Is there a more recognizable symbol than this? Well, yeah, sure, a ton actually. But that’s no slight to the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, the Batman. Batman has long been the most fascinating comic book superhero to me. Perhaps it’s because he isn’t actually a superhero at all, but rather an ordinary man, with no superpowers except a huge fortune, physical perfection and the luck of the Gods. Perhaps it’s because he is the easiest of the superheroes to really psychoanalyze. Perhaps it’s because of his ever shifting persona and the way that persona both reflects and distorts the era in which the character exists. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been a fan of film noir and Batman is the closest comic analogue to that, or was at least.
Probably, it’s some combination of all these things. Regardless, it has long been my intention to explore Batman at great depth and length. I am wont do do those things, you know. You do know, right? Of course you do. If you’ve know me very well.
We’ll be looking at every appearance of Batman in the comics, but also on television, on the big screen, in novel format, in video game guise. We’ll start at the beginning and, with a methodical unhurried pace, we’ll work through the history of this character. Gunslinger, detective, scientist, hero, villain, cartoon, this Batman has been them all. He’s been a flat out heroic character, a wounded dark figure of psychological complexity, a purposely campy piece of performance art and . . . a Lego character. Elseworlds has made him a vampire, a murderer, a robot, and more. The cowl has been worn by many different individuals on, if you can keep it all straight, many different Earths. But on this Earth, he has always been a figure of archetypal myth. But even myths have beginnings.
The Case of the Chemical Syndicate
Detective Comics, #27 (May, 1939)
*So, it begins. Detective Comics is, of course, the flagship comic book of DC and, it might be helpful to remember when the multiple earths start getting a little thick, the title that gave DC its initials. At the end of the day, for all the capes and explosions and such, DC is about detective stories.
*Detective Comics had been clicking along nicely for 26 issues since its beginning in 1937. And then suddenly, in issue 27, a new character appears on the cover and we are told that ‘starting this issue’ we will be privy to ‘the amazing and unique adventures of The Batman!’
*First of all, let’s just all take a moment to consider the 10 cent price of this comic book.
*Done? Good, let’s dry our eyes and move on, shall we?
*So, this first story is a six pager; the rest of Detective Comics #27 is given over to . . . other things. I was originally going to read the entire runs of any comic series in which Batman appeared. That, even for me, was just way too much. So, as to the rest of this issue, I leave it up to you completists to fill us in.
*This story, by the by, can be found in the fabulous The Batman Chronicles, Vol. 1, along with the next several stories we’ll talk about.
*The Bat-Man by Rob’t Kane. Rob’t, huh?
*So this story begins with Commissioner James Gordon and his young friend, Bruce Wayne, sharing a pipe together and discussing the mysterious Bat-Man. A call comes in that Lambert, the Chemical King, has been found stabbed. Wayne accompanies Gordon on his visit to the Lambert mansion.
*A call comes in from one of Lambert’s partners, Steven Crane. He has received a threat on his life and fears he will be the next to die. Bruce excuses himself, knocking his pipe out against his hand.
* “Meanwhile Steven Crane sits in his library with a feeling of impending danger . . .” I hate it when that happens.
*So, Crane gets killed and the killers remove a paper from his safe. But then, on the roof of Crane’s house, they are confronted by The Bat-Man.
*Wait, why were they leaving by way of the roof?
*Yeah, never mind.
*Bat-Man, three pages into his first story, kills someone by flinging them off the roof of a house.
*Commissioner Gordon arrives with police detectives in tow. They fire at Batman as he flees.
*Batman’s car here is a sort of red coupe. Red?
*So, anyway, Batman saves Rogers, the third business partner, from the fourth one, Stryker. It seems that Stryker had previously written these contracts . . . oh, skip it, I don’t even care.
*So, Batman punches Stryker and knocks him into a giant tub of acid.
*Body count: 2
*And then at the very end, it is revealed to us that Bruce Wayne is in fact Batman. This is revealed, the by, because Bruce Wayne is apparently given to dressing up in full Batman costume while all alone in his house. Yeah, that’s not weird.
*It’s a six page story about a guy who dresses up like a bat foiling a guy who’s trying to take over a chemical company. It hardly seems the kind of story to birth a seventy year franchise.
*I suppose it’s interesting that Gordon was part of the mythos from the very beginning. And of course Batman kills without compunction, even musing “A fitting end” after sending Stryker into the acid bath.
Bill Finger, Bob Kane
*Next time, Batman moves on from The Case of the Chemical Syndicate to foil Frenchy Blake’s Jewel Gang. Wait, Frenchy Blake?