Guest Blogger: David Moan
Michigan Science Center Lead Presenter
On March 31, one of the most popular superheroes celebrated his 75th birthday. On May 31, from 1 – 2 p.m. at MiSci, I’ll discuss the events that caused Bruce Wayne to take up the cape and cowl and become the World’s Greatest Detective. The Caped Crusader we know and love has had his ups and downs over the past 75 years; however, there is still much to come from this masked vigilante.
Batman first emerged as a crime fighter in the May 1939 publication of Detective Comics #27. The brainchild of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman, and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, was a new, fully human hero created in response to Superman. Immediately, Batman was a huge fan favorite, becoming a true rival to his building-leaping colleague. Publishers answered the public’s demand by giving Batman monthly appearances in Detective Comics, as well as his own comic, Batman.
Batman and his co-stars continued to ride the wave of fame in comics and radio until 1954, when the newly-created Comics Code Authority decided that the realistic violence and adult themes of Batman’s stories and other comics were corrupting American youth. As a result, Batman and Robin’s battles turned from gangsters and corrupt politicians to super-natural beings and aliens from far off planets.
Batman then found new life on a popular new medium: television. From 1966-1968, Batman would wow, pow, and wham the public each week with his exploits. The show starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, with guest appearances by some of the most famous performers of the era. This campy adaptation brought Batman international acclaim, but pushed the series even further from the original publication’s dark roots.
The television series allowed Batman to survive through a time when he could have easily perished, and it inspired a new generation to return to some of the original comics’ darker themes. The metamorphosis began in the 70s, but wasn’t fully realized until the mid-1980s. Starting in 1986, comics and graphic novels like Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke showed the world how intense Gotham’s heroes and villains could be.
In 1989, Tim Burton brought the film Batman to theaters across America and the new ambiance of the Batman to a larger public. The critical acclaim and financial success of Batman lead to three more films: Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), as well as the hugely popular television show Batman: The Animated Series.
Then in 2005, audiences got an opportunity to see what Batman would look like in a post-911 world. Starting in 2005, Christopher Nolan created a trilogy around the dark, brooding Batman, played by Christian Bale. Batman Begins chronicled what a real man would put himself through in order to become Batman; The Dark Knight (2008) explored what he would face as a figure of justice; and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) revealed where this journey would eventually lead. Batman became once again the figure we could look to for inspiration when our world seemed too harsh.
This is where we find ourselves now, at the height of Batman media. You can watch many different adaptations of Batman on screens of all sizes, including Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Netflix; the currently filming (in Detroit) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; the Rogues gallery in immersive video games; and the stories of Batman from reprintings of the original comics, graphic novels, and the exciting new stories of DC’s New 52.
It’s a special time to be a Batman fan as we watch his mythology develop and grow. Now that you have a basic idea of this hero’s function in our world, join me on May 31 to hear the story of Batman: the boy he was, the hero he became, and the figure we need him to be.