For more than 70 years, Batman has towered over the DC Universe. The model of the loner, self-made hero without superpowers who developed his prowess through training, determination and will, the Caped Crusader is no longer alone. He has created a family and a support system with the finest equipment known to man — with a fortune to get more whenever he needs to.
There are numerous elements of the Batman mythology that are so long-standing that it’s hard to remember that each of them was introduced in a nascent form, such as his Utility Belt and Batarangs. It’s also hard to remember that some key aspects, such as the Batcave, Wayne Manor and Arkham Asylum, weren’t there at the beginning and instead developed over time, several stories, and in some cases like the Bat-Signal, through one or more retcons. Here are 15 of the most important firsts in Batman’s career.
15. FIRST APPEARANCE IN COMICS
Batman came upon the world in 1939, featured on the cover of anthology title “Detective Comics” with issue #27 (May 1939). Before Batman, the book featured Slam Bradley, from “Superman” creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and other hard-boiled gumshoes. The original idea and character design for Batman came from artist Bob Kane, with a number of uncredited refinements by writer Bill Finger, who scripted the first story and the one that followed. Finger’s changes included the design of the mask, the costume color scheme, and adding a cape and gloves.
Batman quickly became the lead feature in the title, beginning with issue #35 (January 1940). Robin the Boy Wonder, the first sidekick in comics, was introduced in #38 (April 1940) in a story written by Bill Finger with art by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson. Loyal ally Commissioner Gordon also appeared in that first story, and butler Alfred Pennyworth first showed up in “Batman” #16 (April 1943).
14. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE UTILITY BELT
The Utility Belt is one of the most crucial tools in Batman’s arsenal, being a miniature arsenal in and of itself. It is an unnoticed part of Batman’s costume in the first Batman tale in “Detective Comics” #27, but in “Detective Comics” #29 (July 1939), Bruce Wayne prepares for his evening’s adventure by loading “glass pellets of choking gas” to the belt’s chambers, in a story written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Bob Kane. Batman began carrying his rope hanging from the belt in “Detective Comics” #28 (June 1939), but developed a way for the rope to unspool from one of the chambers in “Batman” #67 (October-November 1951). Batman started carrying the Batarang in the belt in “Detective Comics” #32 (October 1939).
The Utility Belt holds an insane array of weapons and tools, which are swapped out by Batman as needed. The assortment includes a rebreather, lock picks, explosives, a camera, a miniature torch, a fingerprint kit and more. Up to 1986, the belt’s exterior was outfitted with a number of cylindrical chambers, but it was shown with military-style pouches in “The Dark Knight Returns” miniseries, which became the standard.
13. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE BATMOBILE
Batman drives a red sports car in his first story in “Detective Comics” #27 (May 1939), but it is not called the “Batmobile” and doesn’t bear any of the characteristics associated with the vehicle. The name “Batmobile” is first used in “Detective Comics” #48 (February 1941), but before then, the various cars that appear in the series display the Bat motif, and the car’s color changes from red to midnight blue. A large shield on the front grille that resembles a bat’s face is on the car in “Batman” #5 (March 1941), along with a scalloped fin on the back hood.
Most versions of the Batmobile are coupes, but the car gained a back seat in the 1973 animated TV series “Super Friends,” owing to the need for Batman and Robin to carry passengers Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog. Issue #3 of “The Untold Legend of the Batman” miniseries (August 1980), written by Len Wein and drawn by Jim Aparo, reveals that the Batmobiles are custom-built by racecar driver Jack Edison, whom Batman once rescued from a fiery crash.
12. FIRST APPEARANCE OF WAYNE MANOR
Wayne Manor is the ancestral home of Bruce Wayne, and a fixture of the Batman titles. It first appeared in “Detective Comics” #28 (June 1939). “Detective Comics” #205 (March 1954) tells us that Bruce Wayne bought the property as a young man, just as he was launching his career as Batman. However, the greater body of stories over time have established that Wayne Manor has been in the Wayne Family for generations. Wayne Manor also housed an early crime lab, shown in “Detective Comics” #33 (November 1939), before the Batcave was established.
Batman closes Wayne Manor and moves to downtown Gotham City in “Batman” #217 (December 1969), but returns in “Detective Comics” #470 (June 1977). Wayne Manor was destroyed in “Batman” #553 (April 1998), during the earthquake in the “Batman: Cataclysm” crossover storyline, but was rebuilt. In the “Batman Eternal” maxiseries (April 2014-April 2015), the villain Hush engineers Bruce Wayne’s bankruptcy and the financial demise of Wayne Enterprises, leading to Wayne Manor being seized by Gotham City and converted into Arkham Asylum. Wayne eventually regains control of the property.
11. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE BATPLANE
Transportation is essential to Batman, so it’s no surprise that he added aircraft to his fleet of vehicles. Batman’s first aircraft, the Batgyro, was a nod to his inspiration The Shadow. It was an autogyro: a hybrid single-seat propellor airplane with rotor wings mounted above the fuselage. The Batgyro first appeared in “Detective Comics” #31 (September 1939), in a story written by Gardner Fox, with art by Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff, the same story that introduced the Batarang. The Batgyro was destroyed in “Detective Comics” 33 (November 1939), and replaced with the first Batplane in “Batman” #1 (Spring 1940). This early Batplane had a machine gun mounted in the cockpit, but that feature was dropped in later issues.
