Batman : A Complete History of the Dark Knight
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The Fascinating History of Batman
From Comics to Movies


 

Batman is a name that everyone knows. He has been around since 1939 – that’s more than 80 years. Whether it is because of numerous Batman story lines over the years from DC comics, animation shows on TV, the numerous blockbuster Batman movies and spin offs, plus all the heavy merchandizing of the DC characters, it seems as if almost everyone should know who Batman is and what he stands for. We hope you already own a Batman t shirt.

Let’s take a journey through the fascinating history of Batman – from his humble beginnings in the comics of the 1930s, to his adaptable and powerful presence in modern movies. Get ready, it’s time to take a step into the amazing world of Batman!

Who Created Batman?

comic strip showing Bob Kane and Bill Finger creating Batman
Batman was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Ty Templeton, Courtesy of Charlesbridge

Inspired by the popularity of DC Comic’s Superman in 1939, Kane saw an opportunity to replicate the success. He drew on inspiration from Zorro from the 1920’s Film The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings, and a 1937 film called The Bat Whispers, conceiving a super hero character in the same league as Superman, whom he called The Bat-Man. Kane’s version of the Bat Man wore a red jumpsuit, a domino mask, and had two rigid bat wings attached to his back. Not quite the Batman look that we know today.

 

Kane’s Original Drawing of the Bat-Man
Kane’s Original Drawing of the Bat-Man

 

Kane recognizing he needed some help with his new character enlisted the help of Bill Finger whom he was already working with on a comic strip called Rusty and Pal. Finger first changed The Bat Man’s costume by making his suit darker and adding the cowl, a scalloped cape and gloves. He also made the eye slits on the mask empty rather than showing eyes. Finger also gave Batman his secret alter ego identity as Bruce Wayne. He conceptualized the character as a rich playboy by day, and by night a vigilante who fought injustice from the shadows rather than a super hero like Superman with extraordinary powers. It was Bill Finger who  was responsible for what makes the crime-fighter so memorable: his costume, his arsenal of cool gadgets, and his secret identity.

 

1939 DC Comic Batman Cover
1939 DC Comic Batman Cover

He also was involved in the creation of Robin, and villains like The Joker, Penguin, the Riddler, and Two-Face.  Finger also created Batman’s hometown, Gotham. He tried a number of different names including Civic City, Capital City, and Coastal City. Looking through a New York City phone book he saw a name for a jewelers store called Gotham Jewelers and decided upon Gotham as Batman’s hometown. Bill Finger actually wrote the first Batman story, while Kane provided the artwork revised to fit Finger’s vision of the Batman character.
Eventually Bill Finger and fellow artist Jerry Robinson left Kane’s studio when he refused their request for more recognition and a pay increase. Finger eventually ended up working directly for DC Comics.

 

Bill Finger’s illustration of Batman Detective Comics #27  (the 1st cover) May 1939.

Bill Finger’s illustration of Batman
Detective Comics #27  (the 1st cover) May 1939.

Kane was savvy and loved the spotlight. Following his lawyer father’s advice Kane gained sole credit for Batman as he negotiated with DC Comics when they offered to publish the Batman comics. Kane turned Batman into a very successful business for his studio by hiring writers and artists to help him with the ever expanded demand for more stories. Unfortunately, just like Finger, they too went uncredited with Kane receiving all the kudos.
According to Wikipedia: In 1943, Kane left the Batman comic books to focus on penciling a daily Batman newspaper comic strip . To pick up the slake he hired comics artists  (Jack Burnley and Win Mortimer, with Robinson moving up as penciler and Fred Ray contributing some covers ) to ghost write the comic-book stories and create the artwork. Kane returned to the comic books in 1946. With the eventual departure of Bill Finger and fellow artist Jerry Robinson  and the increasing demand, Kane hired more unrecognized writers and artists including Lew Schwartz and Sheldon Moldoff who worked on Batman in Kane’s studio from 1953 to 1967

Without a doubt,   Kane greatly profited with both fame and financial success from Finger’s contributions, while Finger faded into obscurity, dying from heart disease in 1974 – almost penniless.  

