The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Batman creator
and comics legend
Bob Kane dead at 83


November 12, 1998
By Franklin Harris

Some never-ending battles do, unfortunately, come to an end.

Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, died on Nov. 3 at his home in California. He was 83. He left behind a wife, a daughter, a grandson and a legend.

Bob Kane

Bob Kane

In 1939, comic books were just beginning. A year earlier, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had sprung a strange visitor from another planet upon the world. Superman's subsequent success inevitably led his publisher, National Periodical Publications, to commission a second costumed adventurer.

Kane was already a comics artist, specializing in drawing funny animals, when National paired him with writer Bill Finger. The result of the collaboration was The Batman, who debuted in "Detective Comics" No. 27. (And, yes, "The" was part of his name, although it's usually dropped nowadays.)

But this second hero couldn't leap tall buildings in a single bound. He was just a man with a Halloween costume and a mission. Hopefully, you already know his story.

After witnessing his parents' brutal murders, a young Bruce Wayne, heir to his family's vast estate, vowed to bring justice to the world's evildoers. He studied and trained and grew to adulthood.

Then, one night, as he was pondering how best to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, a bat flew through Wayne's open window.

So, Wayne decided to become a creature of the night. He donned a gray-and-black costume, and, armed with the sorts of gadgets only a vast family fortune can supply, began his war to take back the streets of Gotham City.

He became The Batman.

Gotham was a dark, moody world populated with the most outlandish criminals the world had ever seen: the ever-smiling Joker, Catwoman, the Penguin, the Riddler and others too numerous to name. Superman's villains never had anything on Batman's Rogues Gallery.

Fortunately, Batman had allies.

Robin the Boy Wonder debuted in 1940. And, in time, other members of the Batman Family followed.

But being a sidekick to Batman was a dangerous thing. Batwoman didn't last long before she was killed off. The first Bat-Girl didn't last long, either. But a second, hyphenless Batgirl did a lot better. She appeared in 1967 and lasted until the late 1980s, when the Joker crippled her and forced her into semi-retirement.

The various Robins (yes, there have been more than one) have had checkered histories.

The first and most famous Robin, Dick Grayson, lasted decades before finally growing up and assuming the new crime-fighting identity of Nightwing. A second Robin, Jason Todd, appeared in the early '80s. But fans hated him and, in one of the most controversial moves in comics history, voted in a telephone poll to have the Joker put the little twerp out of their misery.

The current Robin, Tim Drake, on the other hand, is popular enough to support his own comic book.

Kane, of course, wasn't around for most of all that. He had all-but left "Batman" and "Detective Comics" by the 1950s, when the dark, foreboding character Kane had helped create became bright, happy and unlikely to strike fear into the heart of anything stouter than a gerbil. Batman spent the '50s and '60s fighting space aliens, bug-eyed monsters and even a Batman groupie from another dimension.

The campy '60s television show, as fun as it was, didn't help matters, either.

But by the '70s Batman was finally starting to look like his old self. And in 1986, writer/artist Frank Miller produced "The Dark Knight Returns" and made Batman once again a creature of the night.

While Superman is more popular amongst the general public, Batman is the favorite of most comics fans. Superman has the flashy powers and can move planets, but Batman has the willpower. Comics fans all know that if the two ever fought each other The Batman would win. He simply would find a way.

And it's kind of reassuring to know that a guy who is just a man can beat a superman.

Batman is now an American icon. He has spawned feature films and cartoons. Batman toys line Wal-Mart shelves. His comics are still top sellers, and his familiar black-on-yellow bat logo is as recognizable as the Nike swoosh.

While many writers and artists have helped make Batman what he is, we mustn't forget that it all started with Kane and Finger.

Rest in peace, Bob Kane.

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