Bruce Wayne first donned the cowl of the Batman in the pages of "Detective Comics" #27 (May 1939). The son of Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Martha Wayne, Bruce's life was forever changed when, as a small boy, his family went to the cinema. Upon leaving, the family was accosted by Joe Chill, a common street thug, who gunned down Bruce's parents before his eyes. Over the decades that followed, Bruce honed his mind and body into a living weapon against crime. Alone in his stately home, a bat entered through an open window and inspired Bruce to become a masked vigilante and to strike fear in the hearts of criminals everywhere as the Batman.
From his dark origins in "Detective Comics," the Batman spun off into his own title where he gained a sidekick that was as colorful as the Batman was dark. Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne's faithful ward, hit the comics' stage in "Batman" #1 (April, 1940) as Robin, the boy wonder. "Batman" #1 also saw the first appearance of the Batman's arch-nemesis, the clown prince of crime, the Joker. Many unique, signature villains and allies followed, but none were as integral to the character of the Batman as the humanizing character of Robin and the Batman's opposite number, the psychopathic Joker.
As cultural icons go, few are as immediately recognizable as the Batman. The Batman made the transition from comics to film in Lambert Hillyer's April 1943 "Batman" 15-part serial, predating even Superman's first live-action performance. The world of comics can find few to compare to the Batman. At the time of this writing (February, 2010), nine cartoon series, one live-action series, nine animated films, and ten big screen features have starred the Batman, including 2008's "The Dark Knight," which produced a posthumous Academy Award for Heath Ledger as the Joker - evidence enough that comic book characters - and the Batman in particular - have set up housekeeping in the American Zeitgeist. With another feature film scheduled for 2011 and regular direct-to-DVD projects appearing from Warner, the Batman maintains his place as a media heavyweight and a marketing success that few can rival. - Brian Eason