YEAR ONE: 1939





In its early days, the medium of "illustrated stories" typically featured humorous content - and was hence dubbed "comics" around 1900. But a sharply growing popularity brought diversity as publishers began to expand the contents of their publications to action, adventure and mystery - such as National Allied Publications, which changed the title of its New Comics (first launched in December 1935 as a standard funny) to New Adventure Comics with issue #12 in January 1937.

Only two months later, in March 1937, the same publisher (entrepreneur Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) launched another title which was distinctly non-humorous right from the very first issue: Detective Comics #1. Finding himself in cash flow problems, Wheeler-Nicholson had to allow printing-plant owner and magazine distributor Harry Donenfeld into his business venture as a partner, and with Donenfeld's accountant Jack Liebowitz they formed Detective Comics Inc. (Jones, 2004).


Detective Comics #1
(March 1937)

  Compared to funny animals and even Tarzan, Buck Rogers and New Adventure Comics, the difference was in stark evidence right from the cover which, pencilled by Vincent Sullivan, depicted Sen Yoi, a Fu-Manchuesque villain whose facial features and empty eyes forebode nothing but menacing evil and doom.

The 13-pages story which went with the cover was titled "The Claws of the Red Dragon", pitted a Caucasian hero against the evil-doings of Sen Yoi in San Francisco's Chinatown district, and was written by co-owner and editor-in-chief of Detective Comics Inc., Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.

Other stories in this 68-pages comic book carried similarly adventurous titles such as "The River Patrol", "The Rhangwa Pearls" or "The Balinoff Case", but none could match the 6-page "Peruvian Mine Murders" in which investigator Bret Lawton is confronted with a series of murders and then ventures into the Peruvian jungles to ascertain why a hole appears in each victim despite the fact that they were not shot...

Detective Comics was a great success and proved to the market that the comic book as a medium and a portion of its readership as consumers were open to content which moved away completely from the established humour material and straight into genres featured in pulp magazines. The transition was quick and to the point - whilst issue #6 of Detective Comics featured a gun being fired at an attacker who was only seen as a shadow, next month's cover already depicted machine gun fire and a dead body. The covers - which really were the "on-the-spot-selling-ad" for many comic book readers - would become even more explicit and menacing within only a few months.

Introducing and increasing pulp influence on Detective Comics came naturally to its publisher Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who had been writing stories for pulp fiction magazines since the early 1920s, but he would not remain the only one to cross over into comic books and was followed by many others, including publishers such as Dell and Martin Goodman, who would go on to found Timely Comics (which later would become Marvel Comics) in 1939.

After a year, Wheeler-Nicholson (who was still having financial problems) was pushed out of Detective Comics Inc., which then bought the remnants of his National Allied Publications to form National Comics - which later on would become National Periodical Publications in 1961, before officially taking on the name of DC Comics (which the company had been called unofficially for decades) in 1977.

Detective Comics Inc. scored another hit following the success of Detective Comics by launching Action Comics in June 1938 and introducing a new character in its first issue called "Superman". Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of "the Man of Tomorrow" a.k.a. Kal-El from the planet Krypton, had unsuccessfully tried for years to find a publisher for their Superman character, who was originally conceived to be a bald madman who used his telepathic abilities to wreak havoc on mankind. Having previously worked on material for Detective Comics, they were asked to contribute a feature for the new Action Comic title and submitted their revamped Superman for consideration, who was now a benevolent survivor from outer space and used his special powers to protect mankind. It was decided to make Superman the cover feature of the new title, and the subsequent success of Action Comics virtually blew sales through the roof as it created a new genre - featuring costumed superheroes (Jones, 2004).

But just as the appetite grows as you eat, Detective Comics Inc. wanted more, and in late 1938 editor Vin Sullivan started asking all his staff and contributors to submit ideas to him for more costumed heroes - especially one that would work as a cover feature for Detective Comics (Jones, 2004). Legend has it that Bob Kane (who was doing two series a month for Detective Comics) came up with the concept of The Batman over a weekend and struck a deal with Sullivan on Monday, but this is a legend which was propagated above all by Kane himself, and research has shown the legend to be a myth (Porter, 2008). The fact that every Batman comic book and movie carries the phrase "Batman created by Bob Kane" seems to reflect, more than anything else, the legal deal Kane struck with Sullivan back in 1939 and then renewed several times with DC (Jones, 2004). Outside of myths and legalities, Kane can be seen, at best, as co-creator, whereas writer Bill Finger is today widely regarded as the major inspirational creative source for the Batman, together with artist Jerry Robinson (Porter, 2008).




May 1939

"The Case of the Chemical Syndicate"


Story - Bill Finger
Art - Bob Kane
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Bob Kane
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Bob Kane

  Main feature - Batman "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" (6 pages)

Part 1 of 1

REPRINT - The entire issue is reprinted in Famous First Edition C-28 and Millenium Edition: Detective Comics #27; "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" is reprinted in Batman - A Celebration of 75 Years, Batman in the Forties, Batman Archives Volume 1, Batman Chronicles Volume 1, Detective Comics #387, Detective Comics #627 and Batman: From the 30's to the 70's; it is also available in digital form for mobile devices.

LOCATION - unnamed

VILLAINS - Alfred Stryker, Jennings

NOTES - 1st appearances of Batman, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon

Other features - Speed Saunders, Buck Marshall, Bart Regan, Crimson Avenger, Bruce Nelson, Fu Manchu, Cosmo, Slam Bradley




Commissioner Gordon is being visited by his friend, young socialite Bruce Wayne, when he receives an official phone call to inform him that a chemical industrialist named Lambert has been stabbed to death in his home and that it appears as if Lambert's son were guilty of the crime.

