Friday Flashback: 70 Years of Big BAT-Dates

Friday Flashback: Big Bat Dates

If you were sleeping, you missed a big week for Batman.  Wednesday saw the release of Batman: The Return, Batman Inc., and a new issue of the reconfigured eponymous Batman title. Obviously, a big new era is underway. This, of course, puts one in mind of the fact that Batman has seen many cultural milestones throughout the character’s man incarnations. Here’s a Flashback Montage to look at SOME (see, I said some, not all) of the Batman’s Big Moments (note that many dates may be cover dates).


May, 1939: You know this story the way that seminary students know The Nativity. Superman’s a hit. Bob Kane gets with Bill Finger. Throw in “The Bat Whispers” and “The Mark of Zorro”. Shake. Pour out Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman.


April, 1940: It didn’t take long for people to try to lighten up the Dark Knight. Detective Comics #38 saw the introduction of Dick Grayson, aka Robin. There were multiple reasons for this; aside from the kid set-identification factor, Bill Finger liked the idea of giving the detective a partner to whom he could reveal his deductive process and deliver exposition, just as Holmes does to Watson.


April 15, 1943: Batman hits the screen! The 15-chapter film serial “Batman” began its release on this date. You get Batman, Robin and Alfred. You get a non-canonical love interest, Linda Page. And since it’s the middle of World War II, you get a villain that’s working for Japan: Dr. Daka. Even better, Batman works for the U.S. Government.  Two things that stuck, however, were the introduction of the Batcave and the thinner, mustachioed look of Alfred. For the record, the official length of the total work is 260 minutes (about 4 hours and 20 minutes), marking a little over 17 minutes on average for each installment.


June, 1952: The World’s Finest Team debuts in Superman #76. Actually, Batman and Superman had already co-headlined the actual World’s Finest Comics title, but not together. After this inaugural team-up, World’s Finest changes to regular meetings between the two superstars. In fact, the book and concept went on for 34 more years (it ended in 1986). The regular team-up returned with the launch of Superman/Batman in 2003.


February, 1960: Batman joins the Justice League of America when it forms in The Brave and the Bold #28. He’s been saving their asses in comics, animation and video games ever since. The actual power of the Batman persona is frequently on display in these stories, in which the human Batman is demonstrably smarter and more capable that many of his colleagues, let alone the villains they face.


May, 1964: Detective Comics #327 presents what comes to be called the “New Look” Batman. Most notably is the addition of the yellow oval around the Bat-symbol. The era also marked a rejection of the sci-fi and craziness from many of the prior decade’s stories. It wasn’t quite the Adams/O’Neil era, but it was a step. However . . .


January 12, 1966: Any seriousness attached to Batman kind of ran screaming when the Batman TV series debuted. The campy approach was wildly popular for a time, and many, many elements of the series still resonate in pop culture (from “Atomic batteries to power . . .turbines to speed . . .” to “Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”). Adam West became a star as Batman, and would later play the character in both live-action (the diabolically bad “Legends of the Superheroes” specials) and animation (he voiced Batman for the last two seasons of Super Friends). The show ended in March of 1968. For a complete picture of its impact and history, I suggest you check out the Sequart book Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters, edited by my buddy Jim Beard.


January, 1970: Writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams do “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” for Detective Comics #395 and take Batman back his darker beginnings.  Throughout their tenure, extremely important characters like Ra’s Ah Ghul and Talia are introduced, and the vibe of the enterprise takes on a new seriousness that would influence a lot of the talent the came after.


1986: The year of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Frank Miller (with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley) changes the game with his take on Batman coming out of retirement to battle unchecked Gotham crime, a revitalized Joker, and eventually, Superman. It was bold, political, and made the world interested in Batman again. Particularly, Hollywood.


June 23, 1989: For the first time since the film that hit between seasons 1 and 2 of the Batman TV series in 1966, Batman goes to the big screen. Keaton. Nicholson. Burton. It’s the hit of the year and sparks a whole new wave of Batmania. This cycle of films goes through three sequels; unfortunately, Batman & Robin is a legendary franchise-killing creative flame-out in 1997.


1992: The Timmverse starts here! Batman: The Animated Series arrives, launching a whole new era of DC animation. The show is a huge, influential hit, and births series for Superman, the Justice League, and extrapolations like Batman Beyond. Actually, since 1992, Batman has rarely been off of TV. He segued from this series into Justice League, then into the separate continuity of The Batman for five seasons beginning in 2004, then to Batman: The Brave and the Bold in 2008. Batman is a regular character on the forthcoming Young Justice as well.


1993: Following on the heels of the Death of Superman, 1993 is the year of Knightfall. Following a confrontation with Bane that leads to the breaking of Bruce Wayne’s back, Azrael takes over as Batman in a new costume. Though Azrael is later defeated and rehabilitated, Wayne does not immediately return as a full-time Batman, allowing Dick Grayson to spend some time in the cape and cowl.


1996: The Justice League launches again in comics as JLA, and, under Grant Morrison, Batman becomes its biggest bad-ass. Morrison had previously done champion Batman work in the Arkham Asylum graphic novel of 1989, and it was far from the last time that he’d shape Batman’s destiny.


1998/1999: Gotham is ravaged by an Earthquake in “Cataclysm”, and Batman tries to take the city back in “No Man’s Land”. The stories are mainly notable today for the introduction of Cassandra Cain, who becomes Batgirl, and the death of Sarah Essen.


2005: Batman’s faith in his friends is severely tested by the events of Identity Crisis when he learns that his memories were modified by members of the JLA to cover their manipulation of Dr. Light. His subsequent paranoia leads to the creation of Brother I, an AI entity that later plays a big role in the events surrounding the “Infinite Crisis”. Though Batman later reaches a truce of sorts with his allies, he ends up taking a year off (detailed in “52”).


2006: Grant Morrison takes on the regular Batman title, and Batman discovers that he has a son with Talia. Damian arrives in Batman #655 and shakes up the status quo. Raised Talia and trained by the League of Assassins from infancy, Damian’s got . . . special problems. And a bad attitude. Eventually, Damian becomes more of ally of the Bat family, participating in the search for Bruce Wayne during the “R.I.P.” storyline of 2008 and serving under Nightwing during 2009’s “Battle for the Cowl”. When Grayson becomes Batman after Bruce’s apparent death in Final Crisis, Damian becomes Robin.


2009: Batman and Robin launches with Dick as Batman and Damian as Robin. Tim Drake has become Red Robin and, in his own book, searches for clues to the whereabouts of Bruce Wayne. It eventually becomes clear that Wayne is lost in time, and efforts by various heroes are made to effect the . . .

Return of Bruce Wayne: Played out across the titular mini-series and events in both “Time Masters” and the “Batman and Robin” title, Bruce fights his way through time and winds up back in the present to confront Dr. Hurt, a Wayne ancestor and the architect of “R.I.P.”.

And now? Would you believe TWO Batmans? How about an army? Bruce is taking the franchise global, Dick and Damian are also Batman and Robin, Stephanie Brown (the former Spoiler) is Batgirl, Tim Drake is still Red Robin, Barbara Gordon is Oracle, and I’m tired of typing. So there you have it, kids. Big Batman Highlights, a tour through some history and, frankly, a lot of fun. He’s the Dark Knight, and his history has been your Friday Flashback.

What's your favorite era of Bat-history?

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