Batman is a superhero published by DC Comics.
Since his debut, Batman has transcended the realm of comics to become one of the most popular and enduring characters in all of entertainment.
Batman debuted in May 1939 in Detective Comics no. 27 and has since appeared in numerous comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels – on television in a camp live-action series and a critically acclaimed animated program – in electronic games – and in brooding, atmospheric films.
Batman proved a hit character, and he received his own solo title in 1940 while continuing to star in Detective Comics. By that time, Detective Comics was the top-selling and most influential publisher in the industry – Batman and the company’s other major hero, Superman, were the cornerstones of the company’s success. The two characters were featured side by side as the stars of World’s Finest Comics, which was originally titled World’s Best Comics when it debuted in fall 1940. Creators including Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang also worked on the strips during this period.
The origin of Batman, which was not revealed to readers until the character’s seventh comic book appearance, is now a familiar tale. As prosperous physician Thomas Wayne, his wife, Martha, and their young son, Bruce, exited a Gotham City movie house after a nighttime showing of The Mark of Zorro, they were robbed by a thief brandishing a pistol. Dr. Wayne attempted to protect his wife, but the panicky gunman murdered the adult Waynes as their horrified son watched. The grief-stricken boy dedicated his existence to avenging his parents’ murders by “spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” After years of training his mind and body to perfection—Bruce, having inherited his father’s millions—mulled over a crime-fighting disguise that would terrorize lawbreakers. A bat flapping through an open window was deemed an omen, and the original tale’s end caption heralded, “And thus is born this weird avenger of the dark…this avenger of evil. The Batman.”
Superhero comics declined in popularity after World War II, and Batman was one of three DC Comics characters to maintain his own series, the others being Superman and Wonder Woman.
By 1964, sales of Batman titles had fallen drastically. Bob Kane noted that, as a result, DC was “planning to kill Batman off altogether”. In response to this, editor Julius Schwartz was assigned to the Batman titles. He presided over drastic changes, beginning with 1964’s Detective Comics #327 (May 1964), which was cover-billed as the “New Look”.
The legendary caped crusader’s first video game appearance came in Batman, a game published by Ocean Software in the UK in 1986 for the ZX Spectrum home computer. The devious isometric platform adventure was created by just two people– programmer Jon Ritman and artist Bernie Drummond.
Frank Miller’s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (February – June 1986) returned the character to his darker roots, both in atmosphere and tone. The comic book, which tells the story of a 55-year-old Batman coming out of retirement in a possible future, reinvigorated interest in the character. The Dark Knight Returns was a financial success and has since become one of the medium’s most noted touchstones. The series also sparked a major resurgence in the character’s popularity.
Director Tim Burton brought Batman (1989) to the silver screen, and Michael Keaton, a quirky actor slight of build and best known for comedy roles, was chosen to play the title character. Although the casting decision surprised many, the film was a massive success, spawning a wave of Bat-merchandise the likes of which had not been seen since 1966. In 1992 Burton and Keaton were back in theatres with Batman Returns, and the noirish Batman: The Animated Series (1992–95) debuted on television that fall.
Following the cancellation of two further film proposals, the franchise was rebooted in 2005 with Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale. Nolan returned to direct two further installments through the release of The Dark Knight in 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, with Bale reprising his role in both films. Both sequels earned over $1 billion worldwide, making Batman the second film franchise to have two of its films earn more than $1 billion worldwide. Referred to as “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, the critical acclaim and commercial success of Nolan’s films have been credited with restoring widespread popularity to the superhero, with the second installment considered one of the best superhero movies of all time.
The LEGO Batman Movie (2017), a spirited comedic romp told with computer-generated LEGO bricks, was much more warmly received. Affleck reprised his role as the Caped Crusader in Justice League (2017), the DC Extended Universe’s disappointing response to Marvel’s hugely successful Avengers franchise.