Batman at 80: Classic comics of the Dark Knight

Image from DC Comics

In March 1939, DC Comics – then National Comics Publications – released a new superhero created by Bob Kane under their Detective Comics line, a hero who would grow to be one of the most recognized names in pop culture, leaping from comic pages to television series, action figures, and blockbuster films. With a black cape and cowl, equipped with the finest gadgets on his belt, that superhero was Batman – and the Dark Knight himself celebrates his 80th birthday this 2019.

Over the years the Batman comics has delivered some of the greatest stories in superhero history. Comic readers learned to empathize with Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter-ego, and all his companions like Robin, Batgirl, and his faithful butler Alfred. These comics even introduced arguable one of the best villains ever in the Joker, giving crime a new name and testing all heroes what it means to deal justice. Let’s look back at some of the classic comics that brought Batman to this remarkable milestone.

Comics debut

It was in May 1939 during Detective Comics #37 (The Case of the Chemical Syndicate) where readers were first introduced to Batman – then known as the Bat-Man. Police commissioner Jim Gordon brings along Bruce Wayne to an investigation, and later on in the night the caped crusader battles against the criminals trying to take over a chemical corporation. Gordon is amazed at this Bat-Man persona and tells it all to Bruce Wayne, but little does he know that Wayne is the man under the cowl.

A sidekick and an enemy

Fighting crime is a tough job for one person to do, so a year after Batman was introduced (to immense popularity), Detective Comics brought out the boy in tights himself, Robin. Many names have taken up the Robin mantle, but its the original – Dick Grayson – who is most associated with Batman and has been his companion through the decades.

Because Batman was well-received by readers, he was given his own comics line that same year. During this Golden Age Batman – and comic fans – were introduced to possibly the greatest villain of all time, the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime has been a thorn in Batman’s side for so long, the two seem inseparable. During this time, Batman’s origins and elements were established, serving as a source for all stories to come.

A dip in popularity

Through the 1950s, writers and artists began to equip Batman with hi-tech gadgets that almost made him look like a science-fiction character rather than a superhero (he even battled aliens). But at the turn of of the decade, Batman was introduced as a member of the Justice League of America and has remained a consistent figure ever since.

In 1964, Batman was given a more contemporary look and ditched all the sci-fi associations. During this time was also when the campy Batman television series was released. Though it was entertaining at first, the trend died out in time, and it affected the comics line so bad that Batman reached an all-time low towards the early 1980s.

The dark revival

Batman returned to the spotlight thanks to new writers in Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Jim Starlin. All three decided to go back to Batman donning a dark persona, making much more intriguing stories with brooding themes.

The Dark Knight Returns featured an elder Batman coming out of retirement to deal with injustice, The Killing Joke cemented the Joker’s place in the villain hall of fame for his sadistic treatment of Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara aka Batgirl (not to mention an intriguing backstory), and Death in the Family made Batman question his morals when the Joker kills Robin.

Enduring the times

In the years the followed, Batman maintained the interest of readers as numerous writers dealt the Dark Knight stories that tested him to the core. Batman had his back broken in Knightfall, and became the sole defender of Gotham City in No Man’s Land when the city was blocked off.

Numerous relaunches by DC Comics such as New 52 in 2011 and Rebirth 2016 tried to retcon and simplify the stories of all its heroes, but Batman’s backstory remained very much the same. He became so popular that the hero has been on the silver screen in blockbusters by Christopher Nolan and bombs by Joel Schumacher.

Bruce Wayne and Batman look nowhere near 80, even after the remarkable journey the hero has been. As he looks forward to more fruitful years on print, comic readers can only hope that more interesting stories can be found in the silent guardian, the watchful protectorthe Dark Knight.

Batman history from DC and Detective Comics

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