BATMAN: First appearance, Detective Comics #27, on March 30, 1939
Originally published March 30, 2015.
I just celebrated my 45th birthday, and my family made plenty of good-natured jokes at my expense about being closer to 50 years old than 40. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a birthday that caused me mental anguish, but this one did. Perhaps it was moving inexorably closer to 50 years old, but I think it had more to do with recent experiences with therapy. I think part of the process of therapy has exposed how many things within me remain unresolved. It has illuminated how many moments in my life have never received atonement. Combine those missing pieces with the ever-quickening march of time, and I feel some anxiety about ever being resolved. Because one of the most eye opening parts of therapy is learning how far the healing process goes. That it doesn’t end when the trauma ends. That is doesn’t end once you’ve learned to live with the trauma. That it doesn’t even end with atonement. That beyond that, there’s a journey beyond atonement into acceptance and while the new-found state can’t be called “innocence”, it’s remarkably similar. It’s a state beyond reaction and beyond pain and uncorrupted by grief and fear. And I’m realizing that not only am I a long way from that resolved state, but that I never even knew that state existed. I never even knew it was a goal I should have been shooting for. Because all too often, heroic male archetypes don’t seek resolution. They are cowboys who carry their dark secrets like badges of honor. They are brooding loners like Marlon Brando who wallow in the pain of the trauma. And some seek atonement, and go no further. In 1939, one of the most relateable superheroes was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Batman was not only relateable because he was human through and through, but because he pushed to resolve his trauma farther than most male archetypes, but never quite far enough.
The massive success of Superman starting with Action Comics #1 in 1937, led National Publications (later to become DC Comics) to try to create more superheroes. In 1939, staff artist Bob Kane came up with some sketches for a bat-based character. He showed them to Finger, who tried to create a backstory for the character. Finger liked the idea of making the bat-man a wealthy rogue playboy modeled like Scots nobleman Robert Bruce. The character would also be a fearless (at times, brutal) warrior for a cause, like General “Mad” Anthony Wayne of the U.S. Indian Wars in the Ohio Valley. Thus, Bruce Wayne, also known as Batman, was born. Finger and Kane refined the sketches, made the costume more menacing, and Finger began work on the character’s backstory, which would serve as the first issue. Like all superheroes, Batman would be borne of a tragedy. But unlike Superman, who used his tragedy (the demolition of his planet and his salvation on earth) to focus his superpowers, Bruce Wayne was a man. An extremely wealthy man, but a man nonetheless. Ad so Batman’s heroics were not aided by flight or heat vision or invisibility or any manner of supernatural behaviors. Batman was made a superhero only by his desire to fight crime. By his desire to salve the wounds of losing his parents to a petty thief. By his need to rid the world of that ever happening again.