Joined by Bruce Wayne Gordon hurries to the crime scene, where young Lambert insists that he has nothing to do with the crime and only found his father just in time to hear him say something about a contract before he succumbed to his wounds.

Whilst still at the Lambert Mansion the Commissioner takes a phone call from Steve Crane, a business partner of Lambert, who wanted to speak to the victim about an anonymous threat he received. Gordon tells Crane to stay put and await their arrival, but before the police can arrive Crane is shot by an armed assailant who then steals some papers from his home.

Climbing out of the window to the roof, the two gangsters find themselves face to face with -- The Bat-Man!

The masked vigilante knocks one burglar unconscious and tosses the other off the roof before retrieving and reading the document taken from the safe. He then jumps into a car and speeds off just as the police arrive and Gordon cries out in vain "it's the Bat-Man! get him!".

Meanwhile, Rogers, one of the last two surviving business partners of Lambert, pays a call on Stryker, the other surviving partner. He is ushered in to the house by Jennings, Stryker's man servant, who suddenly and unexpectedly attacks him and, after dealing a blow, puts Rogers into a glass dome gas chamber. As Jennings leaves the lab to turn on the gas the Bat-Man arrives on the scene and breaks the chamber with a wrench. Upon returning, Jennings finds the Bat-Man but is quickly brought down by the vigilante who also prevents Stryker himself from stabbing Rogers. As Stryker - who wanted the chemical company all to himself and not only killed his partners but also stole their personal copies of a secret contract which counteracted his plans - tries to shoot the Bat-Man, the masked crimefighter punches Stryker who tipples over backwards and falls into an acid tank. As quickly as he has appeared the Bat-Man disappears again, and the next morning a baffled Commissioner Gordon discusses the matter with Bruce Wayne who seems to attach very little credibility to the reports about this "Bat-Man". Gordon assumes Wayne must lead a very boring life, as nothing seems to grab his interest - however, back at his home, we find that the Bat-Man is in reality -- Bruce Wayne!


Detective Comics #27, distributed to newsstands on April 18th 1939, easily takes top status and importance for comic book history as it features a whole row of vitally important "firsts" for what would become the Batman mythos.


There is, of course, the first appearance of The Batman (or, to be precise, Bat-Man) himself, who already makes a mystery entrance as a silhouette in the logo vignette panel serving as title for the feature. He will be fully shown only later, on the second panel of the third page (i.e. after a third of the story is told) when confronting the gangsters on the roof of Crane's house.

Two equally important firsts are the first appearances of Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, right in the first panel of the first page - instant gratification. One first however did not take place - the exact geographical location of where Batman's adventures take place is left unmentioned, and indeed Gotham City had yet to be designated the Darknight Detective's home playing field (first used by Washington Irving in his 1807 satirical periodical Salmagundi as a nickname for New York City, Gotham would first be mentioned as the batman's home in Batman #4 in 1940).

Of course neither the story nor the artwork would raise an eyebrow today, but obviously they need to be considered and viewed within the context of their own time, which was when comic books were fundamentally anthologies collecting several stories featuring several different protagonists. True to its title, most of those appearing in Detective Comics featured crime and detection, but by way of the anthology formula the page count for the individual stories was very limited, thus requiring writers and artists to cram an entire story into a few pages.

By the standards of that time - and certainly also in direct comparison to the other content featured in Detective Comics #27 - the first Batman story ever comes across as being far above average and infused with fresh ideas and a conceptual vitality which has kept surprisingly well over a period of 75 years. However - there is a twist to this.


Ad for the first appearance of the Bat-Man,
from Action Comics #12

Bill Finger, who today is widely regarded as the major inspirational creative source for the Batman (Porter, 2008) - together with artist Jerry Robinson and, to a lesser degree, writer Gardner Fox - and who scripted this very first Batman story, admitted at a later point in time that this script "was a take-off of a Shadow story" (Murray, 2007).

How much and from which Shadow story Finger had been inspired and had borrowed material remained unclear until Anthony Tollin and Will Murray discovered the source material in 2007, namely "Partners of Peril", published November 1st 1936 in The Shadow Magazine (Tollin, 2007 and Murray, 2007). The similarities are, in fact, so evident and such a close match that "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" looks much more like a straightforward adaptation than an original creation.

But it wasn't just Bill Finger - a good many of Bob Kane's Batman poses have been shown to be outright swipes from other sources, most importantly Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon strips (Porter, 2008) and even his well known signature in a box was copied outright from Milton Caniff. In fact, there are so many references to bats in "Partners of Peril" that it raises the question if Kane was involved in the character creation of Batman at all (Tollin, 2007).

But again, these going-ons need to be viewed from the perspective of the time they took place. Finger and Kane were working for a company which had its roots deeply in the publication of pulp novels and was only just starting out in this new business of comic books, so it can hardly be seen as surprising that they would borrow from what influenced them in the first place: pulps and newspaper strips, along with the occasional motion picture. If - as legend would have it - the Batman was thought up over a weekend, then it would almost seem obvious that the result would be a concoction rather than a completely original creation. And finally - this was the cheap side of publication, and nobody working in it was thinking of posteriority at all.

