RIP BATMAN 1939 – 2009
Recently in the DC comics universe Batman tragically gave his life to save the universe (yes, the universe, not just Gotham City). In a twist turn of events, Bruce Wayne picked up a gun and killed the embodiment of evil, Darkseid, and was killed himself in the process.
For fans this was a bitter sweet moment. Batman gave his life and did it in a way nobody saw coming. But he did it doing something Superman couldn’t have had done before. Batman took a life, he broke his one rule, but did it in a way that completed his mission. He defeated evil.
From his early origins in 1939, Batman debuted as a darker form of hero. Based on characters such as The Shadow, Zorro, Doc Savage, and Sherlock Holmes, Batman was meant to be a much different superhero from Superman.
Batman was human, he had no powers, he didn’t wear flashy or bright colors, and he was smart. From the beginning of his comic book run, Batman hunted the mob. Originally set to where his parents died in the great depression, Batman lived in an era filled with the darker side of history, and in reflection of that history, at first Batman would kill and even carried a gun on his utility belt.
Quickly realizing that the character Batman would become and his influence if he did wield a gun, Bob Kane changed his characters approach to how he fought crime. Batman would carry gadgets, from boomerangs, to Michelangelo inspired flying devices. Batman began to have a course of conduct. And the Dark Knight we know today was truly born.
Not long after the characters creation, Bob Kane decided that for the character to really flourish he needed something more. His colleague and artist for batman, Bill Finger, suggested that he needed a “Watson” sort of character, someone who he could talk to, explain things to, and give the audience a look into Batman’s thought process. To fill these requirement, and to connect with a younger audience, Robin was created.
In the years following Robins introduction Batman seemed subject to vast and extreme criticism. In 1954 a psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book called “Seduction of the Innocent”, where he explains that comic books influenced children to later commit crimes based on what they had read in these books, that they warped morality, and corrupted the youth that read them. He also introduced the notion that the relationship between Batman and Robin was homosexual and stated that the comics portrayed them as lovers. His accusations would later cause DC comics to print Batman in a much lighter tone, and created characters such as Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite to aid Batman in more science fiction oriented stories.
This later caused Batman to become a “campy” superhero and spawned the 1960’s Batman live-action show staring Adam West. The elements that were introduced from the show at that point, including Batgirl, later spilled over into the comics to where later Bob Kane would state that “”When the television show was a success, I was asked to be campy, and of course when the show faded, so did the comic books.”.
Thankfully in the early 1970’s writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams believed that Batman needed to get away from the image the TV show had created and decided to bring him back to his darker roots. The changes they made and the work they did renewed life in Batman. He was a dark character once again, he fought crime as a detective, and the stories were no longer based on Batman fighting aliens or had any science fiction tones. But sadly they work they did, even though it would later influence Batman’s 1989 movie and the animated series in 1992, wasn’t enough for some fans and the characters popularity started to fall.
In 1986 however, acclaimed comic book writer Frank Miller, who would later been praised for Sin City and 300, wrote a limited run series called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. This story staged Batman who was now in his 50’s coming out of his retirement from crime fighting to once again fight crime. It was a dark and controversial story for its time and would bring back the life Batman comics needed to keep going strong for years to come. Batman would now become the hero we know today. Through stories such as Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: A Death in the Family, and the series Legends of the Dark Knight (where batman would now fight crime by himself), Batman became a darker, stronger, icon. He was now being taken seriously by fans and this portrayal of Batman is now what we seen in the films “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”.
With side kicks such as Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and The Oracle, Batman’s influence in the DC universe was strong for a character who had no powers other than his brain and his humanity.
Now with Bruce Waynes death in Final Crisis #6, Batman completed his goal with defeating evil and inspiring people to stand up and do good.