Happy Birthday Batman: the Dark Knight Turns 75

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    NEWSLETTERS

    DC Comics - Scott Williams/Jim Lee

    Caped Crusader, World's Greatest Detective and Dark Knight. Just three of the titles bestowed upon Batman in the 75 years since he first appeared in the story, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," published in DC Comics' "Detective Comics" #27.

    Since then, the crusader in the bat-eared cowl has been reimagined countless times. Not only on the pages of comic books but on television (live-action and animated), in feature films (big screen outings combined have earned more than $3.5 billion at the global box office), in graphic novels, as the star of video games, in fan fiction and as countless toys (including Lego). He's been the inspiration for tattoos and fashion; Batman even influences beards and mustaches.

    To honor the 1939 creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, DC has declared July 23 to be Batman Day. (And they're celebrating by slashing the price of 750 digital Batman titles to $.99 each for one week only beginning July 22.)

    "He's a major part of all of our lives here. Arguably the most popular superhero in the world," says DC Entertainment co-publisher and comic book creator Jim Lee, who notes that the largest family within the DC lineup is the Batman family of books. "There is a humongous appetite for anything Batman-related"

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    Over the decades, fans of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his bat alter-ego have flocked to newsstands, comic conventions, TV screens and theaters to pay homage to the character that has transcended decades and genres.

    "Batman has probably the most affecting, primal origin story of any superhero," says Michael E. Uslan, executive producer of every big screen Batman adaption since 1989 "Batman" directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton in the title role. "His origin story is that of a kid who sees his parents murdered before his own eyes in the street and at that moment makes a decision – in the belief that one person can make a difference in the world – to get the guy who did this. And to get all the bad guys, even if he has to walk through hell for the rest of his life to accomplish it.

    "That’s a story that transcends age, demographics, borders and cultures," continues Uslan, who is also executive producing the Caped Crusader's next film installment, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," scheduled to hit theaters in 2016. "And I think that is an essential reason Batman works all around the world."

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    He's also one of the most relatable superheroes ever created.

    "Batman not having superpowers is part of the appeal, but in my mind it’s not the fact that he doesn’t have the powers, it’s the fact that we can all relate to not being the strongest one in the room," says Lee, who has penned and overseen various incarnations of the character during his career at DC. "It’s the fact that he is the underdog – whether he is in the Justice League or taking on a villain with super powers, he’s just like you or me and has to rely on his training to get him through. That really makes him such an inspiration. He is the ultimate underdog who more often than not prevails."

    Multiple access points to the franchise has fed fascination for the character and allows fans to experience numerous storylines across varied platforms. Today, the majority of new fans come to the comic books after seeing one of the movies, the animated TV series, or played one of the hit "Batman: Arkham" video games.

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    Rather than dilute the franchise, Lee believes such broad exposure on multiple platforms only strengthens the individual iterations and leads to greater creativity. "When you look at the huge marketing budgets behind these blockbuster movies and video games, you see their ability to reach millions of potential readers all over the world." True to his over-riding passion, though, Lee still takes pride in the fact that "comics still remain the source material for so many of these great adaptations and media representation of the character."

    Even artists entrusted to expand the Batman mythos in comic form have arrived at Wayne Manor via portals such as the campy 1960's live-action TV series starring Adam West. 

    It was that incarnation first encountered by artist Graham Nolan, who drew Batman for DC in the early '90s and created the look of the now-iconic villain Bane. "That was my first introduction to the world of comics and I always loved Batman, primarily because of that TV show," says Nolan.

    Nolan admits there is pleasure in being associated with a character that goes back 75 years, but says he never set out to create a hugely popular villain. Bane first appeared in "Batman: Vengeance of Bane" #1 (January 1993) and "for some reason the character resonated. It hit all the right buttons at the right time. Bane's involvement in the big storyline endeared him to a lot of fans and he fit perfectly into the rogues' gallery of villains." 

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    And while Batman's humanity and quest for justice are constant audience touchstones, it's the villains that never fail to shock, delight, horrify, and most importantly perhaps, continue to draw audiences in to the detective's dark world.

    "I subscribe to [Marvel Comics guru] Stan Lee's theory of supervillains," says Uslan. "Stan says the greatest superheroes, the most long lasting superheroes, are the ones that have had the greatest supervillains. And Batman’s rogues' gallery of supervillains is the best. With the Joker inarguably being the best supervillain ever created."

    Joining the jokester with the maniacal grin in this police lineup of Gotham City's baddest are the umbrella-wielding Penguin, Catwoman, ancient assassin Ra's Al Ghul, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Bane, Two-Face, and the faceless Hush.

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    But enemies and age show no sign of slowing the Bat. From Frank Miller's seminal 1986 graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns" (which heavily influenced the live-action films of directors Burton and Chris Nolan that followed), to "Batman: The Animated Series" and through continuing comic-based adventures created by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, it appears Batman is only hitting his stride.

    In the fall, Fox is set to premiere "Gotham," a new origin series based around the auxiliary characters of the Batman universe. Based on the video games, "Batman: Assault on Arkham" is a new animated feature that will make its debut at Comic-Con on July 25 and be released digitally on July 29. A plethora of anthologies and merchandise marking his 75 years have been published, and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" will land on the big screen in 2016.

    While executive producer Uslan won't directly address any questions concerning the highly-anticipated big-budget film, he describes the accord between the titular characters in the DC universe as being "one of the strongest kind of buddy film relationships that you will find in the world of comics. ... The greatest partnership in the history of comics has been that of Batman and Superman. It goes back to World’s Fair Comics 1940 when they appeared together on the cover for the first time." 

    DC's Lee hopes Batman hangs around for another 75 years, and personally wishes to return to drawing the character one day: "I’ve got some storylines I started that never quite got completely finished. Fortunately I have years hopefully ahead of me to tell those stories."

    First it's celebration time at Comic-Con. Batman graces the cover of this year's souvenir program, and numerous panels are devoted to the Caped Crusader. Lee will sit in on a couple of discussions and describes from past experiences that a room full of Batman fans is always "very-charged," and likens making an appearance in one as being similar to a stand-up comic nailing every joke of the set. "They get every everything and laugh at every joke. They are there to want to have an awesome public display of their love of Batman."