Batman Banter #2

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Oh well, nothing else to do, might as well.

Oh WellBruce Wayne reacts to Commissioner Gordon’s invitation to visit a crime scene in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. Bruce Wayne is thus established as a bored playboy with little interest in crime from his very first appearance.

This quote enables us to research some of the literary origins of the Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne follows characters such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, created by Baroness Emma Orczy in 1909. The Pimpernel is a man dedicated to saving French noblemen from the guillotine in revolutionary France. The hero is in fact Sir Percy Blakeney, a British nobleman. Sir Percy maintains the mannerisms of a dim-witted buffoon in order to stop people guessing his true heroic identity.

The Pimpernel is cited as the first instance of a hero with an alter-ego. He certainly spawned many imitators, including Don Diego de la Vega, otherwise known as El Zorro. Zorro was created in 1919 by a pulp writer – Johnston McCulley. This nobleman’s first story, The Curse of Capistrano, was adapted into a 1920 film – The Mark of Zorro. As all Batfans know, it is The Mark of Zorro that the Wayne family go to watch on the night which ends in Thomas and Martha’s murder. Walking Home From movieHowever, it should be noted that this canonical ‘fact’ is a later innovation. In The Batman Wars Against The Dirigible of Doom (Detective Comics #33, November 1939), where the Wayne murder story first appears, no title is given to the movie. Nor is it given a title in Batman #1, Spring 1940 which repeats the story. However, both Bill Finger and Bob Kane cited Zorro as one of their inspirations in Batman.

A much more immediate cultural influence over Batman’s first apperance is The ShadowThe Shadow. The Shadow first appeared in pulps in 1930 and then became serialised on the radio during Batman’s early years. The Shadow had more than one writer, but Walter B. Gibson is most credited with its popularisation. The Shadow adopts various identities, the most famous of which is Lamont Cranston – a wealthy playboy. However, the links between Batman and The Shadow are even more explicit than the use of the millionaire meme. Detective Comics #27 lifted its plot straight from a Shadow story – Partners Of Peril – written by Theodore Tinsley.

So, the rich, bored playboy-round-town has been a much-repeated feature in hero fiction. However, when researching the cultural influences over Batman’s first appearance, it is important to separate what later becomes ‘canon’ from what were the actual references made in the comics. This short research piece shows that, although Kane and Finger subsequently confirmed that Zorro was an influence, The Mark of Zorro is not mentioned in The Batman’s origin. Instead, it is the awesome power of The Shadow that made more of an impression in May 1939.

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