The Batman Franchise: How the Character Continues to be DC comics and WBs main name

Felipe Wasserstein

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Batman became a character capable of retaining a core identity and also exhibit enough flexibility to  work across multiple contexts

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Batman symbol.
Credits to: Unforgettableankit (Flickr)

Until March 2017, Batman stared in nine movies, two live action series, nine animated TV series and more than 30 video games. He is currently a regular character in five bimonthly and monthly comics published by DC Comics.

Created in 1939 by writer Bob Kane and artist Bill Finger, and first appeared in Detective Comics 27 (1939). His creation was a response to the success of Superman.

National Comics Publications (today known as DC Comics) requested more superheroes for its titles. Bob Kane and Bill Finger thus created a superhero who was the very opposite of Superman.  Kane and Finger got inspiration from characters such as the Scarlet Pimpernel (1903), Zorro (1919) and Sherlock Holmes (1887) (Bill, 1991). Kane was also influenced by the movies Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Bat Whispers (1930) (Les, 2003).

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Zorro: the major inspiration for Batman.
Credits to: Truus, Bob and Jan too! (Flickr

Originally Batman would show o remorse towards criminals, because the stories adapted the style of the pulp magazines . Batman killed criminals and used guns during his first years in comic books.  He became one of DC Comic`s pillars, receiving a new book, simply called Batman, in 1940.

The audience at that time was mostly comprised of male children and teenagers. A large part of this audience were also immigrants (the USA received a huge flux of immigrants in the 1930s), who learned English by correlating the images with the text.

Batman violent behavior started to soften with the introduction of his younger sidekick Robin, Detective Comics 38.  The sales almost doubled and inspired the creation of others superheroes sidekicks.

After the Second World War, DC Comics  removed the darker and intimidating aspects of Batman`s universe, in favor of a more lighthearted tone. This significantly changed the personality of the Caped Crusader in comic books . Batman was one of the few comic book characters to survive this transition.

In this period, known as the Silver Age of comics, Batman became a target Fredic Werthham`s book Seduction of the Innocent (1954). Werthham draw criticism to the Batman comics for their supposed homosexual tones, arguing that Batman and Robin were portrayed as lovers . This led to a public outcry during the 1950s and to the creation of the Comics Code Authority . In the late 1950s, the hero`s adventures started to mimic mainstream science-fiction and monster movies of the time.

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Detective Comics. Credits to: Tom (Flickr).

During the 1960s, Batman`s comic books were under the influence of the Batman live action TV series and its camp style. The show became extremely popular. The episodes were generally two-part cliffhangers, with Batman and Robin ending in a deathtrap in the first part story. 

The comics started using the TV series onomatopoeias, poses and humor, which lead to a massive increase on sales, reaching a circulation of 900.000 copies . But this period was also brief due to the duration of the TV series (only three years). DC then resumed its search for a new defining style for Batman .

This new style began in 1969 with writer Dennis O`Neil and artist Neal Adams. They decided to distance Batman from the camp style,  returning him to the original status of the 1930s and 1940s. Their work in Detective Comics had an important influence in the tone and style of Batman`s books during the 1970s. However, sales continued to decline until 1985.

Sales started to increase in the beginning of the Modern Age of Comics (1980-Present), with the release of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (1986).

This period sees the comic book industry in a constant time of transition, where comic books are trying to find a place in an era of digital consumers. The modern Age offers a wide range of topics and genres, and comics are much more accessible to the consumer. This era is also a period of digitalizing comics.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) was marketed more as “literary work” than a traditional comic book. The series was labeled as a graphic novel, to be associated with literature and art. The product was sold in bookstores, discussed in universities and covered in the mainstream press. This  changed the conception of the comic book reader as an “educated” adult rather than an antisocial male teenager.

The story dealt with socially-relevant and complex topics such as urban neurosis, class warfare, psychological trauma, nuclear war, political ideologies and homophobia.

It changed public perception of the traditional “perfect” hero, by presenting Batman as a morally-conflicted vigilante. This version of the character became the main version followed by other writers in the Modern Age. It also has been adapted into other media such the The Dark Knight trilogy of films by Christopher Nolan.

Miller alongside artist David Mazzucchelli redefined the character`s origin a year later in the series Year One (1987). The character gained another important story with the publication of The Killing Joke (1988) by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, which called Batman`s sanity into question. The same topic exists in other stories such as Arkham Asylum (1989) by Grant Morrison. Those stories made the character more socially relevant, since he inhabited a world closer to our own.

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A timeless classic. Credits to: Brandon Jones (Flickr)

The Audience of Batman Comic Books Today

The traditional comic book collector is a Caucasian or Asian single male  between 25-34 years. This type of collector has a household income of $150,000 dollars and has a higher education degree. Most of those consumers work in the Management, Business, and Financial Operations sector.

With the industry growth into a more mainstream hobby, it’s possible to identify new categories of consumers with different values.

 “Ned the newbie collector”. This collector values the plot lines and the fantasy atmosphere of the comics. They are less brand loyal and have higher chances of abandoning the comics in the future.

 “Claire the casual collector” or “The average Joe”. Those consumers value printed editions, and  buy comics based on potential worth and desire for the content. They enjoy comic bookstores and the communities created there.  They spend more money than the first group, are more loyal to specific brands and are likely to keep with this hobby throughout their lifetime.

 “Owen the obsessive collector”. They enjoy reading comics, but their main motivation  chasing a specific edition . They are usually single man who dedicate most of their time researching, reading, maintaining and discussing their comic book collections and industry trends.

In relation to gender, website demographicpolicy.com conducted on March 2017 a demographic data of comic book fans based on data from Facebook. The research showed that men accounted for 51.35% of the population of fans, while women corresponded to 48.65%. Women were the majority of fans under the age of 18.

According to the theguardian.com, much of the increase of females in comics is due to the growth of female writers in the industry (Gail Simone, Kelly Sue, Ming Doyle) There is also a larger number of books featuring female characters.

The Batman comics have consistently been part of the top ten best-selling comic books from January 2016 to February 2017. The character continues to be DC comics best-selling product each month, and appears in more titles than any other hero at DC .

 

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Felipe Wasserstein