web stats

CSBG Archive

When We First Met – Death and the Batman

Every week we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore. Not major stuff like “the first appearance of Superman,” but rather, “the first time someone said, ‘Avengers Assemble!’” or “the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny” or “the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth” or “the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter.” Stuff like that. Here is an archive of all the When We First Met features so far! Check ‘em out!

Today, based on a morbid suggestion by reader Chris, we look at the various first instances of death in the pages of Batman’s comic books…

Chris had a bunch of different questions about the depiction of death in Batman comics. I’ll address them all while I also throw in a couple of other usages of death.

The first death in Batman comics is the death that kicks off the first Batman story in Detective Comics #27…

The first DEPICTED death happens the next page…

The issue ends with Batman killing his first bad guy…

But while Batman obviously doesn’t care that the guy died, as shown by his comment after the guy died…

I don’t know if you can tell for sure that Batman meant for him to die. So while this is the first time Batman killed a guy, I am not sure that I can say that it is the first time he INTENTIONALLY killed a guy.

Batman’s first super villain, Doctor Death, debuts in Detective #29, and dies at the end, becoming the first one of Batman’s super-villains to be killed.

The next issue, he is also the first Batman villain to “return” from the dead…

Later in the story, Batman intentionally kills his first guy…

Badass and actually kind of messed up. Neck-snapping probably shouldn’t be his go-to move, right?

Detective #33 gave us the first depiction of Batman’s parents’ death…

And the first time a super-villain killed someone in the comic. And wow, did they go overboard!

The head of the Dirigible of Death is killed in sky battle with Batman…

If you don’t think that the Dirigible of Death guy counts as a super-villain, then the first super-villain who actually killed someone in a Batman story was Hugo Strange, who orders the death of this guy in Detective #36…

Here’s Hugo’s awesome entrance…

Batman #1 has Joker’s first kill…

In the second story in #1, Hugo Strange mutates some dudes into becoming giant monsters. Here, they attack the GCPD…

I think that the odds are that a GCPD member was killed in those two pages, which would answer Chris’ question as to when did a GCPD police officer first get killed in a Batman comic.

If that doesn’t count, the third story in the issue certainly would, as the Joker kills the chief of police…

and the Joker likely kills some cops later in the story…

Hugo Strange ORDERS his people killed and Doctor Death and the Mad Monk somehow managed to not kill anyone, so the Joker is the first one of Batman’s super-villains to actually kill someone himself!

Thanks for the morbid suggestions/questions, Chris!

26 Comments

I must admit I enjoy the coldblooded homicidal Joker of his early appearances to the completely insane one of more recent years.

Is it just me, or do these older comics seem to jive more with the Nolan Bat-movies?

You have a Batman who will let bad guys die, a Joker who isn’t so deranged yet still a terrorizing murderer. It’s like a less over-the-top depiction of Batman, that’s pretty cool.

Bruce Waynes reaction to comissioner Gordon’s request to go to a murder scene always makes me laugh.
“Nothing else to do, Might as well go see a man that has just been stabbed to death.”

interesting to see how with those pannels how even batman started out with a body count including the first person ever to fall at the jokers hands

Batman does hurl a guy off a roof in Detective Comics #27. While we don’t see him hit the pavement, I always assumed Batman had killed him.

Reverend Meteor

December 5, 2012 at 9:16 am

Bruce smoked?

I’d love to see a live action film of the Bat-Man, with the same period technology and clothing. What a down and dirty guy!

Alpha Centurian

December 5, 2012 at 9:41 am

While these stories were violent, you could still enjoy them without reading the kazillion Batman comics DC publishes for the heck of it. These old comics were created to be read and enjoyed. A far cry from the continuity-obsessed comics that are written only for comic historians.

I do find it cool that Hugo Strange’s Monster Men, maybe influenced the Arkham Asylum game. Since as it turned out Hugo Strange was pulling all the strings there. The Titan’s running around, all that.

Also in I think Batman #1, the first appearance of the Joker, he shows up dressed as a cop then comes out of the shadow smiling, which I think did influence The Dark Knight. I do miss that Joker.

Batman does hurl a guy off a roof in Detective Comics #27. While we don’t see him hit the pavement, I always assumed Batman had killed him.

I think he does it also in Detective #29 (kick a guy off of a roof). While you can certainly argue that the people in question died, I think when it comes to comics, unless the death is clear (like falling into a vat of acid or having your neck snapped), then I think we can’t tell for sure.

Bruce smoked a pipe (and occasionally a cigarette) on into the forties.
I wonder if Bruce’s coming along to the crime scene seemed less quirky at the time. Mystery novels back then were full of aristocratic amateur detectives who showed the cops who really did it.
Reading the full Hugo Strange story where he debuted, I always get a feeling they anticipated him as a Moriartyesque archfoe. Only then they got the Joker and figured who was the better villain.

#Pretender NX01, you hit it on the head. I always thought Nolan’s Batman films were closer to the original Bob Kane Batman, which I enjoy. Brilliant.

@Fraser, you’re exactly right. In fact, the ABC TV show, “Castle,” has that same gimmick: Richard Castle is a mystery/suspense author who helps out the attractive homicide detective. Since he’s a “best-selling” author, he’s friends with the mayor whose directed NYPD to let him tag along. I live in NYC and I’m pretty sure they would never like that occur (for extended time period) in real life. But it works on the show — and seem to work in a not-so-serious vein in the old comics!

Is it just me, or do these older comics seem to jive more with the Nolan Bat-movies?

