The Origin of Batman

–When the boy becomes a mask

The simple beauty of Batman’s origin story is that it can be summed up with three sentences.

Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered.
Spends years studying to be a detective and learns martial arts.
Puts on mask and tights and vows to avenge his parents’ death.

You could even take out the middle sentence and still get the gist of it. How many other superheroes can be summed up so easily? Not many that I can think of. With Superman, the summary would be something like:

The last survivor of the planet Krypton arrives on Earth.
Puts on tights and vows to protect Earth.

Sure, that’s short and sweet, but it doesn’t answer the nagging question “why?” As in, why does he go out of his way to protect his adopted planet? You might say, “Because he’s in love with an Earth woman,” but then, that Earth woman spurned his advances for about four decades’ worth of comics. The only quick answer you could give is “He protects Earth because he’s a nice guy.” Again, why? Then you hit an impasse and say “He just is.”

Devoted comic book fans can talk your ear off about why Superman is such a nice fellow, but what happens when the person being spoken to has a short patience? That’s when it comes in handy to have a short and to-the-point origin story like Batman’s.

In the original comic by Bob Kane back in 1939, the tale of how young Bruce Wayne decides to fight crime as Batman is told in 2 swift pages. I wish I could call this a moment of artistic brilliance, but it wasn’t. For one thing, Bob Kane got the idea of a bat superhero from a popular bat-themed detective who showed up in pulp fiction magazines. Instead, the origin of Batman should be looked at as sheer luck–how incredibly lucky it is that this 2 page premise could launch decades’ worth of comics!

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If you’re looking for something to read, check out my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories, featuring 8 bizarre and suspenseful tales about the stranger side of the creative process.
What do you think of the origin of Batman?


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