75 years and still rising: What defines the Dark Knight

Detective Comics #27 was May 1939, but the issue was actually released on March 30, which DC Comics has recognised as the date of Batman’s official debut. Still, better late than never, huh?)

With Batman turning 75 this year, we take a look at the key characteristics that make the Dark Knight the hero he is.

The Dark Knight, The World’s Greatest Detective, The Caped Crusader ... no matter what moniker you use, there is no doubt whatsoever that Batman is one of the most recognisable icons not just in comics, but also in the history of pop culture, thanks to 75 years of exposure via a variety of mediums.

Conceived by comic artist Bob Kane (and Bill Finger, who helped Kane develop the concept), Batman made his debut in the pages of Detective Comics #27 (1939), and eventually became so popular that he not only took over as the title’s star character, but also got his own solo title in 1940.

Since then, we’ve seen various interpretations of how that tragic day he lost his parents in a mugging at Gotham City’s Crime Alley steered young Bruce Wayne into dedicating his life as its protector. Inevitably, he took on the role of a global protector as well. It is a journey that has seen him earn many accolades, including father, mentor, martial arts expert, master tactician, skilled escape artist, and the hero most capable of leading (and funding) any super team in the DC universe!

While we will never understand his penchant for Boy Wonders, we will always enjoy his neverending battles with the Joker; his state-of-the-art gadgets (that utility belt never ceases to amaze), and of course, his choice of vehicles (we’re still waiting for a hybrid Batmobile though).

As the Dark Knight himself says in Batman Begins: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” So to celebrate the Caped Crusader’s 75th birthday, we’ve come up with a list of key characteristics that define Batman as the world’s greatest superhero in our eyes!

(Editor’s note: The cover date on Detective Comics #27 was May 1939, but the issue was actually released on March 30, which DC Comics has recognised as the date of Batman’s official debut. Still, better late than never, huh?)

The loping Bat: One of Batman’s most iconic panels, drawn by Neal Adams for Batman #251.

He’s Bruce Wayne!

With resources that include the Batmobile, Batplane, Batpod, Batcave, a wardrobe of customised Batsuits and a whole lot of nifty Bat-gadgets, it can’t be cheap being Batman!

Fortunately, Bruce Wayne has some pretty deep pockets, being the CEO of Wayne Enterprises, which was ranked at #11 on Forbes’ 25 Largest Fictional Companies with an estimated value of US$31.3bil (RM102.26bil).

Of course, being a public listed company that requires a high degree of transparency on how the company’s funds are utilised, he can’t exactly put the Batmobile’s maintenance expenses on the books.

While Christopher Nolan’s movies deftly sidestepped the issue, the comic version eventually came up with a “logical” explanation. Revealing that he was Batman’s benefactor, Bruce announced that he was publicly funding Batman Incorporated, a global organisation that will extend Batman’s reach all over the world, a move that enables him to siphon his company’s resources for his crimefighting exploits!

He summons bats!

You can’t be called Batman if you can’t summon bats, right? Bruce exhibited this part of his repertoire in Batman: Year One, which was then re-enacted in Batman Begins. I wonder if Animal Man can pull off the same trick?

Bruce Wayne gets his inspiration for Batman. It’s a good thing it wasn’t a squirrel that came in through the window... 

He’s a loverboy

Underneath that billionaire playboy façade, Bruce Wayne is actually a lonely soul who yearns for love. Many have tried to fill that void in Bruce’s heart, including (deep breath): Julie Madison, Linda Page, Vicky Vale, Zatanna (!), Talia Al Ghul, Silver St Cloud, Rachel Caspian, Chase Meridian, Natalia Knight, Julia Pennyworth (Alfred’s daughter!), Vesper Fairchild, Shondra Kinsolving, Sasha Bordeaux, Jillian Maxwell, Bekka, Lorna Shore, Jezebel Jet, Andrea Beaumont, and even Wonder Woman (Great Hera!).

Out of all of them, only Talia Al Ghul managed to earn the right to call Bruce her “beloved” (they actually got married in the Son Of The Demon storyline), and she even gave him a son, Damian (though their liaison ended tragically, as did Damian’s short life).

Nevertheless, Talia is not Batman’s true love, as that honour goes to Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman.

He’s actually a softie

Despite that cold, cowled façade, the Dark Knight is not entirely devoid of emotion. Recent events such as his response to Damian’s death and the ending to Flashpoint #5 (where Bruce breaks down in tears upon reading a letter from his father from an alternate universe), confirms that he does have feelings after all.

