75 Years of Batman

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Jim Lee

 

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Neal Adams

One of the longest running and most popular comics is Batman.  Throughout its history, the Batman comic has inspired numerous movies, television shows, cartoons, and video games, as well as appearing on merchandise for home and personal use.   In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Batman’s existence, we thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at some of the more notable creators in Batman’s evolution from campy comic superhero to the dark, mystical being that he is portrayed as today.

 

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Jim Lee

Throughout the years, many critics and readers have posited theories to explain the long-lasting interest in Batman. As the alter-ego of wealthy businessman Bruce Wayne, Batman is unique; he is a superhero who possesses no superpowers.  Instead, he relies on his physical and mental skills and a variety of technological gadgets in order to get the bad guy.  He is compelled to act against evil as a result of seeing his parents killed by a mugger when he was a child.  Batman is a character that many people feel an affinity for.  He is wealthy, which many of us aspire to be, and he uses his wealth and abilities to do good in the world; as many of us wish we could do. Yet, he is an ordinary man and possesses no supernatural abilities to achieve these goals; that makes many of us feel an alliance with him as we are also ordinary, and it gives us hope that we too, can do more in our own lives.

 

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Dick Sprang

These characteristics that make people feel drawn to Batman may be the same characteristics that can explain the allure of comic books in general.  They present people who are different and unique and don’t fit into ordinary society; many of us feel this same distinction within ourselves.  However, these characters use their defining differences to better the world around them.  Comic books help remind us of a simpler time when good and bad were clearly defined and immoral acts were justly punished. This is the world that we are taught to believe in as children. Yet, as we grow older, we realize that the world is not painted in the simple black and white of good versus evil; instead it is all shades of grey.  Perhaps comic books, in which good people struggle to maintain justice, also help us to puzzle through the day-to-day difficulties that we face. It’s possible that comic books, and Batman in particular, can help to remind us of what we should strive to be.

 

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David Mazzucchelli

Batman was conceived by artist Bob Kane in collaboration with writer Dick Finger in 1939, in an attempt to create more superhero characters to draw on the popularity of Superman, which had first appeared as a comic one year earlier.  Although Kane had the original idea for Batman, it too closely resembled the character of Superman. Through suggestions and additions made by Finger, Batman, his alter ego Bruce Wayne, and other characteristics of the Batman universe were created; all heavily drawing from the popular contemporary culture of the 1930s, and from fashionable pulp heroes of the time. Although Finger was responsible for such well-known traits as Batman’s cowl, cape, suit color and original role as master sleuth, he received no credit for his contributions and for decades Kane was acknowledged as Batman’s sole creator.

 

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Dick Sprang

The early Batman was written in the style of pulp stories and Batman killed his enemies using guns and other assorted weapons while showing little remorse for his actions.  This portrayal was softened by the early 1940s when Batman’s sidekick, Robin, was introduced and it was decided that Batman would no longer be depicted killing or using a gun.

 

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Carmine Infantino

During this time period, one of the most noteworthy creators of Batman’s visual appearance was Dick Sprang.  Although never credited for his work due to contract stipulations set forth by Bob Kane, Sprang is responsible for creating the iconic portrayal of Batman that is still recognizable today.  His rendering of Batman as athletic, large-headed and square of jaw is considered the “classic” Batman representation and is even now emulated by comic artists of today.  Sprang is also known for his innovative page layout and panel to panel transitions.  His talent in this area is due to his research into how children read comics; studying their actions allowed him to create a fluid and readable page layout that would maintain suspense and provoke a desire to continue reading.

