75 years of the other guy who wears his underwear outside of His pants.
(PCM) It is April 1938 and a new magazine hits the newsstands. It is the first issue of Action comics and on the cover is a man holding a car above his head while shaking bad guys out of the vehicle. He is dressed in Blue tights and red shorts. He has a red cape and an S Shield on his chest. This is the first time the world has seen Superman. The actual date on the cover of the magazine says June, but the publishers wanted as much time on the market as they could get so Action number one was released in April. They were afraid that the new magazine would not sell, they did not need to worry, Action Comics would go on selling for the next 74 years. Why is an article that is about Batman starting with Superman? The answer without Superman there would never have been a Batman.
Batman was a direct result of Superman as so many other comic book heroes would be. The difference with The Batman is that he has staying power. When comic book heroes began to disappear in the 1950’s, it was only Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman that remained. Batman adapted to the times.
When the time was dark and ominous in the world in the 1930s Batman came to us as a dark avenger when entertainment turned to Science Fiction Batman began to time travel and have outer space adventures, When Batman came out as A TV show in 1966, and was pure camp, the hero took on the camp aspect. When the 1970’s got a bit dark so did our Caped Crusader. As the year went on up until this day Batman has gone back to his roots as a dark hero.
When Bob Kane was asked by the editor of National Allied Publication to come up with a second Superman, Mr Kane took on the challenge. Bob Kane was a primarily a cartoonist, not a writer, so he got help in the person of Bill Finger and together they created The Bat-Man, as he was originally known. There is no creditable account of Batman’s creation. No one knows who added what. We do know that Bill Finger was very fond of the pulp and Radio hero known as The Shadow and some of Batman was based on that popular Character. Regardless of who did what, Batman made his appearance in Detective Comics number 27 dated May 1939, 11 months after Superman’s debut.
Batman’s story is simple but its underlying complexity and psychological ramifications are immense. A young Bruce Wayne goes to the movies with his parents, in later years that movie specifically became The Mark Of Zorro. On their way home they pass through an alley where his parents are the victims of a hold up. The thief, Joe Chill, who has a pistol, reaches for Mrs. Wayne’s Pearls and as Bruce’s father attempts to protect his wife both Mr. and Mrs. Wayne are shot and killed. Bruce the sole witness to his parent’s death. In the original origin story there is a panel with Bruce kneeling at his bedside, a candle lit behind him, where he swears he will spend his life making war on all criminals
Bruce is lefty wealthy by his parents death he studies and works out training both his mind and body to as close to perfection as possible. When he feels he is ready he sits in a dark room and contemplates how he will go about his this battle he has declared. As if in answer to his thoughts a huge bat breaks thru the window and Bruce knows his fate is to become a bat-man.
As the story of Bat-man evolves for over 73 years, Batman’s roots become more complex. We learn that he is raised by the Family’s faithful butler, Alfred. We find out that the first person to find Bruce after his parents murder was a young female doctor named Leslie Tompkins. Bruce’s home is named Wayne Manor and under it is a series of caves that would later become The Batcave, the lair of Batman. Bruce travels the world to learn how to fight and learn different types of criminology; he studies with Zatarra the Magician, an early DC hero, who taught Bruce how to escape from different life threatening situations, like handcuffs and ropes, and who would become the father of Zatanna a later addition to the DC family and one of Batman’s comrades in arms.
A little over a year later in Detective Comics number 38. A new character would be added to the Batman’s Family. Another young man named Dick Grayson would watch as his parents are murdered by a henchman of Boss Zucco, a criminal who specialized in extorting “protection” money from businesses. When the owner of the circus, Mr. Haley, who Dick and his parents work for as trapeze artists, refuses to pay Zucco, Zucco’s men cut the ropes on the trapeze and Dick’s parents fall to their deaths.
Bruce Wayne is at the circus that night. He emerges as Batman to investigate but finding nothing, and Bruce takes Dick to his home. While there, Bruce questions Dick as to how much he wants to bring his parents killers to justice. Dick swears that he does and Bruce reveals himself to Dick. Dick is trained, already being a trapeze artist this is not difficult, he’s given a bright costume, and so emerges as Robin The Boy Wonder who would become a lighter side to Batman’s darkness.
On a purely psychological note, Batman is a very complex character. Not being an alien from another planet who has special abilities far beyond those of mortal men, Batman is born out of a desire for vengeance and justice. He is obsessed with his goal and spends more and more of his time making that goal happen.
Batman is The Man.
The identity of Bruce Wayne becomes a mask for Batman to assume. In fact because of the psychological trauma young Bruce experiences and his vow, it could be argued that that Bruce Wayne ceased to exist the night his parents were murdered. It would also be many years before his parent killer was brought to justice and so the anger of Bruce Wayne would continue to burn.