"In 1935, when Siegel and Shuster sold Superman, first of all, nobody would buy it. Secondly, no one thought it was worth anything. Third, when they got it, they had no contract; what they got was a check, a regular check, and back then, during the Depression, a regular anything was good!" (Will Eisner, in Brownstein & Schutz,2005)

But at the end of the day, the basic idea and concept of "The Bat-Man" clearly beats the "yet another hardball detective" formula, and the potential of the character is already there to be seen, even if Bob Kane's artwork often only hints at what the Darknight Detective would ultimately become; the imposing visuals have yet to emerge, and they will be brought in by other artists, who for a long time would go uncredited.

As Bradley & Kaiser (2011) have pointed out in quite some detail, certain aspects of the first appearance of The Bat-Man are in sharp contrast - if not outright opposition - to the established image and perception of the popular culture icon. Most importantly, the Bat-Man advocates and actively enacts what can only be termed lynch justice by openly calling the fact that the murderer accidentally falls into an acid tank "a fitting end for his kind" [page 6, panel 5], and he at least risks killing a thug (if not worse) [page 3, panel 5] by sending him "flying through space", which under the circumstances appears to be Bat-Man actually tossing the criminal off the roof of a house. This is hardly the trusted guardian of law, order and civil peace which popular culture tends to see in Batman, to whom a human life is sacred even in the most somber moments of his dark night vigil.

Clearly then this shows that although the first appearance of The Bat-Man already incorporated many conceptual elements which would make up core elements of the mythos, he was at this point in time a tryout - created, above all, to build on and further exploit the success of Superman in Action Comics - and that some substantial traits would yet need to emerge, even if the core dynamics of the character were already in place.



The importance of Detective Comics #27 and the first appearance of Batman were recognised even within the title itself as Detective Comics #627 and Detective Comics #853 ran homages to what has become one of the most iconic comic book covers ever created.

In February 2010, a copy of Detective Comics #27 in very fine condition (CGC 8.0) temporarily became the most expensive comic book ever sold at an auction with a final price tag of $ 1,075,000 (this attribute has since passed to a near mint copy of Action Comics #1 which sold for $ 2,16 Mio in November 2011).

No original artwork for this Batman story is known to have survived, but production proofs for five pages (i.e. all minus the first) were reputedly rescued in 1975 from trash which had been thrown out at the apartment house where Bob Kane used to live, and the pages were ultimately auctioned in February 2011.

A more in-depth look at Detective Comics #27 is offered by the first episode of the Legends of the Batman podcast, and two very short motion comic tryouts of one panel each from Detective Comics #27 at youtube show the special atmosphere contained in this first appearance of -- The Bat-Man !


Production proof for page 3
of Detective Comics #27




June 1939



Story - Bill Finger
Art - Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Bob Kane
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Bob Kane

  Main feature - Batman, Untitled (later entitled "Frenchy Blake's Jewel Gang") (6 pages)

Part 1 of 1

REPRINT - The Batman feature is reprinted in Batman Archives Volume 1 and Batman Chronicles Volume 1.

LOCATION - unnamed

VILLAIN - Frenchy Blake and his Gang (Gloves, Ricky and Slick)

NOTES - 1st appearance of the Batrope




By impersonating Commissioner Gordon over the phone, Bruce Wayne succeeds in extracting information from a police informant regarding a recent series of jewel robberies which are seemingly the work of one Frenchy Blake.

Donning his crime fighting disguise, he then seeks out a pair of Frenchy's handymen as the Bat-Man and successfully stops them in their tracks following yet another robbery.

The police arrive just as the Bat-Man recovers the stolen jewels and heads off with them - making it seem as though the Bat-Man has actually joined forces with Frenchy. However, this is all just a plan Bat-Man has devised in order to lull Frenchy into a false sense of security as the police are now concentrating on the Bat-Man and thus affording Frenchy room to move and carry on with his robberies.

However, the police force turns out to be Frenchy Blake's least problem as the Bat-Man finds him out and, after a brief physical fight, forces the thief into signing a confession.

Together with more stolen jewels, Frenchy and the confession make a nice parcel to be dropped off at the police station.




The second adventure of "The Bat-Man" in Detective Comics features little more than a raw plot framework and a highly unspectacular story, all of which doesn't really make the artwork look better either. However, from a retrospective point of view there are several introductions which develop the character further from where he had left off in Detective Comics #27 and take the Bat-Man one step closer towards what would eventually become the Batman Mythos.

Most importantly, this concerns the dual personality dynamics of Bruce Wayne / Batman (where readers are shown in this issue that both identities can be used and combined to good effect for crime fighting purposes).

  Readers are also introduced to the Batman's leaning towards an arsenal of gadgets (still very low tech for the time being, but nonetheless effective, such as the Batrope introduced in this issue).

Another point which would turn into a recurring motif is the dropping off of criminals ready for the police to just pick up, including an attached note to the Commissioner, and thus like leaving a calling card.



Batman does not appear on the cover of Detective Comics #28, but an inset at the top reads THIS MONTH AND EVERY MONTH: THE BATMAN ! - also highlighting the still unsettled question of a spelling convention and therefore variants appearing in the same issue (Bat-Man, Batman).




July 1939

"The Batman meets Doctor Death"


Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Bob Kane
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Bob Kane

  Main feature - Batman, "The Batman meets Doctor Death" (10 pages)

Part 1 of 1

REPRINT - The Batman feature has been reprinted in Batman from the Thirties to the Seventies (1971), Batman Archives Volume 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles Volume 1 (2005).

LOCATION - unnamed

VILLAIN - Doctor Death (Doctor Karl Helfern)

NOTES - 1st appearance of a true Batman villain (Doctor Death), 1st detailed description of the utility belt




At last, Doctor Karl Helfern has completed his experiments on producing a death bringing pollen extract and is now ready to blackmail the wealthy of the world by threatening to use his invention on them. But before he can proceed with his final plans, Helfern knows he will need to do away with the Batman to be certain of success...

