|History - Media
General Overview |
Bob Kane |
Batman's place in media has broadened tremendously within the last 60+ years. What once was a simple character known only to the narrow comic book fan base of the late 1930s is now known world over for smash-hit films, several popular animated series, heaps of action figures and memorabilia, video games, and even some of the catchiest musical themes known to fan.
But where did the spew of Batman media known as Batmania start? As many know, his first comic book appearance took place in Detective Comics #27; however, how many people actually realize his very first published appearance? This little-known piece of advertising could be found at the end of Action Comics #12, featuring the popular Superman. In the many years to come, ads and promos would prove an intricate and often memorable place in the realm of Batman media.
While the popularity of Batman comic books took off, the dream publication co-creator Bob Kane had in mind for his Dark Knight was newspaper strips. This wish would eventually be granted in the now-rare publication from 1943 to '46, which have since been released in a collector edition set. With comics, newspapers, and magazines coverage in hand, the print medium had become well explored. A further personification would be the next media objective for this ominous character, which would be found in 1945 radio adventures alongside his super-powered counterpart, Superman. These audio stories would eventually be released on records for the enjoyment of fans young and old.
Shortly predating the first radio broadcast, a live-action Batman would be introduced through a Columbia Pictures serial film in 1943 and second in 1949. While crude, these finally offered the very first in-the-flesh Dark Knight. They didn't ignite any significant merchandising during the '40s or '50s, but numerous serial chapers would eventually see release as 8mm silent films in 1965. That very year also saw the birth of an independently published fanzine entitled Batmania.
The Caped Crusader, in perhaps his campiest incarnation yet, finally made it to television screens across the world when ABC aired the Batman series in January 1966. What would follow is now considered one of the highest points in Batman history, with an abundance of merchandising deals, including an exceptional coverage of the music industry. One could rarely find a magazine stand that didn't showcase the new Batman, and several vinyl records of zany, Batman-themed songs quickly poured into retailers across the world, often featuring the infectious and now-classic Batman theme by Dan & Dale. This immense TV popularity soon led to the very first animated Batman, courtesy of Hanna-Barbera, in 1969.
With the help of companies like Mego Corp. and Kenner producing Batman action figures throughout the '70s up to the '90s, the character eventually became the most produced of action figure genre. Aided by this were, of course, many TV commercials and publication advertisements remembered fondly by fans of the late 20th century as well as coverage in magazines like ToyFare.
The second large spike in Batmania would arrive during the summer of 1989, with Tim Burton's dark rendition of the character in a blockbuster film. Advertising and merchandise spread and diversified to music by Prince, arcade pinball machines, and inter-promotion with the Taco Bell fast food franchise. The film helped pave the way for three more films as well as a long road of animated series, each taking advantage of massive media coverage and merchandising deals.
Home console video gaming took a foothold during the mid '80s, offering Batman sparse origins in this form of electronic entertainment. This saw increased coverage with theatrical films and animated series throughout '90s, including occasional hits like Konami's first-person fighter, Batman Returns, for the Super Nintendo and Adventures of Batman & Robin, a highly sophisticated and accurate gaming experience for its time. Nevertheless, throughout the gaming medium, Batman was only mildly regarded for a handful of notable titles; measly titles like Dark Tomorrow had left many fans with a bitter taste. With the competing Marvel Comics seeing through the release of several praised titles, however, some fans expect DC Comics to step up their game and influence a higher regard for their Dark Knight in the video game world. EA's highly promoted and anticipated Batman Begins and Justice League Heroes may offer a taste of what's to come.
With the introduction of DC Direct, and its eventual production of Batman collectors' items in the 2000s, a more adult-oriented focus on media was needed. This created a greater reliance on magazines like ToyFare as well as the use of the Internet for efficient cataloging of available products - particularly through DC Comics' official website.
The summer of 2005 would see a substantial spike in media coverage due to the immensely praised Batman Begins. Its success had advertising banners strewn across the "series of tubes," gigantic billboards covering cities like Toronto and New York City, and Wal Mart dedicating a day to promotion of the film. Companies like Vorizon even rode on the film's scalloped cape by using its imagery in numerous advertisements.
As a more recent example of Batman media frenzy, October 18th, 2005 had Batman fans treated to a triple-dose video release. Alongside the Batman Begins Deluxe Edition, as well as the direct-to-video The Batman Vs. Dracula, all four films from 1989 to 1997 were released in a Special Edition set known as The Batman Anthology. Throughout this time, other popular DVD sets have been released for the numerous Batman animated series of the '90s and 2000s, including bonus content like commentary and other behind-the-scenes material.
Standing atop the current pedestal of Batmania, it's hard to see a medium not explored in at least some way by the comic book icon. As digital and wireless technologies continue to diversify and blur the lines of conventional media, it's certain that the Dark Knight will be waiting in the shadows, ready to make his next impact.
- Caleson, January 2007