The year was 1939…May, to be exact…and a breath was being held.
Cartoonist Bob Kane, along with writer Bill Finger and editor Victor Sullivan, had a chance taken by DC Comics on a creation of Kane’s own making. It was a character made by Kane in the aftermath of DC’s first giant success; a dark negative to compliment the bright picture of superhero idealism…Superman, who had been created and published the year before.
But this wasn’t a god among men…not an alien descended from the heavens adorned in the bright primary colors of patriotic optimism…in many ways it wasn’t even a superhero at all.
Kane’s brainchild was simply a man…human…with nothing to salvage the day save for a honed intellect, inventive gadgetry and fierce martial arts skills.
He was a character inspired by pulp heroes such as the Shadow, Zorro, Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he was visually compiled from sketches of various flying machines conceived by Leonardo DaVinci as well as golden age horror pictures such as Roland West’s 1926 silent classic “The Bat.”
This character was meant to be a man of the most noble sort…yet ironically clad in the very darkness and shadow of evil itself, striking from that darkness like a crime-fighting force of nature.
He was…simply put…the Bat-Man.
And a breath was being held…by Finger, by DC Comics but, most especially, by Kane…as the character made his first appearance in May of 1939.
The story was titled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” It chronicled the case of a chemical plant and one of its managerial heads, who kills off his business partners to take over the company for his own monetary and corporate gain.
But he’s confronted and defeated by the Bat-Man…who is secretly millionaire playboy and philanthropist Bruce Wayne.
The story, which also introduced Police Commissioner James Gordon, has since become one of the single most influential tales in comic book history, giving the world a legendary icon…a dark knight, fighting to abolish crime itself.
The story was a total of six pages long.
And in 1939…May, to be exact…Kane gushed a sigh of relief…and the world began a process of reaping the benefits of his creation that has continued to entertain, evolve and endure for over 70 years.
The name itself evokes a bizarre alignment of emotions, even for those that aren’t a part of his global fan base.
It’s a name that instills one with a sense of mystery…of wrath and fear and ultimately of resolve…and hope.
To know Batman as I have come to know him is to understand two things: the imminence of evil and tragedy…and the power of determination and hope.
The world as we know it is built upon the foundations of humanities follies — greed, murder, despair, injustice, moral ambiguity, vengeance.
Humanity, despite what you might think, is a cruel beast…prey to war, intolerance, hatred and tyranny. The world isn’t nice…no amount of sugar-coating will change that and shielding yourself from it is nothing but a sign of naivety and incompetence.
It’s not about making the world a heaven…it’s about surviving the world as the hell it is.
But it’s not that Batman represents pessimism…not at all…it’s that he presents rationality and common sense.
Wishing and Praying for things to get better won’t solve anything.
Forcing it does.
Enacting Change does.
Stirring others to take up the call does.
Hope isn’t unobtainable. All it takes is the strength…the will…of decent people to demand that hope. Or to be inspired by a symbol. Batman represents a rallying cry of people to seize control of their own destiny. Don’t stand aside for some politician or professor or parent to do it for you.
Over time, the reason behind Batman’s impact and longevity becomes clear.
He, more so than any other character, has been afforded an endless array of interpretations and incarnations.
Superman is always Superman.
Spider-Man is always Spider-Man.
Batman has been a lot of different things at a lot of different times.
He’s been everything from a mythical vigilante to a kid-friendly father figure…a kooky crimefighter to a high-tech urban avenger.
In the ’30s, we had a man taking on the ravages of the Great Depression and the burgeoning emergence of organized crime.
The ’40s saw him become a fully enlisted agent for the United States government fighting alongside Robin the Boy Wonder.
The Atomic Age of the ’50s turned him into a Buck Rogers-type explorer of outer space and other planets.
He became a tired psychedelic fad as a cornball crusader of the ’60s.
The ’70s saw a return to his hardboiled, detective roots.
He became a haunted loner obsessed with the deaths of his parents in the ’80s.