 

Comic cover Batman #40 - DC 1947
Batman #40 - DC 1947

 

1953 Batman Comic Cover Issue 71 June/July
1953 Cover Issue # 71 June/July

 

Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) Poster
Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) Poster

It wasn’t until 1989 when Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) become one of the biggest box office films of all time, that Kane finally admitted that Bill Finger had considerable input in the creation of the Batman mythos. And it was years later that DC Comics only begrudgingly  acknowledged Bill Finger’s contribution with the release in 2015 of the book by Marc Tyler Nobleman’s book, Bill The Boy Wonder and a Hulu documentary about the book that exposed the coverup by Kane. In 2015, after 76 years, Finger’s name now appears on the cover of every future Batman comic issue, and future TV and film adaptations.

Ultimately Bob Kane should be lauded for promoting the prominent vision of Batman, but it cannot be understated how critical Bill Fingers contribution has been to the overreaching success of Batman’s history.

To learn more about the co-creators of Batman, you might want to read this comprehensive book found on Amazon about the life stories of Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
The Creators of Batman: Bob, Bill and The Dark Knight by Rik Worth
Or this article: DID BOB KANE STEAL BATMAN FROM BILL FINGER

Since its debut, Batman has become one of the most iconic comic book characters in history, starring in various television shows, movies, video games and graphic novels.

The Origins of Batman

The origins of Batman are not steeped in mystery. Was he a reaction to the Great Depression of the 1930s, with his dark and brooding look and strict moral code? Or was he born from the popular pulp heroes of the times, such as those found in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs? Actually, it was in early 1939, with DC's success with the seminal superhero Superman in Action Comics prompted editors to scramble for more such super heroes. Kane with Bill Finger’s input was successful in pitching a new type of hero to DC Comics. And the rest is history.

On the other hand, the idea that Batman was an intentional reaction to hardships of the Great Depression is an appealing one, as it suggests Bruce Wayne was created as a symbol of hope for people unable to save themselves. Certainly his crime-fighting mission was a direct response to vulnerabilities felt by citizens at the time. And his strong moral code reflected how many were determined not to stray from their values despite severe economic struggles.

Meanwhile, some folks have noted several parallels between Batman and pulp heroes like Tarzan and John Carter and super heroes like Superman, making a case for why Batman’s inception might have been informed by popular fiction.

 

Wayne Manor illustration
Wayne Manor

 For example, the Wayne Manor shares the same qualities as Burrough's beloved "Gotham Country." It is an isolated estate where fictitious adventures could take shape, far from prying eyes and detractors. But those folks might just be reaching and hadn’t read about what or who had been inspirations for both Kane and Fingers when creating initially Batman.

The Influence of Crime and Supervillains
Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creative genius is responsible for establishing Batman as the powerful superhero he is today. But their legendary work wouldn't be nearly as well-known without Gotham City's notorious villains and crimes.

Many of Batman's greatest villains, such as the Joker, Two-Face, The Penquin, The Scarecrow,  the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Cat Woman were inspired according to  Bill Finger’s Wikipedia page.  

The Joker
Kane gave Finger co-credit for creating Batman's nemesis the Joker, despite claims on the character by artist Jerry Robinson.
Robinson countered that he created the Joker to be Batman's larger-than-life nemesis when extra stories needed to be written quickly for Batman #1
Jerry Robinson says Bill Finger wrote the script, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals.

 

comic Cover 1944 Batman , Robin & Joker
Cover 1944 Batman , Robin & Joker

 

Comic Cover 1940 Batman, Robin & Joker
Cover 1940 Batman, Robin & Joker

The Penguin debuted in Detective Comics #58 (Dec. 1941
According to Kane, he drew the Penguin after being inspired by the then advertising mascot of Kool cigarettes—a penguin with a top hat and cane.
 Finger, however, said he created the villain as a caricature of the aristocratic type, because "stuffy English gentlemen" reminded him of emperor penguins

Peril In Greece Batman Comic Cover by Dick Sprang/script by Edmond Hamilton/art by Jim Mooney
Peril in Spring Cover by Dick Sprang / Script by Edmond Hamilton / Art by Jim Mooney

