Understanding Batman ...
What is Batman? Who is He? Where has this character come from, and why is he so legendery even after more than 75 years?
We answer the question by taking a look at the character's history, it's major stories along the years, the effect it has had on pop culture as well some of the analytic work done on the character by various people along the years.
Batman is a fictional character published by DC Comics. Batman is a superhero whos costume is inspired by Bats. Batman, over the years, has appeared in a vareity of media - comics, television, movies, games and more.
Batman lives and primarily operates in Gotham City, a (fictional) major metropolitan city in the DC Universe. Batman is the secret identity of Bruce Wayne, a billionaire industrialist and philanthropist. One of the most defining moments in Bruce Wayne's life was when his parents were murdered by a street criminal (a common petty street criminal called 'Joe Chill') in front of him when he was a child. Since that event, he has been obsessed with stopping crime and bringing criminals to justice (often punishing them in non-lethal, but painful ways). He is a master of various martial arts, scientific disciplines and languages. He also has considerable skills in escape artistry, stealth movement and interrogation. However, one of his most well regarded skills is as a detective and is often referred to as 'The World's Greatest Detective'. He has trained himself to be in peak physical condition. He generally has a serious and brooding personality, though often he can display humor though deadpan and sarcastic quips.
Batman, especially during his early years, was considered an urban legend, with criminals sometimes not even sure whether he was human or not. Most common criminals are generally terrified of him.
Besides The World's Greatest Detective, Batman is also often called The Dark Knight, and The Caped Crusader.
Who created Batman?
The character of Batman was created by Bob Kane in the 1939 (In fact, in all official media you will come across the phrase 'created by Bob Kane' ) - However, writer Bill Finger had a major early influence on the character and the comics as a whole - so much so that most fans insist on crediting both Bob Kane and Bill Finger for creating Batman.
To read more on the huge influence of Bill Finger on Batman, read our article There would no Batman without Bill Finger.
Besides Bob Kane and Bill Finger, there have been many other influential writers and artists over the years (right from Jerry Robinson, Dennis O'Neil, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and more), which have also contributed heavily to the Batman mythos. Please head over to our persons behind Batman section to read about more such great people.
In 1939, owing to the success of Superman in Action Comics, National Publications (who were to become DC Comics later on) went on the lookout for more superheroes.
Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in May, 1939. Bob Kane, a young artist from the Bronx, created a character initially named the "Bat-Man" - He had blond hair, no cowl, maroon coloured tights, and had two wings on his back. Kane had said that he was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's ornithopter device, as well as Douglas Fairbank's portrayal of Zorro and as the movie The Bat Whispers. It almost certainly also had inspiration of Superman behind it, as that was the thing which drove National Publications to look for more such superheroes.
Bob Kane hired an aspiring writer called Bill Finger to join his nascent studio when they chanced upon each other at a party. Finger was working as a shoe salesman at the time, and was another fellow person from the Bronx who was a couple of years older to Kane, and even went to the same high school together (though didn't know each other then). Bill Finger heavily refined the character and defined much of what we identify as the Batman. He added his cowl and cape, removed the red tights, gave him the name of Bruce Wayne, added the Bat Mobile, and many more things we consider definitive to Batman today. Read our article on Bill Finger to know more about his contributions.
Friends and Allies
Bruce's oldest and most faithful friend and ally is his Butler, Alfred Pennyworth. In most interpretations, he has acted often as a father figure (when Bruce was younger), and helps him in fighting crime by assisting him in various ways, like providing him timely and proper food, giving him medical attention whenever he requires it, assisting him in gathering intelligence, advising him on his course of action, and covering for him in public when others (often Bruce Wayne's romantic interests) ask him about Bruce's whereabouts.