The oddity of the ’90s saw him taking on larger than life adversaries as a full fledged super hero.
The turn of the 21st century transformed him into a technologically superior soldier fighting a true “war” on crime.
As for the future…who knows where it could possibly go.
His incarnations cover a broad range.
The teenaged punk-turned-hero of “Batman Beyond.”
The goofy one-line spouting mentor of the ’60s television series.
The US double agent of the 1940s film serials.
The garish leather-clad crusader of the ’90s feature films.
Bob Kane’s Batman.
Frank Miller’s Batman.
Dick Sprang’s Batman.
Dennis O’Neal’s Batman.
Bruce Timm’s Batman.
Kia Asamiya’s Batman.
Joel Schumacher’s Batman.
William Dozier’s Batman.
Mike Mignola’s Batman.
Brian Bolland’s Batman.
Jeph Loeb’s Batman.
Greg Rucka’s Batman.
Tim Burton’s Batman.
Alan Moore’s Batman.
Duane Capizzi’s Batman.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman.
All of them exist…All of them are valid…and All of them add to the luster and the legacy.
No other character in the history of comics…maybe even of literature…can back up a claim like that.
The Greeks have their Gods…The Catholics have their Saints…The Druids have their Deities.
And we have our Comic Book Superheroes.
Consider this…we’ve all seen images and the like of young children, playing within the rubble of some war-torn providence on the other side of the world.
They know nothing of the freedoms and luxuries you and I take for granted.
They don’t deal with the oddities and absurdities that get shoved down our throats every single day…they don’t care about who’s going to win the next “Dancing with the Stars” or how much money the next “Twilight” movie’s going to make.
Jon and Kate Gosselin
Despite any sort of good intentions, they could honestly care less.
But…have you noticed…in many of those same images, those same children can be seen in T-shirts…adorned with a symbolic Black-Winged Bat over a field of yellow.
Truly, more than anything else… Batman is universal, reaching all corners of the globe.
In a time where people are more concerned with voting for the next American Idol than they are of voting for the next President and Nobel Peace Prizes seem less like awards and more like trinkets won in a raffle…
One of the purist and truest “icons” and “idols” America has to offer…is a man broken by violence, having the two most important things in his life torn from him who rose from the ashes of tragedy to have vengeance clad in the blackness of winged night.
From the isolation of the Great Depression to the bleakness of World War II…from the constant conflicts between culture and counter-culture to the increasing threats of terrorism, both at home and abroad…The Dark Knight has been through it all…and he has never once wavered in his morals, his beliefs of what is right and what is wrong…
He is a contemporary example of goodness, 70+ years in the making to date, that we can all look up to.
Batman represents to the world that despite all the hardship and chaos, we must always hold onto the hope that out there waits good men ready to act on a moments notice to protect us and shelter us from evil.
Believing that goodness exists in the world is a need we all have…and this pillar of heroism, despite being a fictional representation, is clearly a respected one.
I’ve never been known for having a real man to look up to, thanks to my own falling out and disappointment with my father.
Batman was the answer to that problem for me.
An icon that not only deserves my respect…but has earned it with courageousness and bravery in the face of unbelievable odds, both in his adventures and even in reality.
A story can become legend…and a legend can become myth.
But how so, in the real world, is this done?
Simple…by allowing the story to grow and evolve. By allowing it to expand and become enriched. By allowing the characters to age, adapt and reflect on the ever changing times and climates of social issues, political and historic events and the personalities and preferences of those who thrill to the adventure.
Batman is a prime example of this.
He and his world of allies and rogues, more than any other comic book universe, has had the fortune of being afforded the aforementioned opportunities.
It goes to show how damn near indestructible Batman and his world truly is.
Through seven decades of storytelling, Batman and his universe have continued to endure…entertaining legions of fans around the world…and instilling hope, courage and strength in us all.
Quite an impact indeed.
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“Batman”, DC Comics