Pop Culture

Happy Batman Day! 5 reasons we still love him after 75 years

In July 1939, a weird figure in a mask and scalloped wings appeared on newsstands across America. Seventy-five years and myriad comic books, toys, cartoons and live-action portrayals later, Batman remains one of pop culture's biggest stars.

He starred in two of the top 10 selling comic books of May 2014, according to Diamond Comic Distributors, and fans are already holding their breaths waiting for the May 2016 premiere of "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" in which Ben Affleck will don the Dark Knight's mantle.

To mark the durable detective's 75th birthday, DC Comics has declared July 23 Batman Day. Comics retailers across the country are dispensing free Bat-swag to mark the occasion, including a special anniversary edition of Detective Comics No. 27, in which the character made his debut.

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Detective Comics No. 27, Batman's first appearance.

"We opened our flagship store, Midtown Comics in Times Square, at 8 a.m. today," said Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Manhattan's biggest comic book retailer, reporting large turnout at all three of his locations Wednesday. "The Batman 75th Anniversary masks, cape, and free edition of Detective Comics #27 are proving to be the most popular items."

Here are five reasons Batman is still packing them in:

1. He's relatable. Superman is the last survivor of a lost planet; there are no more where he came from. Spider-Man got bitten by a radioactive spider, and how often does that happen? But Batman is... a guy. OK, a guy who has carved himself into the peak of physical and mental perfection. But still, he's only human.

"Batman is the quintessential superhero, and we still love him after 75 years because he’s not really 'super' at all," Gladston told TODAY.com. 

2. He's still crazy after all these years. We're talking about a guy who dresses up as a flying rodent and beats the crap out of people. But if you saw your parents murdered at a tender age, you'd have issues too. Superman is indestructible, but Batman is damaged — you know, like you and me.

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    BATMAN, from left, Adam West, Burt Ward, 1966-68

    The many faces of Batman

    From 1940s movie serials to the “Batman v. Superman” movie coming in 2016, Batman has been portrayed many different ways on the screen. Take a walk through our Bat-archive.

  • The many faces of Batman

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    Lewis Wilson -

    When Batman was introduced in Detective Comics in 1939, he captured the public imagination right off the bat. Have a look at the actors who have played him.

    Lewis Wilson may not be the most famous actor to don the cape and cowl, but he was the first, in the 1943 Columbia movie serial "Batman." The New York City actor was also the first husband of novelist and actress Dana Broccoli, who went on to marry James Bond film producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli -- and was reportedly key in the decision to cast Sean Connery as 007.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Robert Lowery -

    Second in the batting order was Missouri-born Robert Lowert, who played the Caped Crusader in Columbia's 1949 "Batman and Robin" serial, pitting the Dynamic Duo against the mysterious Wizard. Batman was far from Lowery's only action part -- his other films included "The Mark of Zorro" and "The Mummy's Ghost." He went on to television roles in such series as "Wagon Train" and "Playhouse 90."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Adam West Is Batman

    The many faces of Batman

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    Adam West -

    The previously little-known actor became a pop-culture sensation with his deadpan interpretation of Batman in the campy 1966-68 series of the same name, as well as a quickie theatrical feature. Big-name stars virtually lined up for guest roles on the show, but Bat-mania faded fast, and West struggled with being typecast in subsequent years. He did get a number of TV guest roles sending up his own image, however, and co-wrote a 1995 autobiography, "Back to the Batcave."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Michael Keaton -

    Many Bat-fans were skeptical when Keaton, previously best known as a comic actor and not particularly imposing physically, teamed up with director Tim Burton for the stylish 1989 feature film "Batman." But Keaton won them over with his brooding interpretation of the Dark Knight. The film was the highest-grossing of the year, and Keaton and Burton reteamed for "Batman Returns" in 1992.

