“He quickly draws a tough silk rope from his belt and twirls it above his head”
Though Batman wears a prominent yellow belt in his first Detective Comics’ appearance, it isn’t until this quote from his second story that Bill Finger introduces readers to a defining feature of the Bat-Man – his gadgets. Batman needs tools to compensate for his lack of superpowers. He is ‘just a man’, though a hideously over-achieving one at that.
In Batman’s fifth tale in Detective Comics #31 September 1939, the gadget game shifts up a notch. Fox, Finger and Kane introduce the Batgyro and the baterang (nowadays spelt batarang). These wonderful items are significant because they are the first examples of Batman branding his gadgets. Over the 75 years to come, Bruce’s devotion to the ‘Bat-Brand’ becomes all-encompassing. It is easy to understand why: the winged shape lends itself to aerodynamic designs – the Batmobile and the Batwing for instance. Furthermore, the wing tips are perfect for items that need to be sharp, to dig into surfaces such as the bat-shapes he affixes to the ends of ropes and grapples. And because Bruce is a man of business (and style), this branding of all his goodies seems to fit with his personality and background.
The cultural impact of Bat-Brand is huge. Batman and his Justice League friends were made for marketing: the S on Superman’s chest, Wonder Woman’s golden WW – these symbols stick in consumer’s heads. My closet is filled with Batman tees and pyjamas. I even own a Batman dress, though I don’t think Bruce would be too happy with that in his own wardrobe. Furthermore, all the gadgets Bruce uses can be turned into toys for children to buy, albeit safer versions (one would hope).
Bat-Brand and Bat-Gadgets are therefore not only part of Batman’s story but our own. It tells us the history of consumerism. My research task is to find out when the first Batman merchandise was made and marketed. This is another reason why I should like to read whole Golden Age comic books, as the advertisements contained within may reveal the first Batman toys and other merchandise.