Robin, on the other hand is the light to Batman’s dark. Though both characters lose their parents, Robin is taken and raised by both Bruce and Alfred. Robin’s Parents murderer is brought to justice very swiftly and so Robin has closure. Robin almost didn’t need to train as he was risking his life from a young age a circus performer. Robin could keep his sense of humor, he could grow emotionally and learn to love. These are things Bruce is almost incapable of, his ability to trust and to love would barely grow at all, and obsession and the need for vengeance would continue to take deeper root.
Batman would begin to grow a large number of enemies, some of them deeply psychologically disturbed and the evil mirror image of himself. The first of these was The Joker. The Joker appeared in the first issue of Batman dated The Spring of 1940. In their first days single hero titles would be released quarterly instead of monthly.
Even in the Joker’s first story he is a homicidal maniac who has developed a formula that makes his victims die with a smile on their face. In the early days every time Batman met the Joker, The clown seemingly died only to have a found an escape at the last second and return to plague Batman.
Another classic villain who would emerge from Batman number one would be Catwoman, Selina Kyle, who is a brilliant jewel thief. In her first appearance she wears no costume, but the beginning of the attraction between her and Batman would begin that very first appearance, and would be a slow burn for the both of them for over seventy years. Eventually Selina would come to find out that Bruce is Batman and would, as often as not aid him on his crusade.
Other villains would follow, Oswald Cobblepot: The Penguin, Edward Nigma: The Riddler and Harvey Dent, the tragic Two-face, Professor Hugo Strange and Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, would both become enemies of the Batman and both Professors of psychology. Each of these villain, sane or insane, would make a permanent mark on Batman’s history.
In the 1950s Batman would encounter the hardest enemy he ever fought. This enemy would not wear a mask or tell riddles, would not make it’s victim’s die smiling or have a hundred trick umbrellas. This enemy was a book, and it did not arise out of the comic book world, but out of the mind of a psychologist named Fredric Wertham.
The year is 1954, the McCarthy years have started and the red scare is getting worse. McCarthy has even named Lucille Ball, the popular star of TVs highest rated show I Love Lucy, as a communist. This is the volatile time that Fredric Wertham that his book, Seduction of The Innocent was published.
Seduction of the Innocent was an attack made on The Comic Book. Mostly the attack was aimed at horror comics whose graphics and art was pretty much out of control for the time. Wertham accused comic books as the cause of juvenile delinquency as well as adding to illiteracy, but in four pages he attacked Batman and accused him and Robin of having a homosexual relationship. His thoughts were Bruce and Dick lived in a large mansion with just a butler, some of the panels would show them both waking up in the same bed. They would lounge around the mansion in their night clothes together – clearly these two characters were gay. From a literary stand point nothing could have been further from the truth.
Sure Bruce and Dick lived together, but it was never a sexual relationship it was more like a father son relationship, like the 1970s TV show The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. From a psychological stand point I doubt Bruce could have many sexual feelings at all, as obsession takes a lot out of you, and eventually we would see Robin become a teenager and have relationships with young ladies, of his own. Even the story tellers of the time denied that they were trying to convey a gay message.
Seduction of the Innocent did its damage though. Horror Comics virtually disappeared over night most of the superhero comics as well. Archie Comics and Funny Animal stories would again become popular. Batman however would continue to be published though changes would be made in the cast. Alfred the loyal butler would go and Aunt Harrier would arrive to take care of “the boys” Batwoman and the first Batgirl would become part of the stories both having romantic feelings toward Batman and Robin. The caped Crusaders would become the straight crusaders.
Seduction of the Innocent also brought about The Comics Code. Approval of every comic book story would have to go through the code to be sure it was suitable for publication and each comic book would be granted a seal of approval. The code would last until the mid 1970’s brought new writers and artists to the industry who would want to do stories that had some social relevance. Some titles like Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Spiderman would go to press without the approval as they were showing the horror of drug addiction and the stories needed to be told. Eventually The Comics Code would, for all intents and purposes, disappear.
The 1960s would show the rise of the Superhero again. Batman would get a TV show and his popularity would soar. Alfred would return to the fold and new and permanent Batgirl would appear. In the 1970’s Dick Grayson would leave Wayne Manor for college and Batman would be on his own again and the darker side of him would begin to emerge, as his roots were re-explored.
The eighties and nineties continued to bring a darker Batman, one version of Robin would be killed, a decision made by the fans, but the character would not stay dead for long. For the 21st Century Batman remains a dark and avenging hero, all too human and vulnerable, but in complete control of his destiny.
For further reading on Batman I suggest, The Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon by Will Brooker, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia By Robert Greenberger, DC Comics Sixty Year of the World’s Favorite Superheroes by Les Daniels and The Batman Archive Editions published by DC Comics.
There are also some specialty books out there like Batman and Philosophy and Batman and Psychology, for a spiritual look at Batman there is God On the Streets of Gotham.