The Batman Creators Admitted His First Appearance Was Plagiarism
If there is any truth in Oscar Wilde’s popular quote “Imitation is the most sincere of flattery,” then it must do Batmanthe first appearance of one of the most famous compliments ever given. That’s because Dark Knight creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger engineered Batman’s first appearance through various acts of blatant plagiarism.
During the golden age of comics, writers and artists drew much of their inspiration from the “pulps” of the 1930s. limited artwork, dubbed after the cheap woodpulp paper used in their printing process. Technically speaking, true originality is impossible because everything a designer experiences influences their work to some degree. In Bob Kane’s autobiography batman and me, he claims three sources of inspiration for the Batman character: Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of a bat-winged flying machine, the 1920 Western romance film The Mark of Zorroand the 1930 mystery film The bat whispers. However, Batman co-creator Bill Finger admitted that Bob Kane failed to mention Batman’s main inspiration: The Shadow.
Walter B. Gibson, writer and professional magician, originally created the Shadow as a mysterious narrator of radio shows. The Shadow turned into a pulp fiction character based on popular demand from his audience. Listeners found the sinister announcer more compelling than the radio show itself. The Shadow created the basis for the superhero archetype, including stylized images, sidekicks, villains, and a secret identity. Bill Finger confessed that Batman’s first appearance in Detective comics #27written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Bob Kane, “was a takeoff on a Shadow story” in Jim Steranko comic book history. In the biography Walter B. Gibson and the ShadowGibson charges that “Batman is just a clownish version of The Shadow.”
Will Murray, a popular culture historian, and Anthony Tollin, the series’ editor, have identified the exact source of Batman’s first appearance and published their findings in Shadow #9, written by Maxwell Grant. The first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”, was plagiarized from “Partners of Peril” in Shadow #113, written by Theodore Tinsley and illustrated by Tom Lovell. The story of “Partners of Peril” debuted several months earlier, mentions bats seven times, and is also a crime thriller focused on the investigation of chemical syndicate murders. Bill Finger compressed these 60 pages of text into six comic pages, resulting in “a bizarrely complex plot,” according to Grant Morrison in their book Supergods. At one point in the story, Batman directly reflects the Shadow when he escapes from the same trap (a giant glass dome filled with poisonous gas) using the exact same methods (a regular handkerchief). Bob Kane even traced several of Tom Lovell’s interior illustrations to provide the scene artwork.
Ironically, a month later Detective comics #27 was published, the Thrilling pulp chain copied Batman’s idea and created the “Black Bat” narrowly avoiding a lawsuit. According to an article “The Trouble with Bob”, published in the magazine issue Comic Creator #14, Bill Finger fired back with another act of plagiarism. Finger insisted that “they stole our character, so we stole their glove,which explains the sudden appearance of Batman’s famous finned gauntlets a few issues later. Obviously, even his most ardent fans should recognize that Batman isn’t the most “original” character on DC Comics’ roster. Also, someone should probably edit the part of Bob Kane’s comic-book-shaped tombstone that claims Batman was the result of “divine inspiration and a rich imagination.” BatmanThe creators of may have plagiarized his first appearance, but fortunately for all of us, the character has evolved over the years into something entirely original.
Sources: comic book history, Walter B. Gibson and the Shadow, Supergods“The Problem with Bob”