Seventy-five years ago, a man dressed as a bat appeared in Detective Comics #27. About thirty-four years ago, that same Dark Knight Detective stuck a Batarang into my brain and left it there to grow.
As an impressionable 4- to 6-year-old in those lazy, crazy, hazy days of the early 1980s, I stumbled upon reruns of the Batman ’66 TV show and was mesmerized by the BAM!s and POW!s and OOMPH!s. When the Super Powers cartoon/toy line was introduced in the mid-’80s, you can bet Batman (and his Batmobile!) had a spot in the home roster (I had the Flash and Green Lantern; my brother had Superman). I don’t remember reading much of the comics of the day, but that would soon change.
Cut to the summer of 1989, a red-letter year in the history of my life. That was the year Tim Burton’s Batman graced us with its presence on the big screen. In the weeks before the premiere, a local TV station played a teaser commercial at the exact same time every weekday. I ate every second. Batman! The Joker!
On the opening week, my grandfather took me to the mall movie theater in Jacksonville, and for the next two hours, I was transported to Gotham City and was flabbergasted at Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson’s performances. Heck, I bought my first Prince album because of Batman. Now that’s power. (Who’s gonna stop 200 balloons? Nobody!)
Now that DC Comics had my blood, they sent messages to my brain, “YOU MUST GO TO YOUR LOCAL COMIC BOOK STORE AND BUY FURTHER ADVENTURES OF BATMAN.” It was a command I couldn’t refuse.
So I picked up Batman and Detective Comics and devoured them. I came in the middle of Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson’s “Gothic” story in Legends of the Dark Knight, was so enthralled that I had to go back and get the first few issues. I scooped up The Greatest Batman (and Joker) Stories Ever Told. I read just about every Elseworlds story featuring Batman.
I learned about some epic graphic novel called The Dark Knight Returns, written and drawn by some guy called Frank Miller. Part of my young teenaged brain was scared to crack open this tome, but I dove in anyway. Wow. I even read Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. That may have been a mistake to read at that time, but oh well.
I had the good fortune (or not, depending on your point of view) of jumping into the comic book universe when Bane entered the picture of the epic “Knightfall” storyline and took Bruce Wayne out of the picture.
Thanks to the geniuses of Paul Dini et. al., Batman: The Animated Series became my new favorite cartoon. I loved how they kept the darkness of the movies but drew things slightly cartoony.
When the idea of buying 20 Batbooks to follow the storyline grew tiresome, I stepped away from Batman’s world for a few years, dipping my toe into a few stories here and there (I returned for Final Crisis and the beginning of Batman Incorporated). I haven’t delved into the New 52 version of Bats, but I do like the idea of non-continuity digital comics (the aptly named Legends of the Dark Knight). And then, there was Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Batman movie trilogy.
I’m not sure what drew me to Batman. Was it the cool costume? Was it the tragic backstory? Was it the colorful rogue’s gallery? It was probably a mixture of all of that. As I grew older, I probably was drawn more to the stories themselves, written by such luminaries as Denny O’Neil, Marv Wolfman, Alan Grant, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and others that escape me at the moment, and drawn by such greats as Norm Breyfogle, Jim Aparo, Marshall Rogers, Neal Adams, Kelley Jones, George Perez, and others that also escape me.
Sure, Superman could fly and bounce bullets off his chest, the Flash could run faster than light, and Green Lantern could make a giant green fist from his ring. Batman was just a rich dude who solved crimes with his mind and scared the crap out of villains. What more could you want?
Many happy returns of the day, Batman. I’m sure you’ll still be striking fear in the hearts of superstitious, cowardly criminals for another 75.