Type Comic
Date 1940-06
Tags origin story

Batman #1

Batman #1 (1940-06)

The Legend of the Batman

This is a reprint of the origin story in Detective Comics #33, with a few trivial revisions.

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A new, famous villain makes his first appearance in this one: the Joker. And what an introduction it is! The Joker breaks into radio broadcasts several times to announce that he intends to kill someone at a certain time (and also steal something from them). Then, although the police have been forewarned, he succeeds, by trickery, disguise, or cleverness and patience. To top it off, he uses a toxin--"Joker venom"--which leaves the victims with a ghastly mockery of a smile on their faces. The Batman has no intention of allowing this to continue, so he pursues the madman and, eventually, captures him.

Incidentally, has Batman been called the Dark Knight before this comic? This is the first time I've noticed it.

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Professor Hugo Strange, who Batman last (and first!) contended with in Detective Comics #36, has escaped from prison, and has also freed several patients of the Metropolis insane asylum. A month passes quietly, before a fifteen-foot-tall giant is spotted on the streets of Metropolis. The being shrugs off police gunfire, causes massive destruction and injury, and escapes in the back of a truck. The next day, the scene repeats, but Batman is ready, and follows the truck back to Strange's hideout.

Strange is ready for Batman. When Batman enters the hideout, he's grabbed by two of the giants, and Strange gloats over capturing. At Batman's request, Strange explains that he has developed a drug which, when injected into a normal man "not only distorts the body but also the brain . . . and soon he is a monster." Strange injects Batman with this drug, informing him that in eighteen hours, it will take effect, and so come noon Batman will be nothing more than a monster. Afterward, one of the giants knocks Batman out.

When Batman re-awakens, he sees that it is now a quarter to twelve--he has been unconscious for nearly the entire eighteen hours. Strange is now directing his men on how to carry out their crimes, so Batman takes the opportunity to mix an explosive from chemicals he had hidden in his boot heels, which allows him to escape. In the ensuing struggle, Strange is sent off a cliff, and Batman is able to best the two remaining monsters. This leaves him with just five minutes to concoct an antidote to Strange's drug--which he does, with one minute to spare.

His personal crisis solved, Batman turns his attention to the two giants who have already left. Fortunately, the machine gun on his Bat-Plane causes the first truck to crash, killing the criminals, though the giant survives the crash. Batman lowers a noose with which he strangles the giant, then he heads for the second truck. Again, his machine gun causes the bullet-riddled truck to crash. This time, the giant climbs to the top of a skyscraper, so Batman assaults it with gas pellets, and the giant falls to its death. As the comic closes, Batman speculates that Strange is likely to have survived, and they may meet again.

No trace of Robin in this story.

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Mrs. Travers, owner of a $500,000 necklace, is holding a yacht party. Batman suspects that this party will be the target of thieves, and sends Robin to keep an eye on things. Robin learns that a thief called the Cat is planning to steal the necklace, but he doesn't know who exactly the Cat is. Robin is too late to protect the necklace, and scarcely is the necklace discovered to be missing when another group of thieves show up, intending to steal it. They're too late for that--the necklace is nowhere to be found--but they escape with plenty of other valuables. Unfortunately for the thieves, Batman, on his way to meet up with Robin, catches them, liberating their ill-gotten gains.

Upon arriving at the yacht, Batman tries a ruse straight out of Sherlock Holmes--"A Scandal in Bohemia", specifically. He arranges for a false fire alarm, and watches the guests for inconsistent behavior. He notices that one guest, Miss Peggs, supposedly an old woman with an injured ankle, is running like a much younger person with no injury. He deduces that she must be the Cat, and unmasks her, revealing a beautiful young woman with black hair. She offers to partner up with Batman, that together they could rule the world of crime, but he refuses, and takes her with him to turn over to the police.

She jumps from the boat as it nears shore, and Batman 'accidentally' prevents Robin from following her. Robin isn't taken in by this, though, and Batman doesn't try very hard to hide that he let her escape because he's attracted to her.

Here's a second 'famous first', then: Catwoman, though she's called just "the Cat" in this story. Batman's complicated relationship with her will continue in future comics.

The Joker Returns

Not two days ago Batman put Joker away, and already he has found a way to escape--by mixing an explosive from two chemicals he had stored in false teeth. After making good his escape, Joker returns to his laboratory (hidden in a crypt) and makes a radio transmission, as he had done before, announcing that he will kill the chief of police, Chalmers, that night at ten o'clock. He succeeds, too, by placing a dart with Joker venom in a telephone's earpiece, then calling at the specified time, and shouting loud enough into the phone to send the dart into Chalmers's ear.

Over the next several days, the Joker accomplishes more thefts and murders. Finally, he announces that he will steal the Cleopatra necklace from the Drake Museum, and Batman vows to stop him. However, he's unable to fulfill his vow, and the Joker escapes to continue his crime spree.

Bruce suggests to Commissioner Gordon that the police should try to trap the Joker, so they have the newspapers publicize the Fire Ruby, which Joker desperately desires (he is shown to be very interested in jewels specifically, in this comic). The Joker escapes the police, but is unable to evade Batman and Robin. In the struggle, the Joker falls onto his own knife, plunging it into his chest. Batman pronounces the Joker dead, and he and Robin make a hasty exit, leaving the body for the police to deal with. However, when the police call in an ambulance, the doctor makes a shocking discovery: the Joker is not, in fact, dead. He will live!

Name Role
Bill Finger Author
Bob Kane Illustrator