The ultimate proof that he is a softie at heart, however, goes to the moment in Catwoman #72 where Bruce helps conceal the whereabouts of Selina’s daughter, Helena.

After having villains gatecrashing her home, Selina realises that the only way to raise her daughter safely is from afar. Thus, her only hope is not Batman but Bruce Wayne, who marshals all his lawyers and connections to devise an untraceable adoption arrangement.

Beware the hyphen! The first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, 75 years ago.

He’s pretty paranoid

Batman doesn’t trust anyone ... even his Justice League teammates! In fact, probably the only person Batman/Bruce Wayne trusts completely is his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, who not only helps him man the Batcave when he is not around, but also conducts emergency surgeries, patches up holes in his Bat socks, cooks, and does his laundry.

The Tower Of Babel episode (Justice League Of America #43-#46) underlined exactly how paranoid Batman is, when it was revealed that he maintains a list of his JLA teammates’ weaknesses, as well as how to capitalise on them! While he maintained that the information was only meant for contingency purposes (in case one of the members ever decided to go rogue), it fell into Ra’s Al Ghul’s hands, resulting in unimaginable torture for the JLA.

He’s a fighter

From decking Guy Gardner with one punch (1986’s Justice League #5) to going head-on against Darkseid (Final Crisis #6), there’s no battle too small or too big for the Dark Knight, who makes up for his lack of powers by relying on intense physical and mental training and conditioning.

However, no one can outrun the effects of Father Time, and in The Dark Knight Returns #2, a Batman already in his twilight years faced his toughest battle when he went one-on-one against the leader of the Mutant fraternity.

After barely surviving their first battle, he then sets up a rematch in a mud hole, with the ensuing victory reaffirming the Dark Knight’s true grit and desire to win when it matters most!

The Batman swoops in to save the day (sort of) in Kingdom Come. He sure knows how to make an entrance, huh?

He’s no killer

One of Batman’s most unbreakable rules is that he will never, ever kill anyone, even if it’s his nemesis, the Joker.

The Clown Prince of Crime has been responsible for inflicting some of the most atrocious crimes on the people in Bruce Wayne’s circle, including crippling Barbara Gordon; killing Sarah Gordon; and worst of all, killing the second Robin, Jason Todd (though we know he didn’t stay dead long).

Still, despite the perennial torment the Joker causes the Bat-family and Gotham, Batman refuses to cross the line and end it all.

His reasons for doing so are best summed up in the Under The Red Hood story, in which a resurrected Jason questions Batman’s motives for not avenging his death, prompting this response: “All I’ve ever wanted to do is kill him.

A day doesn’t go by I don’t think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he’s dealt out to others and them end him. But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I’ll never come back.”

He plays dirty

For those who think that Batman’s a sap for not killing the Joker, there’s one occasion that proves he’s not afraid to play dirty to win. In Justice League Of America #40 (1999), his battle with Prometheus (who has the ability to download and use anyone’s fighting skills – including Batman’s) saw our hero digging deep ... into his utility belt to carve out a pug-ugly victory.

Having been comprehensively thrashed in their first encounter (not even Ip Man could have fended off Prometheus’ multi-martial arts skills acquired from 30 different experts), a different approach was required.

The rematch was an entirely different matter, as Batman tinkered with Prometheus’ download, hitting the man with motor neuron disease. When Huntress later asks if she just caught him cheating, Batman retorts that he was merely “winning”. ‘Nuff said!

Detective Comics #27 was May 1939, but the issue was actually released on March 30, which DC Comics has recognised as the date of Batman’s official debut. Still, better late than never, huh?)

He beat Superman!

To be the greatest hero, you have to not just defeat, but utterly thrash the most powerful hero there is, and that was what Batman did to Superman in The Dark Knight Returns #4. Despite their mutual “no killing” stance, both heroes have always had a different approach towards justice, freedom and politics, and if there was one moment that best defined the differences between the “World’s Finest” partners, this was it.

True to form, he utilises every dirty trick in the book, from electrocution to a certain green arrow fired by Green Arrow, and gives Superman the ultimate beat-down, making darn sure that the Man of Steel remembers whose hand it was at his throat, and the one man that beat him.

After this victory, can there really be any doubt at all as to who is the number one superhero in the world? (Cue 1960s TV show theme) Nana nana nana nana ... BATMAN!

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