In 1937, DC Comics first published what would become one of the most iconic and longest running comic series the industry has seen, celebrating its 1,000th issue on 27 March. The ongoing series has come to define DC comics, becoming its namesake and most importantly introducing perhaps the most iconic character in all of pop culture. 80 years ago, Detective Comics #27 gave us the Caped Crusader, the World’s Greatest Detective, the Dark Knight; it gave us Batman. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman has become one the most easily recognisable figures in media, a true piece of modern mythology that has remained at the heart of comics since his debut. Not only dominating comics as one of its most popular characters, he has transcended the page, moving throughout television, movies and games. From the campy, and often ridiculous, 1960s Batman series to the beautifully crafted Batman: The Animated Series, the Dark Knight has dominated our screens in a way that no other superhero has.
So, why has Batman held our imaginations for so long? Why, after 80 years, do we still see a Bat-Signal shining into the skies of our imaginations? The celebrations for this anniversary of the Caped Crusader brings about essays and articles (and even a poem by Neil Gaiman) that seek to answer this question, to explain why it is we love Batman.
There are many obvious answers people flock to; ‘he’s just a man’, ‘he has the best villains’, ‘anyone could be Batman’ – but I think there is far more to the Dark Knight than his lack of powers or his superior rogues gallery. Batman is the story of taking trauma, taking the worst moment in Bruce’s life, and choosing to do good with it. Often when discussing DC Comics’ most popular heroes Superman represents light, whilst Batman reflects the darkness; he is, after all, the Dark Knight. I think this is reductive. Whilst Bruce may be a character that is stuck in his grief, it may be that Batman must always be a product of tragedy (but isn’t every hero? Spider-Man lost Uncle Ben, Superman lost his whole planet), but he is far more than that. The hero may be undeniably dark, but it is within others he finds, and brings, light; characters such as Robin (all four of them), Batgirl (all three of them), Alfred, and even Ace (the Bat-Hound) provide hope and family to the little boy that lost his parents in Crime Alley. Furthermore, Batman does not exist only to fight crime. His decision to take in his first ward, Dick Grayson, was so that he could stop this young boy who lost his parents from feeling alone like he did, so he could grow up to be a better man than Bruce.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the Dark Knight, and of Batman comics, is the idea of redemption. Batman doesn’t kill, it is his first and perhaps most important rule. This is not simply so he isn’t just as bad as the criminals he fights, it is also in part due to a belief that these people can be better. Villains such as Mr. Freeze or Poison Ivy are presented as sympathetic characters that seek either to save his terminally ill wife or to protect the wildlife, just with questionable methods. Batman doesn’t kill because everyone deserves a second chance, because all it takes is one bad day.
Batman stays with us not because he is the dark character he is often reduced to, but because he is the light in the dark. He is the hope and the saviour in a city terrorised by crime and corruption. He is a reminder that even on our darkest nights we can choose to make the world a better place, to fight evil, to protect those we love. He is a reminder to keep fighting, through our tragedies and our grief, every time we get knocked down, we get up. We keep fighting.
After 80 years of the Caped Crusader, his stories remain as important and as loved as they were when they began. Batman will stay with us, and his stories will be there to remind us that even on our darkest night, the Bat-Signal will be there to light up our skies, and he will be there to save us.