Why Batman Was the Answer to the Great Depression

12836_700xBatman is truly a diverse character. Throughout the years, he’s been campy, serious, happy, depressed, angry, and tortured. So how did he get his start? What was he like in the beginning? After all, the campy TV series and movie of the 1960s didn’t come until twenty years after Batman had been established.
That’s why I wanted to take a look at Detective Comics #27. I was intrigued. I wanted to know what he looked like in 1939. I wanted to get a grasp for what kind of cultural impact he had when he first came out.

It’s far different than what you might assume. Most of us probably have the idea of a costumed hero facing a costumed villain and all of the science fiction stuff that goes along with that genre, but that’s not exactly the case with the early Batman stories. That is true with the early days of many cultural icons in the superhero world (Spider-Man, especially), but not Batman. This first appearance of Batman shows him fighting street crime, organized crime, and other sorts of Mafia-esque villainry.


I was a little confused about this at first, but then I thought about the setting. The year. 1939. It was the tail-end of The Great Depression. This was really an expression of where America was back then. People were poor and the crime rate was high, both of which are really expressed in Batman’s tales.

The primary conflict in this issue is that business partners who together own a chemical corporation are being killed off. Batman (who in this issue alone is known in hyphenated form as Bat-Man) manages to take down the criminals being hired to do the killing and find out who is responsible. It’s a very simplistic story, but it shows what continued to be true about Batman through the early days of the comic: Batman was more of a theatrical detective, getting to the bottom of the mystery, than he was a violent vigilante.


If you’re familiar with the early Batman stories, this one may disappoint you a little bit because it’s so short. The Batman comics had about three stories in each issue, coming to about 50 pages or so, but this one is only a 6-page story. There’s not a whole lot to complain about, however, because you can get the comic digitally on Comixology for free.
Otherwise it’s a decent story. The things that get on my nerves the most are the excessive narration (which is pretty typical for older comics) and the predictable plot. The plot in this story is extremely predictable, so if that will really bug you, then I don’t recommend this story.

I do, however, highly recommend this story to anyone who is a completist, or is curious about the first appearance of Batman. I will also say that I like his costume in this issue much better than the changes they made by the time Batman #1 came out. It’s more of a simple gray and black color scheme, and a much larger cape, both of which I thought made him a bit more menacing than the changes did. The art of this issue also seems far less rushed than many early Batman issues tend to feel, perhaps a testament to the careful attention given to a character’s debut.

In short, this first issue shows Batman is a character that was not invented with the purpose his current incarnation serves, to wage a nebulous war on injustice in the name of his innocent parents. Instead, it shows Batman a voice of hope to a country devastated by The Great Depression that things can and will be okay, and that there are heroes who still care about doing the right thing. – Logan Judy, Extremis Batman Contributor.

Story I Read: The Case of the Criminal Syndicate (Detective Comics #1, May 1939)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: Cool costume, better quality art for the’40s era of comics

Cons: Predictable plot, excessive narration

Upcoming Review: The Court of Owls (Batman, The New 52, Vol. 1)


About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on June 19, 2014, in Batman, Comics, DC and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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