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).
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 Comics. LATE 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.
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…
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.