No, not really. While not filled with superpowers, they still embraced the outlandish, the sci-fi, the supernatural. They didn’t feel the need to ground everything in reality and explain a pseudorealistic origin of every last detail, gadget and tool and suck the fun out of everything. For example, Joker still has white skin and naturally red lips. He’s not a regular guy just wearing makeup. It doesn’t take itself anywhere near as seriously.

One of the few things I really wanted to see but didn’t in the fun retro Byrne Bats/Cap crossover was Bruce and Steve lounging around smoking their pipes.

The depiction of the first page of Detective #27 and the panel with the dead body on the floor must have come from a censored reprint. The original comic had a pool of blood on the floor with a knife sticking up from the corpse

Yeah, it is from the Millennium Edition. Odd that they’d edit the Millennium Edition.

The Millenium Edition was probably scanned from a reprint. Even the folks at DC Comics probably don’t have original copies of Detective Comics # 27 lying around – Or even scans/film of such.

I agree with T. A lot of the old comics fit surprisingly well with Warner Brothers-style crime dramas of the day, however.

Of note is that while the Joker was clearly a homicidal maniac from day 1, he was also clearly motivated by greed. He stole stuff. He wanted valuable goods. In modern times, the Joker doesn’t necessarily have a need for physical wealth, except to finance his gruesome “act”. Sure, money and valuables are nice, but for a couple of decades he’s been more about making a point or just plain utter terror.

I agree with T. A lot of the old comics fit surprisingly well with Warner Brothers-style crime dramas of the day, however.

Great observation.

Of note is that while the Joker was clearly a homicidal maniac from day 1, he was also clearly motivated by greed. He stole stuff. He wanted valuable goods. In modern times, the Joker doesn’t necessarily have a need for physical wealth, except to finance his gruesome “act”. Sure, money and valuables are nice, but for a couple of decades he’s been more about making a point or just plain utter terror.

Yes, that’s another reason why these stories don’t remind me of Nolan. Nolan is of that post-Frank Miller school where the Joker seems to view crime as some sort of terrorist love letter to Batman, rather than something he would be doing anyway, with or without the existence of Batman. Easily one of the worst changes to the Batman status quos ever, since now not only is Joker killing hundreds to thousands of people, he’s specifically doing it to get Batman’s attention. Batman isn’t saving people who would have died anyway with his existence, his existence is actually leading to people dying. Scott Snyder unfortunately is currently totally playing into this terrible dynamic, as Joker’s whole plot is solely motivated by his homoerotic fixation on Batman, and every person he’s killing is just an attempt to get Batman to notice him. Instead of a nutjob out to kill people and the noble guy out to stop him and save people, it’s now instead two self-absorbed insane assholes having an obsessive feud and a whole bunch of innocents getting caught up as collateral damage. Since Nolan is squarely in the latter camp, I see him as closer in spirit to current Batman comics than to this classic stuff.

Actually, the Millennium Edition of Detective #27 was one of the few reprints that was not edited. The body with the knife in it is page 2, not page 1.

Here’s a summary of the reprints of that story:

Detective Comics (1937 series) #27 (May 1939): “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” [first appearance]:
1. Batman (1939 series) #200 [first page only]
2. Detective Comics (1937 series) #387 (May 1969) [edited]
3. Batman From the Thirties to the Seventies (Crown Publishers, 1971 series) #73-168329 (1971) [edited]
4. Famous First Edition (1974 series) #C-28 (1974) [unedited]
5. Dynamite Magazine #2 (Scholastic, April 1974) [? not sure of details]
6. A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981 series) nn (1981) [unedited]
7. Detective Comics Collector’s Edition #27 (Oreo giveaway, 1984) [? not sure of details]
8. Batman Archives (1990 series) vol. 1 ([June] 1990) [edited]
9. Detective Comics (1937 series) #627 (March 1991) [edited]
10. Millennium Edition: Detective Comics 27 (2000 series) #nn (February 2000) [unedited]
11. Batman in the Forties (2004 series) #nn (2004) [unedited]
12. Batman Chronicles (2005 series) vol. 1 (2005) [edited]
13. Batman Begins – Special DVD Issue (2005 series) #nn (2005) [edited]

Note the notation of whether the reprint has been edited or not; DC edited this once for violence back in the 1960′s, and sometimes that version is reprinted instead of the unedited version (example: on the second page second panel, the victim’s body in the original has a knife sticking out of his back; in the edited version, the knife is missing. Same thing with the next panel, which shows a man trying to help the victim, holding the knife he has taken out (or not holding it).) Unfortunately, recently DC’s been using the edited reprint, despite the fact that there does exist a digital version of the unedited version last used in Batman in the Forties.

T. –

I think that there’s a fine line between Joker doing heinous things out of his love for cruelty and doing heinous things out of his love for Batman. Some writers go a little too far in either direction, but I think it’s preferable to some guy who wants money. If he’s so insane, why should he care about jewels and the like?

The Joker’s clinical insanity wasn’t established until “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” in the 1970s. In the 1930s he’s a murderous, flamboyant thief. Then in the 1940s he became just a thief. So his modern-day insanity doesn’t bear on his 1930s adventures.

That last panel suggests that the crew and rank of the Dirigible of Death largely survived the story. I had heard the dirigble blew up. I suppose we should praise them for emergency preparedness.

Allen

December 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Actually, the Millennium Edition of Detective #27 was one of the few reprints that was not edited. The body with the knife in it is page 2, not page 1.

Here’s a summary of the reprints of that story:

——————————–

Cf. the reprints of the antecedent story, Partners of Peril, by Theodore Tinsley

In the latest Batman comic, Batman references a fight between himself and the Joker that involved a balloon that looks like Joker and filled with poison gas. I’ve seen this on the animated Batman series and thensome…but when was it first used in the comics?

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives