Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and twentieth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here for Part 1 of this week's legends.
When Black Bat became a superhero, his name had to be changed to avoid conflicting with Batman
In the past, I wrote about the Black Bat, a pulp fiction character that debuted right around the same time that Batman debuted. Well, at least the one that is the closest to Batman in style. Quoting myself from a Comic Book Legends Revealed from over a DECADE ago,
The first Black Bat appeared in pulp novels in the early 1930s, in a short lived pulp magazine series called Black Bat Detective Mysteries. In these stories, the Black Bat was a typical pulp hero - just a standard detective who was nicknamed the Black Bat. There were some occasional drawings mixed in of stylized Black Bats, but really, it's doubtful that this guy influenced [Bob] Kane, as A. It wasn't a hit and B. It mostly just featured a regular detective - no costume or anything like that.
That series didn't last long, but in the pages of Black Book Detective (a series that began in the early 1930s), in July 1939, the Black Bat debuted.
The Black Bat was a former District Attorney who was blinded and scarred by acid from a bad guy (hmmm...where have we heard that before?) and dressed up as, well, the Black Bat. The Black Bat was so popular that the Black Book Detective lasted into the 1950s, far past almost every other pulp magazine (which generally all petered out after World War II).
So yeah, there are definitely similarities, but it is almost certainly a coincidence. Neither guy is exactly coming up with brilliantly original ideas here - they're both more or less Shadow knockoffs.
However, the two companies (National Comics and Thrilling Publications) felt that they other company had ripped them off, and they threatened lawsuits back and forth until ultimately, Whitney Ellsworth (who was an editor at Naitonal but had worked at Thrilling in the past) came up with a settlement between the companies.
I don't know the PRECISE terms of the agreement that Ellsworth worked out with Thrilling, but I think it's likely that it was one of those "we won't do Black Bat as a comic book if you don't do Batman as a pulp magazine" deals, which is fair enough.
The thing is, by 1940, the comic book business was booming so much that Ned Pines, publisher of Thrilling Publications, decided to get into the comic book business, as well, with a comic book company most often referred to as Standard Comics (sometimes Nedor). They adapted a bunch of Pines' pulp fiction characters.
Due to their deal with DC, though, they couldn't do Black Bat, so they instead changed his name to The Mask. He starred in Exciting Comics for a couple of years. Here is a Mask story from Exciting Stories #3 from 1940 (by artist Raymond Thayer). The Mask left calling cards to make sure people knew that HE was the guy who offed the bad guy (and so people would know that the bad guy WAS a bad guy). It's essentially the same bit that the pulp hero, The Spider, did (again, everyone just took from everyone else back then)...
Norman A. Daniels, creator of the Black Bat, was irked that Pines changed the name of the character for the comics, since he had created the Black Bat before Batman debuted.
Amusingly enough, there's ANOTHER legend involving The Mask that I'll get to tomorrow! Note that I'm not showing you the stories from #1 or #2. There's a very good (and hilarious) reason why. Check back tomorrow for the lowdown!
The Mask never made it on to the cover of Exciting Comics in the first few issues and then in #9, Standard's most popular hero, the Black Terror, debuted and The Mask was REALLY pushed to the back of the line...
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - Did the author of The Silence of the Lambs really make a point to never see the film adaptation of his book?
Check back tomorrow for the final part of this week's Comic Book Legends Revealed!