Commissioner James Gordon is one of Batman's oldest allies as well. Though initially hesitant of a violent vigilante, he came to appreciate Batman's help in fighting crime and came to trust him over time. Jim Gordon rose through the ranks of Gotham City's corrupt police department as one of the only honest and efficient police officers, and eventually become police commissioner of Gotham City. His daughter Barbara Gordon is Batgirl (and eventually Oracle). Oracle in particular becomes one of Batman's trusted and most helpful allies.
His other allies are Dick Grayson, who was the first Robin, as well as all other other Robins over the years (Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne) - Though Batman has often had antagonistic dealings with Jason Todd later on, and a very complicated relationship with his son Damian.
See the Characters page for more character studies of each of Batman's major allies and villains.
It's debatable amongst fans whether its Bruce Wayne who uses the persona of Batman to fight crime, or whether the person has become Batman so much that he uses his public identity of Bruce Wayne as a front.
In my opinion, there is 'Bruce Wayne, the Mask' - the public persona of a billionaire playboy philanthropist, who though cares about Gotham, is seen as a vapid trust fund kid. Then there is the real Bruce - the person that only a few know intimately - namely, Alfred, Clark Kent and Dick Grayson and to an extent Tim Drake and Damian Wayne. This is the boy who grew up with a terrible trauma from childhood, cares not just about Gotham, but also about the few people he trusts around him, and hangs around in his Batcave and Mansion learning and training.
Then there is the Batman - the person in the cape and cowl, who beats the crap out of criminals, investigates issues obsessively, trusts nobody, has contingency plans for all possible scenarios, and is the person all of the criminals and the police see.
Its a bit rare to see, but he also has uses another persona called Matches Malone, a supposed criminal, to go undercover and gather intelligence on the street.
One of the appeals of Batman is that he does not have any superpowers like other superheroes like Superman, the Flash, Spiderman etc. However, he does have certain skills which he has, through practice and study, elevated to peak human levels.
Batman has trained with some of the world's greatest fighters in martial arts. Right from Henry Ducard to David Cain and Lady Shiva. He's travelled to India to study intense yogic practises to manage and deal with pain, learned parkour in france, learned escapology and is a master of disguise. He conditions himself to constantly be at the peak of human agility and endurance.
Besides his physical conditioning, he also is a polymath, with extensive knowledge of criminal psychology and interrogation, biology, chemistry, mythology (especially greek), history, as well as physics, mathematics, computer science, mechanics and aviation. He also has knowledge of several spoken languages around the world. He has extensive skills in intimidation and stealth. He has an indomitable will and is a master detective. In fact, he is so accomplished at it, that he is often referred to as The World's Greatest Detective.
Batman in Pop Culture
Comic books have had a great cultural significance in modern culture. Batman is an extremely inspirational character for many reasons, but one of the most important ones being that he does not have any mutant or alien powers, unlike most superheroes. However, Batman has permeated all levels of modern pop culture, whether it's comics, movies, cartoons, games, toys and collectibles, costumes, and more.
The 60s television series was hugely popular when it came out, and introduced the character to an entire new audience. The template of "Holy (whatever) Batman!" is now part of pop culture.
In 1989, Tim Burton Directed the movie "Batman" which was one of the most successfull movies of the year. It created renewed interest in Batman comics, as well as associated memorabilia and collectibles and toys. Prince's song 'Batdance' was a phenomena during that period. Warner Brothers continued with Batman movies over the years, which have kept and grown interest in the character and universe over the years. Though some of the movies were not as good as the others, all have managed to keep the mythos alive. See our section covering Batman in movies and television to know and read more about the various movies, series and animated shorts which have come along the years.
Though Batman games have come out before too, but Batman got a huge push in gaming with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009 by Rocksteady Studios. This interpretation of Batman, and the overall story and look pushed Batman into the major league of the gaming world, and it's sequel, Batman: Arkham City further cemeneted Batman's position as a great character to play in games. Arkham City was one of the most successful games of 2011. 2013's game - Batman:Arkham Origins was released by another studio - Warner Brothers Montreal, instead of Rocksteady. The game initially recieved mixed reviews (mostly owing to some annoying bugs which were fixed in later updates), though there were a lot of positive things about the game as well. See our page on gaming with Batman for more on the various Batman games which have come out over the years.