Kane introduced the Scarecrow and drew his first appearance, which was scripted by Bill Finger.
Finger and Kane introduced Two-Face in Detective Comics #66 (Aug. 1942)

 

DC Comics Cover  BATMAN issue189 1st Silver Age Appearance of The Scarecrow
DC Comics BATMAN #189 1st Silver Age Appearance of The Scarecrow

The Riddler
 Created by Finger and Dick Sprang

Batman Comic Cover 1st Appearance Issu140 Oct. 1948
1st Appearance Issue #140 Oct. 1948

Catwoman
Selina Kyle is often portrayed as a thief and cat burglar with divided loyalties. Her criminal activities are often tempered by a reluctant altruism, making her an inconstant villain and occasional ally to Batman. She first appeared in Batman #1 in Spring 1940 as "The Cat"
Created by Bill Finger (writer) / Bob Kane (artist)

 

Comic Cover Catwoman Issue 42 1947
Catwoman Issue 42 1947
 

Poison Ivy is the alter ego taken by Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley, an eco-terrorist and prominent enemy of Batman. First appeared in Batman#181.

Comic cover Batman #181 First appearance of POISON IVY 1966 Created by Robert Kanigher & Carmine Infantino
Batman #181 First appearance of POISON IVY 1966
Created by Robert Kanigher & Carmine Infantino

Gotham City is a symbolic representation of the worst in humanity, allowing Bruce Wayne to use his heroic alter ego to save the city from its most dangerous elements. The fearlessness with which Batman eliminates crime only validates this symbolism. This type of inspiration leaves its mark on audiences as it presents classic moral dilemmas capable of resonating in any era.

 

Illustration of Gotham City with Batman silhouette
Gotham City


On the other hand, critics have argued that there can be too much focus on catastrophic examples of crime. This limits creativity and reinforces stereotypical ideas about certain criminal profiles which might have an adverse effect on certain communities or people groups.

However, crime fiction has long established themes captivating audiences for decades, regardless of their real-life counterparts. As a result, classic villains such as Joker, Two-Face, The Penquin, The Scarecrow,  the Riddler, Poison Ivy , and Bane serve both as foils to Batman's heroism and embodiments of our shared fantasies and fears. Additionally, films featuring these characters often demonstrate how even with great power, we can still face difficult ethical choices - always encouraging us to question our true intentions and strive for justice against all odds.
 

Illustration of Some Batman Villains
Some Batman Villains
Do you recognize them?

Seeing Batman rise in popularity while facing off against some of pop culture's most dangerous rivals indicates just how deep this theme runs, inspiring audiences around the world since his debut in 1939. One thing is clear: Gotham City, along with its illustrious adversaries will continue to offer compelling stories about human behavior for generations to come - a perfect setup for what will surely be Batman’s next chapter of fame and grandeur.

 

Different Creators and Storylines
Batman as a character has been continually reimagined and reinvented over the decades, with different creators and storylines. Numerous writers have brought their own perspective to the Caped Crusader's adventures.

Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams /psychedelic take on the Dark Knight in the 1970s
They are the team  which also included: Editor Julius Swartz, writers Len Wein, Frank Robbins, and Denny O’Neil, along with Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, and Neal Adams that brought back Batman to his darker roots after the popular 1960’s Batman campy TV show. Denny O’Neil’s moody scripts and Neal Adam’s fantastically striking art were a perfect union. In total, the team worked on 11 issues together and created some of the most essential and classic Batman stories ever told.  O’Neil’s stories have held up very well over time. O’Neil’s Batman was very much an obsessed Justice driven hero, a brilliant detective,  a world traveler and an adventuring hero of incredible abilities. He even brought some romance into the storyline with the creation of Talia, the daughter of one of Batman’s famous foes, Ras Al Gaul. Neal Adams’ artwork  is considered by many to be the best Batman artist ever!
If you loved the Batman of the Animated Series, these stories  by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams influenced the creators of Batman of the Animated Series the most.