Not knowing the Batman's true identity, he places a contact notice for him in the personal column of the daily newspapers, which attracts the attention of Bruce Wayne.


The young socialite anonymously picks up a letter at the post office which tells Batman that at a particular time and place a murder will take place. Wayne loses no time, rushes home and changes into the Batman, equipping himself with a few items he thinks might come in handy, such as choking gas pellets placed in his utility belt.

The Batman reaches the address indicated in the letter and, using his suction pads, scales the outer walls until he reaches the penthouse roof. Upon entering the Batman is held at gunpoint by two henchmen of Helfern, but he manages to take them both out thanks to his agility and speed. The gangsters refuse to tell Batman who sent them for fear that they will be killed, however, at that very moment the Indian manservant of Helfern - a mountain of a man called Jabba - enters the room and tells Batman that "Doctor Death sends his greetings"... Jabba shoots and wounds the Batman, who in turn uses his choking gas pellets and is thus able to make his getaway.

In spite of this failure, Helfern a.k.a. Doctor Death decides to proceed with his plans and orders Jabba to kill one John P. Van Smith, who refuses to pay, with the deadly pollen. By chance, Bruce Wayne sees and recognises Jabba in the street and is able to foil the murder attempt on Van Smith. He then trails Jabba and thus learns of the whereabouts of Doctor Death, enabling him to pay the Doctor a visit by night - as the Batman.

Helfern attempts to escape by using a hidden chute, but the Batman is hot on his heels and follows him into his laboratory. Here, the Batman hurls a fire extinguisher at the Doctor who drops a test tube with a highly flammable substance, and as the flames blaze around him he begins to laugh madly. The Batman turns from the scene and solemnly remarks -- "Death... to Doctor Death."



After only two appearances in Detective Comics the Batman has obviously built up a reputation amongst those dealing in crime in this (still unnamed) "teeming metropolis", and Doctor Helfern alias Doctor Death thus knows fully well that he will need to deal with the Batman before any of his plans have a chance of succeeding.

As simple as this plot device may be, it is in fact a fundamental cornerstone of the superhero comic book genre which has driven countless storylines. Its importance lies in the effect of creating a relationship between the superhero and the villain and taking the conflict to a meta level where the villain is not just a common criminal, but rather a super villain.

The effect this has can be seen at once in Detective Comics #29. Unlike the preceding two adventures - where his opponents were simply crooks and gangsters - the Batman now faces a villain who actually has some personality and a diabolical scheme. Accordingly, his name is not Alfred Stryker or Frenchy Blake - he is a mad scientist and has chosen to call himself Doctor Death.

Detective Comics #29 is significant for introducing this supervillain element very early on in Batman's career - an element which would become a major factor in the Batman mythology as his major villains would eventually become essential in defining the vigilante and ultimately be as iconic as the Darknight Detective himself. Doctor Death is thus the first real "Batman villain" as he in fact also sets out to do away with the Caped Crusader - the first in what would become a long line of characters.

This change in who Batman is up against - a scheming villain and not just a common criminal - was introduced by Gardner F. Fox, who was 28 at the time, held a law degree and had started scripting for DC with Detective Comics #4 (Marx, 1985). His influence on shaping aspects in the very early Batman which, ultimately, would become essentials for the character, was substantial and make it fairly easy to overlook some rather less convincing aspects of his storytelling details - such as the rather obscure method of killing people as devised by Doctor Death (i.e. by blowing pollen at them).

The story per se is thus not consistently credible and presents no real surprises, but the details which Fox worked into it make it fly all the same. Fox enhances and underlines the importance of Batman's special equipment, and readers learn for the first time what the Batman actually puts away in his utility belt (which was there visually before but gets a real meaning for the first time in this issue).

"Gardner Fox was (...) not the greatest writer, but very capable and reliable, a good plot man." (long-time DC editor Julius Schwartz, in Schwartz & Thomsen, 2000)

However, once again, it seems that the idea of giving Batman a utlity belt came straight from the Shadow pulps too (Tollin, 2007 and Murray, 2007).



Batman graces the cover of Detective Comics for the second time, and already the page count for his third feature has increased from six to ten. The still unsettled question of a spelling convention is highlighted by the title panel which labels the feature as "THE BAT-MAN" and the story as "BATMAN MEETS DOCTOR DEATH".




August 1939

[originally untitled]


Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Sheldon Moldoff
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Fred Guardineer

  Main feature - Batman Untitled (later entitled "The Return of Doctor Death") (10 pages)

Part 1 of 1

REPRINT - The Batman feature has been reprinted in Batman Archives Volume 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles Volume 1 (2005)

LOCATION - unnamed

VILLAIN - Doctor Death (Doctor Karl Helfern)

NOTES - 1st second appearance of a villain




It is less than a week since Doctor Death perished in his flame engulfed laboratory (and a month in real time, back in Detective Comics #29), yet Bruce Wayne already has doubts about what actually happened in Karl Helfern's lab as he reads a newspaper story about a death which sounds very much like the work of Doctor Death. Posing as a reporter, Bruce Wayne visits the dead man's home and finds his suspicions confirmed as the victim's wife, Mrs Jones, tells him of a blackmail note sent to her late husband by "a Doctor Death". She also tells Wayne that although they had lost most of their money in the Great Depression, the blackmailers must be after their diamonds.