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.
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    Val Kilmer -

    Michael Keaton was ready to re-don the cowl for a third feature, but when director Tim Burton was replaced, Keaton fled the project like a bat out of hell. That cleared the way for Val Kilmer, previously best known for comedies and playing Jim Morrison in "The Doors," to star in 1995 feature "Batman Forever," along with Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris O'Donnell as Robin. Lighter in tone than the two Burton films, "Batman Forever" was a hit.

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.
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    George Clooney -

    Because he felt that Batman played second banana to the villains in "Batman Forever," Val Kilmer declined to return for the next feature in the franchise. Instead, George Clooney, then riding high as star of TV's "ER," was chosen to star in 1997's "Batman & Robin" along with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Intended to be even kid-friendlier than "Batman Forever," the film was a disaster with critics; Clooney himself reportedly offered to refund the ticket price to any fan who paid to see it.

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.
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    Christian Bale -

    The failure of "Batman & Robin" in 1997 prompted a return to the character's roots as a menacing figure of retribution when the film franchise restarted in 2005 with "Batman Begins." Welsh-born Christian Bale, who'd lost much of his body weight for the 2004 film "The Machinist," had to bulk up quickly for the role. But he supplied both the physical and emotional heft it required, winning the approval of critics and fans alike -- so much so that Bale returned for two sequels: 2008's "The Dark Knight" and 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises."

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.
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    Animated Batman -

    Animated versions of Batman have been a television staple since the 1960's. Among the actors who have supplied the voice of the cartoon Caped Crusader over the years are Olan Soule, Kevin Conroy, Rino Romano and TV's original live-action Batman, Adam West.

    Courtesy Warner Bros. Animation / Courtesy Warner Bros. Animation
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    Ben Affleck -

    Director Zack Snyder released the first official photo of Ben Affleck in costume as Batman in May 2013 as the actor stood alongside his new Batmobile in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." The black-and-white shot shows the new Batsuit, which appears more sculpted and comic-book-like than the armor-plated version worn by Christian Bale.

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

That part of Batman was supplied by writer Bill Finger, whom many consider to be the co-creator of the character, even though artist Bob Kane gets official credit. "Thanks to Bill Finger, Batman was the first comic book superhero to have a psychological reason to wage war on crime — he lost his parents to violence right before his eyes," said Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of "Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman." 

"It was this emotional motive that stood out most," Nobleman told TODAY.com. "It seemed more sophisticated than most of what had come before in superhero stories. We identify with Batman/Bruce Wayne not only because he has no powers, but also because he has no parents. We emphasize with his empathy."

3. He's high-tech. Over 75 years, Batman has always stayed on the cutting edge. He was carrying gadgets in his utility belt back in the '40s. In the '60s TV series (currently being rerun on IFC), the Batcave contained a Batcomputer and a Batmobile powered by "atomic batteries." And in the Dark Knight film series, his vehicles are beyond state-of-the-art.

Today
Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin in the 1960s TV version of the Batmobile.

"Batman isn't imbued with godlike powers; just science and technology," said Helen A.S. Popkin, news editor at tech website ReadWrite and former supervising editor for technology and science at NBC News. "Batman represents the promise of technology — human-built supercomputers capable of crunching big data to solve cryptic clues, not-improbable gadgets, and even badass automobiles can make the world a better place, all without intervention from a superior species from another galaxy."

4. He's a Batman for all seasons. In the paranoid '50s he fought menaces from outer space. In the swinging '60s he was the Camp Crusader of TV. But in more recent times he has turned as dark as his original incarnation, an obsessed vigilante who may be just as terrifying as the sociopaths he opposes. Times may change, but we'll always need a Batman.

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Batman in 2009, the Dark Knight reborn.


5. He's hot. He's been played by such hunky stars as George Clooney, Christian Bale and, coming up, Ben Affleck. And let's face it: Many women go for brooding loners.

Today
Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012).

Plus, aside from personal attractiveness, there's the car. As Val Kilmer (who is to Batman as one-time 007 George Lazenby is to James Bond) remarked in "Batman Forever" (1995), "chicks dig the car."

Happy Batman Day!



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