There’ve been so many iterations of the Dark Knight detective we aren’t sure who the guy under the hood is at his core. But the best way to know for sure is to do a little sleuthing ourselves, and trace back his mysterious roots!
We must free those fragile Golden Age comics from their protective storage cases and (carefully) dig into the pages—starting with No. 27 of Detective Comics, May 1939…featuring ‘the Amazing and Unique Adventures of The Batman!’
This Batman Totally WILL Kill You!
10) The political atmosphere of WWII impacted the tone of the Dark Knight's early violent tales. Indeed Batman/Bruce Wayne was himself at war, but with the criminals of Gotham instead of Nazi Germany.
And never has there been a war without casualties, hence Batman’s early decision to apply lethal intent when necessary. As he infamously put it in Detective Comics #29, ‘YOUR CHOICE GENTLEMEN! TELL ME! OR I’LL KILL YOU!’
Detective Comics = DC Comics
9) DC Comics, if you had not figured this one out, is named afterDetective Comics, thanks to the stellar success of Batman. Together with his alien frenemy Superman, the two heroes are the only characters to have been in constant publication ever since their introductions during the start of the Golden Age of Comics.
The Original Bob Kane Batman Sketches
8) Batman’s creator Bob Kane drew on several inspirations, apart from other heroes like Superman. Included among these were other masked adventures such as the swashbuckling Zorro, the gun-slinging Lone Ranger, the dark and dapper Shadow, and the crime-fighting Phantom. But certainly strong hints of Dick Tracy can be seen, too…just as Tracy’s bizarre gallery of villains is, to an extent, mirrored by the lunatic adversaries of the Caped Crusader.
The Batman Utility Belt
7) The contents tend to change, but Batman’s famed utility belt once featured a built-in radio device in the buckle, just prior to the 1940’s release of the SCR-300 radio receiver/transmitter…nicknamed the ‘Walkie-Talkie.’
Batman’s version, of course, was far more compact and sophisticated!
The Batman Gets a Boy Wonder
6) The Dark Knight was so sullen and isolated that the decision was made to bring in a sidekick to lighten the mood…and give Batman somebody to chat with!
Since most readers of the comics were young, a younger hero was invented for the series and Dick Grayson, an orphaned trapeze artist, was taken under the wing (sorry, no pun intended) of millionaire Bruce Wayne. But Dick didn’t let the brooding Batman sour his inherently buoyant spirits, and before long the garishly-outfitted Robin the Boy Wonder had ol’ Bats laughing and cracking up as the two gleefully pummeled through Gotham’s scumbags!
Just Two Straight Males Sleeping in the Same Bed
5) Not long after the introduction of Dick Grayson as Robin, comic critics and witch-hunters began making unfounded accusations that the Dynamic Duo must be homosexuals. Such criticisms might pass unheeded (well, less heeded) today, but at the time comics were already under severe scrutiny for their possible role in juvenile delinquency. The allegations were quite serious and economically damaging to the brand.
Charges of Batman and Robin living together as a gay couple plagued the series for years, and even culminated in the (temporary) killing off of Alfred the butler (he being a third male figure in that den of inequity known as Wayne Manor!).
Batman As Patriotic Boy Scout
4) Batman evolved to become a beacon of the American Way! In Batman #57, the Dynamic Duo rush to the aid of a bullied minority who only wanted to play football with the local team. Stoic and with raised (and Bat-gloved) finger, Batman loudly admonishes the racist players. ‘DON’T BELIEVE THOSE CRACKPOT LIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WORSHIP DIFFERENTLY,” he states. “OR WHOSE SKIN IS OF A DIFFERENT COLOR. OR WHOSE PARENTS COME FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY. REMEMBER OUR AMERICAN HERITAGE OF FREEDOM AND EQUALITY!’
Well said, Bats!
Before the Batmobile...
3) Where would Batman be without his Batmobile? Swinging from a Bat-rope, I guess. Yet Batman’s first car was not the armored-up vehicle we’ve come to know and love. No, in Detective Comics #27, the Caped Crusader was fighting crime in…a red convertible!
It was only in subsequent issues that the true potential of his ride became realized, as it gained a larger engine, a darker paint job, and a giant freaking Bat Head ornament for a grill! It would be several decades later, however, before the origin of the name ‘Batmobile’ was even revealed—in Frank Miller’s 1986 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, when Batman spills the beans that it was Robin who came up with the campy moniker!
The Grime of Gotham
2) Gotham City is a world within itself, a seedy metropolis with seemingly more shadows than it has buildings, and more criminals than victims to perpetrate them on. First officially named in Batman #4, Gotham and its Dark Knight are inexplicably linked.
An unsafe port town prowled by the pawns of a complex criminal network and watched over, broodingly, by a musclebound vigilante in a cape, Gotham was described by editor Denny O’Neil as ‘New York below Fourteenth Street after eleven o’clock at night.’ Luckily Batman is aided by Police Commissioner Gordon, who deputizes Batman as an honorary member of the force in Batman #7.
Enter the Grim Jester--The Joker!
1) In Batman’s first self-titled comic, the 1940 Batman #1, the Caped Crusader meets the maniac of his nightmares, the fiend who’d come to taunt and haunt our hero for the next 76 years and counting—the Joker! Deeply dissatisfied with the level of challenge brought to bear by the local authorities, the supremely egotistical, bleached-skinned, green-haired killer was delighted to finally encounter a foe worthy of his sadistic attention.
With his obsessive drive and inability to relate to the common man, Joker’s psychological traits all too often darky mirror Batman’s own…an inconvenient fact the Dark Knight prefers to suppress.