The caped crusader turned 82 last Thursday, having made his first appearance in Detective Comics issue 27 in 1939. A year later the Dark Knight would get his self-titled comic line, Batman. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, at 82 the world’s greatest detective is going strong; a new movie, “The Batman”, directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson, is slated for release next year. In addition, Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton are reprising their past performances as Batman for an upcoming Flash movie.
Batman is a very popular licence and Warner Bros cash cow. The movies since Tim Burton’s Batman have grossed billions at the box office along with other multimedia outlets ranging from animation, clothing, comics and toys to video games and the licenced characters from Batman such as the Joker. The Joker in particular, whose solo effort in cinema grossed over $1 billion, is a popular figure among fans of Batman and the ironic meme community online.
Batman is the most licenced DC character, recording many shipments of licenced products. It is a massive franchise with more theatrical movies than any other fictional comic book character; in 2014 there were a recorded 10 million comic books sold based on the caped crusader and DC earned $11 billion from licenced merchandise sales.
The licencing of Batman derives success from cross platforming boosts, whereby there is a boost in comic book sales (both digital and print) following the success of a TV show, film or video game. In 2013, the franchise earned $870 million in North America alone. Interestingly, print sales did not decline with the rising digital versions of comic books.
In November 2020, an original Batman comic from 1940 sold for $2.2 million, joining the famed $2 million club of comic book collections. DC issue 27, which features Batman’s debut, sold for $1.5 million. To paint a clearer picture of market share, Marvel has 44.72%, DC sits on 30.74% and in third position is Image with 7.69%.
In 2019, there was a gross of $529.66 million in comics sales, up 2.5%. On top of the bestsellers was Detective Comics issue 1000 which shipped over 574,705 thousand units. In 2020 these sales figures were $117.78 million which was down 4.39% due to the pandemic. However, one of the bestselling comics during the summer was The Three Jokers, featuring Batman’s arch-nemesis. This character has seen a rise in popularity in recent times thanks partly to the performances of Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix. The licence of the Joker alone is extremely profitable, with the standalone Joker movie grossing over $1 billion at the box office.
While Batman experienced a decline in the 1970s following “Batmania” after the 1966 ABC TV show starring Adam West as the titular character, it wouldn't be until the late 80s when graphic novel authors such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore introduced an edgier and darker tone to Batman featuring stories such as Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke. This would ultimately be followed up with 1989 Tim Burton's Batman which began a string of cinematic interpretations of the caped crusader.
At 82, Batman is still going strong compared to the pantheon of other comic book characters who are supernatural or super-powered. The key to Batman's long term success is his constant reinvention and modernisation. As a character he is versatile, featuring in tales from the Victorian era, the future and Japanese anime. As a character himself, Batman is interesting because he is of the 1% in terms of wealth, motivated by the trauma of watching his parents being murdered in front of him, which results in him dressing up as a bat to strike fear in the hearts of criminals.
This has been followed up on numerous Batman media and character studies. The philosophy of Batman covers topics including justice, utilitarianism, consequentialism and vigilantism. While many iterations of the character state that he does not kill nor use guns, this adds to the philosophical elements of Batman such as deontology; where consequences do not matter and actions are judged on a set of rules and not on what the best outcome would be.
Batman's idea of justice operates outside of the law and the court system. However, at the same time it is part of his character that he believes criminals can be reformed. There are several themes of justice explored in Batman’s stories; one is that of retributive justice, which is a belief that the best response to a crime is a proportionate punishment. Another is consequentialism, the rightness of any action being judged on its consequences. Finally, utilitarianism is the idea that rightness of an action is judged on how it maximizes utility (with utility being the maximum of happiness or otherwise stated).
Batman is the most Kantian fictional character which propels his popularity as a borderline modern Achilles, and a morally just influence.
“Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law” - Immanuel Kant.