If you were a kid in the 60’s you did this. You grabbed a towel, pinned it around your neck and became a super hero. For millions of kids that hero was Batman. While the TV show was a far cry from the tormented and dark hero who appeared in Detective Comics, the character resonated with kids and hipsters. The former because of his high moral standings coupled with his ability to kick serious butt. The latter just got a kick out of the bright colors and had a good laugh. But that show laid the groundwork for all that followed. As fans got older and discovered the earlier, gritter, Batman stories they started wanting their Batman comics to bear a similar tone. That led to the legendary Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. That led directly to the Tim Burton movies and those led to the godawful Joel Schumacher films. But the backlash from fans, and the popularity of the darker animated shows, led directly to the Dark Knight trilogy from Christopher Nolan. And those pretty much bring us up to date and set the tone for anything that comes after.
For the most part Batman is viewed as a character who refuses to kill. Thus the many times he has had to face the same enemies over and over. But there have been attempts by some authors to take Batman to a darker place and they’ve had him kill his nemesis du jour. Sometimes brutally. Click on the link if you don’t mind hanging, as in by the neck and until dead, the mentally challenged for no reason.
Seriously, I did say “brutal.”
But for all of the reinventions of Batman it’s his brooding image of a protector of the innocent that reverberates with the majority of the public and has helped cement the character as a pop culture icon.
Susan Karlin, over at Fast To Create, writes that “The Dark Knight’s 75th anniversary is spawning a year-long celebration. We asked some Batman notables to spill some behind-the-scenes tales from bringing the Caped Crusader to life.”
Holy shuffleboard! Batman is 75?
Batman–the creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger–made his first appearance Detective Comics #27 in May 1939.
In honor of the Caped Crusader’s 75th anniversary, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are planning a year-long celebration: a slate of new Batman comic titles beginning with Batman Eternal, an April 19 WonderCon panel, partnering with comic book stores and libraries for Batman Day on July 23, art exhibit and panels at San Diego Comic Con, new animated DVD films and shorts, and home video release of the 1966-8 Batman TV series and 25th anniversary edition of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie.
On May 5, the Paley Center in New York will live stream a Batman At 75session. A documentary, Legends of the Knight, is in theaters, while a successful Kickstarter project hopes to realize another, The Cape Creator: A Tribute to Bat-Maker Bill Finger.
For our part, Fast Company rounded up some notable Batman covers through the years (see slide show), and asked some Batman luminaries to describe their encounters with the Dark Knight.
Starred as Batman in the ABC TV series Batman, and Batman: The Movie.
“One time, I was at Shea Stadium, doing a live show. I took five, told the band to relax, and went backstage. It was kind of dark, under this tent. I took off the Batman cowl, and suddenly, two hands reached out of the gloam and grabbed it. I heard this man say, “I created you. I created you!” And it was Bob Kane. The man who created it all. Then Bob and I became friends. What a character!”
Writer/editor of Batman comics and animated Batman TV shows since the late ’70s. He’s best known for co-creating, with artist John Calnan, the character of Lucius Fox, who runs Bruce Wayne’s business and is played by Morgan Freeman in the films.
“Batman literally saved my life. At age 17, I was misdiagnosed as having the flu. When I was finally correctly diagnosed, as having blood poisoning from a staph infection, the doctors were convinced I had hours to live. The only drug available at that time was penicillin, which I was deathly allergic to. Except the Batman TV series was going to premier in three weeks, and I was not going to miss that show. I hung on by sheer force of will. During that time, the doctors found out about a new antibiotic, Keflin, which they tried on me and I recovered–in time to see the show. The fact that I would later go on to write and edit Batman comics is amazing to me.”
Legendary Batman illustrator, who redirected Batman from its TV show camp to its Dark Knight origins; illustrator of the Batman Illustrated collection and author/illustrator of Batman Odyssey.