Filling up his utility belt, Batman decides to pay the crime scene another visit by night. Meanwhile, Doctor Death is seen to now have a fully bandaged head (looking strikingly similar to DC's 1970s character Unknown Soldier) and still to be reliant on the services of a huge man servant, now answering to the name of Mikhail and sent to steal the Jones diamonds.

At the Jones home, Batman lets Doctor Death's henchman steal the diamonds from the safe in order to follow him to Doctor Death, but Mrs Jones has trouble sleeping and virtually walks into Mikhail. This turn of events forces Batman out of his hiding as the henchman is about to shoot Mrs Jones, an attempt foiled only by a swift uppercut from the Batman. Having taken care of Mrs Jones, Batman looks after Mikhail who is about to regain consciousness. In order to be able to track down Doctor Death, Batman leaves the diamonds with Mikhail who, coming back to, can hardly believe his luck and proceeds to a pawnshop.

Then following the henchman back to his private lodgings, Batman knocks out Mikhail with a choking gas pellet from his utility belt. However, a search of the room reveals absolutely nothing, and to make things worse Mikhail is back in action and musters a lot of resistance in the ensuing fight before finally giving out.

The Batman returns to the Pawn Shop and confronts its owner, Ivan Herd, who now is in possession of the Jones diamonds. Trying to escape, he his held back by Batman's batrope. Finding that Herd is wearing a wig, the Batman discovers that he is also wearing a skin mask -- revealing the now hideously burnt face of Doctor Death.

Batman ties up Doctor Death and leaves the Jones diamonds with him as the police are arriving.




The merits of Detective Comics #30 are quickly told - Gardner Fox presents the first ever "comeback" of a Batman villain with the second appearance of Doctor Death, following his introduction in the previous issue. Fox also casts the mould for the return of countless villains from what seemed to be certain death - in this case thanks to a hidden trap door. And whilst Fox thus shows that the death of villains in comic books should never be taken to be a permanent departure, the "return from the dead" more often than not comes at a price - in this case in the form of a hideously disfigured face.

An important issue for the history of the Batman mythology, Detective Comics #30 falls short of any such rating on the story level. The return of Doctor Death is presented in a rather aneamic storyline which suffers further from a whole string of inconsistencies and logical slips - why Batman should know the combination to the Jones safe, for instance, is rather inexplicable. The loose ends of the contrived plot are not helped by the artwork either, as Mikhail does not notice Batman trailing him through empty streets although he could almost be his shadow. Overall the story feels muddled and ill timed, as the plot is first drawn out only to see the ending come about in a rush.



Batman does not appear on the cover of Detective Comics #30, but a notice running across the lower right hand corner reads Another thrilling episode of THE BATMAN in this issue.

Backgrounds of this story were pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff, who would become one of the primary Batman ghost artists for Bob Kane throughout the 1950s. In terms of visuals, the Batman's ears seem to be drawn longer and longer, reaching new heights in this issue - showing how the apperance of this still new superhero was an ongoing process of back and forth.




September 1939



Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Sheldon Moldoff
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Bob Kane

  Main feature - Batman Untitled (later entitled "Batman versus the Vampire (I)") (10 pages)

Part 1 of 2

REPRINT - The Batman feature has been reprinted in 100-Page Super Spectacular DC-14 (1973), Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (HC, 1988), Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (TPB, 1989), Batman from the Thirties to the Seventies (1971), Batman Archives Volume 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles Volume 1 (2005)

LOCATION - New York City, the Atlantic Ocean, Paris

VILLAIN - The Monk

NOTES - 1st appearance of the Batarang and the Batgyro; first naming of the Batman's city of operation (New York City); first Batman adventure which carries over into the next issue





Batman prevents a man being murdered by a woman who obviously is under some sort of hypnotic spell. The attacker turns out to be Bruce Wayne's fiancée Julie Madison. After driving her home in silence the Batman leaves her with the instruction to inform Bruce Wayne of what happened. The next day, upon hearing the story from Julie, Bruce Wayne accompanies her to Dr Trent who confirms that the symptoms indicate her being the victim of an expert hypnotist. As therapy, he recommends an ocean voyage. However, as Dr Trent continues to advise a trip to Paris and then later Hungary ("the land of werewolves!" as he mysteriously adds), Bruce Wayne notices the strangely staring eyes of the therapist and begins to wonder.
Determined to keep an eye on her, Bruce follows Julie in the guise of Batman using his new Batgyro whilst also taking with him his latest weapon, a Batarang - fashioned on the working principles of the Australian boomerang.

Out at sea, the Batman sets his Batgyro to automatic pilot and descends down to the ship and finds Julie falling under another hypnotic trance. The man responsible for Julie's state is a masked figure clad in red and wearing a hood with a crossbones symbol - "the arch-villain known as the Monk!"

Batman breaks the Monk's spell on Julie and then returns to his Batgyro, following the ship and the monk to Paris, where after a lengthy search he finally finds Julie. However, breaking into the Monk's headquarters he also finds that various traps have been set up for him - a gigantic fighting gorilla, a trap door, and a giant net. Ultimately, Batman is the Monk's prisoner but narrowly escapes being dumped into a den of snakes through the use of his Batarang. Facing off the gorilla once again, the Batman pursues a car racing away and finds Julie as lone passenger in that vehicule - at least, she is in safe hands now.

Knowing that the Monk likely traveled to his estate in Hungary, he sets the automatic controls of the Batgyro accordingly and flies off together with Julie to the vicious Monk's homeland.





The schematic of Gardner Fox's take on the Batman which could be seen over the course of the previous two issues of Detective Comics becomes even more pronounced - very strong on fundamentals but increasingly weak on specific storyline aspects.

