Detective Comics is the name of the first comic book series produced by DC Comics way back in 1937. It’s also the reason behind the publishing company’s name, but it’s perhaps most remembered for introducing Batman to the world in May 1939, in issue #27.
But he wasn’t the Batman we know and love today right from the get-go. Back then, he was “The Bat-Man!”, a mysterious figure who swooped in on criminals as they got up to no good and took them out – sometimes fatally – using a combination of hand-to-hand combat, firearms and the sheer intimidation factor of his bat-like appearance. Yes, old-time The Bat-Man used guns and often shot criminals dead, quite unlike his modern self who prefers capture and rehabilitation to outright murder.
In his first story in issue #27 of Detective Comics, The Bat-Man threw more than one criminal off rooftops to their death, and even finished the story by knocking the story’s main antagonist, Alfred Stryker, into a vat of acid. Because of its significance in the DC world of superheroes, that issue went on to become one of the most valuable comic books in existence, as evidenced by one copy’s selling price of just over 1 million US dollars at a 2010 auction.
The Bat-Man cut a dark, brooding figure, a mysterious avenger whose motivations were initially unknown but whose commitment to ridding the world of criminal scum by any means necessary was clear. He struck fear into the hearts of wrongdoers, swiftly becoming a nocturnal plague on criminals relying on the cover of night to keep their dastardly deeds hidden, delivering those who survived his ministrations of justice to the police when their efforts at apprehension proved ineffective.
It wasn’t until issue #33 of Detective Comics, released in November of 1939 that readers were told The Bat-Man’s origin story, however. A simple, yet poignant two-page story showed the young Bruce Wayne – the real man behind the bat getup – witnessing the murder of his parents at the hands of a mugger, and vowing, days later at their grave-side that “by the spirits of my parents [I will] avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” And that’s precisely what he’s done… for the past 74 years.
The Evolution of The Bat
The depiction of The Bat-Man evolved over the first few issues of Detective Comics that he appeared in. Within six issues artist and co-creator Bob Kane had begun drawing the character with a much more pronounced jawline and made the costume’s ears longer to make it look more bat-like and intimidating. The iconic Batarang – the boomerang-like weapon thrown by The Bat-Man – was introduced in July of 1939, and two months later the September issue saw the appearance of the first bat-themed vehicle, the Batgyro (the first Batplane). These devices would go on to become intimate parts of the modern-day Batman mythos as shown in the TV shows, movies and games that have been based on the character.
As the series progressed, The Bat-Man became The Batman and eventually just Batman, and his use of guns disappeared entirely owing to his realisation that guns were responsible for his parents’murder and were thus tools that he must never use. Instead of guns, Batman uses his intelligence, science, gadgets and his detective skills to outwit his opponents, cutting a much more relatable superhero figure.
Since 2009, two videogames have featured Batman in his modern form. Batman: Arkham Asylum featured the Caped Crusader being locked up in Gotham City’s loony bin along with The Joker, and 2011’s Batman: Arkham City saw the Dark Knight incarcerated in a cordoned-off section of Gotham City alongside the city’s worst criminals. Both games achieved critical acclaim and introduced gamers to the timing-based combat, excellent writing and brilliant voice-acting that the series has since become known for. It didn’t hurt that both were very nice to look at, too.
October 25, 2013 saw the release of the third Batman game, Batman: Arkham Origins. The “origins” in this game aren’t Batman’s, however: instead, they’re all about Batman’s first-ever encounters with the familiar criminals of the series long before they’ve risen to supercriminal status. To do that, the developers set the game five years before the events of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and just two years into Bruce Wayne’s crime-fighting career, giving themselves the chance to show how Batman met many of the villains from the DC universe for the first time while also introducing some new faces along the way. This mechanism provides many insights into how and why those relationships evolved they way they did, while also presenting a wider story involving super-assassins and a new crime boss that make the game as much, if not more fun as the first two games.
What makes Batman so easy to relate to is that he’s not actually a “super” hero – he’s just a regular guy who happens to have taken up arms against the criminal underworld. In the end, he’s an everyman with an agenda who had to earn his abilities through hard work and determination, and that’s a powerful statement that really drives home the message that heroes aren’t born: they’re made.
With 74 years under his utility belt, Batman has come a long way. Here’s to the next 74 that we hope are filled with ever-more brilliant games, movies and comic books starring the Caped Crusader.