Apr 25

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April 25, 1939: Batman Debuts

Detective Comics #27On this day in 1939, Batman debuted in issue #27 of Detective Comics. The creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Batman had his own comic book by the spring of 1940 and has arguably remained the most popular comic book hero since then.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard the story of Batman. After witnessing his parents murder as boy, billionaire Bruce Wayne uses his ample resources and skills to fight crime in Gotham City as the masked vigilante, Batman. Through the years, he has faced off against famous villains like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler and Scarecrow.

Since his debut, the tone and feel of Batman has evolved. Through the late 1930s and 40s, the comics were much darker with a hard-boiled feel, with multiple murders often occurring in one issue.

In response to the level of violence in early comic books, the Comics Magazine Association of America introduced the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s to allow publishers to self-regulate the content of their issues. The Batman issues that came out in the 1950s and 60s had a much more light-hearted, campy feel, much like the Adam West “Batman” television series of that decade as well.

By the 70s, movies and television were pushing the envelope and the code was updated in 1971 to allow comics to do so as well. The Batman comic books went back to their darker tone and the hero’s internal struggle became more of a focal point.

Nevertheless, the evolution of the Batman is a testament to the popularity and solidness of the character.  I can think of no other character that could go from being portrayed as a campy buffoon by Adam West to a tortured soul by Christian Bale and keep its fans.

Since his debut, Batman has had starring roles in more than 60 comic books, most notably his own and Detective Comics (prior to his debut, it was a hard-boiled detective series). He has also been the subject of 11 movies, a television series, 42 animated series or features, 28 video games and one radio series. Unless you are obsessed, it would be impossible to keep up with all of these, but here are a few items worth checking out.

  • Batman Chronicles, Vol. 1: This anthology contains Detective Comics issues #27-37 and Batman #1, showing how the character came to be.
  • Batman, The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol. 2: A great walk-through of the Batman saga through more than a dozen issues spanning 60 years.
  • Batman – The Movie (1966): While Adam West seems out of place as Batman in this day and age, this movie captures the era of light-hearted silliness and is still fun to watch today.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: In this series by Frank Miller of “Sin City” fame, an aging Batman comes out of retirement to save Gotham City in what may be the greatest Batman story ever told.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke: The wonderful graphic novel by Alan Moore, creator of “Watchmen,” tells what may be the most disturbing Batman tale ever and explores the sanity of The Joker, Batman and Commissioner Gordon.
  • A Death in the Family: In this shocking four part series about the Joker’s murder of the Jason Todd Robin, the series showed that it was not afraid to eliminate one of its main characters. Other comic book franchises are not so brave.
  • Batman (1989): Director Tim Burton’s take on the Dark Knight was part gothic, part camp and one of the biggest event movies of the 1980s.
  • Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995): One of the most visually stunning animated series ever appealed to Batman fans from all decades.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy: Never before has a movie series reinvigorated a comic book character in a manner that energized the loyal fan base and added a legion of new fans.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum: Of all the video games where Batman has been featured, this revolutionary one for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 is the best and considered by many video game fans to be a masterpiece.

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