Where crime is mean, and cops are petty. Don’t worry; lurking in the night is one of the longest-reigning heroes in all of comics, Batman.
Batman has been around through the ages and continues to be updated to fit the times. Young and old readers can enjoy this comic book franchise and more than just Batman.
Being around for such a long time means that Gotham City, where Batman resides, has put out many characters for fans to love or hate. The birth of heroes who go on to be their own franchise and villains who do the same.
You probably know The Joker and Robin, but do you know Bludhaven? Do you know the Court of Owls? We will be covering all that and more in this Batman Universe Guide.
Get ready to go on a crusade through some of the most significant pieces of DC’s Dark Knight and all that owes their origins to his “mission.”
Quick Batman Stats
- First Appearance: Detective Comics #27, 1939
- First Television Show: Batman, 1966, Starring Adam West as Batman.
- First Cinematic Film: Batman: The Movie, 1966 with Adam West.
- First Cartoon: The Adventures of Batman, 1968
- First Solo Comic: Batman #1, 1940
The Evolution of the Bat
Batman didn’t start off exactly as you see him now. In fact, there are quite a few differences. He was dark, a vigilante born. His one rule didn’t exist in the Detective Comics. In the first comic he enters, the villain drops to his death in a vat of acid, and Batman says, “Nothing more than his kind deserves.” He was also often taking blows from thugs, not the martial arts master he would later come to embody. For that matter, Bruce Wayne being Batman was actually a big reveal.
Hidden Trivia: In the Batman movie where Michael Keaton first plays the character, The Joker is created after being knocked into a vat of acid during a Batman encounter! This origin continues in cartoons and the comic that reveals Joker’s Origin. The Killing Joke! Batman’s first-ever cold-blooded reaction to a criminal’s demise is used as creation for his most notorious villain.
It didn’t take long for Batman to team up with the original Robin, Dick Grayson. Dick’s humor and Bruce’s matter-of-fact attitude were good chemistry. They joined in on Superfriend and Justice League adventures, appearing throughout the DC Comic Universe. This Dynamic Duo was one of the best sellers and most beloved pairings in the DC Universe.
See also: Spiderman Characters Guide
In the early ’70s, the tone shifted. Ra’s al Ghul came into the picture for the first time. This tone would carry on, and eventually, Dick Grayson would move on to be the leader of The Titans, outgrowing Batman. Leaving the Caped Crusader.
Another Robin would come shortly, Jason Todd. This boy wonder would be far less loved by fans. Being killed off by the Joker after a reader’s vote as to whether or not the poor character would survive! This nearly broke Bruce, who almost killed The Joker in response, and would eventually lead to the emergence of the Red Hood several decades later.
Batman without Robin seemed odd at this point in his career for many readers. Soon this feeling was remedied with the third Robin, Tim Drake.
Hidden Trivia: Tim Drake’s girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, was the vigilante ‘Spoiler’ and would become Robin during Tim Drake’s absence. Eventually, being one of the few to take up the mantle of Batgirl.
Like Bruce, Tim Drake’s Robin was a bit more of a thinker and just witty enough to be comical, like Grayson. Fans liked him, and Bruce needed him.
The Bat Family was growing. Dick Grayson had become Nightwing and a popular hero defending the nearby city of Bludhaven. Occasionally making an appearance to help the new Dynamic Duo. Batgirl was also a well-liked character who would sometimes scale the rooftops to help in Gotham.
The Bat Universe was looking good. Batman seemed like he was no longer alone. Enter Miller.
So, of course, Frank Miller decided to darken it up even more. His take on an older Batman coming out of retirement to fix an ailing city in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns emphasized the more human elements of Bruce’s life. On what being Batman really meant.
The infamous Batman VS Superman, where Bruce beats Clark to within an inch of his life(with some help from Green Arrow and Kryptonite, of course), comes from this version of Batman.
