic strip starting in 1931, provided influence not only in its simpler artistic style but also for the fact that he faced an amazing array of villains. However, the only direct tie was when Kane drew a similar character to Tracys the Blank in Detective Comics #34. From here on out Batman was on its own track and ultimately lead to a cast of villains that quickly became international icons.

The beginnings of Batman showed absorption of many different influences. However, these were done in such a way that his beginnings in 1939 only paved the way for his huge surge that began in 1940!

As things continued to grow and the pace continued to flare it was obvious that two people alone could not complete the task of Batman. Batman was too big and too much was at stake. In a short time, Bill Finger was replaced only after a few stories and Kane began taking on art assistants such as Sheldon Moldoff who also did work at DC for All American Comics. Here he drew Hawkman, the Flash, and the cover for an all new character called the Green Lantern.

Moldoff himself recalled talking with Kane about the idea of creating a boy sidekick superhero for Batman and then went on to some dismay after one showed up in Kanes work. Ultimately, when the Boy Wonder, Robin, made his first appearance alongside Batman in Detective Comics #38, Kanes new assistant was Jerry Robinson. Robinson started out on lettering and backgrounds until later he began doing the entire ink work. At point, Robinson stated that it was Kanes idea to create a sidekick for Batman.

The notion of a boy sidekick did stir some concern with then publisher Jack Liebowitz who was skeptical about throwing a boy into harms way. However, this skepticism turned to positive energy as the market showed strong support for Robin as book sales doubled. On the flip side, Kane did somewhat regret the loss of his more dark and solo hero of the previous issues who ultimately only returned many years later.

Robin was based, primarily, on the character of Robin Hood as seen by the silent film screen star Douglas Fairbanks. Robins more colorful outfit, as well as attitude and personality, changed the series in a dramatic way. The humor alone challenged the more sinister and grim outlets seen in the current pulp series.

While all of this was going on, DC Comics was in dire need of a new editor who was ultimately found in Whitney Ellsworth. Ellsworth, who had worked briefly with the comics group early on, returned now to be editorial director for the next fourteen years. His active interest in the characters of comics ultimately paid dividends when he decided to give Batman his own title in 1940. For a character to get their own title was a huge deal and was a tell tale sign of a characters already flowing success.

The sheer highlight of Batman #1 was undoubtedly the introduction of the super villain the Joker who broke standard procedure by showing up in the first issue and then again in the fourth. Originally the Joker was going to die in the first issue by accidentally stabbing himself while attacking Batman but Ellsworth stepped in to assure this didnt happen. He simply saw that this character was far too valuable to simply throw him away in the first issue!

The origin of the Joker as a character, per Jerry Robinson, are stated that Kane wanted to create an all-new arch villain that was ultimately sparked by a deck of playing cards. Kane even designed a new Joker card for the characters first story. The look and feel of the Joker, as Kane and Robinson agree, was ultimately created when Bill Finger brought in photos showing actor Conrad Veidt in the makeup he wore in The Man Who Laughs from 1928. Ultimately, the character of the Joker was shifted from his original homicidal tendencies in the book in exchange for his status as a recurring villain. The price paid here was well worth it!

The Catwoman was also introduced in Batman #1 but was entirely a work in progress. In the beginning she was simply called the Cat with obvious reference to the recently coined term cat burglar. By Batman #3 she was in full costume and had already in competition with the Joker for some precious jewels. Only in 1946, however, did she first appear in the skintight purple costume that closely rivaled Batmans own outfit.

The notability of Batman #1 is at multiple levels. First, Batman now had two villains to fight which meant fighting a little more carefully. Second, after a climax of a battle with some monstrous giants where Batman gunned them down, Whitney Ellsworth made a clear statement that Batman would never again be allowed to use a gun or kill someone by other means. Ellsworth simply did not buy Batmans statement in the issue that even though he hated to kill sometimes it is necessary. This official ban from Ellsworth was the first step in an upcoming ethical code that would be a positive sign from DC particularly when in the 1950s controversy arose regarding violence and sex in comics.

