The First Batman Comics – A Different Batman

The first Batman comics were written in a pulp style representative of the times. In these early stories, Batman was not above using firearms, or even harming or killing criminals with little to no remorse. Being a detective more so than a superhero, Batman was more akin to a private eye than a capes and tights crimefighter, despite his appearance. Things toned down a little when Robin joined the Caped Crusader, but were still kept in that pulp tone.

Bill Finger, the co-creator and famed writer of Batman in those early days, wrote the famous origin of Bruce Wayne in Detective Comics #33 in 1939. This issue depicted a young Wayne witnessing the death of his parents in that ever familiar scene. This led to the dark tone and nature of the Batman character. He later suggested that Batman needed a Watson to his Holmes, which is where Robin, the Boy Wonder came into play, much to the chagrin of the other co-creator Bob Kane. Sales doubled, and so kid sidekicks began popping up everywhere.

When Batman branched off into his own titular series (though he still appeared in Detective Comics as he does to this day) he was shown killing two giants with a gun in the first issue. Editor Whitney Ellsworth put a stop to this aspect of the original Batman character for good by decreeing he could no longer kill or use a gun. The first Batman comics featured a cold, calculating detective, but future stories would show his heart and mind more profoundly because of this decision.

That first issue of Batman also introduced The Joker and Catwoman, two of the most, if not the most prolific villains in Batman’s rogues gallery. Now with his new edict of less violence, and with a stable of baddies to call his own, Batman was tearing up the charts. Along with Superman, Batman was and is a cornerstone of DC Comics (then called National Publications), and at that time they were the #1 company in the industry.

A few years later, post-WWII, Batman had lost his edge and had become more colorful and paternal than in the first Batman comics. Then Batman, and all comics, were brought under attack with psychologist Fredric Wertham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent” in which he blames comics for the moral decay of the youth. As far as Batman was concerned, he suggested that Batman and Robin were portrayed as lovers as opposed to a father and son/teacher and mentor relationship, which led to the Comics Code Authority. This resulted in even cheerier Batman stories that were a complete departure from the original character.

In 1964, sales on the Batman comics were drastically down, and, according to Kane, DC was considering killing the character off. Instead, editor Julius Schwartz took over the line and instituted changes that would temporarily stave off death. Unfortunately, with the popularity of the television show, Schwartz was asked to make the comic more campy like the show. The show had brought in a bunch of new readers and sales were high. But when the show ended not long after the sales dropped once again.

In 1986, Frank Miller revitalized and redefined the Batman character, telling a story of a 50 year old Batman coming out of retirement in “The Dark Knight Returns”. This would inspire darker toned stories in the regular continuity like the popular “The Killing Joke. Finally, Batman was returned to the former glory of the first Batman comics, and that classic, yet modernized version of the character still thrives today.

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