In the case of the first part of Batman's encounter with the Monk, Fox suits up the Batman with an ever growing arsenal of purpose-developed weapons (Batarang) and beyond state of the art transport technology (Batgyro), an important cornerstone of the Batman mythology as we know it today. Fox also realized how important it is to have Batman face off with villains who are on a par with him also in turns of appearance. Naturally, like Doctor Death who preceded him, the Monk can hardly be labelled a major villain, but the formula in the making is there and clearly visible.

On the story level, however, almost nothing of what Gardner Fox put together for this first encounter with the Monk makes any sense at all. What precisely is this villain's masterplan? Why would he want to hypnotize Julie to get her to kill someone in New York City ("I have been sent to you by the Master Monk!") - why her, why him? And what is the actual goal of all of this hypnotizing (Julie, the Doctor, in NYC, on the steamer to Europe, in Paris ...) because after going to all of this trouble he seems to simply want to feed Julie to the werewolves in his homeland?

The behaviour of Bruce Wayne and Batman in this contrived concoction of happenstance, however, is even less understandable. Why subject Julie to all of these dangers rather than simply pull the plug on all of this travelling to werewolf country ? Both Bruce Wayne and Batman seem completely unable to ascertain the relevant and important from the silly and dumb.


Overall, the story - even granted it's only the first of two parts - is little more than a raw mix of vignettes (hypnotism, the Monk, Paris, traps, giant Gorilla, werewolves, Hungary...) linked with next to no coherent plot logic at all. The last panel promises that the monk's plans for Julie will be revealed, but today's readers will find it rather hard to have any faith in this announcement at all.

Surprisingly - or maybe shockingly - this two-part story has been reprinted by DC on several occasions and even included in the 1980s anthology The Greates Batman Stories Ever Told. One can only assume that Gardner Fox's masterplan aspects for the Batman mythology - including the first visuals of a giant bat silhouette in the night sky as Batman glides along in his Batgyro - seem to outweigh the appalling qualities of the plot proper. One might even assume that if this were not a Batman story it would have long been covered by thick layers of dust and erased from the collective memory of comic book history. Alas, that is not the case.



The cover of Detective Comics #31 is one of the most iconic of all and was paid hommage to by Neal Adams with his cover to Batman #227.

The events and characters depicted in Detective Comics #31-32 were retold in 1982 by Gerry Conway who revisited Batman's firts ever villains, Doctor Death and The Monk, in a multi-issue crossover between Batman and Detective Comics (cf. THOUGHT BALLOON #36) as well as by Matt Wagner in his 2006 mini-sereies Batman and the Mad Monk.

The bat-silhouette in the sky takes shape for the first time as Batman glides through in his Batgyro, causing quite some concern amongst those witnessing the event.

Detective Comics #31 features the first instance of what will become a hallmark of the early years of Batman's adventures: the Darknight Detective finds himself tied up and must find a clever way to cut his way out of this predicament.




October 1939



Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Sheldon Moldoff
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Fred Guardineer

  Main feature - Batman Untitled (later entitled "Batman versus the Vampire (II)") (10 pages)

Part 2 of 2

REPRINT - The Batman feature has been reprinted in 100-Page Super Spectacular DC-14 (1973), Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (HC, 1988), Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (TPB, 1989), Batman from the Thirties to the Seventies (1971), Batman Archives Volume 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles Volume 1 (2005)

LOCATION - Hungary

VILLAIN - The Monk, Dala

NOTES - 1st appearance of Dala, the Monk's vampire servant




In pursuit of the Monk (Detective Comics #31) the Batman flies the Batgyro to Hungary and there attacks a stagecoach which he believes to be the property of the Monk. However, its only occupant is a dazed young woman named Dala. Batman takes her back to his hotel where his fiancee Julie Madison is staying. However, Dala reveals herself to be a vampire servant of the Monk and attempts to attack Julie. Batman is knocked out by Dala and finds that Julie displays the mark of the vampire on her neck when he regains consciousness. Seeing Dala leave the hotel grounds, he stops her in her tracks. She begs Batman to kill her master in return for her information as to where Bataman can find him.
Batman takes Dala into the Batgyro and they fly towards the Monk's castle. Their flight, however, is grounded as the Batgyro becomes trapped in a giant net. The Monk uses his hypnotic powers to capture Batman and reveals to him that he is a master vampire with the powers of a werewolf. He then casts Batman into a pit with snarling, savage wolves, but using gas pellets from his utility belt and his silken Batrope the Darknight Detective manages to escape from the pit.

As dawn rises over the country, the Batman searches the castle until he finds the coffins housing both the Monk and Dala. Melting down a pair of silver candlesticks he produces two silver bullets which he fires at the two vampires, thus destroying their reign of terror. FINIS.


The second part of this story fits in with the first, and there seems to be an established common view today that this is the most poorly written Batman adventure of the early years with nothing but a mess of a story.


The constant lapses in logic and common sense continue and are certainly not helped by slip-ups such as Batman's hotel supposedly being set in the "Carlathan Mountains", which no doubt should have been the Carpathian Mountains. It's a small glitch, but it's telling for this story: very little seems right, and even less seems to fit as all the questions raised in the first part are left completely open and unanswered.

Overall, this Batman two-part story shows to good effect that most comic book writers in the late '30s were simply writing "kiddie stuff" and as such seemed to care little to nothing about consistency - and got away with almost anything. Possibly, Gardner Fox and some of his contemporary colleagues would have invested slightly more thinking and plotting if they had known that their work would be scrutinized decades later by a readership far removed from the perspective of an eight year old...



