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The Year of the Bat

Last year there was much said about the 70th anniversary of the “birth” of Superman (and the Golden Age of Comic Books) in Action Comics #1 (1938).  It’s a new year, and there’s more cause for celebration, as 2009 is the year of the Bat – the 70th anniversary of the birth of Batman in Detective Comics #27 (May, 1939).

Detective Comics #27 (May 1939)

Detective Comics #27 (May 1939)

If you’ve ever listened to my Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast or visited my Golden Age Batman web site, you realize that I could fill up several gigabytes writing about the Dark Knight.  Indeed, I’ve podcasted and written much about his origins, his life, his supporting cast and many other aspects of this funny book character that became a pop culture icon, and who has helped fuel a multi-billion dollar media empire.  There’s simply not much of the story that has not already been told by me and many, many other fans, and the characters have been constantly changed and updated over the years.

As I pondered what to initially write as we enter this monumental year for us bat-fans, I decided to focus not so much on the character, as on the origin of the comic book appearance itself.  Now, if you read my post about Kane and Finger, you know that I’m not going to focus on the “real facts” of how Batman was created.  Instead, I decided to put on my historian hat, get in my time machine, and travel back to a typical 1939 newsstand to have a look for myself.

The biggest dilemma was not where to go, but when?  I knew Detective Comics #27 had a May, 1939 cover date, but I wanted to be there on the day it hit the streets.  Before embarking on my journey, I did a little bit of detective work (no pun intended) and found references that Detective Comics #27 was at the stands on May 27, 1939, but could find no verification of this.  I thought perhaps if I could find an advertisement for this issue I would be able to find the correct date.  I didn’t have to look too far, and found what is likely the first appearance of The Batman, in an ad that appeared in the pages of Action Comics #12 (May 1939).  Alas, it did not provide a newsstand date, only that this “new thrilling adventure strip” would be in the May issue of Detective ComicsLATE NOTE:  The DC Indexes Site reports April 18, 1939 as the newsstand date for Detective Comics #27.  I have not confirmed this through any independant research, but the general consensus seems to support this as the correct date.  See comments, below.

Ad for Detective Comics #27 from Action Comics #12 (1939)

Ad for Detective Comics #27 from Action Comics #12 (1939)

Unfortunately, despite my good intentions to find the exact newsstand arrival date for Detective Comics #27, I ended up hitting a dead end.  At least I came across the advertisement from Action Comics #12, which caused me to wonder how I would have felt as a kid seeing that ad for the first time.  Hindsight is 20-20, but I think the sight of the The Batman in that ad 70 years ago would have caused me to run out a pick up a copy!

The Batman was popular from the start, and his milestones came fast and furious during that initial year of his existence.  First, his origin in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939), and then the first sidekick in comics with the introduction of Robin the Boy Wonder in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940).  This “first year of the Bat” culminated with the publication of Batman’s own title, with Batman #1 hitting the stands in April, 1940, which included the introductions of two of his main supporting villains, The Joker and Catwoman.

When looking through Batman’s one year anniversary issue and Robin’s second appearance in Detective Comics #39 (May 1940), I found that I might be able to put my time machine to good use after all.  I realized that if I couldn’t determine the date to be at the newsstand for the debut of Detective Comics #27, I could at least be there to grab one of the first copies of Batman #1.  The date?  It was right there in DC’s house ad for Batman #1, April 25, 1940!  Maybe I should grab two or three copies…

Ad for Batman #1 from Detective Comics #39 (1940)

Ad for Batman #1 from Detective Comics #39 (1940)

As we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the introduction of Batman to the world, let’s not forget those creators, like the great Bill Finger, who were the unsung heroes to many comic book readers of the Golden Age.  Many of these great artists and writers never received the credit they deserved until many years later, and for some, like Finger, long after they had died.  In celebrating the Year of the Bat, let’s not just celebrate the creations, let’s also honor the creators.

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9 Comments

  1. Pat Curley says:

    You got a friend named Carter Nichols, Bill? ;)

    Mike Voiles of the DC Indexes (check it out on my sidebar) shows a release date of 4-18-39 for Tec #27, which of course raises another issue; do we celebrate the anniversary in April or May?

    He’s got a Excel spreadsheet at his site that contains quite amazing information like that. All of us comic collectors are obsessive-compulsive, but he’s really got it bad.

  2. David Akers says:

    I was also going to recommend his site, for exactly the same reason. I’ve used that spreadsheet extensively for my own collecting/researching.

  3. I’ll have to check that out. I’m curious about his resources for the publication date.

    Thanks to both of you for the info.

  4. Derek W says:

    Great article and your recent CGS spot was really informative. I have a Bill Finger Appreciation Group on Facebook and have posted a link to this article.

  5. [...] The Year of the Bat (discussing when Detective Comics #27 first hit the newsstands) [...]

  6. Tommy says:

    WOW! What a great article, very well written. My question is why is DC Comics NOT making a big deal about Batman’s 70th? You would think they would be milking it, it’s weird. Does anybody know about a special comic book or action figure that is “Happy 70th” related?

    BATMAN FAN? Visit ~
    http://www.bat-blog.com

    Thanks,
    Tommy

  7. Edward DiPofi says:

    Sir
    I read in a Pittsburgh newspaper , in this date in history that Detective 27 hit the news stands on March 2nd 1939. chck and I think you will find this to be true.Thank from one Batman fan to other,

  8. Bob Buethe says:

    March 2 sounds a lot more reasonable than April 18. Comic books are generally released two or three months before the cover date. That’s because the cover date, like the date on milk cartons, is there to tell the store owner when it’s time to take them off of the racks and return the unsold copies (or their torn-off covers) for credit. If the issue came out on April 18, that means that they’d only be on sale for two weeks, which sounds unlikely.

    BTW, I was told five years ago that DC was downplaying Batman’s 70th anniversary because they were planning something big for the 75th, and didn’t want to water down the impact by having two anniversary events so close together. We’ll see if that’s true this year.

  9. Bob Buethe says:

    Update: According to DC’s records, and the US Copyright Office, the release date was March 30, 1939: http://www.mtv.com/news/1725027/batman-75th-anniversary-birthday-date

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