Batman is a timeless and celebrated character in not just millions of comic books, but also box-office-blitzing movies, iconic TV shows, video games and cartoons. To generations of superhero fans, he is the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader and today, one of the mainstays of the DC Comics empire.
Rewind to 1939, though, and National Comics – which would later become DC Comics – was seeking a new awe-inspiring superhero to build on Superman’s success.
Few at the time would have considered gag cartoonist Bob Kane the most likely man to design the next big superhero – yet it was he to whom National Comics editor Vin Sullivan turned. It proved to be an inspired choice, and the first comic book to feature the Kane-drawn star hit newsstands on 30th March 1939, with a cover date of May 1939.
Birthing a crime-fighting legend
It should be noted at this point that Kane was not working alone. Indeed, while the original idea and character design for Batman were unquestionably his, various uncredited refinements were also made by writer Bill Finger, including the design of the mask, the costume colour scheme and the addition of a cape and gloves.
Finger was also the writer of the first Batman story, working in league with Kane. “The Case of the Criminal Syndicate” jumped out from the pages of Detective Comics #27, introducing Batman – or ‘The Batman’, as he was then described – as bored socialite Bruce Wayne.
So, what became of the ‘criminal syndicate’?
The story itself told of Commissioner Gordon’s discovery that a chemical industrialist called Lambert had just been murdered. Lambert’s son seems to be guilty of the crime, but will only confess to finding his father’s body. Wayne, however, is present at the crime scene and decides to investigate as Batman.
Batman looks through Lambert’s contacts, and comes across the names of his former business partners, Steven Crane, Paul Rogers and Alfred Stryker. However, Crane is then found dead in his home. When Rogers learns of the murder, he seeks out the last surviving business partner, Stryker, who admits responsibility for the crimes and kidnaps Rogers in his pursuit of complete control over their business interests.
It’s therefore left to Batman to swoop down inside Stryker’s chemical factory and rescue Rogers. Although Stryker attempts to attack Batman, the superhero beats back and topples the criminal into a vat of acid, commenting with grim satisfaction: “A fitting end for his kind.”
A truly timeless superhero
Today, of course, Batman isn’t a mere comic book character, but instead an all-encompassing media juggernaut. The comics that followed Detective Comics #27 introduced us to such characters as The Joker, Catwoman and Alfred Pennyworth and the other franchise fixtures, Gotham City and the Batmobile. Robin, meanwhile, made his first appearance in Detective Comics #38 in 1940.
The 21st-century Batman continues to be a defining feature of childhood, in addition to taking back many a comic-geek adult to their younger days. However, none of the legendary Batman stories we’ve seen since would have been possible if it weren’t for “The Case of the Criminal Syndicate” and Detective Comics #27.