Batman killed in his first issue, but it’s okay
Happy 80th birthday, Batman!
On this special, celebratory evening – also the eve(ish) of the cinematic release of “Joker” – it could be fun to revisit one old Batman fan beef. Although the chew in question arose years prior to filmmaker Todd Phillips’ upcoming opus, “Joker” tone links to overall murderous rage in Batman canon.
Way back in March 2019, a different auteur emoted about a possibly homicidal Batman, as in, the Dark Knight himself. Zack “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” Snyder appeared at a retrospective screening. He offered a little bit of tough love: ‘It’s a cool point of view to be, like, my heroes are still innocent . . . My heroes didn’t commit any atrocities. That’s cool. But you’re living in a [BLEEP]ing dream world.’
Gentle reader, if you are not fluent in Snyder-speak, then you might benefit from this sub textual translation: Batman kills. Get over it.
Fans have picked a bone with Snyder since the dawn of “Batman v. Superman” (2016). They have queried thus: Doesn’t Batman have a no-kill credo? Gun wielding Batman – as depicted in “Batman v. Superman” – seems capable of manslaughter, if not capital murder. However, in terms of Batman comic books (the bible of Batman lore, right?), the Caped Crusader has been a killer at his core, as in, since issue one.
Detective Comics (DC) is primary source material for everything Batman. It seems logical to roll film here – metaphorically speaking – for definitive mythology. Think documentary filmmaking. The following is a very rough cut of a Batman documentary short. Lights, camera . . .
Slow fade up from black: Batman’s very first appearance in “Detective Comics #27” (May 1939) is that of a deathly pushy Batman who shoves a baddie into acid. From 1939-40, Batman is in print with a gun several times, and in one issue, he fires!
Dissolve to close up, real world circa 1940: DC editor Whitney Ellsworth issues his anti-gun edict to co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Batman #1 (Joker’s debut!) is the initial book under that new regime. Behold the birth of gentler Batman! A moral code begins!
Cut to 1954: Sales of official comic book hater’s handbook (a.k.a. non-fiction text “Seduction of the Innocent”, by Dr. Fredric Wertham) reinforce consumer watchdog demand for gentlemanly Batman. According to Dr. Wertham, comic books are the cause of moral
decline . . . and asthma. Comic book burnings ensue nationwide.
Music video treatment of the last 35 years: Batman falls off the proverbial peacenik wagon via comics, film, and fandom. In the 1980s, “The Doomsday Book” (“Detective Comics #572”) features goon death. In Tim Burton’s 1992 “Batman Returns,” Batman burns a man alive and blows up a man via a pants bomb. Heck, even yours truly appears in a mid 2000s fan film featuring a Charles Manson-type Batman.
Cut to present and “Joker”: Iconic Batman film producer and brand authority Michael Uslan opines on- and off-red carpets about franchise violence. Flashback to the end of an anecdote from Uslan’s 2011 autobiography (“The Boy Who Loved Batman”):
“A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen!” I said to myself. “I shall become a Batman movie producer and bring a dark and serious Batman to the Silver Screen, just the way Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him in 1939 . . . a creature of the night stalking criminals in the shadows!” And then I recalled the vow I had made way back on that evening in January 1966. I renewed it that night. I would dedicate myself to bringing about the sort of Batman movies that once and for all would wipe three little words out of the collective consciousness of the world culture . . . “POW!” . . . “ZAP!” . . . and “WHAM!”
Fade to black. Credit roll.
Uslan’s view could be the most compelling argument for an undiluted Dark Knight. If that boy – the one who loved Batman onto the big screen – says extreme darkness is okay, then so be it. Death to 1960s campy Batman, says the Boy Who Loved Batman! Long live THE Batman!