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Batman Turns 75: Insiders Share Sensational Stories From The Bat Cave

The Dark Knight's 75th anniversary is spawning a year-long celebration. We asked some Batman notables to spill some behind-the-scenes tales from bringing the Caped Crusader to life.

Holy shuffleboard! Batman is 75?

Batman—the creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger—made his first appearance Detective Comics #27 in May 1939.

In honor of the Caped Crusader’s 75th anniversary, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are planning a year-long celebration: a slate of new Batman comic titles beginning with Batman Eternal, an April 19 WonderCon panel, partnering with comic book stores and libraries for Batman Day on July 23, art exhibit and panels at San Diego Comic Con, new animated DVD films and shorts, and home video release of the 1966-8 Batman TV series and 25th anniversary edition of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie.

On May 5, the Paley Center in New York will live stream a Batman At 75 session. A documentary, Legends of the Knight, is in theaters, while a successful Kickstarter project hopes to realize another, The Cape Creator: A Tribute to Bat-Maker Bill Finger.

For our part, Fast Company rounded up some notable Batman covers through the years (see slide show), and asked some Batman luminaries to describe their encounters with the Dark Knight.

ADAM WEST
Starred as Batman in the ABC TV series Batman, and Batman: The Movie.

"One time, I was at Shea Stadium, doing a live show. I took five, told the band to relax, and went backstage. It was kind of dark, under this tent. I took off the Batman cowl, and suddenly, two hands reached out of the gloam and grabbed it. I heard this man say, "I created you. I created you!" And it was Bob Kane. The man who created it all. Then Bob and I became friends. What a character!"

LEN WEIN
Writer/editor of Batman comics and animated Batman TV shows since the late '70s. He's best known for co-creating, with artist John Calnan, the character of Lucius Fox, who runs Bruce Wayne’s business and is played by Morgan Freeman in the films.

Lucius Fox debuts in this issue, #307.

"Batman literally saved my life. At age 17, I was misdiagnosed as having the flu. When I was finally correctly diagnosed, as having blood poisoning from a staph infection, the doctors were convinced I had hours to live. The only drug available at that time was penicillin, which I was deathly allergic to. Except the Batman TV series was going to premier in three weeks, and I was not going to miss that show. I hung on by sheer force of will. During that time, the doctors found out about a new antibiotic, Keflin, which they tried on me and I recovered—in time to see the show. The fact that I would later go on to write and edit Batman comics is amazing to me."

NEAL ADAMS
Legendary Batman illustrator, who redirected Batman from its TV show camp to its Dark Knight origins; illustrator of the Batman Illustrated collection and author/illustrator of Batman Odyssey.

"By the time I started working for DC Comics in 1967, they had taken Batman down some strange trails—like introducing Bat Mite and Bat Hound—and debating how to respond to the TV show’s satire. I wanted to save DC Comics from flushing the Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger down the toilet. So I asked Batman editor, Julius Schwartz, if I could work for him. He said, "Get the hell out of my office!" in his trademark charm. So I went down the hall to Murray Boltinoff, who edited The Brave and the Bold, which featured Batman. He paired me with an excellent writer, Bob Haney, and asked if I wanted to make changes to Haney’s script. I told him, 'I’m not going to let any scenes take place in the daytime. I won’t have Batman entering through doors—only windows and shadows.’ So I began drawing Batman. And three months later, I walk into DC Comics, and there’s Julie, holding sheets of fan mail, snarling, 'They wanna know how come the only real Batman is in The Brave and the Bold?’ I laughed, and said, 'Every kid knows who Batman should be. The only people who don’t seem to know are the folks at DC Comics.’ He growled back, 'You're working for me now, Adams.’"

Jim Lee (right) commissioned a replica of the 1966 TV Batman costume.

JIM LEE:
DC Comics co-publisher and artist best known for Batman: Hush, Batman and Robin, and various Justice League and Batman covers to the present.

