July 23, 2014 at 12:52 PM ET
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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!