A third and most interesting villain to Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #58. The Penguin, as he immediately named, was stated by Bill Finger to be inspired by emperor penguins who reminded him of stuffy high-brow Englishmen in tuxedoes. The final result involved a very classy villain who was even equipped with an umbrella that later would hide a full variety of weapons for the villain. What is interesting, however, is that Kane said this villain was actually conceived from a cartoon from the little penguin as seen in the Kool menthol commercials of this time period.

A fourth and final villain of significant note is Two-Face who, by contrast to the Penguin, was the most serious and deadly of all of Batmans foes. The obvious inspiration of this character came from Robert Louis Stevensons 1886 tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Kane himself specifically credited the 1932 film version which won an Academy Award for Fredric Marchs acting. Trauma turned who was originally Harvey Dent to a darker and more sinister self in his first appearance in Detective Comics #66. A man driven by sheer duplicity, he uses a two-headed coin to make all of his decisions. It is of note that Two-Face was so disturbing that even the creators decided to give him plastic surgery in his third appearance. However, they could let him go this way so he would return a decade later when horror in comics was at a height.

At this time, when Batman was simply flourishing all the more, the staff at DC Comics had to grow along with him. George Roussos was brought on to do lettering and backgrounds who was then most known for his full moon landscaped painted over Gotham City. Then editorial director Whitney Ellsworth decided to bring on Jerry Robinson full time who soon was drawing covers and stories on his own. One artist of specific note is Dick Sprang who was hired in 1941 who admits himself that none of his work was published until two years later. Ellsworth simply wanted to stockpile all that he could in the event that he lost artists in the future.

Sprangs work at DC eventually became such that Ellsworth was noting him as being on of the driving forces that made DC great in this era. Sprangs supreme styling was unmatched during this period and his worked showed his abilities.

At this time too, Ellsworth brought in more editors such as Mort Weisinger from the pulp publisher Standard Magazine. However, when Weisinger was drafted in 1943 Jack Schiff came in to fill in. As it turned out, Schiff wound up being Batmans editor for over twenty years! His pulp writing experience helped in Batman to aid in developing tight stories. Yet, at this time, when everything seemed to be bigger than ever what came next only enhanced the Batman world by a multitude!

McClure Syndicate, the oldest in the business, had already syndicated a Superman weekly strip so DC hoped they could go elsewhere. However, the strip, called Batman and Robin, did not do near as well as the Superman strips from the outset. Some of the editors felt that maybe the market simply didnt need two superheroes in the strip business. In any event, syndication went on in a unique situation where DC was permitted to supervise the strip while Jack Schiff did editing. Bob Kane jumped at the chance to pencil for the strip nearly leaving his routine comic book path. Yet, the big time frustrated Kane because of space constrictions for the strips.

Meanwhile, Bill Finger contributed to the newspaper strip series but preferred, and stayed closer to, the comic books. Dick Sprang did the same not liking the style and situation of the newspaper medium. Together Finger and Sprang kept the comic book medium spinning even though they were working from different locations.

The most famous of Batmans villains showed up in the strips and even more on the color pages in the Sunday pages that kicked off on November 7, 1943. The original story introduced the Penguin and Two-Face arrived in one of the last sequences where Finger decided to kill him off. Of course, however, the villain was destined to return.

During these years more villains were added to fight against the crime-fighting team of Batman and Robin. The Scarecrow, who first appeared in Worlds Finest #3, only lasted one more story from here and was the alternate form of psychologist Jonathan Crane. His methods involved intimidation and extortion which ultimately just did not resonate with the readers of that day.

In Detective Comics #74 the twin forces of Tweedledum and Tweedledee appeared but only lasted three stories. These two were obviously devised from the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland.

Another not as vibrant villain was the Mad Hatter who first appeared in Batman #49. By day he was Mortimer Drake who was a prominent figure like Bruce Wayne but adopted the identity of a sword swinging pirate type.

Of all of the various villains that quickly came and went in the Batman comics one in particular seemed as likely for success. The Riddler, debuting in Detective Comics #140, was quite the villain who was the obsessed Edward Nigma who used clues and other devices to lure Batman onto the crimes he committed. The Riddler remained in history until 1965 when he returned again as a recurring attempt to bring him into the limelight.

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