Batman Through the Ages
With 75 years under his bat-belt as of this month, Batman shows no signs of slowing down in protecting Gotham City and inspiring legions of fans across the globe.
On his way to becoming a worldwide icon, the dark knight has gone through several iterations over the decades. Trace the history of the caped crusader, his sidekick and his villains in this slideshow.
The caped crusader swung into action in his debut in May 1939 in Detective Comics #27. In response to the popularity of Superman and the demand for more superheroes, Bob Kane created "Batman," who started out as a wealthy millionaire who mooonlights as a pistol-packing sleuth. In fact, unlike today's Batman, the original had no problem dispatching criminals without a second thought.
As Comics Alliance notes, he essentially started out as a kind of rip-off of the shadow -- also a wealthy crime-fighting detective -- except in a different skin. The characters also drew inspiration from Zorro and the Phantom, also popular characters during the 1930s.
Eleven issues after Batman's debut, his sidekick, Robin, would enter the fray. Although Kane opposed to the inclusion of Robin, the boy wonder proved a hit with audiences, and spawned a slew of kid sidekick copycats.
In 1940, Batman would have his own comic, which would also introduce the Joker, his most famous nemesis, and Catwoman. A few issues later, Batman would lose the guns and instead develop his now-famous distaste for firearms, a logical step given that his back story involves witnessing his parents' murder at the hands of a gunmen.
Batman leaped off the pages of the comic book and onto the big screen for the first time in 1943, just four years after his debut. Actor Lewis Wilson took on the role of the caped crusader, even though he didn't really have the physique or the voice quite right for the part, and Douglas Croft assumed the part of Robin.
As is evident in this photo, Batman's costume wasn't nearly as sleek -- and certainly not at all intimidating -- relative to his modern-day live action counterparts. But all of the now-familiar elements of Batman's arsenal, including the Batcave, first introduced in the series, were part of the show. The series also introduced a villain, Mr. Daka, a Japanese stereotype tailor-made for the World War II era.
Despite the low production values, an overweight star and racist overtones, the series was a hit, spawning a sequel in 1949. Like many sequels today, the successor proved to be a far worse installment, in terms of story and production values, than the original.
Like other superheroes of the era during World War II, Batman was enlisted to come to the aid of the United States. During the war, Batman, Superman and other heroes promoted the sale of U.S. war bonds.
In radio serials following the war, Batman continued to promote U.S. policies, voicing his support for the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe.
In the 1950s, the superhero genre was on the outs, but Batman was one of the few characters that managed to thrive during this time.
During that decades, however, the caped crusader was attacked by one of his most baffling villains to date, real-world psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. In a study titled "Seduction of the Innocent," Wertham alleged he found evidence that depictions of violence and the perceived homosexual subtext in the relationship between him and Robin encouraged juvenile delinquency.
Although the study had major flaws, including selective sourcing and falsified information, it had a major impact, leading to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a self-censoring body that endured until 2011. Likely in response to the study, comic book writers devised the characters of Batwoman, Batgirl and later Aunt Harriet.
Batman and RobinGetty Images
By the 1960s, Batman's popularity was in the gutter. But just as it seemed like the dark knight had seen his last adventure, his popularity once again soared with the campy, comic personality developed for his eponymous television series starring Adam West as the caped crusader.
The series was a pop culture smash, so much so that celebrities of the era insisted on making cameos on the show. Comics, which began to adopt the sensibilities of the show, also saw a major boost in circulation.
Bat fever would be short-lived, however. After 120 episodes, fans had had enough of the campy Batman and the series was canceled in 1968.
In 1969, Batman emerged as a grimmer, grittier superhero, the dark knight that we're more familiar with today. The relaunch may have rehabilitated Batman's image, but it did little to boost sagging sales numbers.
Perhaps attuned to the age of the character, Frank Miller produced The Dark Knight Returns, a series that told the story of a late-middle-aged Bruce Wayne returning from retirement to be once again the Batman. Released in 1986, the comics series would prove a hit for the character and once again inspire interest in the Batman character.
In 1989, Batman would once again appear on the big screen. This time, in the capable hands of director Tim Burton, the superhero would finally get the treatment now billionaire Bruce Wayne would likely be accustomed too.
The studio production featured Michael Keaton in the title role and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The film proved an international success, earning nearly half a billion dollars at the box office and on video sales, leading to a sequel, Batman Returns, three years later and a popular and long-lasting animated series.
Despite two additional disastrous Batman movies released in the late 1990s, Batman's popularity continued to grow going into the 21st century. New characters, including Bane, and new storylines were devised that proved a hit with fans.
In 2005, the Batman series was rebooted for the big screen with a trilogy helmed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale in the title role. Each film in the series would prove a hit, with the second film, The Dark Knight, even earning a posthumous Academy Award for Heath Ledger for his portrayal of the Joker.
Around the same time that Batman was winning fans at the box office, a Batman video games series -- Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City -- garnered accolades for their storyline and gameplay, even earning the Guinness World Record for being the "Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever."
In celebration of his 75th year fighting crime in Gotham City, DC Comics has declared July 23 to be "Batman Day," and is reissuing the first-ever Batman comic, available in both stores and as a free download.