The Dark Knight's co-creator blazed a trail for cinema’s superheroes
Both men were comic-book royalty, but Kane spent much of the ride needling Lee, reveling in the knowledge that the Dark Knight had made it to the silver screen before Stan’s own co-creation, “Spider-Man.”
The two had much in common. Like Lee, Bob Kane was one of the few people to navigate the murky waters of the comic-book industry — which often left writers uncredited for their work — to stardom, basking in the public’s eye almost as much as his iconic creation.
Lee got his star on the Walk of Fame first, though, beating Kane — who gets his star on the Walk of Fame on Oct. 21, just shy of what would have been his 100th birthday — by some four years. Kane had already passed away, and in interviews, Lee regretted never getting the chance to show Kane the 2002 hit, “Spider-Man.” Lee would have liked to get some needling in of his own.
Born Robert Kahn in 1915, Bob Kane developed a love for the color funnies from his father, an engraver for the New York Daily News. Kane eventually got the chance to ply his trade in the fledgling comic-book industry in the pages Adventure Comics and Action Comics, both owned by the company that would eventually become known as DC Comics. His early efforts ranged from humor strips to adventure tales, yet despite his persistence, Kane didn’t have a hit on his hands. In fact, the only people who truly did at the time were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the co-creators of DC’s Superman.
So it came as no surprise that in 1939, when Kane went sniffing for work around the offices of “Superman’s” editor, Vin Sullivan, he was told to pitch a similar superhero to headline the company’s flagship title, Detective Comics. After learning that Siegel and Shuster were each pulling in $800 per week — 32 times what he was making — Kane took the weekend and dreamt up the Dark Knight.
Kane wasn’t alone in that effort, however; he sought out his old collaborator and high school friend, Bill Finger. The name “Bat-Man” was Kane’s, as was the artwork in the first story. The idea of the Dark Knight’s cape and cowl, the identity of Bruce Wayne, and even the color scheme of Batman’s gray tights, sprang from Finger’s brilliant mind.
Working from the script he’d commissioned from Finger, Kane turned in “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” a six-page story that debuted in the pages of Detective Comics # 27, cover-dated May 1939. Batman not only starred in the tale, but he also nabbed the much sought-after cover of the issue. Detective’s cover soon became the rule rather than the exception for the Dark Knight, and as Batman gained popularity, he also acquired his famous sidekick, Robin, and his own self-titled comic the following year.
As Batman became a household name and required more talent to handle his adventures, Kane hired an entire staff of creators to produce artwork graced with his signature, meanwhile drawing his own Batman stories well into the 1950s. All the while, Kane worked to mold his public persona, becoming a character in his own right, something of an amalgam of playboy Bruce Wayne and one of Batman’s most eccentric villains, the dapper, umbrella-wielding Penguin.
Kane led a life of celebrity, through the Batmania of 1966 surrounding the hit ABC “Batman” show, and the resurgence of Batman’s popularity in the late 1980s due to Burton’s film. Kane died in 1998, well after the debut of the fourth film in the modern Batman franchise.
Matthew K. Manning is the author of “Batman: A Visual History,” as well as several other books on the Dark Knight including “The Batman Files,” “The Batman Vault,” “The World According to the Joker,” and “Batman: Arkham Universe: The Ultimate Visual Guide.” matthewkmanning.com.