BATMAN 80th Anniversary: Key Moments In The Dark Knight’s History

In 1939, DC was looking for a new superhero—a character who could build on the success of Superman. Editor Vin Sullivan turned to what then appeared to be an unlikely creative source, gag cartoonist Bob Kane, and asked him to design a new hero. Bob Kane with Bill Finger conceived one of the most popular and enduring characters of the twentieth century—the Batman. The first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Kane. It was published in Detective Comics #27, which hit newsstands on March 30, 1939 (cover date: May 1939).

In his first story, Batman was introduced as uninteresting socialite Bruce Wayne. Donning his iconic costume, he became a merciless crime-fighter who dispatched hoodlums with grim satisfaction. “A fitting end for his kind,” Batman announced after knocking a criminal into a vat of acid.

A copy of Detective Comics #27 sold for $1.07 million in 2010. Batman utilized his utility belt for the first time to store glass pellets filled with gas in Detective Comics #29 (July 1939). The first boomerang-like batarang and the first bat-themed vehicle— the Bat-Gyro, which has a helicopter blade—made their debuts in Detective Comics #31 (September 1939). The Bat-Gyro was replaced by the Batplane, which first appeared in Batman #1 (March 1940).

Batman’s tragic origin story, in which a mugger guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents as the family walks home from a movie, was introduced six months after the hero’s debut, in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939).

The Dynamic Duo was born in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) with the introduction of Batman’s trusty sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder. Dick Grayson was a circus performer who was orphaned when a gangster murdered his parents. After Batman teamed up with Robin, the tone of the stories changed. No longer a grim avenger who talked to himself, Batman evolved into a lighthearted father figure trading wisecracks with his young partner. Originally, Bob Kane agreed to try out Robin for just one issue—DC’s publisher Jack Liebowitz was against the idea of depicting a child constantly at risk in the middle of violence, fighting crooks. After sales doubled on the first issue to feature the Boy Wonder, Liebowitz sheepishly agreed to keep Robin in future stories.

Batman earned his own self-titled comic book in 1940, while continuing to be featured in Detective Comics. Batman #1 (March 1940) was notable not only for introducing two of his most formidable antagonists, The Joker and Catwoman (here referred to as “the Cat”), but for a story in which Batman used a machine gun to shoot monsters. That story prompted editor Whitney Ellsworth to decree that Batman would no longer kill or use a gun.

Many other key pieces of Batman’s world were introduced in the 1940s. Batman’s home of Gotham City was first referenced by way of its local newspaper, the Gotham Gazette, in Batman #4 (Winter 1940), and the Batcave was implied through a mention of secret underground hangars in Batman #12 in 1942. The first use of the term and first appearance of the Batcave was in the 1942 Batman movie serial, years before its first comic book appearance in Detective Comics #83 (January 1944). Batman’s first car was an ordinarylooking red sedan, but in Batman #5 (Spring 1941), the new Batmobile roared into action sporting its own bat-headed battering ram. The Batmobile was established as a specially built high-powered auto within its first few appearances.

Batman and Robin declared that they didn’t need a butler, but when Alfred Beagle (later changed to Pennyworth) discovered their secret identities and thwarted a gang of international crooks in Batman #16 (April 1943), he became one of their most loyal allies.

During the 1940s, the tone of the Batman stories grew more fanciful. The Joker became less of a sinister killer and more of a dangerous prankster. In a 1944 story, Batman and Robin journeyed to ancient Rome in their first time-travel adventure. Batman even found an enduring love interest when photojournalist Vicki Vale was introduced in 1948.

Batman stories became somewhat bizarre during the 1950s. Batman became an unlikely science fiction star, regularly battling space aliens and robots. In one unusual transformation, he even became Zebra Batman, a radioactive black-and-white-striped menace to Gotham City. An entire Bat-Family of characters was added to the comics, including Batwoman, Batgirl, a magical imp named Bat-Mite, and even Ace the Bat-Hound, a crimefighting dog that wore a mask.

