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America Comic Book Super-Hero, created by Bob Kane in 1939. Late at night, an earnest young man tries to decide on his new crimefighting identity. "Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot," he muses, "so my disguse must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible ... a—" and at that moment, a BAT flies in his window, perfectly answering his question. Merely a coincidence? Not likely, since the well-kept home of millionaire Bruce Wayne was surely not a regular habitat for bats. Rather it was, as Wayne said, "an omen," a sign that from the very beginning, supernatural forces were at work behind the Batman.

In his early comic book adventures beginning in Detective Comics, the Batman inhabited a dark, shadowy world, wanted by the police, sometimes killing criminals, and occasionally battling against occult forces, including a memorable trip to Transylvania to confront a VAMPIRE. This version of the character has dominated his comic book adventures in the last two decades: a grim, tormented MASKED AVENGER, lashing out at criminals in continuing anger over the murder of his parents that he witnessed as a child, and sometimes pitted against GHOSTS, DEMONS, and malevolent WIZARDS. A similar atmosphere permeates the film Batman (1989) starring Michael Keaton; though an uneven film, the scene where the Joker parades through Gotham City, throwing money at deluded citizens before killing them with poison gas, is a powerful APOCALYPTIC vision of a grimly CARNIVALESQUE world turned upside down, that might be restored only by an equally macabre hero swooping out of the sky in a black airplane shaped like a bat. The inferior sequel Batman Returns (1992) briefly conveys this mood in the dark opening scene, where the deformed baby destined to become the criminal Penguin is thrown into an icy river, left to be raised by penguins. The third film in the series, Batman Forever (1995) with Val Kilmer as Batman, featured another macabre foe, the divided, JEKYLL AND HYDE-ish Two-Face.

It should not be forgotten, though, that there was a quite different figure in the 1950s and 1960s called Batman, not the Batman: a pillar of Gotham City society, often seen in the daytime; a fine role model for his young ward Robin and father figure to an entire Bat-family (Batwoman, the first Bat-Girl, Bat-Hound); SUPERMAN's best friend and stalwart member of the Justice League of America; and a hero who usually employed scientific inventions to defeat similarly gadget-laden villains or alien invaders. This colorful and untroubled figure was enthusiastically, if sarcastically, depicted in the Adam West television series Batman (1966-1968) (and with the re-introduction of Robin in Batman Forever, the modern films may be inching back to this lighter-toned character). This version of Batman had quite different sorts of fantasy adventures, involving characters like a medieval MAGICIAN whose ancient spell belatedly gave Batman super-powers; Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who left WONDERLAND to cause havoc in Gotham City; the female MAGICIAN Zatanna, who battled Batman while disguised as a WITCH; and a magical IMP from another dimension named Bat-Mite (an obvious imitation of Superman's foe Mr. Mxyzptlk), whose efforts to assist his idol always resulted in comic catastrophes. Batman's regular use of a time-travel machine also brought him into contact with several figures from myths and legends.

Even in his most juvenile and cartoonish stories, though, there was always something strange about Batman. Many eyebrows were raised about his possible homosexual relationship with his ward and sidekick Robin, particularly since they were often pictured together naked except for towels, basking under sunlamps after a hard night of crimefighting. His habit of sojourning in his Bat-Cave headquarters, and the dark bat-shapes that characterized all his devices and vehicles, gave Batman a somewhat sinister air. And his predominantly gray costume, though later enlivened by a yellow circle around his black bat-emblem, made Batman the most somber-looking of all super-heroes. One might see his cheerful and gimmicky character of the 1950s as a desperate attempt by a conservative American society to wrestle this crepuscular hero into the sunlight, and his subsequent darkening as an inevitable return to his true nature. On the other hand, one could argue that Batman's steady descent from normalcy into a demonic near-insanity constitutes an indictment of changing American values.

Because of Superman's death and short absence from the scene before his resurrection, Batman now holds the record as the longest continuously appearing character in comic books, including a long series co-starring Superman in World's Finest, another series in The Brave and the Bold teaming Batman with virtually every hero in the DC pantheon (including WONDER WOMAN), and regular appearances with two super-hero groups, the Justice League of America and the Outsiders. In addition to periodical appearances, Batman has starred in several GRAPHIC NOVELS, most notably Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), where an aging and alcoholic Batman rallies his energies for one last battle against Superman before (apparently) dying. Two of his female counterparts, the second Batgirl and the Huntress, briefly appeared in their own series, while former protégé Robin, later renamed Nightwing, was a longstanding member of the Teen Titans. In other media, in addition to the Keaton and Kilmer films and the West series, West and other series regulars made a feature film, Batman (1966), and Batman guest-starred on the 1940s Superman radio series, appeared in two serials (Batman [1943] and Batman and Robin [1949]), and has regularly been featured in television cartoons, from the juvenile Batman and Super Friends to the gloomy, movie-inspired Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), which led to a feature-length animated film in the same style, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993). Due to the popularity of the recent movies, there have also appeared several novels and anthologies of original stories featuring the character.

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