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Everybody knows Batman. Officially the most popular superhero of all time, the dark knight as fans all over the world. Through decades of comic books, multiple TV series, movies and video games, Batman always managed to reinvent its stories and characters to fit its time. With an origin story that everyone knows, an archenemy almost as popular as him, and an immortal design, the dark knight of Gotham City is still the best superhero in the world.
After the success of Superman in early 1939 motivated National Comics Publications (which would later become DC Comics) to create a new superhero. Writers and artists Bob Kane and Bill Finger came out with an idea of a vigilante dressed in a suit resembling a bat. The character was introduced in Detective Comics #27 and was so popular that he received his own solo title in 1940. In the same year, characters like Robin, Catwoman, and the Joker were introduced, as well as classic accessories like Batman’s utility belt, the Batarang and the Batplane. Along with Superman, the caped crusader became the cornerstone of DC Comics. At first, Batman was a pulp character and didn’t hesitate to kill or main his enemies. But with the introduction of Robin and after a story where Batman shoots a monster to death, it was decided that Batman could no longer use a gun or kill, which prompted the caped crusader’s famous “no gun no killing” philosophy.
When the U.S got involved in World War 2, Batman became lighter and more colorful, as a time of war was not best suitable for a depiction of a dark and gritty world. This became even more prominent in 1954 after a psychologist stated in a book that comic book corrupted the youth and that Batman and Robin were portrayed as a gay couple. This book prompted the creation of the Comics Code Authority, which would censor comic books if their content was too violent, too gore, and contained too much innuendo. This led DC comics to turn Batman (and all of their other licenses) into a campier story, where good would always triumph over evil, violence would be kept to a minimum and Batman would give some kid-friendly advice at the end of his adventures. This lasted until the 1970s and had a terrible impact on the comic book industry as a whole. In 1964, it was even considered to kill Batman because of its low sales. Thankfully, the famous 1966 Batman TV comedy series (starring Adam West) generated new interest in the comics and saved him from being killed off.
The 1970s saw Batman returning to his original core. More focused on detective work in a grim tone, this return to the source greatly pleased fans, but did not boost the sales. It’s this 1977-78 Batman that inspired the 1989 Batman movie and the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series. The numbers kept declining until 1985, where Batman sales were at an all-time low. In 1986, Frank Miller’s limited series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was published. This masterpiece, in which a 55 years old Batman resume his crime-fighting after a 20-year break in the Cold War era, was a commercial and critical success. Reinvigorating the character and sparking a new interest in the license, this touchstone of Batman’s history started a golden age. The 1980s saw cult classic Batman stories like The Killing Joke, a story centered on the Joker and his origin in which he cripples Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), and A Death In the Family, where the Joker beats Robin to death. The 1980s redefined Batman as a mature, violent and twisted comic book. In 1989, the critically acclaimed Tim Burton’s Batman movie also sparked a major resurgence in the character’s popularity.
The 1990s were also a wonderful period for Batman, with of course the amazing Batman: The Animated Series of 1992. In Batman: Knightfall, the dark knight is for the first time defeated by a new formidable opponent, Bane, and has to be replaced during his convalescence. In No Man’s Land, Gotham is hit by an earthquake which wreaks havoc in the city. With every criminal on the loose, Batman has to return order to his hometown. The masterpieces A Long Halloween and Dark Victory, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, redefined Batman’s early career and the birth of Two-Face, as Batman takes on the mafia while investigating a series of murder. All these cult classic stories made Batman a bigger and stronger license, up until today.
Since the 2000s, Batman has been constantly developed, changed and re-adapted. With Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (and notably The Dark Knight in 2009) stretching from 2007 to 2012, the character was introduced to a new generation. The critically acclaimed and extremely popular movies sparked a new interest in the caped crusader and settled Batman as more than a comic book character, a true 3-dimensional superhero. In 2011, the New 52 reboot redefined Batman’s story again, with Scott Snyder as the writer of the new comic books. This reboot sparked another golden era for the dark knight and still continues to this day.
Batman’s success story is pretty recent for such an old character. After his debut in the 1940s, the superhero struggled to survive from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. But for more than 30 years, the dark knight keeps on surprising. Reinvented a dozen time, with successful TV and movie adaptations, the adventures of the caped crusader still fascinate fans around the world.
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