"I was five when my family moved to the U.S. from Korea, and I learned how to read from comic books. My dad was a doctor, so every summer, he took my sister and me sightseeing on the way to medical conventions. He kept me quiet by giving me comics, so I spent summers reading and drawing Batman in the back of our station wagon. I remembered the Batman stories more than Mount Rushmore or the Alamo. I was such a huge fan of the 1966 TV show that, in 2001, I found a guy who knew a seamstress with access to the original patterns of Batman’s costume. So I had her make a custom costume in the same material and color saturation, down to the shoes and utility belt. It cost me $1,400. It was an awesome costume. It went over so well, that my friends would invite me over to their kids’ birthday parties to entertain."

MICHAEL USLAN
Executive producer of executive producer of Batman, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and upcoming Batman vs. Superman; author of The Boy Who Loved Batman.

"I fell in love with Batman at eight years old, because he was the only superhero with no superpowers and fought the greatest supervillains in the history of comic books. Batman’s greatest superpower is his humanity. The Batman TV show happened when I was in eighth grade. I waited for months for it to premiere. When it did, I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified. The show was in color, and the animated credits and sets were really cool. But it was too much like a cartoon. The entire world was laughing at Batman. At that point, I made a vow. Somehow, I was going to show the world the real Batman—a creature of night, who stalks criminals from the shadows—and figure out how to erase the words Zap! Pow! and Wham! from the collective consciousness. That path would become my life’s journey and career."

BILL SIENKIEWICZ
Artist of several Batman covers from the '80s onward, including Batman Anniversary: Issue 400, and the Kevin Smith series Batman: Cacophony and Batman: The Widening Gyre.

Too depraved for DC.

"For Batman: Cacophony, I got an email from [DC Comics' art director] Mark Chiarello that said, 'Cover. Joker. Stabbed in the heart. Interested?’ I wrote back, 'Absolutely.’ I came up with an idea of, in typical Joker fashion, holding his own heart and taunting Batman, 'You missed!’ Getting stabbed in the heart is pretty ballsy, so I figured, why not go for it? Mark wrote back, 'This is so sick. I love it. We can’t use it.’ It was just too macabre. So I redrew the picture with him with a knife plunged into his chest, with no blood and suffering no ill effects. That was the cover they went with. I knew there was no chance the first one was going to be used, but it was so insanely Jokeresque, I had to draw it."

Bernie Wrightson's (left) and Walt Simonson's (right) entries in the longest Batman cape competition.

WALT SIMONSON
Artist of several Batman stories and covers from the '70s onward.

"Bernie Wrightson and I had a competition going—who could draw the longest cape on Batman. Bernie’s longest cape appeared in Swamp Thing issue 7, of Batman looking past his left shoulder with a long cape flowing over the city. My response was in Detective Comics #443, of Batman standing on a beam across a narrow alley with a cape that looks like cardboard, compared to the beautiful silky style that Bernie drew. It was the longest Batman cape I’d ever seen and I just thought it was incredibly funny."

For more covers, check out industry trade Comic Book Resources' list of the 75 greatest Batman covers.

[Images courtesy of DC]

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4 Comments

  • Arlen Schumer

    And all readers of this piece need to go see the off-off-Broadway play opening May 10th in NYC, "Fathers of The Dark Knight," about the behind-the-scenes creation of Batman & Co. by Kane, Finger & jerry Robinson (disclaimer: I designed the show poster!): http://www.fathersofthedarkknight.com

  • Arlen Schumer

    Hey Susan--great article! I was art director of Batmania magazine while in high school & college, worked for Neal Adams, and I'm a longtime friend of Bill Sienkiewicz; on May 15, I'll be lecturing, as part of my art gallery exhibition in NYC (info: http://arlenschumer.com), on: “Batman, Bob Kane and Bill Finger”—on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of Batman’s first published appearance in May 1939, Schumer discusses the behind-the-scenes origin of the character, with specific attention paid to the unsung co-creator role of Kane’s writer and partner, Bill Finger."