Batman began his storied crime-fighting career in the shadow of another comic book titan, SUPERMAN. Superman had so captured the public’s imagination that comic book publishers demanded a suitable comrade in arms. Enter “the Batman.” Batman was even initially envisioned as Superman with wings. After several creative brainstorming sessions, the reimagined Gotham City superhero debuted in 1939 for Detective Comics. In order to distinguish him from Superman, he donned as a grayish-black bodysuit, a cape reminiscent of bat wings, and a hooded mask.
Witnessing his parents’ brutal murder drove the early Batman. His playboy persona, Bruce Wayne, merely masked the heart of a tortured vigilante. Young Batman also relied on his brainpower to take down shady real-world criminals. Generous traces of Sherlock Holmes and gritty pulp detectives were sprinkled within the character and his adventures. He thus earned the moniker of “World’s Greatest Detective.”
During the 1950s, battalions of aliens and monsters had crept into the hearts of audiences. Soon, Batman began vanquishing paranormal threats as his persona took on a decidedly lighter, more adventurous tone. He became the larger-than-life “Caped Crusader” for DC comics, battling outlandish foes like the Joker and the Riddler with a martial arts repertoire Jackie Chan would envy. The brooding personality also somewhat diminished as Batman forged personal connections with sidekicks like Robin. A wide array of fanciful weapons worthy of any science fiction author’s LSD-fueled dream, added to the hero’s science fiction forays. The more glamorous Batman would become a bona-fide television star. With every “Pow!” and “Kaboom!” in the 1960s television series, he would skillfully outsmart any aging diva.
Every good hero needs a kick in the tights….or an alternate reality, or a run-of-the-mill resurrection. Batman would receive each of these – along with a few lovers, children, and even Batman imposters – over the ensuing decades. He would also launch a few animated adventures, hatch master plots against his fellow Justice Leaguers, marry his enemies, and face the ultimate shame: Batman toilet paper.
Batman’s popularity waned, but neither the Computer Age nor wrinkles can keep a good superhero down. By the dawn of a new century, the physical prowess returned, the light gray and yellow party costume morphed into midnight black, and the complex soul trapped within would rise again. Two highly successful movie franchises and a new set of imaginative comic book writers would restore Batman to his rightful decree as the Dark Knight.
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