Monday, April 2, 2012

BATMAN in Comics - Origins of a Legend (1940 - 1949)

By 1940, with a sum total of 9 issues of "Detective Comics" under his utility belt, Batman had successfully established himself as a power player in comics; a character whose foundations had laid the groundwork for a legacy with volumes of potential.

And in this decade, much of that potential was successfully conceived as key allies, villains and concepts made their first appearances, building upon Batman's initial success to create the beginnings of a fictional world that would have unbridled longevity.

Following the debut of the diabolical Professor Hugo Strange in "Detective Comics" #36, April 1940 saw the introduction of young orphaned acrobat Dick Grayson in issue #38.

With the inclusion of Robin the Boy Wonder, the concept of kid sidekicks spread through the industry like wildfire. From the Sandman and Sandy to Green Arrow and Speedy, many of the books of the day attempted to emulate the sales being celebrated by Batman and Robin.

Eventually, Batman's popularity reached such an extensive degree; DC felt the time was perfect to reward the success of Kane and Finger's creation.

That reward came in the form of his own monthly title with "Batman" #1.

In his very first issue, things got off to an incredible start as the dynamic duo faced off against two new villains.

A thieving femme fatale named Catwoman.

And the man that would eventually become the antithesis of all Batman stood for; the Joker, created by Jerry Robinson and mirrored after Conrad Veidt's character in the 1928 film "The Man who Laughs," adapted from Victor Hugo's novel.

The issue also saw Batman's final use of a gun before abandoning firearms altogether (as said before, his relationship to gun-use would be touched upon in several later instances and several issues would feature machine guns being utilized on Batman's vehicles).

Core elements fell into place soon after:

Gotham City was named in "Batman" #4.
The Batmobile in "Batman" #5 (though the dark knight had driven roadsters beforehand).
The Bat-Signal in "Detective Comics" #60
And The Batcave in "Batman" #12 (it wouldn't be referred to as the "Batcave," however, until "Detective Comics" #83).

Along with Joker and Catwoman, several of Batman's biggest rogues manifested out of the fertile imaginations of Bob Kane, Bill Finger and several key contributors such as writers Jerry Robinson and Garner Fox.

The Penguin made his first impression in 1941's "Detective Comics" #58 while Gotham was first plagued by the Scarecrow in the third issue of "World's Finest," a comic that independently featured stories for Batman and Robin as well as Superman.

District Attorney Harvey Kent debuted in "Detective Comics" #66 along with his evil, dichotomous persona Two-Face (later, the character’s name would be inexplicably changed to 'Dent;' possibly to avoid confusion between he and a certain mild-mannered reporter from Metropolis).

And while the Riddler first attempted to stump Batman in 1948's "Detective" #140, the Dynamic Duo was also confronted by the Mad Hatter in "Batman" #49.

But while Batman's cast of characters was growing, priorities had begun to shift.

Following the Japanese Bombing of Pearl Harbor, Batman, along with Superman, Wonder Woman, the Justice Society and rival characters like Captain America, was enlisted into the war effort like any good soldier.

Several issues of "Batman," "Detective Comics" and "World's Finest," despite having stories that never touched upon the war (publishers felt that having their characters decimate the Nazi menace would be disrespectful to the genuine effort being made by the Allies), featured covers in which the caped crusader was engaging in numerous patriotic pastimes.

Whether he was saluting the troops, spearheading paper recycling, stepping up to the plate for a game of baseball or asking readers to buy war bonds, Batman was no longer just a dark avenger or a father figure to Robin. He had become outright war propaganda. The sight of Batman and Robin riding atop a giant bald Eagle leaves little doubt of that. But given its intent to inspire and boost troop morale, it has to be commended in its own way.

During the book-end years of the decade, the mythology deepened with some new romantic foils for the caped crusader as Bruce met several flames in the '40s.

Following the break-off of his engagement to Julie Madison, Bruce met Linda Page in 1941's "Batman" #6. But even more notable was newspaper photojournalist Vicki Vale in 1948. Vale, second only to Catwoman, remains Batman’s longest enduring romance from 1948 to 1962 (with on-again, off-again instances still prevalent today!).

The books also gained another ally for Batman in the form of Alfred; not yet Pennyworth however.

"Batman" #16 introduced readers to Alfred Beagle; a portly Englishman who served as butler to Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson with aspirations of becoming a detective himself! Alfred Pennyworth, the kindly gentlemen beloved by fans the world over would not appear until a few issues later, following the characters’ iteration in the 1943 film serial.

After a year of artistic service, give about 6 to 7 months, Bob Kane ended his run as primary artist on the books. From there, the books were taken over for the most part by Dick Sprang, who would go on to be the quintessential Batman artist and design influence right through the middle of the 1960s.

The books of the decade are fairly tame in their story material compared to 1939.
And as the 1940s ended, Batman's universe had successfully grown.

Imagination was expansive, even infectious.

To date, no other decade has seen as much material (or, more accurately, "enduring" material) be created as several of these characters continue to thrive even today. The backbone of Batman’s entire mythology and cast flourished in the 40s and the staying power of these elements is incredibly telling to how brilliant these creations truly were.

With a new decade, however, Batman would not be turning his attention down upon the streets of Gotham City.

But rather, up to the stars.

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