How did Batman become so well-known? It all began in 1939. “National Comics (later to become DC Comics) was searching for a new super hero in 1939—a character that could build on Superman’s success” (Batman at 75: Highlights in the Life of the Caped Crusader). Bob Kane was tasked by editor Vin Sullivan with creating a hero. Writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane came up with the concept for Batman. Batman wasn’t simply a character in black and white. Batman was originally drawn by Bob Kane in lighter colors and with a mask that only covered his eyes. They drew inspiration for Batman’s costume from pulp magazines from the 1930s, Sherlock Holmes novels, and films like The Mark of Zorro at the time.
As Batman celebrates his 80th year in comics and movies, you’d like to think he’s proud of what he’s accomplished (if Batman were one to allow himself to feel something so self-congratulatory as pride). Bruce Wayne’s mask may have been designed to terrorize criminals, but it’s had a much more powerful effect on those of us who don’t live in the shadows—captured it’s our hearts and minds.
Since his introduction, Batman has grown to become one of the most well-known and enduring characters in all of entertainment. He’s appeared in a slew of films, television shows, animations, and video games, both big and small. The face and logo of Batman have appeared on t-shirts, hoodies, shoes, caps, leggings, and just about every other piece of clothing imaginable. He’s influenced toys ranging from free fast food giveaways to high-end collectibles, and he’s appeared on almost any product you can think of. Documentary films, college studies, and art exhibits have all been dedicated to Batman. Memes, comedy sketches, and parodies have all been influenced by him. He’s created his own unofficial holiday and inspired tens of thousands of cosplayers around the world. Batman has progressed beyond his appearance as a superhero. He’s now a part of our mutual knowledge and community. Regardless of their age or interests, and whether or not they are fans of comic books or super-powered characters, everybody knows who Batman is.
DC Comics was searching for a new superhero in 1939, one that could expand on the massive popularity of Superman, their previous comic book phenomenon. Editor Vin Sullivan approached what seemed to be an unlikely source of inspiration at the time, gag cartoonist Bob Kane, and asked him to create a new hero. Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger would go on to create one of the twentieth century’s most famous and enduring characters: Batman.
Finger and Kane collaborated on the first Batman script, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” On March 30, 1939, it was featured in Detective Comics #27, which reached newsstands (cover date: May 1939).
Batman was first introduced as an uninteresting socialite Bruce Wayne in his first novel. He became a merciless crimefighter who dispatched hoodlums with grim gratification after donning his iconic outfit. After knocking a suspect into a vat of acid, Batman declared, “A fitting end for his kind.”
In Detective Comics #33, six months after Batman’s debut, a mugger shoots down Bruce Wayne’s parents as the family walks home from a movie (November 1939). For decades to come, this seemingly simplistic root will be explored and exploited for emotional depth.