S ince the publisher's inception in 1934, DC has given rise to a cast of revered superheroes and reviled supervillians – many of which continue to earn starring roles in contemporary film, television and literature. But one of DC's most famous comic characters is also the most complicated: the Batman, and his non-super alter-ego Bruce Wayne.
Batman is unlike many other 'supers' in the DC universe, which perhaps explains the character's prevailing draw. Unlike Superman, the Flash or Wonder Woman, Batman is a mere human; his superpowers are limited to wealth, skill and determination, and his battles take place in the streets and alleyways we recognize in our own lives.
Here, in honour of Batman's anniversary – the character first appeared in print March 1939 – we take a look at the history of the character. The DC Batman comics seen below are available to purchase in DC Complete: The Ian Levine Collection, a private sale comprising every comic book published by DC from its inception through the end of 2014 – more than 40,000 editions in all.
Click through the timeline below to relive Batman's greatest moments, and be sure to view the sale page for more information on how to purchase.
Batman Actor Kevin Conroy on The Enduring Power of the Caped Crusader
The History of Batman
- 24 March 1939
- 30 March 1939
- November 1939
- March 1940
- Spring 1940
- June 1952
- January 1966
- February 1986
- 1989 – 1997
- 2005 – 2012
- 2016 – Present
24 March 1939First published image of Batman, in Action Comics #12, announcing the character's debut in the forthcoming Detective Comics #27.
(left) A promo for Batman that appeared in Action Comics #12
30 March 1939Batman is created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and first appears in Detective Comics #27, published 30 March 1939 (but appearing with a cover date of May 1939), in "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate". The story also introduced audiences to the now iconic batmobile and the batcave.
(left) Batman appearing in Detective Comics #27
November 1939Detective Comics #33 reveals the Batman/Bruce Wayne origin story.
(left) Detail from Batman #1
March 1940Detective Comics #38 publishes, introducing a new character: Robin the Boy Wonder. The name "Robin the Boy Wonder" and the medieval look of the original costume were inspired by The Adventures of Robin Hood, a childhood favorite of creator Jerry Robinson.
(left) Batman and Robin, his trusty sidekick, appearing in Detective Comics #38
Spring 1940Batman becomes the second hero, after superman, to have his own publication with the release of Batman #1. Batman #1 also introduced the world to his two most notorious enemies, the Joker and Catwoman.
(left) The cover of Batman #1
1943Columbia Pictures releases Batman, a 15-part first theatrical serial based on Bob Kane's Batman comic character and starring actor Lewis Wilson. The commercially-successful serial marked Batman's first appearance on film.
(left) A still from Batman, 1943
June 1952"The Mightiest Team on Earth" in Superman #76 (June 1952), Batman teams up with Superman for the first time and the pair discover each other's secret identity.
(left) The cover of Superman #76
January 1966Batman gets his own eponymous TV show, with Adam West portraying the Dark Knight. The success of the series increased sales throughout the comic book industry, and Batman reached a circulation of close to 900,000 copies. The Batman on TV inhabited a brighter, campier world than that portrayed in the character's original, print universe. The show is canceled in 1968.
(left) Adam West as Batman from the 1966 ABC Television series
1969Starting in 1969, Batman's comic strip character gets a makeover. Writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams made a deliberate effort to distance Batman from the campy portrayal seen in the 1960s TV series, aiming to return the character to his roots as a "grim avenger of the night." O'Neil said his idea was "simply to take it back to where it started. I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after."
(left) A more 'grim' Batman story, appearing in September 1973
February 1986Frank Miller's four issue mini-series, entitled The Dark Knight, returned the character to his darker roots, both in atmosphere and tone. The comic book, which tells the story of a 55-year-old Batman coming out of retirement in a possible future, reinvigorated interest in the character. The Dark Knight Returns was a financial success and has since become one of the medium's most noted touchstones. This 1986 revamp redefined the superhero genre and inspired years of “grim and gritty” comic books. This heralded the start of the “Modern Age” of comic books. The series was published from February – June 1986.
(left) A cover from The Dark Knight mini-series
1989 – 1997Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, hits theaters. A product of Warner Bros. Pictures, the film is a critical and financial success, netting $400 million in box office totals and earning an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The film set the standard for future endeavors in the superhero genre and inspired Batman: the Animated Series, which proved equally successful.
Three sequels to Batman followed: Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997). Different actors, including George Clooney, took over the role of Batman in these subsequent films.
(left) Jack Nicholson as The Joker (photo: Atom D./Flickr)
2005 – 2012The Dark Knight Trilogy, starring Christian Bale and directed by Christopher Nolan, saw a return of Batman as a blockbuster film phenom. Batman Begins, the first film in the trilogy, grossed $372 million worldwide and reestablished the gritty, dark tone often seen in the Batman universe.
(left) A still of Christian Bale as Batman
2016 – PresentBatman continues to make appearances (both cameos and starring roles) in films produced by DC. In 2016, Ben Affleck starred as Batman in the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; Dante Pereira-Olson appears as a young Bruce Wayne in the 2019 film Joker; and The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, is scheduled for release in 2021.
(left) A still of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman
For further information on how to purchase, please contact William Lucy, Richard Austin or Selby Kiffer.