In 1954, a popular book called Seduction of the Innocent linked comic books and juvenile delinquency, leading to calls for censorship. DC’s comics were far tamer than the gory horror comics from other publishers, but there was a cleanup campaign at DC for some of the characters. This led to some unique and occasionally unfortunate results, as Batman gained a Bat-Family and fought villains approved by the Comics Code Authority. Selina Kyle (Catwoman), whose dress featured a slit up to her thigh, was seen as problematic and stopped appearing in Batman stories in 1954. She wouldn’t return in a new story until 1966.

Batman and Superman had been honorary members of the Justice Society of America in the 1940s, but both appeared separately in the same magazine, World’s Finest Comics. It wasn’t until the 1952 story “The Mightiest Team in the World” that they joined together in an unofficial partnership to fight crime. In that first story, Batman and Superman fought for the attention of Lois Lane—a competition won by Robin, to the surprise of both heroes.

To defeat the alien starfish Starro the Conquerer, Batman became one of the founding members of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 (February 1960), fighting alongside team members Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern.

By 1964, sales of Batman and Detective Comics were sinking, and the series were in danger of being canceled. To stem the slide in sales, the books were assigned to editor Julie Schwartz. Designs by Carmine Infantino ushered in a “New Look” for Batman. Changes included a yellow oval around the bat on the hero’s chest, a new Batmobile, and a hotline to police headquarters. Batwoman, Ace and Bat-Mite were retired, and the focus turned to crime and detective stories. Faithful butler Alfred was killed off, Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet came to live with Bruce and Dick, and classic criminals like The Riddler and Scarecrow, who had not been seen since the 1940s, were reintroduced.

The campy, colorful Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward made its debut on January 12, 1966. A huge ratings success that aired with two new episodes every week, the show spawned an unprecedented number of tie-in toys and merchandise, and it also inspired a new generation of Batman fans. Sales of the Batman comics soon soared.Created at the request of the Batman TV show producers, a new Batgirl made her debut in Detective Comics #359 (January 1967). She was revealed as the teenage daughter of Gotham City’s police commissioner James Gordon, who never knew that Barbara snuck out every night to fight crime. Luckily, she always made it home in time to pursue her studies in forensic psychology.

After the Batman TV series was canceled in 1968, sales of the comics once again fell. In Batman #217 in 1969, Dick Grayson left for college, and Bruce Wayne closed Wayne Manor to move into a penthouse apartment, the first step in a move to reestablish a “back-to-basics” atmosphere for the character. There was also an animated show, The Batman/ Superman Hour, which ran from 1968 to 1969.

In the early 1970s, The Joker and the rest of the Rogues Gallery were out of the picture, at least for a while. Batman operated alone and relied on his wits, solving mysteries and fighting street thugs in back alleys. He had returned to his original incarnation: a shadowy figure haunting Gotham City by night and striking fear into the hearts of criminals.

1971 saw the arrival of the mysterious and all-knowing villain Ra’s al Ghul in Batman #232, written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams. Over the years, Ra’s al Ghul would develop into a world-class threat. O’Neil and Adams continued their legendary run with Batman #251 in 1973, which reintroduced The Joker as a violent and murderous threat after he had spent the past several decades as a prankster. In “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” the groundwork was laid for the introduction of the now-iconic Arkham Asylum, which would make its first appearance (as Arkham Hospital) in Batman #258.

Batman returned to television when The New Adventures of Batman animated series premiered on February 12, 1977, featuring the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo. The series continued airing under different names until 1981.

In 1983 Batman #357 introduced a new orphan, named Jason Todd, whose parents had been eaten by Killer Croc. One year later, in Batman #368, Dick Grayson retired as Robin, and Jason Todd adopted the name.