Over the years, the Batplane has gone a number of upgrades and variations, including a bat-shaped shield at the front, jet engines, retractable wings, pontoons, retractable autogyro and autopilot. Modern versions have been shaped to resemble Batman’s bat symbol.
10. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE BATCAVE
The Batcave, Batman’s renowned headquarters, was not an original part of the Batman concept, and didn’t debut in comics until after it was introduced in the Batman movie serials. Early stories had the Batgyro kept in a secret hangar whose location is unspecified, and the Batmobile was kept in a barn on Wayne Manor’s grounds, connected to the mansion by a secret underground passageway, noted in “Batman” #3 (Fall 1940). Batman also had a crime laboratory hidden in the mansion itself in “Detective Comics” #33 (November 1939).
The first mention in comics of Batman’s “secret underground hangars” was in “Batman” #12 (August-September 1942), in a story written by Bill Finger. “The Bat’s Cave” appeared in the 1943 serial “Batman,” and was adopted to the comics in “Detective Comics” #83 (January 1944). The original story of Bruce Wayne discovering the cave as an adult after he bought the property has been retconned to him finding the cave as a child, with it having been in secret use since the Revolutionary War. The cave collapsed during the earthquake in the “Batman: Cataclysm” storyline, and was subsequently reinforced by Batman afterward.
9. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE GIANT PENNY
The giant penny in the Batcave is a memento of “The Penny Plunderers,” from “World’s Finest” #30 (September-October 1947) written by Bill Finger without credit and art credited to Bob Kane, with inks by Ray Burnley. The story focuses on a petty crook named Joe Coyne, who blames pennies for all his troubles in life, starting with the few pennies he made on his paper route. Goofing off at work by pitching pennies got him fired. A new career as a petty crook ends badly; a police officer catches him while he steals from a cash register, and he finds it only held pennies.
Now in prison, Coyne resolves to be a big-time crook: “When I get out, I’ll get back at coppers and pennies! I’ll fight coppers — with pennies! Every job I pull will involve pennies! My crime symbol will be pennies!” Calling himself “the Penny Plunderer,” Coyne and a crew set out to steal the priceless “one penny black” one-cent stamp at an exhibition, as well as the giant penny itself. Batman and Robin thwart the theft attempt, and Coyne goes back to prison.
8. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE GIANT DINOSAUR
The giant Tyrannosaurus rex in the Batcave is a trophy from Batman’s and Robin’s adventure on “Dinosaur Island,” told in “Batman” #35 (June-July 1946), in a story written by Bill Finger and drawn by Paul Cooper and inked by Ray Burnley. Promoter Murray Wilson Hart takes note of a recent newspaper article about a mammoth carcass found preserved in a glacier in Siberia, and is inspired to establish an island full of animatronic dinosaurs. Hart also announces that at a launch party, he will serve steaks cut from the mammoth to big-game hunters — and will invite Batman and Robin to attend “since they hunt the most perilous game — man!”
Batman and Robin are challenged to survive 36 hours on the island without modern tools or equipment for a $5,000 donation to charity; Hart pledges to match the donation if they lose. As the contest begins, however, a crook named Stephen Chase steals the controls to the robot dinosaurs and cavemen to have them kill the Dynamic Duo. Batman and Robin have to use all their wiles to survive.
7. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE BATARANG
The Batarang is Batman’s primary offensive weapon. He first used one of them in “Detective Comics” #31 (September 1939), in a story written by Gardner Fox that was drawn by Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff. “Detective Comics” #244 (June 1957), written by Bill Finger, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Charles Paris, explains that Batman was introduced to the weapon by Australian circus performer Lee Collins, who created a diversion while Batman captured a gunman. Collins trained Batman how to use boomerangs and made Batman a gift in the form of the first Batarang. As the story continues, Batman and Robin defeat a gang of crooks using their own Batarangs rigged with bombs to terrorize the city.
Over the years, Batman has used various specialty Batarangs that are magnetic; that are outfitted with remote controls or cameras; that emit heat (for use against Clayface); that generate electricity; and also do so much more.
6. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE BAT-SIGNAL
The iconic beacon of light first appeared in “Detective Comics” #60 (February 1942) in a story written by Jack Schiff, with art by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos. Bystanders exclaim that the signal came from the Gotham Police headquarters roof. Thanks to multiple retcons, there are various explanations for the Bat-Signal’s beginnings, although it generally has been a gift from Batman to the Gotham Police to make it easy to summon him.
Issue #11 of the “Gotham Central” series (November 2003) tried to address the legality of the Bat-Signal, in a story written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Brian Hurtt. The public posture of the police is that the Bat-Signal is a ruse, to perpetuate the notion of Batman being an “urban legend.” A civilian clerk, Stacy, is the only person in police headquarters allowed to activate the Bat-Signal, not any of the police officers. This is meant to insulate the police department from being liable for Batman’s actions as a vigilante, although it’s dubious that such an arrangement would withstand a legal challenge.
5. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE “NEW LOOK” BATMAN
With 25 years of adventures in print, the Batman titles were in a slump. Editor Jack Schiff’s tenure was characterized by Batman as a science-fiction character, having adventures on alien worlds, undergoing strange physical changes and meeting bizarre villains. To freshen the concept, Schiff was replaced by editor Julius Schwartz. Schwartz introduced several thematic changes. No more bug-eyed monsters and space travel; Batman and Robin’s episodes took place firmly on this Earth. On top of this, the pixie Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat Hound were no longer around, as well as Batwoman and the original Bat-Girl. Controversially, loyal butler Alfred was killed off.
The biggest change was the end of the Bob Kane art style, replaced by modern-style pencils from Carmine Infantino, alternating with artists such as Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Springer, Bob Brown and Gil Kane. The changes began in “Detective Comics” #327 (May 1964) and “Batman” #164 (June 1964).
4. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE BATCOMPUTER
One of the changes that brought the “New Look” Batman into modern times, cementing his depiction as a sophisticated detective, was the addition of the Batcomputer. Batman and Robin first use the Batcomputer in “Batman” #189 (February 1967), in the story that re-introduced the Scarecrow to the series. “Fright of the Scarecrow” was written by Gardner Fox, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Joe Giella. Batman and Robin consult the Batcomputer — which was then a punch-card machine — for clues to the Scarecrow’s next crime.
Over the years, the Batcomputer has been depicted as more sophisticated, in both appearance and in capability. After the 1988 “Batman: Cataclysm” storyline in which Wayne Manor was seriously damaged by an earthquake, the old computer was replaced with a seven-linked Cray T932 mainframe. The Batcomputer contains comprehensive data files on the world’s known criminals, and is linked to the computer systems in the Justice League headquarters, as well as other federal and international crime databases.
3. FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE WAYNE FOUNDATION BUILDING
The Wayne Foundation began as the Alfred Foundation, established in “Detective Comics” #328 (June 1964) in honor of loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth, who died saving Batman and Robin from a falling boulder. Alfred was restored to life in “Detective Comics” #356 (October 1966), Batman changed the name of the organization to honor of his mother, Martha Wayne.
“Batman” #217 (December 1969), written by Frank Robbins and drawn by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, saw the formal end of the Batman-Robin team. Dick Grayson went off to Hudson University and Batman decided stately Wayne Manor was now too big for him and Alfred alone. Batman also decided that he needed to change with the times and be closer to the city where the action was, so he and Alfred moved into a penthouse atop the Wayne Foundation headquarters. The penthouse has an elevator, concealed by a giant artificial tree, that goes to the new Batcave below the public floors of the office building. Batman returned to Wayne Manor and the original Batcave in “Detective Comics” #470 (June 1977) in a story written by Steve Englehart, drawn by Walt Simonson and inked by Al Milgrom.
2. FIRST APPEARANCE OF ARKHAM ASYLUM
Arkham Asylum — formally, the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane — first appeared as Arkham Hospital in “Batman” #258 (October 1974), in a story written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Irv Novick and inked by Dick Giordano. It first bore the name “Arkham Asylum” in “Batman” #326 (August 1980), in a story written by Len Wein, drawn by Irv Novick and inked by Frank McLoughlin.
Arkham is where Gotham criminals and supervillains who are mentally ill are sentenced. Over the years, Arkham has been marked by exceptionally lax security; its inmates often flee the place almost at will. Unsurprisingly, The Joker was the first in-print escapee from “the state hospital for the criminally insane,” as Batman calls it in “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge.” That story, written by O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams in “Batman” #251 (September 1973), re-established The Joker as a murderous menace. Arkham also has a history of affecting the people who work there; staff psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel became Batman antagonist Harley Quinn; administrator Jeremiah Arkham became the second Black Mask, and founder Amadeus Arkham became an inmate there.
1. FIRST APPEARANCE OF BLACKGATE PENITENTIARY
Unlike Arkham Asylum, which house Gotham miscreants who are criminally insane, Blackgate Prison — later, Blackgate Penitentiary — was established as a maximum-security prison for the non-psychotic variety of crook and supervillain who have menaced Gotham City. The first sight of Blackgate Prison was in “Detective Comics” #629 (May 1991), in a story written by Peter Milligan, and drawn by Jim Aparo and inked by Steve Leiloha. The story notes that Blackgate had been shut down for five years after being condemned by Amnesty International, but then it was upgraded to a penitentiary after it was reopened.
Blackgate was operated in tandem with Gotham Prison, which later became Gotham State Penitentiary. Later on, Blackgate would eventually supplant Gothan State Penitentiary altogether. After Bane led an assault and breakout at Arkham in “Batman” #491 (April 1993), its inmates were transferred to Blackgate. At one point, Bruce Wayne himself was sent to Blackgate when he was framed for the murder of Vesper Fairchild.
Which Batman firsts are your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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