Batman does not appear on the cover of Detective Comics #32, but he has taken his place in the masthead logo.

Dala and the Monk would return in Batman #350 in 1982, crossing over into Detective Comics, although by that time it was established that the events in Detective Comics #31-32 had taken place on Earth-Two of DC's Multiverse and those kicking off in Batman #350 were events on Earth-One.




November 1939

"The Batman wars against the Dirigible of Doom"


Story - Bill Finger (Origin), Gardner F. Fox (Main Story)
Art - Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff
Inks - Bob Kane
Colours - NN
Lettering - Sheldon Moldoff, Fred Guardineer
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Bob Kane

  Main feature - Batman "The Batman wars against the Dirigible of Doom" (12 pages)

Part 1 of 1

REPRINT - The Batman feature has been reprinted in Batman Archives Volume 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles Volume 1 (2005); the two page origin has additionally been reprinted in Batman (Signet Books, 1966), Batman from the 30s to the 70s (1971), Secret Origins #1 (1973) and Batman in the Forties (2004)

LOCATION - Manhattan (NYC)

VILLAIN - Professor Carl Kruger and the Scarlet Horde

NOTES - First appearance of the Origin of Batman (2 pages), written by Bill Finger; first use of bulletproof vest by Batman






* * *

Some fifteen years ago Bruce Wayne's parents are ruthlessly gunned down by a stick-up man. Vowing to avenge their death, Bruce dedicates himself to the achievement of physical and mental perfection.

Using his thus acquired unsurpassed skills, Bruce decides to begin his war on crime when he reaches adulthood. Pondering on what disguise he should wear , Bruce's conviction that "criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot" makes it all become clear in a flash when a bat flies through an open window, inspiring Bruce Wayne to become a creature of the night -- the Batman.

* * *

Above the crowded streets of Manhattan, a red dirigible uses a terrible death-ray, killing thousands. Batman investigates the events and reaches the conclusion that Prof Carl Kruger, suffering from "Napolean Syndrome" and only recently released from a mental institution, is the one responsible. Batman breaks up a meeting between Kruger and his lieutenants (three other scientists who form The Scarlet Horde) but is nearly killed when the building is set afire.

Not to be put off, Batman visits one of Kruger's men the following night and is led to the professors hideout where Batman tries to sabotage the dirigible but is shot as he is discovered - saved only by his bullet-proof vest (the first time he uses such a device, having learned his lesson from previous incidents).


Essential Batman mythology I: Thomas Wayne (and immediately after that his wife) is gunned down by a (still unnamed) gunman in front of a terrified Bruce Wayne.

When Kruger once again attacks the city in his dirigible, Batman crashes the Batplane into it and thus causes Kruger and his dirigible to plunge from the sky. Whilst the Batman escapes death, Kruger dies as his dirigible crashes into a river.


The main story by Gardner Fox works better than his previous accounts of a Batman adventure - possibly because there are no new elements introduced to the persona and arsenal of Batman, giving Fox more time to actually focus on the overall plot logic. There are still some glaring lapses of common sense (such as why the officials would even consider releasing Professor Kruger from a mental institution at a time when he was telling the newspapers that he was planning to start work on a new death-ray...) but at least the inner structural coherence of the story itself holds up. The tale of Kruger and his Scarlet Horde and, above all, his dirigible (a flying object possibly better known as a "zeppelin") does have its moments of interest and action, and certainly compares favorably to the previous issues featuring Fox's Monk.

From today's perspective, however, the actual story is completely irrelevant as it is overtowered by the first account of Batman's origin, set out over two pages by Bill Finger. A true cornerstone of the Batman Mythos, the wherefore, why and how "the Batman came to be" is all in place and will remain virtually unchanged for generations of readers yet to come: Bruce Wayne witnessing the gunshot murder of his parents on their way home at night from a movie, his determined vow to fight crime as a consequence, his extended physical and mental training, and the events leading up to the choice of name and character for his vigilante activities.


Essential Batman mythology II: Searching for a suitable disguise to strike fear (or even "terror", as Bill Finger puts it) into the heart of the superstitious and cowardly criminals, the answer comes to Bruce Wayne in the form of a bat.

The only things missing at this point are most of the names associated with the Batman's origin - apart from Thomas Wayne, the other personae involved (Martha Wayne, Joe Chill) as well as the locale (Crime Alley, Gotham City) are not specified at this point in time.

Just as the visuals of the Batman were cast very early on in his publication history, so was the story behind this dark avenger of crime - after a mere six months and the corresponding number of issues, the mould for Batman was essentially complete.




December 1939

[originally untitled]


Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff
Inks - Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff
Colours - NN
Lettering - Sheldon Moldoff, Fred Guardineer
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Craig Flessel

  Main feature - Batman Untitled (later entitled "Peril in Paris"), 10 pages

Part 1 of 1

REPRINT - The Batman feature is reprinted in Batman Archives Volume 1 and Batman Chronicles Volume 1

LOCATION - Paris, France

VILLAIN - Duc D'Orterre





Bruce Wayne is just about to leave his hotel in Paris when he walks into - a man without a face. This person soon turns out to be Charles Maire, and by coincidence Bruce also accidentally meets Karel, Charles' sister. From her Bruce Wayne learns the tragic story - how Karel and Charles once attended a Bal Masque hosted by the Duc D'Orterre, how the duke desired Charles' sister, and how he used his mad technology to remove Charles' face for interfering and shielding Karel.

