Detective Comics No.27
The Bat-Man: The Case of the Chemical Syndicate
Publication Year: May 1939
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Bob Kane
The year, 1939. The place, Commissioner Gordon’s living room. A young Bruce Wayne sits comfortably in an armchair smoking a pipe as he casually asks if there are any exciting developments in town. The Commissioner begins to talk about a puzzling new figure, the Bat-Man, when they are interrupted by a phone call.Although they didn’t know it at the time, Detective Comics had just launched the career of the world’s greatest crime-fighting detective.
The “Bat-Man”, a mysterious and adventerous figure fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his lone battle against the evils forces of society…his identity remains unknown.
The Bat-Man had exactly eight pages to hit its target audience and establish a fan base that would carry the comic forward. Eight pages to prove that super-heroes could sell, even if they didn’t have extraordinary superpowers. Eight pages to get it right.
The first time readers encounter the Bat-Man, he is an imposing figure standing arms-crossed, engulfed in his cape, glaring menacingly at two thugs. He then knocks one guy out cold and throws the other off the roof. The Bat-Man was swift, powerful, and had no problems letting “the evil forces of society” face the consequences of their actions, even if it means death.
For example, a corrupt business partner falls over a rail and into a vat of acid. The Bat-Man doesn’t make a move to save the man. He merely states, “A fitting end for his kind.” The Bat-Man’s duty is to protect the innocent, the universe will decide what happens to the wicked.
A bit of a dark take on life for sure, but to be fair, this was 1939. The Great Depression was slowly coming to a close, and there were rumblings in Europe. Another great war seemed imminent. Taking all of that into consideration, it is little wonder that the Bat-Man isn’t that interested in saving those who have chosen to blatantly break the law. In some ways, it was probably gratifying to see criminals get their comeuppance.
Righteousness aside, the Bat-Man was intriguing because unlike Superman, he has no superpowers. Readers knew straight away that the Bat-Man was an ordinary man the second Bruce Wayne stepped out of his closet in full costume. Imagine, after a year of reading Superman comics, the sensation of picking up Detective Comics No. 27 and learning that the Bat-Man was just a man in a bat suit.
In the Bat-Man’s first outing, it is also important to note that he is gadget free. There is no Robin or Alfred to bail him out if things go sideways. The only things the Bat-Man can rely on are his fists and his wits.
To this day when superpowered heroes meet Batman for the first time, they are blown away by the fact that Batman’s only superpowers are the number of gadgets he can squeeze into a utility belt and his impeccable deductive reasoning.
This year, as we celebrate Batman’s 80th birthday, let’s count our lucky stars that Bruce Wayne just happened to be at Commissioner Gordan’s house when the telephone rang.