Illustration of Batman Writer: Denny O’Neil Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Artist: Neal Adams

Frank Miller: an even darker cinematic approach of the 1980s.
Frank Miller is an American comic book writer, penciller and inker, novelist, screenwriter, film director, and producer
In Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is darker and grittier than any version of the masked crusader that had come before, with a grueling physicality that highlighted the brutality of the story's violence. Miller envisioned an alternate DC Universe where there was an older Bruce Wayne who is compelled to once again become the masked crusader and singlehandedly save a decaying Gotham City. This new vision of Batman was like no other. He was angry, tortured and violent. Not only did Miller ground his story line in the “real gritty” world, he also
drew heavily on the politics of the time. 

Batman & Superman as Friends from comic strip
Batman & Superman as Friends

Batman & Superman as Enemies from comic strip illustration
Batman & Superman as Enemies

Miller also dramatically changed the relationship between Superman and Batman. Instead of Batman and Superman always being the best of friends where many of their team-up adventures  culminate with the two heroes smiling and shaking hands after a job well done,
Miller offered a very different view of their relationship in The Dark Knight Returns. In that comic, the two heroes were less friends than former allies turned bitter enemies. The climax of the series featured an armored Batman fighting a bloody battle in the streets of Gotham against Superman, the Man of Steel. Miller's depiction of the Batman/Superman relationship influenced countless other comics. Some critics say that his dark depiction of Batman ushered in what is referred to as the Dark Age of  super hero comics.

His work paved the way for Tim Burton's darker treatment of the Caped Crusader in 1989's Batman, followed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman film series: Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997).

4 Posters of Tim Burton's Batman films

For the most part, Batman tends to have darker stories and that is definitely the case with films; especially more modern takes on the character such as Matt Reeves' The Batman or  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
criminal mastermind Lex Luthor manipulates Batman into a preemptive battle with Superman.
For more on Batman’s darkest films and animations go here:

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Their fiery collaboration when the New 52 rebooted the entire DC Universe gave them the opportunity to make a new origin story for Batman and helped create one of the best Batman stories featuring Dick Grayson as the Dark Knight. Their epic stories introduced the deadly Court of Owls and took The Joker to new, horrifying levels of insanity.  The Court of Owls is the only Batman story Synder wrote that doesn't feature Bruce Wayne as Batman.  Dick Grayson is under the mask in this story.
Their work was marked by a high-concept approach to narrative, exploring issues such as identity crisis, mental health and loss, among other things.

 

Batman comic cover The Court of Owls. Scott Snyder writer / Greg Capullo artist

Scott Snyder writer / Greg Capullo artist
their most iconic work: The Court of Owls.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo  Batman run is often cited as one of the best comic series in the 2010s, with many of the stories becoming instant classics.

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy stands out for some fans as ‘the definitive Batman adaptation’. Anchored by Christian Bale's iconic portrayal, this trilogy explored more mature themes such as justice vs chaos, corruption and terrorism through its depiction of Batman's
battle against his nemesis, The Joker. 

3 Posters of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy  2005 – 2012
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy  2005 – 2012

Merchandise and Popularity
Batman’s merchandise and popularity has continued to increase over the years, undeniably making him one of the most beloved superheroes today. Multiple memorabilia have been released since he first appeared in comics, ranging from action figures to slot machines. It’s no wonder that Batman has become a worldwide icon with the amount of media material dedicated to him, ranging from television shows, films, and even video games.

Although having originated from comic books, DC Comics has expanded Batman into various forms of media such as animation series and movies. With merchandise such as all types of clothing, including t shirts, action figures, novelty book collections of the comic stories, novelty items, ties in from the movies, and other collectables, some merchandise is licensed by DC Comics and others are not, it is clear that Batman  will remain one of the most popular superheroes ever created.


Batman Related Merchandise
Batman Related Merchandise

As Batman continues to move into new media and affect us with meaningful stories that explore both canonical as well as alternative narratives, there is no shortage of fascinating topics to discuss when diving into his long history. Therefore it is no wonder why Batman remains so immensely popular even after so many years since his first appearance in comics. It’s a testament to his universality and relevance in pop culture.

 



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