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This is the one-hundred and seventy-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and seventy-three. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Bob Kane was still a teenager when Batman was invented.
STATUS: Most Likely False
When Bob Kane died in 1998, he had an odd obituary in the New York Times.
The odd part was the math that I suppose the author did not do.
Here are two quotes:
Bob Kane, the cartoonist who created Batman the Caped Crusader and his sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder, died on Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 83 and lived in Los Angeles.
In 1938 he started drawing adventure strips, ”Rusty and His Pals” and ”Clip Carson,” for National Comics. That same year, a comic-book hero called Superman appeared. Vincent Sullivan, the editor of National Comics, who also owned Superman, asked Mr. Kane and Mr. Finger to come up with a Supercompetitor. They developed Batman on a single weekend. Mr. Kane was 18.
The first Batman strip came out in May 1939 in Detective Comics, one year after the debut of Superman. Batman’s first adventure was called ”The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” And he was another kind of superhero entirely. Batman wasn’t as strong as Superman, but he was much more agile, a better dresser and had better contraptions and a cooler place to live.
See the problem?
If he died in 1998 at the age of 83, then he couldn’t very well be 18 in 1938, right?
In fact, according to the Social Security Death Index:
Birth: 25 Oct 1915
Death: 03 Nov 1998
So Kane would be 22 when Batman was created.
Here’s a bio of Kane from Batman #1 also saying he was 22…
Of course, much later, it was claimed that Kane managed to re-work his contract with DC by claiming that he lied about his age and was a minor when he created Batman, which is where the obituary got the 18 years old thing, I suppose.
It seems highly unlikely that Kane WAS lying, as all of his friends from when he grew up knew him as being born in 1915 or 1916, as he went to school with a lot of the same guys who would go on to become major Golden Age artists, so you’d figure that they would be able to tell if a guy was four years younger than them when they were in high school (they were 14 and he was 10 and they didn’t notice? Come on now). And since all of their stories match what Kane himself said to the Social Security Administration, I think it’s almost certainly correct.
Of course, there always is the off chance that he convincingly lied to everyone – I guess. An interesting thing would be to somehow find out when Kane received his social security number – they were first given out to the masses in 1936, so if he got one then, it would have predated any motive to fabricate his age.
In any event, the Social Security number matches what everyone who knew Kane growing up said, so I think it is fair to believe it, so Kane was not a teenager when he created Batman.
While that I think is basically settled, I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure is if Kane really did threaten DC that his contract to sell them Batman was null and void because he was a minor at the time of the contract, as the two parties to the agreement, Kane and Jack Liebowitz, remained mum on the issue until their respective deaths (as you would have to with such an arrangement) and there is no record of their discussions, leaving us with supposition (most likely quite accurate supposition, but supposition nevertheless).
Thanks to the Social Security Death Index and the Ephemerist for the Batman #1 scan.
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