Miller’s grittier version of Batman lingers pleasantly in many fans’ minds. The characteristics shown here would come in and out of Batman’s writing from then on.
Like all great heroes, Batman eventually gets killed. It’s a thing. At least in Bruce Wayne’s case, he got killed shooting Darkseid, a literal God of Evil, with a God-killing bullet so the world could be saved.
It is then that Nightwing, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, becomes Batman.
It’s not a short run either. Dick is Batman for a while. Years. Helps with the Justice League, takes part in cross-comic missions, and takes on Bruce’s real-life son, Damian Wayne, as his Robin. This Robin is a borderline anti-hero. Having been raised by Talia al Ghul to be an assassin. She allows him to go into Bruce’s care in hopes he may be more. Bruce agreed to this in the hope of saving his son, and so Damian became Robin.
Before Batman died, Dick had come back on good terms with him. He had founded the Titans and got fake killed while he was away. Yet, Nightwing made appearances often in Gotham-related stories. In some ways, it all prepared him for this.
The love-hate relationship between Dick and Bruce, the original Batman and Robin, is as father and son as you can get. Damian, while training with Dick, found himself actually jealous of this. He hated that Dick was given the mantle of Batman and not him.
Constantly through their comics, Dick proved to be not as witty as Batman, and Damian rubbed it in at every chance he got. Eventually, Damian would yield to the truth. Grayson was the proper person to take up the mantle, and the two would become a tremendous modern Dynamic Duo.
See also: Wandavision Characters Guide
Tim Drake, the third Robin, makes a case for the second most popular Robin of all time. In some of his solo runs, he dawned the mantle of Red Robin. Being off on his own string of adventures, Tim found old cave drawings of what he believed to be the Bat-Family Crest. He now thought Batman wasn’t dead at all but lost in time.
Tim lets nothing stand in his way from pursuing this idea.
Tim Drake may not be as physically imposing in a fight as Dick or Bruce, but he proves to be better at quick-thinking. His skills don’t go unnoticed, and Ra’s al Ghul himself bestows upon him a title he only ever held for the original Batman. He deems Tim Drake, The Detective. Because it is Red Robin who puts a stop to his plans to take Gotham while Bruce is away.
Tim lives up to the Detective moniker and proves to be ultimately right about Batman’s fate. Continuing on as Red Robin from there on out.
Back to the Bruce
Currently, this is the state of things in comicdom: Bruce Wayne is Batman again, and his son Damian is his Robin. There’s a good series of recent DC cartoon movies that embody this story. Still, the comics are a bit more kind to the supporting characters.
I may have skimmed quite a lot, but you can consider yourself full of Batman lore as of this moment. Here are some of our recommended Batman reads, and then we’ll give a list of some of the most important characters to ever come out of Gotham.
- Batman: Year One
- Batman: a Death in the Family
- Batman: Knightfall
- Batman: Hush
- Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Batman: The Killing Joke
- Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn
- Batman: The Black Mirror
The Bat Family
Robin is a fixture and the poster boy for sidekicks in comics. Robin is a human kid trying to take up a crime-fighting mantle. Eventually, they are taken in and mentored by Batman.
Over the years, there have been several Robins. They have mostly all moved on to become their own heroes.
- Dick Grayson: Detective Comics #36(1940) Becomes Nightwing in 1984
- Jason Todd: Batman #357 (1983) Becomes Red Hood in Batman #635 (2005)
- Tim Drake: Batman #436 (1989) Red Robin as of Batman: Battle for the Cowl (2009)
- Stephanie Brown: Detective Comics #647 (1992) Becomes Robin in 2004 for a good run.
- Damian Wayne: As a baby in Batman: Son of the Demon (1987) Becomes Robin in Batman #655 (2006)
The faithful butler of Bruce Wayne was in charge of looking after him after Bruce was left an orphan. Initially, his role was gently supportive, but the character has developed to gain quite a following over the years. A former British Agent, excellent in hand-to-hand combat, and a father figure to Batman.