 

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Dick Sprang

 

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Jim Lee

Post-war representations of Batman were lighter in color and tone to reflect the changing times and Batman became a comic of “lighthearted juvenile fantasy.” In the mid 1950s, Batman comics were widely criticized, along with the entire comic book industry, as a result of the publication of the book Seduction of the Innocent by psychologist Fredric Wertham.  Wertham’s book theorized that comics corrupted young people and he brought Batman under scrutiny for its supposed “homosexual overtones,” and suggested that Batman and Robin were lovers.  The public outcry that resulted led to the institution of the Comics Code Authority; a set of criteria detailing what could and could not be included in comic books. As a result, the portrayal of Batman took on a lighter and campier feel, and it is widely believed that Batwoman and Batgirl were introduced around this time in an attempt to refute the claims of homosexuality within the comic.

 

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Carmine Infantino

 

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Carmine Infantino

By the mid-1960s, Batman’s popularity was waning and sales had fallen drastically.  To combat this, the image of Batman was updated and the stories lines were refocused to be detective-oriented as they had been at the beginning. Comic artist Carmine Infantino was responsible for instituting the overhaul which included modifications to the Batmobile and alterations to Batman’s costume.  Although Infantino is credited with creating a more realistic style for Batman, much of this was negated with the debut of the Batman television series in 1966.  The series quickly gained in popularity, in large part due to its campy and over the top style.  Consequently, the comic took on similar characteristics of the show to capitalize on its popularity.  However, the success of this exaggerated and overdone portrayal was short-lived as the show was cancelled in 1968 and sales of comics once again plummeted.

 

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Neal Adams

At the end of the decade, writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams returned Batman to his earlier, dark and grim style in an attempt to distance the comic from the television series.  Although this effort did little to increase sales, it was quite popular with fans. Adams work on Batman is distinguished by a realism that offers a dramatic and almost cinematic style, and he is known for presenting a detailed and more finished result in his presentation of Batman.

 

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Neal Adams

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Batman continued to lose popularity.  However, the franchise was reenergized with the release of The Dark Knight Returns in 1986.  Written and illustrated by Frank Miller, it tells the story of a 55-year old Batman coming out of retirement to battle crime once again.  Although his series reestablished interest in the character, Miller made another impact on the Batman universe in 1987, when he collaborated with artist David Mazzucchelli on the “Year One” storyline which redefined Batman’s origins. Mazzucchelli’s depiction of Batman was in stark contrast to Miller’s representation.  While Miller drew Batman as older, ruthless and extremely muscular, Mazzucchelli’s Batman is sleek of line and relies heavily on contrast and shade to set the mood and tone of each page.

 

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David Mazzucchelli

 

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David Mazzucchelli

Another notable artist of this period is Norm Breyfogle.  With his work on Batman in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Breyfogle depicted drama without the campy nature apparent in so many earlier renditions of Batman.  His line work is sharp, but his images are often grainy in their detail.  His Batman is many times characterized by empathetic facial expressions; despair, anguish, pain and determination are all revealed, giving the reader the chance to feel an emotional connection to the superhero.

 

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Norm Breyfogle

 

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Norm Breyfogle

1989 saw the release of the movie, Batman, directed by Tim Burton which brought the comic squarely into the public eye yet again.  However, Burton’s three sequels did not perform as well and the last one was labeled a critical and commercial failure.  Despite this impact in sales, the Batman comic continued on introducing new story lines and arcs, and new villains as well. One arc worth mentioning is “Hush,” written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Jim Lee.  Although the character of Hush was not very popular with readers, the artwork produced by Lee met with great acclaim.  Lee’s representation is a Batman who is physical and imposing and seems more than capable of defeating all foes.  With his modern representation, Lee kept the iconic feel of Batman while giving him a fresh look; his depiction has been so successful that it is said that Lee has created the new definitive style of superhero representation.

 

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Jim Lee

In the years that have followed, Batman has continued to evolve and maintain his hold on the comic book industry.  His popularity seems to ebb and flow depending on movie reboots, cartoon incarnations and video game releases.  Regardless of his level of popularity and the number of comic book sales, it seems clear that Batman will continue.  He has had 75 years of success, and there is no reason to doubt his continued appeal to comic book readers of future generations.

 

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Frank Miller

 

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Neal Adams

 

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Norm Breyfogle

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