Batman and the changing times
In many ways, Batman is timeless. His longevity for more than 75 years is testament to that. However, there have been certain factors which have been in play over the years, which have kept him fresh and relavent.
Many superheroes which came out during the late thirties in the United States, had a lot to do with War War 2 - The most obvious being Captain America. Batman kept the war references to a minimum, and thereby keeping "future-proof" when the war's memory faded from public conciousness. It also helped attract more of an international audience than other heroes which were US specific or highly related to a certain topic like the second world war.
Batman focussed on Gotham City, a fictional city which anyone in the world could identify with, and was focussed with fighting crime in general (not any country specific villain). Batman himself does not have any superpower, or mutant abilities, which further endeared him to a mass audeience, which could relate a lot to him. Somehow, most people see at least a little bit of themselves in Batman (or his allies), which makes them invested in watching and reading about him more.
What makes a superhero comic sucessfull is not just the hero itself, but also the adverseries. Batman has the absolute best rogues gallerry in all of comics. The quality and quantiy of opposition of Batman is unmatched in terms of how fascinating and rich the characters are. Right from the Joker, The Riddler, Ra's Al Ghul, Bane, Falcone, Maroni, Two-Face and many many more - Batman has an amazing roster of villains to fight, which makes for extremely rich stories and a lot of it too! A large part of what makes Batman great is his struggle against these amazing line-up of foes, and seeing how he prevails without the use of mutant/alient superpowers.
In 1954, German-American psychologist Fredrick Fredric Wertham published the book Seduction of the Innocent, which put the blame of teenage deliquency from bad parenting to the media, in particular comics books that children are exposed to. Unfortunately, people took this book serously, and a congressional enquiry was initiated against the comic book industry. This lead to the establishment of the Comic Code Authority, which tried to self-censor their indstry. This resulted in the Silver Age of Comics - a period where superhero comics resorted to depecting much lighter form of crime, often not even crimes, but just mischevious activities. Apart from banning certain words, it was also mandated that criminals always be punished. Batman still thrived in this environment owing to his huge and versatile rogues gallery. For example, The Joker's stories during this time involved him doing mischevious pranks rather than intensely pshychologically crimes he is famous for. Batman adapted in this sanitised environment and the 60's television series added to his popularity. Later on, in the Bronze Age of comics, we slowly returned to more gritty stories and more villains like Ra's Al Ghul. Writer Dennis O'Neil in particular played an important part in this revival for Batman introducing characters like Ra's Al Ghul, and returning The Joker back to his homocidal roots with stories like The Joker's five-way revenge.
Finally, in what is considered the Modern Age of comics, we see Batman fully removed from the sanitised environment. DC Comics tried to start afresh, and in 1986 Frank Miller came out with one of the most legendery comics called The Dark Knight Returns (in which a 55 year old Bruce Wayne returns to don the cape and cowl after a decade long period of retirement) and in 1987 writer Frank Miller told the story of Batman's origin in Batman: Year One - a classic tale till this day about how to started out. We also got more classic graphic novels and comics like A Long Halloween, Batman: A Death in the Family (in which Jason Todd, the second Robin, dies), Knightfall (in which Bane breaks Batman's back), No Man's Land (An epic novel in which Batman has to help the citizens of Gotham after a disastrous earthquake hits it), The Killing Joke (A classic story by Alan Moore about the Joker, and his complicated relationship with Batman), and many more.
Batman has always appealed to a broad range of fans all over the world - mostly because Batman appeals to something deep within us. He's also changed with the times, and DC Comics has done a great job of keeping him relavent to the times. Thats why he is probably the most popular and endearing superhero in comics.