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When Batman Broke the Fourth Wall to Teach Kids A Lesson About Crime

This is a brand-new feature called "A Wall Between Us," where I spotlight notable examples of comic books breaking the fourth wall. What I'm looking at here is mostly examples from characters other than She-Hulk, Deadpool, Ambush Bug, etc. You know, the kind of stuff that is a bit more of a surprise to the reader. If you have any suggestions, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

We are all aware of a certain comic book phrase, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." It is best known for its usage in the Spider-Man mythos, but honestly, it plays a role with companies, as well, to a certain extent. Perhaps not responsibility, per se, but I guess it is fair to say that with great power, comes great attention from the rest of the world and said attention clearly had a major effect on National Comics (now known as DC Comics). With the release of Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938, they essentially created the superhero genre and Superman was a pretty much instant success. The comic book industry exploded after the success of Superman. Therefore, by 1940, National Comics was at a whole other level than most of its competitors and one of the things that freaked them out the most was parental outcry over the content of their comic books.

From a 1940 Chicago Daily News column about the dangers of comics, "Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed - a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems - the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child's natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic' magazine."

So pretty much right away, DC was worried about what would happen if people became convinced that their comic books were bad for kids and that is why Batman very quickly stopped killing people in his comics. The world of comic books as a whole did not tend to worry about their content until the late 1940s, but National was way ahead of the game (in fact, Max Gaines, who ran All-American Publications, a comic book company that was associated with National, first came into contact with William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, when Gaines wanted Marston to say that comic books were good for kids in Marston's capacity as a psychologist).

So when Batman graduated into his first comic book series in 1940, those were the sorts of things that were on the minds of National. Batman #1 famously has some pretty violent stories in the book, but it also has Batman breaking the fourth wall to make a public service announcement to the young audience of the series.

In the third story in the issue, the mysterious thief known as "The Cat" is supposedly going to rob a party on a yacht where a rich old lady is wearing a crazy expensive necklace. Robin goes undercover on the ship as a steward. Sure enough, the necklace is robbed. However, in an odd twist, a boat filled with crooks arrive and board the ship trying to steal the necklace themselves! When they learn it is already gone, they decide to rob everyone else on board. Dick Grayson tries to stop them and is seemingly killed when he is thrown overboard. In reality, he just changes into his Robin costume and comes after the robbers as they speed away on their boat with all of their loot.

But Batman is also on their tail!

With the criminals now corralled, Batman makes them an unusual offer...

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