In 1986, the four-issue series Batman: The Dark Knight, by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, redefined the hero as an older, tougher warrior coming out of retirement to reclaim Gotham City from criminals who had overtaken it. It also introduced the first female Robin. It became the first DC story arc to be collected in book form, as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and has remained continuously in print. Also in 1986, Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli collaborated to update Batman’s origin story in Batman #404–407. The book collecting those stories, Batman: Year One, was another best-selling title.

Tragedy and death touched Batman in 1988. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke was a nightmarish story about The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon and leaving her for dead. That same year, DC allowed readers to vote on the fate of Jason Todd, the second Robin. The readers voted “thumbs-down,” and as a result Todd lost his life in an explosion caused by The Joker.

Batmania hit the public again when Tim Burton’s Batman movie premiered in 1989 with Michael Keaton in the title role and Jack Nicholson as The Joker. In the comics, Batman began exhibiting an excessive, reckless approach to fighting crime, a result of the pain of losing Jason Todd. Batman worked solo until the decade’s close, when Tim Drake became the third Robin.

In 1992, Batman Returns featured the return of Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight, facing off against Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer as The Penguin and Catwoman. That same year, Batman: The Animated Series made its debut on TV. A critical and popular success that featured the first appearance of the iconic Harley Quinn character, the series continued under a variety of names for most of the decade.

In 1993, DC published the “Knightfall” story line, which culminated when the ruthless villain Bane broke Batman’s back. An antihero named Azrael became the new Batman, and Catwoman and Robin each received an ongoing series title of their own.

Also that year, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm became the first feature-length Batman animated film. The movie, which was produced by the team behind Batman: The Animated Series and featured the same voice cast, would go on to win acclaim with both fans and critics, and would eventually pave the way for a far-ranging series of animated films from DC featuring both the Dark Knight and other heroes of the DC universe.

In the 1995 film Batman Forever, Val Kilmer donned the cape and cowl as Batman to battle former district attorney Harvey Dent, who is now Two-Face and Edward Nygma, The Riddler with help from an amorous psychologist and a young circus acrobat who becomes his sidekick, Robin. Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) were back working side-by-side to stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing Gotham City in the 1997 film Batman & Robin.

Batman and Gotham City faced catastrophe in the decade’s closing crossover arcs in the comics. In the “Cataclysm” story line, Gotham City was devastated by an earthquake and cut off from the United States government. Deprived of many of his technological resources, Batman fought to reclaim the city from gangs of criminals during the 1999 “No Man’s Land” arc.

In 1999, Batman was propelled into the future with the debut of Batman Beyond, an animated TV show set in an alternate timeline where an aged Bruce Wayne had passed the mantle to a young man named Terry McGinnis in the year 2039. As Batman, Terry was entrusted to watch over Neo-Gotham, which was beset by a gang of masked villains who called themselves Jokerz. The show finished out its three-season run in 2001.

The 12-part “Hush” story in 2003 by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee brought new energy and a huge audience to the Batman title. The story featured an array of the Dark Knight’s worst foes and introduced a new adversary—the bandaged Hush, eventually revealed to be a figure from Bruce Wayne’s childhood. 2004 saw the debut of The Batman, a new animated series that ran for five seasons until 2008, winning six daytime Emmys along the way. Each season of The Batman focused on a central character, ranging from members of the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) to Batman and Robin themselves.

In 2005, Christian Bale starred in Batman Begins, a film directed by Christopher Nolan. The film explored the origins of the Dark Knight and his emergence as a force for good in Gotham City. The 2008 follow-up, The Dark Knight, featured an Oscar-winning performance by Heath Ledger and became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, grossing over $1 billion in the worldwide box office.

From the 1980s onward, DC published special crossover events that often had “crisis” in the title. The 2008-2009 crossover Final Crisis shocked readers by offering up what appeared to be the death of Batman after he fought the godlike villain Darkseid. With Bruce Wayne presumed dead, Dick Grayson became the new Batman. In 2009, the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game became one of the best-selling and bestreviewed console games of all time, marking the beginning of a new era in superhero video games.