“By the time I started working for DC Comics in 1967, they had takenBatman down some strange trails–like introducing Bat Mite and Bat Hound–and debating how to respond to the TV show’s satire. I wanted to save DC Comics from flushing the Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger down the toilet. So I asked Batman editor, Julius Schwartz, if I could work for him. He said, “Get the hell out of my office!” in his trademark charm. So I went down the hall to Murray Boltinoff, who edited The Brave and the Bold, which featured Batman. He paired me with an excellent writer, Bob Haney, and asked if I wanted to make changes to Haney’s script. I told him, ‘I’m not going to let any scenes take place in the daytime. I won’t have Batman entering through doors–only windows and shadows.’ So I began drawing Batman. And three months later, I walk into DC Comics, and there’s Julie, holding sheets of fan mail, snarling, ‘They wanna know how come the only real Batman is in The Brave and the Bold?’ I laughed, and said, ‘Every kid knows who Batman should be. The only people who don’t seem to know are the folks at DC Comics.’ He growled back, ‘You’re working for me now, Adams.’”
DC Comics co-publisher and artist best known for Batman: Hush, Batman and Robin, and various Justice League and Batman covers to the present.
“I was five when my family moved to the U.S. from Korea, and I learned how to read from comic books. My dad was a doctor, so every summer, he took my sister and me sightseeing on the way to medical conventions. He kept me quiet by giving me comics, so I spent summers reading and drawing Batman in the back of our station wagon. I remembered the Batman stories more than Mount Rushmore or the Alamo. I was such a huge fan of the 1966 TV show that, in 2001, I found a guy who knew a seamstress with access to the original patterns of Batman’s costume. So I had her make a custom costume in the same material and color saturation, down to the shoes and utility belt. It cost me $1,400. It was an awesome costume. It went over so well, that my friends would invite me over to their kids’ birthday parties to entertain.”
Executive producer of executive producer of Batman, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and upcoming Batman vs. Superman; author of The Boy Who Loved Batman.
“I fell in love with Batman at eight years old, because he was the only superhero with no superpowers and fought the greatest supervillains in the history of comic books. Batman’s greatest superpower is his humanity. The Batman TV show happened when I was in eighth grade. I waited for months for it to premiere. When it did, I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified. The show was in color, and the animated credits and sets were really cool. But it was too much like a cartoon. The entire world was laughing at Batman. At that point, I made a vow. Somehow, I was going to show the world the real Batman–a creature of night, who stalks criminals from the shadows–and figure out how to erase the words Zap! Pow! and Wham! from the collective consciousness. That path would become my life’s journey and career.”
Artist of several Batman covers from the ’80s onward, including Batman Anniversary: Issue 400, and the Kevin Smith series Batman: Cacophony and Batman: The Widening Gyre.
“For Batman: Cacophony, I got an email from [DC Comics’ art director]Mark Chiarello that said, ‘Cover. Joker. Stabbed in the heart. Interested?’ I wrote back, ‘Absolutely.’ I came up with an idea of, in typical Joker fashion, holding his own heart and taunting Batman, ‘You missed!’ Getting stabbed in the heart is pretty ballsy, so I figured, why not go for it? Mark wrote back, ‘This is so sick. I love it. We can’t use it.’ It was just too macabre. So I redrew the picture with him with a knife plunged into his chest, with no blood and suffering no ill effects. That was the cover they went with. I knew there was no chance the first one was going to be used, but it was so insanely Jokeresque, I had to draw it.”
Artist of several Batman stories and covers from the ’70s onward.
“Bernie Wrightson and I had a competition going–who could draw the longest cape on Batman. Bernie’s longest cape appeared in Swamp Thing issue 7, of Batman looking past his left shoulder with a long cape flowing over the city. My response was in Detective Comics #443, of Batman standing on a beam across a narrow alley with a cape that looks like cardboard, compared to the beautiful silky style that Bernie drew. It was the longest Batman cape I’d ever seen and I just thought it was incredibly funny.”
For more covers, check out industry trade Comic Book Resources’ list of the 75 greatest Batman covers.
[Images courtesy of DC]
The new Superman versus Batman movie that’s coming out appears tilted to the dark side as well. Considering how the first Superman ended it would be kind of hard to follow it with a comedy.
Batman, though, is in a place all his own. He has taken his mere human abilities about as far as any human can take them. He is a shining example of what hard work can accomplish. Also he’s a shining example that not all billionaires are jerks.
Both messages need to be heeded.
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