Friday, September 14, 2012

Batman In a State of Flux: Inconsistency (Part 1 of 3)

"Without warning, it comes... crashing through the window of your study, and mine... I have seen it before... somewhere. It frightened me as a boy... frightened me. Yes, father. I shall become a bat."

-       Bruce Wayne, Batman: Year One

National Allied Publications has had great success with their newly created Superman character in Action Comics that they turn to their writers in Detective Comics to create a new superhero. They wanted him to be similar to Superman, yet different. In May of that year Detective Comics #27 hit the stands, with a familiar character on the cover; swinging through the air with an assumed criminal under his arm as two others watch helplessly from a rooftop nearby. The image instantly struck a nerve in any young reader viewing it. They knew that this would be something special.
        Orphaned at a young age, Bruce Wayne watched his parents get gunned down in Crime Alley right before his eyes. One would wonder what kind of impression this would have on an eight year-old. Using his parents’ large amount of funds, Bruce Wayne traveled the world “seeking the means to fight injustice, and turn fear on those who prey on the fearful” and learning all the skills necessary for his future war on crime. It was only after his all-to-familiar encounter with a bat did he adopt a symbol to ensure his status as Gotham’s protector, as the Batman.

        It became increasing evident that Batman needed a companion of sorts. Yes, there was Alfred, but some felt he should have someone to communicate to in the field, so to speak. A partner. Detective Comics #38, released in April of 1940 saw the emergence of Robin the Boy Wonder, creating a new “dynamic” to Batman’s character, and ultimately creating a new wave of superhero sidekicks in the many years to come. Many would say the addition of the teenage hero was unnecessary, and I would agree, along with hundreds, if not thousands, of disappointed fans in the 40’s seeing how the Robin add-on made Batman’s universe just a little too happy then it ought to be. Nevertheless, the character survived, grew in the hearts of fans and is still relevant and a much needed addition to the Bat-universe.
      The Caped Crusader also received his very own solo title, much like Superman before him. Now he was in two monthly comics. The first issue of “Batman” will be remembered fondly, not just because it was the first, but more so because of its launch of the Joker and Catwoman, two pivotal characters in Batman’s history.
The writer’s at “DC” were sipping on champagne, relaxing back in their lawn chairs, laughing at the wildly unexpected success at their two franchise characters. It was only when they apparently sobered up that they realized putting these two heroes in one story would create an unstoppable force. In fall of 1940, Superman and Batman were now featured in a monthly story together in World’s Finest Comics, forming a partnership and friendship that still exists in comics today. Batman and Robin were now seen as respectable citizens in the eyes of comic book readers and the citizens within the stories. Having now teamed up with Superman on a monthly basis, people just came to except that Batman was just as friendly and trustworthy as the Man of Steel, but that’s not who Batman is, right? Well, it’s who he was then.

       Fredrick Wertham will always be known as the man who almost single-handedly brought down the entire comic franchise (so to speak). The most infamous psychiatrist other then Hugo Strange that comic fans will ever know, Wertham was convinced that comics were directly linked to child delinquency and issued they be canceled immediately. While he didn’t succeed in shutting down the whole operation, his accusations sparked editors to issue a “Comics Code of Authority” which was to be placed on every comic book suitable to be published for the outside world. Without this code of approval on a book, the comic would not be distributed.
This didn’t bode well with Batman fans that craved a flare of darkness in the Caped Crusader. As a result of the code, Batman’s stories became even lighter and essentially more ridiculous. The Dynamic Duo was introduced to a new crime-fighting female named Batwoman in 1956, as well as Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite. These comedic additions to the universe sent Batman on a road of stories filled, not with maniacal archenemies or crime bosses, but aliens, clones, giant robots, Catman?! Batgirl/ Barbara Gordon was introduced in the early 60’s as a result of the comics code to refute any accusations of the Dynamic Duo being gay. “Well, they’re two men living together, they must be gay right?” Sure? Anyway, that’s how Batgirl was created.

      Batman was now as honorable a citizen as any other superhero in DC’s lineup, now filled with heroes like Aquaman, Wonderwoman and revamped heroes from the Golden Age like Green Lantern and The Flash. This prompted writers to make him an official member of The Justice League of America. Not only did he fight aliens, monsters and robots on his own time, he got to do it with the JLA too.

      It was a rough time for the Caped Crusader, and really every hero in DC Comics. Marvel’s inventions like the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, X-Men, Ironman and more made the DC heroes seem corny and outdated. Batman’s books were even facing cancellation, but the higher power at DC decided to give the character one last chance and handed the comics over to Julias Schwartz, who had already revamped GL and Flash for modern audiences; lets see what he could do with Batman. Schwartz and his creative team redesigned the look of the city, returning it to its darker, dirtier origins. Changed the looked of Batman, giving him longer ears and a new emblem. And returned the stories to more realistic and detective-oriented situations. Batman was back, and better then ever. Then the Bat-Mania struck to introduce a flare to the character no one will soon forget.
      1966 saw the pilot and continuation of a live-action show titled Batman. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, the show defied the revamp of the comics and maintained the characters as a campy, childlike team, aiming to target young, adolescent audiences. Bat-Mania swept the nation, and Batman was just as marketable as Superman. The show lasted several seasons, but ultimately failed when fans grew tired of their childish antics, ridiculous situations and shark-repellant spray… sorry, “Bat”-shark repellant spray.

    After the cancellation of the TV series, Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams were assigned to continue the Batman comics. They successfully completed what Schwartz had envisioned for the character, returning him to his initial design, which lasted through out the 70’s. New villains were introduced such as Man-Bat, Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul and many more. Dick Grayson was now older and in college, allowing him to only make a few stories here and there throughout the decade; probably too busy making out with Starfire in Teen Titans comics. Over that decade Batman more or less remained the same, not too light, but not overly dark either. It wasn’t until the mid-80’s, when a young, enthusiastic writer created a Batman story, which would redefine the entire foundation of the character, a story which would be talked about and praised for decades to come. His name was Frank Millar…

Remember to check back in a couple days to see the second installment of Batman: In a State of Flux. Thanks.

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