In 2010, it was revealed in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne that Darkseid had not killed Batman; instead, Bruce Wayne had become lost in time. Although Wayne eventually returned to the present day and reclaimed the mantle of Batman, he allowed Dick Grayson to continue being Batman as well.

DC reset all ongoing comic book continuity in a massive event called Flashpoint in 2011, which kicked off a brand-new era for the DC universe known as the New 52, complete with new issue #1s of Detective Comics and Batman. In this new continuity, Batman’s history was updated and modernized with the introduction of now-iconic villains like the Court of Owls, who had secretly lurked in Gotham City for generations.

In 2011, the Arkham video game series continued with Batman: Arkham City, which was followed by Batman: Arkham Origins in 2013 and finally concluded in the award-winning Batman: Arkham Knight, the fastest-selling video game of 2015 with over five million units sold worldwide. The conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy arrived in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises. Christian Bale reprised his role as Batman to battle Bane, portrayed by Tom Hardy, and protect Gotham City one last time.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold, an animated show focused on the Caped Crusader as he teamed up with various heroes and villains, concluded its three-season run in 2011 after introducing fan-favorite characters like the Music Meister, who was later featured in live action on The CW’s The Flash. In 2013, another animated series, Beware the Batman, premiered and ran for one season.

In 2014, writer Scott Synder and artist Greg Capullo updated Batman’s origin story for the first time in 25 years in the new “Batman: Zero Year” story line, which explored Bruce’s earliest days after donning the cape and cowl. That same year, Gotham premiered on FOX as a live-actioreimagining of Bruce Wayne’s childhood alongside iconic members of the GCPD like Jim Gordon. The show garnered a massive fan following and was celebrated for its fresh takes on familiar characters and creative reinvention of both Bruce himself and the city of Gotham as a character in its own right.

The New 52 era came to an end in 2016 with the release of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, heralding a new #1 for the Batman comic and a return to the original numbering for Detective Comics. Writer Tom King took over Batman and refocused the story on Bruce Wayne’s romantic relationship with Selina Kyle, presenting the couple’s first Modern Age marriage proposal in 2017’s Batman #24.

The mysteries explored in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 were investigated further with Batman/The Flash: The Button in 2017, which featured a team-up between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen as detectives and superheroes. That same year, Batman also took a starring role as the DC universe collided with the world of Watchmen in the 12-issue Doomsday Clock series.

Academy Award-winning actor Ben Affleck took on the role of Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016 alongside Henry Cavill as Superman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, marking the first time DC’s iconic Trinity appeared in live action together. Affleck reprised his role in 2017’s Justice League, which brought the world-famous team of DC Super Heroes together on the big screen for the first time in history and held the #1 box office spot for its opening weekend.

Based on the LEGO Batman toy line, The LEGO Batman Movie released in 2017 and Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, learns to drop the lone vigilante thing and team up with Robin, Batgirl and Alfred to save the city from The Joker.

In July of 2018, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi officially opened to the public in the United Arab Emirates, featuring a themed Gotham City land filled with Batman-based rides and attractions such as “Batman: Knight Flight” and “The Joker Funhouse.” Detective Comics remains the longest-running comic book in history and will reach issue #1000 in March of 2019.

The celebratory supersize issue will feature the work of legendary Batman creative teams both past and present. Batman has influenced every area of modern entertainment, appearing in countless comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, multiple television series, video games, theme parks and experiences, toys, collectibles, apparel and lifestyle products, as well as, blockbuster animated and live-action films. There have been Batman trading cards, board games and newspaper cartoon strips, and the U.S. Postal Service has even honored Batman with his own postage stamps. Batman is a multi-billion dollar icon who continues to reign as the most popular single Super Hero ever created. And he’s just getting started.

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