Bruce Wayne decides that this calls for Batman, and as such first searches the sewers of Paris where he learns the location of the duke's mansion. Upong going there, D'Orterre captures him and straps Batman to a torture wheel in the basement of his house, but then turns his attention back to getting a grip on Karel Maire. Batman escapes and uses his new Batplane to find D'Orterre's car. Leaping down from the plane onto the car, the two begin to struggle. Karel makes good use of the situation and frees herself, whilst Batman leaps from the vehicle before it runs over the edge of a cliff and falls into the void.



The final Batman story by Gardner Fox until 1947 (and then 1964) features virtually all the downfalls which make Fox's 1939 Batman stories so tough to read today: anything happening is completely contrived, triggered by the most unlikely coincidences, and fantastic and/or odd villains appear as dei ex machina, displaying a complete lack of coherent actions and no plan at all. Most elements remain unexplained without the slightest blush - most notoriously in this issue the Duc's "talking flowers with human faces": here for one panel, gone for ever thereafter.

Gardner Fox's assignment to Detective Comics in its 1939 run was an important element in the building of the Batman mythos, as Fox together with Kane and Finger developed the character. Fox's most important contribution was the build-up of Batman's arsenal of gimmicked weapons, but his stories fell almost completely flat. It would seem that readers in 1939 were willing to accept almost anything.



Chronologically, "Peril in Paris" takes place immediately after the events in Detective Comics #32, indicating an editorial slip as the cover of Detective Comics #33 belongs to this story as well.

This is the last cover of Detective Comics not to feature Batman until issue #521 (December 1982) when Green Arrow was given a cover appearance as the new backup feature.

A detailed and fun analysis of the shortcomings of this issue of Detective Comics is available from the Legends of the Batman podcast.




Batman's first year in publication saw eight appearances in the pages of Detective Comics and a fairly stable creative team on the job, with Bob Finger writing the first two scripts (issues #27 and #28) plus the two-page Batman origin story in Detective Comics #33, and Gardner Fox penning issues #29 through #34.
The artwork for all eight issues is credited to Bob Kane, although it is now established that Sheldon Moldoff (who would become one of the primary Batman ghost artists for Bob Kane throughout the 1950s) and Jerry Robinson had a hand in Detective Comics #30-#34.

The villains featured in 1939 were (in order of appearance) Alfred Striker & Jennings, Frenchy Blake and his gang, Doctor Death, the Monk, Professor Krueger and the Scarlet Horde, and Duc D'Orterre. Whilst most of these were simply thugs and criminals, Doctor Death and the Monk stand out as being the first true super villains Batman encounters.

Doctor Death is Batman's very first antagonist with a masterplan (although he does not possess any superhuman powers or capacities), and the Doctor's encounter with the Batman is the very first multi-part two-issue Batman adventure. Oddly enough, Batman's first real bad guy was quickly put on a shelf and only brought back 43 years later when Dr Karl Hellfern a.k.a. Doctor Death returned to haunt what by then had become Gotham and the Darknight Detective in early 1982, making his brief return to Detective Comics in issue #512. He endured the collapse of the so-called DC Multiverse (a system of multiple parallel worlds) in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-86) and has reappeared in Batman #692 (December 2009).

The Monk (who is a vampire and wears a red monk-like outfit and a hood that bears a yellow skull and crossbones on it) is Batman's second significant villain in chronological order, and he is the first to feature out-of-the-ordinary powers and capacities - in his case by being a vampire. In his first foray into the world of the supernaturally fantastic, Batman kills the Monk and his female assistant Dala by shooting them with silver bullets (unthinkable only a few months later, as DC toned down the violence displayed by Batman and banning guns alltogether), but the Monk would return several decades later in Detective Comics #515, preceded by the return of Dala in Detective Comics #511. His story was also retold in Matt Wagner's six issue miniseries Batman and the Mad Monk (2006/2007).

The year also saw the first appearances of a number of props which would instantly become a vital part of the Batman mythos, such as the Utility Belt and the Batrope (Detective Comics #29), the Batarang and the Batgyro (Detective Comics #31) as well as the Batplane (Detective Comics #33) - whilst all throughout the year Batman's roadster remained just that: Batman's roadster.


The characteristic features of the Batman's visuals are established early on in his publication history (Detective Comics #33, November 1939)

Final panel from Batman feature in Detective Comics #32 (October 1939)

Equally important to the Batman Universe is the founding myth - the origin of Batman - which was featured for the first time and in the form of a two page flashback in Detective Comics #33.

The locale, however, is as yet not designated to be Gotham City (which would first be mentioned in Batman #4) but rather New York City (after a brief initial period of not naming the locale at all).

On the other hand, Batman travels widely during his first few adventures, and solves mysteries in Hungary and Paris, France.

According to estimates of the Comics Chronology ( Detective Comics sold around 200,000 copies per issue throughout 1939.



BRADLEY Michael & Michael Kaiser (2011) "Episode 1 - April 1939", Legends of the Batman Podcast, accessible online

BROWNSTEIN Charles & Diana Schutz (eds.) (2005) Eisner / Miller, Dark Horse Books

JONES Gerard (2004) Men of Tomorrow, Basic Books / Perseus

MARX Barry (ed.) (1985) Fifty who made DC great, DC Comics

PORTER Alan J. (2008) "The Dubious Origins of the Batman", in Batman Unauthorized, Dennis O'Neil (ed.), BenBella Books

SCHWARTZ Julius & Brian M. Thomsen (2000) Man of Two Worlds, Harper



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First posted 13 August 2014

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