The Evolution of Batman and the American Comic Book Industry

There is no doubt that the evolution of American comic books has been predominantly shaped by economic factors, with emerging industries striving to make a profit. In Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books, Jean-Paul Gabilliet provides historical details of the comic magazine industry’s evolution within the US. The increasing popularity and publishing of American comics is explained by Gailliet to have occurred because of three factors: “an increase in the number of themed magazines, a simultaneous increase in the number of publishers, and, crucially, the appearance of Superman, the first superhero” (14). As a result of the increasing popularity of comic books, publishing companies such as DC emerged and began to transform the medium through the implementation of new marketing strategies. Publishers began to target specific audiences or markets with themes and genres. Comic book companies began releasing strips with reoccurring characters and continuing themes to create a recognizable image for consumers. Through the exploration of new marketing strategies, superhero comics such as Batman developed and continued to be produced. Batman has been recreated and remarketed since the 1930’s, evolving into incomparable figures, but despite this fact, altered variations continue to be marketed as the infamous Batman.

There are very little similarities between the comics, Batman Chronicles: Volume one, written in 1939, to Batman: Year Once, created later in 1986. The drawing styles, plots, character relationships, and themes of these comics are nearly incomparable. Both comics are distinctly written, separate stories that use similar, recognizable images for their protagonists. Can both these comics be thought of as the same Batman?

Batman in Batman Chronicles: Volume One

The Batman Chronicles: Volume One contains colorful, simplistic drawings, along with a basic plot that can be repeatedly recycled and reproduced in serialized form. Each section is introduced with a short description of Batman as a mysterious figure with an unknown identity who fights against evil. This simple description is printed on every issue, allowing anyone to pick up any issue and be able to follow the plot. Unlike Batman: Year One, Bruce Wayne is involved with Gotham City’s authority, and interacts as a friend with Commissioner Gordon. Despite the close contact of both Bruce Wayne and Batman with the Commissioner, his identity is somehow never revealed. Batman drives to crime scenes in his recognizable red car without ever being spotted, and is always able to unrealistically escape any situation unharmed. The characters are given stereotyped features, such as Bruce Wayne’s wooden tobacco pipe (common with every aristocrat). Every issue begins with Batman’s description and contains a short, serialized strip that begins with the presence of a new villain and ends with Batman’s triumph. Despite the many issues of The Batman Chronicles released, we are never given any in-depth details about Batman’s beginning.

The serialized Batman figure in The Batman Chronicles is given a beginning in 1986 with Batman: Year One, but despite the subtle similarities, this is in no way the same character. In The Batman Chronicles, batman is friends with his local authority figures and helps the police accomplish their job in secret. It is only the villain’s of each issue that seems to pose any threat to Gotham city. In Batman: Year One however, we are thrown into a complicated and dark world, with corrupt authority that encourages the city’s evil. The drawings are very detailed, dark, and Bruce Wayne is in no way associated with any of the local authority figures in this version. Bruce Wayne’s ambitions for fighting evil are created because of his parents murder by a mugger when he was a child. Most importantly, unlike the Batman of The Batman Chronicles, this Batman seems more human. He becomes vulnerable to potentially deadly mistakes such as his fight with a pimp that gets him stabbed in the leg, or when he almost drops an undeserving person off a building. We are given an in-depth view of the police department, which is involved with drug dealing, careless murders, and other self-interested crimes.

Bruce Wayne in Batman: Year One

Although the same location and characters are used in both of these comics, they both contain completely different stories. The characters are presented with different relationships to one another and their personalities are incomparable. Both of these stories are very different to one another, with only subtle characteristics, such as the name of the city and the names of characters. Despite the differences, both of these comics are marketed as Batman, and this marketing will continue.

-Jay Gervais



Works Cited

Gabilliet, Jean-Paul. Of Comics and Men. The University Press of Mississippi, 2010. Print.

Kane, Bob, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. Batman Chronicles: Volume One. DC Comics: New York, 2005. Print.

Miller, Frank, David Mazzucchelli, and Richmond Lewis. Batman: Year One. DC Comics: New York, 2005. Print.

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