Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Bat-Gun Misconception in Action!


I really enjoy IO9's coverage of science fiction and related topics, but I was disappointed in the recent article "7 Times Batman has bent his 'no guns' rule."

This basically reads like a textbook example of the misconception I wrote about in the last post. The author writes that Golden Age Batman used guns "All The Damn Time," if you read the post below, you will understand this is not true. The splash page (shown below) is used the same way it is virtually always used in these kinds of pieces, and references are made to the last pre-Robin story where Batman shoots two men from the Batplane's machine gun. This is literally the one and only time Batman shoots to kill anyone in the original darker comics. It is definitely not 'All the Damn time'.

Interviews with the creative team at the time reveal they knew they had crossed a line with that story. DC had their own internally enforced version of the 'comics code' not long after. The internal DC code is the one that had the rule against using the word 'flick' due to potential kerning problems, although many comics fans attribute this rule to the Comics Code Authority.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Batman and Guns

One of the big misconceptions about early Batman was that he regularly carried and used a gun.  The splash page in Detective Comics #35 (above) shows a smoking pistol, but if you read the comic, he doesn't shoot anyone or even hold a gun. (He does kill a guy by hitting him in the face with a statue so hard he flies out a high window)

The only time Batman fires his own pistol in the era is in Detective Comics #32, when he shoots two vampires with silver bullets. There is some other gunplay in comics of the era, but none of the shooting is done with a pistol Batman is carrying. In Batman #1 he shoots Dr. Hugo Strange's henchmen from the Batplane's machine gun. He is seen on the cover of Batman #15 shooting a machine gun in a Nazi based story, but it is a dream sequence. By the winter of 1940 it is openly stated that Batman doesn't "carry or intentionally kill with" guns in Batman #4, even though he is seen seen "trying to wing" a villain with a recovered gun in the comic. The popular (at least amongst nerd circles) story of the old-timey Batman who carried a gun doesn't really hold up. he had one on his belt in some early comics, and he shot some vampires with silver bullets once. That's it.
There are other examples of Batman using guns in later comics, but these examples are generally where he uses a gun on the scene to assist the plot. The later examples of Batman using guns do not consist of him killing anyone with a pistol he is carrying. More often he is challenged to a contest of target shooting, or he is firing the gun for comedic effect or some sort of cowboy themed activity. You can read a pretty complete take here.
The point of this blog is to summarize. If you truly summarize Batman's activity in the early comics, he never shoots any living creature with his own pistol. He shot criminals from his plane mounted machine gun once, shoots two undead vampires with his pistol once, and uses a recovered gun to shoot a criminal in the hand (similar to the Lone Ranger's signature move).
As much as he didn't kill people with his pistol, he did kill people in numerous other ways, see below.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bat-Celibate for World War 2

Bruce Wayne commonly is referred to as a "playboy" in the comics. In the Golden Age he was linked to a number of women, and engaged to a few as well. From a statistical point of view, the most interesting feature is the steep drop off of romantic activity at the end of 1942 and beginning of 1943. After this point Batman has virtually no romantic activity for the duration of World War 2.

Between 1940 and the end of 1942 Batman was in some way romantically linked to women named Julie Madison, Linda Page, The Cat (Catwoman), The Canary (a short lived Penguin accomplice), Viola Vane, Elva Barr, and a woman only called 'Queenie'. A total of at least seven romantic partners, with two being prolonged marriage engagements that spanned multiple stories.

From 1943 until the end of World War 2, Batman was not seen as romantically linked to anyone.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Batman killing in his eponymous series during the Golden Age

As mentioned, Batman's killing diminished sharply  in Detective Comics after Robin's first appearance in April of 1940.

That same month began Batman comics, and especially in the beginning Batman's adversaries regularly ended up dead. The main difference being that Batman related deaths were now often due to less direct means. Deaths in Batman comics generally happen one of two ways: someone else shoots the antagonist during a fight with Batman or the antagonist falls to their death during a fight with Batman.

Some early Batman related deaths in Batman comics:

Batman #1: The second story has the only killings in the first issue, and is arguably the most violent pre WWII material. (This is why I feel it should be considered the last Pre-Robin 'original' Batman story) In it he shoots people from his plane, and gruesomely hangs one of the 'monstermen' from a noose, amongst other killing. Batman's quote: "As much as I hate to take human life, this time it's necessary." Batman ends up leading to seven deaths if you count the mentally ill people that Dr. Hugo Strange has turned into 'monstermen.'

