Warner Brothers announced yesterday that the sequel to Man of Steel The first Batman story, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," was published in Detective Comics in May of 1939, and by 1940 both Superman and Batman were a huge success for their creators and investors. The war in Europe was building and the superheroes served to provide a sense of empowerment that influenced a cohort that would shortly be entering into armed conflict on the widest scale in world history.
From the outset, Batman was fairly well-equipped with a batmobile of sorts, a batplane for an element of air supremacy, and the characteristic utility belt with its boomerang/batarang technology borrowed from a more primitive era; and over the next year or so Kane’s illustrations for the character himself would become slightly more menacing.
From the outset, though, there seemed to have been a certain ruthlessness associated with the aspects of this avenging crime fighter that stopped just short of vengeance, tempering the deeds of mayhem, as executed, with a sense of justice; yet the element of vigilantism, however, was always undeniable.
The character's origin as young Bruce Wayne, who had tragically witnessed the death of his parents at the hands of a robbery gone awry, as a through-line -- swearing “by their spirits” to avenge their deaths by devoting his own life to fighting crime -- has been consistent over the past 75-year history, with each re-invention over the years adding details appropriate to the cultural influences of that day and time.
With the introduction of the apprentice and devotee Robin, as a sounding board, the plots thickened and sales doubled, and sparked a number of copycats.
With the issue of the initial spin-off series, featuring both Catwoman and the Joker as rogues, a decision was taken by the powers that be to stop short of allowing this well-meaning vigilante to take a human life. He would no longer even carry a gun or anything else that would wield deadly force.
After the War, Bruce Wayne himself had a more rosy disposition and the environment and general atmosphere was less black and white, and less preoccupied with aspects of social commentary; and by the 1950s, the two stars – Batman and Superman – began to align with one another and to collaborate and these story lines were successful through the next three decades, both as commercial vehicles and in the popular culture, as influential icons.
By the 1960s, the Batman stories borrowed themes from the space-race that was ongoing between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. and were oriented more toward science fiction, with references to interactions with extra-terrestrials, as had a number of the other characters in the DC line of comic books.
By 1964, new talent was brought in editorially, and there was a return to the 'World’s Greatest Detective' approach, with a redesign of the Batmobile, a more contemporary costume, with the characteristic moon-yellow disc backlighting the bat, in the insignia. In the cast of characters, Aunt Harriet joins the Wayne household, and at one point the death of the Butler Alfred seemed to have been greatly exaggerated (since he would be a necessary fixture for the TV series, which ran for two years, from 1966 to 1968). As for some of the rogues personnel, both the Batwoman and Ace were eliminated, along with the space aliens.
By the 1970s, the story lines returned to the early years, with a more complex disposition to Bruce Wayne and a more serious approach, and by the time of the 1989 Batman film adaptation, and the 1992 Batman Animation Series, sales for comics themselves were rather a wash.
In 1996, Frank Miller’s brief series, which ran only in the Spring of that year, finds a middle-aged Bruce Wayne back in action in "The Dark Knight Returns," which enlivened interest once again in the popular culture, leading to a re-vamping of the character in the miniseries, "Crisis on Infinite Earths," which tampered with the origin myths, and essentially put the dark in Dark Knight, and transformed the entire frame of reference psychologically, just as the U.S.S.R. collapsed, and the world is made safe for capitalism -- or is it?
Did the world at that point -- and does it now -- really need story lines like "Batman: The Killing Joke" featuring even more torture, both mental and physical, as well as increasingly violent death and destruction?
This is a scene from Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins:"
[Bruce is refusing to demonstrate his commitment to justice by executing a criminal]
Ra's Al Ghul: You cannot lead these men unless you are prepared to do what is necessary to defeat evil.
Bruce Wayne: And where would I be leading these men?
Ra's Al Ghul: Gotham. As Gotham's favored son you will be ideally placed to strike at the heart of criminality.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Ra's Al Ghul: Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed.
The story lines for Batman in the 21st Century have generally been emblematic of a rather murky world view, in some critics opinions –- wondering whether this violence has to do more with the lure of spectacle, similar to our curiosity about traffic accidents, perhaps slowing down to see what the disaster may have wrought.
A far more imaginative story less driven by the 'dark night of the Soul' -- and the inevitable duo of narcissim and cruelty that result from this state of mind, by default -- would signal something good to look forward to in the the prospective release date of 2015. This sequel to Man of Steel will feature both superheroes, in another reprise, always greater than the sum of their complesities, and fewer swats at the low-hanging fruit characteristic of the 'Earth two' era.
The prospect of an intelligent, humane, humorous, multi-talented "American actor, film director, producer, and screenwriter" -- husband, father, brother, son and loyal friend -- in the title role for what promises to be a legendary tale of intrigue, fitness and valor, would be most welcome.
Readers also may be interested in:
"Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley (May 1, 1997);
"The Batman Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual," by Scott Beatty, David Hahn and Chuck Dixon (Feb 1, 2005);
"Batman Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane (Apr 1, 2005);"
"Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul," by Mark D. White, Robert Arp and William Irwin (Jun 23, 2008);
"Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight," by Travis Langley, Dennis O'Neil and Michael Uslan (Jun 13, 2012); and
"Batman: Earth One Special Preview Edition," by Gary Frank and Geoff Johns (Jul 17, 2012)
There have been an extraordinary number of very dark releases on the subject of Batman in the past few years or so, coincidental to the incidence of very brutal crimes, yet there also are incidences of the same kind of motivations that continually bring to mind the "better angels" of our nature, and the desire of mankind to be "infinitely perfectable."