This Wednesday 23rd July sees DC Comics proclaim the day, otherwise known to the comic-book buying fans such as myself as New Comic Book Day, as Batman's official 75th birthday. This date will conveniently coincide with the final installment of the current critically acclaimed Batman epic, 'Year Zero' after a year long run that has reassessed and reimagined the Dark Knight's earliest days and his transformation into The Batman, with the publication of Batman No.32 and a free comic book for each customer too, reprinting his classic first appearance from Detective Comics No. 27, 1939 and mixing it with tales from comics' modern masters.
The original world of The Batman was very different to that of today. The America of the late 1930's was on the brink of war and as a country was still suffering from the harsh impact of the decade long Great Depression that had seen such great upset both economically and agriculturally tearing the heart out of the country. It was a world crying out for heroes and with the soar away success of Superman published a year earlier in Action Comics No.1, a plethora of multi-coloured superheroes would burst forth onto the world's stage rapidly. But, unlike Captain America, Wonder Woman or even the daddy of them all, the aforementioned Man of Steel himself, Batman was something different. He was dark, creepy, a loner (well, for a while anyway, before the introduction of the far more colourful Robin in Detective Comics No.38, 1940) made all the more darker in hue thanks to the input of Bill Finger, finally recognized in more recent years as the co-creator of Batman by fandom one and all. Finger recalls that, "Kane had an idea for a character called 'Batman', and he'd like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane's, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of ... reddish tights, I believe, with boots ... no gloves, no gauntlets ... with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope". Kane's Batman would have been a very different version indeed and one, I fear, would not have been as popular without Bill Finger's input.
This night stalker is the version most people are most familiar with, but by the 1950's and 1960's and the introduction of the Comic Code Authority with it's heavy-handed restrictions on virtually everything and anything violent or sexual, Batman suffered. He became a space adventurer, time traveller as well as a dimension hopping good guy, anything that would restrict violence in the comics and also appeal to the roaring popularity of sci-fi at that time. Titles such as 'The Jungle Batman', 'Batman in the Future' or 'The Interplantery Batman' were not uncommon. The Joker had stopped killing and became, well frankly, a joke. Alfred the Butler was for a brief time killed off because of fears that three men living together would suggest homosexuality to the readership. These were worrying times and many superheroes found themselves out of fashion for a while against the paranoid backdrop of McCarthy era America. Of course, once Batman had returned back to his dark noir detective roots in the late 1960's, these stories were supposedly meant to be forgotten about until in recent times when writer Grant Morrison forged all these stories from the Silver Age into modern continuity and his own grand unified theory. In his own words he said of his mammoth run on the book; 'I became fascinated by the idea that every Batman story was in some way true and biographical - from the savage, young, pulp-flavored "weird figure of the dark" of his early years, through the smiling, paternal figure of the 1940s and the proto-psychedelic crusader of the '50s, the superhero detective of the '60s, the hairy-chested globetrotting adventurer of the '70s, to the brutally physical vigilante of the '80s and snarling, paranoid soldier of the '90s.' Everything published in the last 75 years was now canon, making Batman a much more interesting character in my opinion and one with a much richer biography too.
Batman's birthday should be a big deal to both DC Comics and fans and couldn't come at a better time for Batman in the comics, who is riding a wave of good fortune with a strong line of titles currently written and drawn by some of the industry's brightest and best. He's not doing too bad in other media either, having been recruited to save the underperforming Superman franchise re-launch in the next DC Comics' film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with the 'Arkham' console game series a huge hit with new sequels not coming soon enough for many. It is also a day that the comic book collecting community can get behind their local comic book shop - usually run by fans themselves - and share in the celebration. For instance, here in Birmingham at one of Britain's longest running comic book shops, Nostalgia and Comics, the staff has organized a shindig hard to be outdone. They seem to be doing more in one week than DC did in a whole year of celebrating Superman's 75th only last year, in my opinion. And no, I don't count The Man of Steel as part of that celebration, but more a happy coincidence. Still it's good to see DC Comics getting it right this year, or rather one retailer at least.
Events not only celebrates the Man in Black's big day in style, but also embraces the whole notion of what it is to be a hero - super or not - by helping out a very worthy local cause, Birmingham Children's Hospital, which will benefit from sales of raffle tickets and cakes, with a goal of just £2000 as the aim. Like any good charity campaign it has its own charity page too, which can be found here. You don't have to live in the Midlands to take part. I don't know how, but both Laura Rose (possibly the biggest Batman nut I have ever met and I've met a lot of Batman fans and nuts) and her sidekick and equal, Lady Batman, have managed to secure some exclusive booty as prizes in the shape of signed graphic novels and merchandise by the current artists and writers on different Batman titles, such as Detective Comics, the title that started it all back in 1939 where The Batman first appeared in issue number 27. In teaming up with All The Nomz as well, the store will further support the Children's Hospital with boxes in the shop encouraging comic book fandom to donation appropriate items such as toys, games, books and, dare I say it, comics too. You don't have to be a billionaire playboy to be a philanthropist. I have even heard rumblings of one of the local taverns of the area offering Batman Beer come the evening. All charitable donations will be donated in the name of Bruce Wayne, which I thought was a nice, fun touch.
So, what will you be doing July 23rd? More importantly, what will you local comic book shop be doing? It's never too late to ask and join in on the celebration. So, here's to Batman and many happy (dark knight) returns!