Batman #2: In the second story Batman punches the antagonist (who has stopped attacking at this point) down a flight of stairs, where he breaks his neck and dies.
In the final story "The Case of the Missing Link" Batman fights with pygmies on the roof of the train and four are struck by a low bridge, later Batman & Robin cooperate to knock a giant caveman to his death off a high scaffold. Would being struck by a bridge while standing on the roof of a train moving at full speed kill a pygmy? Is this a question fit for Monty Python? Yes and yes.

After these two issues, things change. Deaths in Batman comics gradually decrease in frequency, by 1945 there would be maybe one person indirectly getting killed due to Batman's involvement every 4 or 5 issues. This means approximately one indirectly caused death per  200-250 pages of material. In contrast, Batman very clearly killed eight people in the original 110 pages of Detective Comics at the beginning in in 1939, or approximately one death every 13.75 pages.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Batman vs. Advanced Degrees

I'm definitely not the first person to point out the number of super villains with advanced degrees, but early Batman is such a great example of the trope.

There are eleven Batman antagonists that appear two or more times during the Golden Age. Dr. Death, The Monk, Dr. Hugo Strange, Clayface,  Dr. Matthew Thorne, Two-Face, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Scarecrow (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Catwoman, Penguin, and the Joker.

Of the eleven, four of them are Ph.D.'s or M.D.'s, (and one is a Lawyer). In 1940 less than five percent of the population had a four year college degree, in the golden ages about 45% of Batman's enemies had advanced degrees.

The Details on Batman Related Deaths in Detective Comics Pre and Post Robin.

There were eleven issues of Detective Comics (May 1939-March 1940) before Robin's appearance.  Batman kills his enemies, and the occasional henchman, in eight of them. Batman also repeatedly shows no remorse for causing the deaths of his enemies. This means somebody (henchman or antagonist) was getting killed in 72% of the stories.
  • Detective Comics #27  - Batman punches Mr. Stryker into a vat of acid, as Mr. Stryker takes a shot at him. Afterwards Batman notes: "A fitting end for his kind."
  • Detective Comics #28 - Batman kicks a thug off the roof of a tall building, later the narrator notes "The body of the man that went over the roof has attracted the police," implying his death.
  • Detective Comics #30 - Batman snaps a "Cossack's" neck with a kick.
  • Detective Comics #32 - Batman shoots two vampires in order to kill them and free his girlfriend from their control.
  • Detective Comics #33 - Batman knocks out a guard to escape, and then puts his Batman costume on the guard, knowing the antagonist is going to (and does) execute Batman, leading to the guard's death. Elsewhere, the primary antagonist is killed in a plane crash caused by his fight with Batman. The first is my personal favorite, because Batman really didn't need to put his costume on the guard once he had been subdued.
  • Detective Comics #34 - Antagonist, the Duc D'Orterre, is killed in a car crash in a fight with Batman.
  • Detective Comics #35 - Batman knocks the antagonist, Mr. Lenox, out the window of a tall building. "With bitter irony, across the crushed body falls the blood-red idol, Kila, God of Destruction!"He also punches a Chinese swordsman onto another swordsman's sword.
  • Detective Comics #37 - Batman kills a 'foreign agent' by punching him onto a sword stuck through a door.
Total of 8 Batman stories where somebody dies due to Batman's involvement.

There was an interesting transitional phase after Robin appeared. Batman still killed people but it was in a less direct way. To understand the difference in the comics that occurred with the appearance of Robin, look at the difference between the eleven issues of Detective Comics after Robin's introduction and the eleven issues that were published before Robin. Deaths trailed off after Robin appeared, but at the same time Batman was still definitely killing people.
  • In Detective Comics #39 Batman pushes a statue onto six swordsmen and it is stated that they are killed.
  • In Detective Comics #42 Batman & Robin's exposure of a plot leads the antagonist to shoot himself in the head in front of them.
  • In Detective Comics #46 Batman punches Hugo Strange into a deep ravine, where he "Topples to his Doom."

A total of 3 Batman stories with explicit killing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Great Quotes from Batman Killing People in the Golden Age

'There is a sickening snap as the Cossack's neck breaks under the pressure of the Batman's boot' - Detective Comics #30, page 8, August 1939.

'He must have sunk like a log. I might as well go collect the volitell and return it to the hospital." - Batman #8, page 26, August/September 1941.