Okay, so July 23rd is Batman day. Not exactly 75 years since his first appearance, but the day on which DC is officially marking the anniversary of its most popular character. There will be mutters of "oh no, not more Batman" from fans of other characters, or those who feel that we have had just a bit too much Batman from DC lately, but really, who can blame DC. Batman is an icon. One of the most iconic characters of modern culture, someone who like Dr Who and James Bond transcends the genre from which he originated. He can't claim to be the first super-hero, Superman arguable holds that title, but he has over time become the most popular. So why is Batman so popular? Well firstly he has been around us a long time. My first memory of any super-hero is watching Adam West as Batman in one of the many re-runs of the TV series that were shown when I was a wee boy in the mid 1970s. Sure, the TV series was corny and campy, but it imprinted on my consciousness Batman, Robin, Alfred, the Bat Cave, the Bat Mobile, Baterangs and so on. One of my favourite toys was the corgi Batmobile I received for Christmas as a 7 year old, complete with firing torpedoes. The years passed and Superman films with Chris Reeve meant that I transferred my "favourite hero" badge to the big boy scout for a time. Then in 1989 Tim Burton released his film, at last a serious Batman replete in bullet proof costume, sans corny dialogue and fully able to despatch a hoodlum with a roundhouse kick or karate chop. That film was amazingly successful for the time, grossing over 400 million dollars. Following the iconic Frank Miller books Year one and the Dark Knight Returns, the Batman mythos was now fully established.
The woeful Joel Schumacher films couldn't dampen the publics enthusiasm for the Batman character. Whilst Superman was increasingly seen as a symbol for a bygone era of innocence, Batman seemed to touch a chord with a more serious and cynical age. Batman WAS superheroes. In 1996, the hugely successful British TV sitcom "Only Fools and Horses" even featured Batman and Robin in one of its Christmas specials...
The father's for justice movement in the UK, which campaigned for fathers against the child support Agencies often dubious practices featured various Batman clad dads climbing bridges and towers. Batman, notice, not Superman or Spiderman.
Then come the millennium and after 8 years away, Batman was back on the screen thanks to Christopher Nolan and his masterpiece Batman Begins, followed by the even more celebrated Dark Knight, which amazingly featured an acting performance worthy of a posthumous academy award. The first and only time an actor in a super-hero movie has been so recognised.
Marvel studios may rule the big screen right now, but Batman rules the comic book world and its hard to see him being topped any time soon. Just last month, the Batman comic shifted 130,000 copies and Batman eternal is shifting 60,000 comics a week, meaning that if you include Detective Comics, Batman and Ra's Ah Ghul as well as those two titles, sales of Batman comics are half a million a month.
So why is Batman so loved. Several reasons. Firstly, he is the most human of heroes. He has no super-powers, just his gadgets, his fighting skills and his brain. Hit him and he bleeds, he tires, he gets hurt, he has to use guts and cunning to beat more powerful foes. Secondly, his story is tinged with tragedy. Thirdly, the whole Dark Knight ethos sits well with the modern love of dark and gritty stories. Fourthly, some of the best writers in the business have written some awesome Batman stories and fifthly, well, he drives a cool car. What other super-hero has anything like the Batmobile?
As a child of the 70s, I grew up with Spiderman, Hulk, Wonder Woman and Superman as well as Batman and I am fond of all of these, but Batman is the one who makes me the most nostalgic. As they say, you never forget your first love.
So here is to another 75 years of Bat stories and I certainly hope in 2089, the dark knight is still in business.