Who Is Batman?

Batman 1943-65

Batman's first onscreen incarnation was the Columbia Pictures serial Batman (1943), a terrible potboiler with weak performances, a maddeningly meandering story, cheap costumes, risible action scenes, and offensive racial stereotyping of the Japanese.

 

Who Is Batman? CONTINUES...

"A wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs."

Batman movie serial (1943)



Batman's first onscreen incarnation was the Columbia Pictures serial Batman (1943), a terrible potboiler with weak performances, a maddeningly meandering story, cheap costumes, risible action scenes, and offensive racial stereotyping of the Japanese. Still, the character had proven viable in a new medium, and a second serial would be produced in 1949. As this inauspicious beginning indicates, Batman's career in the movies would be a bumpy one.

 

"The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies."

Frederic Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent



The comic book industry faced a crisis in the '50s when a growing hysteria over juvenile delinquency raised suspicions about the pernicious effects of superhero stories on tender youth, eventually leading to Congressional hearings on the issue that crippled and nearly destroyed the medium. A key piece of propaganda for the prosecution, Dr. Frederic Wertham's screed Seduction of the Innocent, singled out Batman as an inducement to homosexuality, looking askance at Batman's odd living situation and costumed secret life with his sidekick Robin, a young teenaged boy. Batman's panicked publishers responded by adding an increasingly absurd roster of characters to the title, including Ace, the Bat-Hound, Batwoman, Bat-Girl, and the magical pixie Bat-Mite. Marketed as "The Batman Family," this happy crew was emphatically wholesome, with adventures that ranged from the amusingly odd to the whimsically mild. The mystery, danger, and sinister atmosphere of the vengeance-driven original Batman were gone. And the character nearly went with them.


"We developed what was called ‘The New Look.' And the numbers started to move up. Batman was back."

Carmine Infantino, Batman artist



By the midsixties, endless cute gimmicks and general silliness had gutted the character, and there were discussions at DC Comics about canceling the title. Legendary editor Julius Schwartz, who had successfully rehabilitated golden age heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern for contemporary audiences, was given the assignment to update Batman. Schwartz assigned artist Carmine Infantino to design a "New Look" for the hero; Infantino drew a more realistic figure, shortened the ears on the cowl, and, most famously, added a yellow oval to the bat symbol on Batman's chest, creating an iconic logo recognized around the world to this day. Schwartz's story lines jettisoned the goofy theatrics and refocused on hard-boiled detective stories. Batman was back.

 

 

 

 

 
 

"Who Is Batman?" pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Photo credits: Batman Family drawing: Batman: The Complete History; Carmine Infantino drawing: The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, © 2004 Arlen Schumer