A few have taken up the mantle, but Barbra Gordon has the most history with it. The commissioner’s daughter fought to be more than a side character and earned it. She is eventually paralyzed from the waist down. This is always done by The Joker, leading her to become The Oracle full-time in many timelines.
All the Batgirls:
- Betty Kane: Batman #139(1961) Becomes Flamebird in 1989
- Barbara Gordon: Detective Comics #359(1967) As Oracle, Suicide Squad #23(1989)
- Cassandra Cain: Batman #567 (1999) As Black Bat, Batman Incorporated #6 (2011)
- Stephanie Brown: Batgirl #1(2009)
Batwoman manages to grab up her own TV series(played by Ruby Rose) and carry the title for a while in the absence of Batman. This character had a long hiatus after only a handful of appearances in the late 50s and early 60s as Kathy Kane. Returning in 2006 as Kate Kane.
Terry McGinnis becomes Batman in a futuristic suit to protect Gotham. An animated series and a still ongoing comic inspired by the cartoon, this has become a low-key fan favorite of Batman fans. Terry McGinnis was born using Bruce’s DNA, meaning this Batman is biologically his son.
The most famous police officer in perhaps all of comicdom. Gordon gained tons of popularity as a side character who often supported and occasionally clashed with Batman. The character even headed his own TV series, Gotham. Sometimes called Jim, James Gordon fights corruption from inside the GCPD in Gotham. He is one of the few people Bruce Wayne looks up to and one of his oldest friends.
See also: Wonder Woman Characters Guide
More Than Enemies
The following list is not just of enemies but enemies tied at the hip in one way or another to the Dark Knight.
He could be a mad genius with extreme pain tolerance and excellent reaction time, depending on who you’re reading. Often injuring the much better fighter in Batman and even schooling in combat anyone who doesn’t match the Caped Crusader’s skills. Or, you could get a violent, cowardly, scheming individual who is still quite charismatic and able to manipulate followers but less capable in a fight. The only constant is that Joker is the antithesis of Batman. He is the belief all people are evil and Batman’s crusade to save a city is foolish. Expect them to be at odds forever.
The first Catwoman, Selina Kyle, is not just an enemy but the great love of Batman’s life. She is sometimes depicted as a ruthless, calculated villain. More often, as a caring individual, fighting, killing, or maiming any man or woman who harms an innocent in front of her. The one thing true in any depiction is she and Bruce fall in love, and she loves to steal. Catwoman wants all the nice things, and she has no guilt in taking them.
Harvey Dent was a friend of Bruce Wayne and an ally. This district attorney in Gotham wasn’t afraid to go after the mob, even if it meant his life. Finally, pushed to a breaking point, when half of his body was significantly scarred. He became Two-Face. Two-Face is ruthless, intelligent, and no slouch in a fight. His split personality is readily on display when deciding someone’s fate. Two-Face flips a coin. If it lands on the clean face, his enemies get mercy. If it lands on the marred face, they get a bullet.
Ra’s al Ghul
When this leader of the League of Shadows was first introduced, it became set in stone that he had trained Bruce Wayne. This actually led to Batman being a more capable fighter in the comics and built upon his modern perception as more of a ninja-like figure. Ra’s is immortal thanks to the Lazarus Pits. Yet, it is not immortality that he wants; it is a successor. Bruce Wayne was the only one he saw worthy. He manages to get Wayne to marry his daughter through some twisted manipulation. Eventually, we end up with Bruce’s son and Ra’s Grandson, Damian Wayne. Now, they really are family.
Talia al Ghul
Daughter of the Demon. Talia is no slouch in combat and is a master manipulator. She and Bruce don’t just share a child. They have a complicated history of in and out of love. It is often considered manipulative more than genuine. Batman has been duped and defeated by this woman more times than most, and while his heart lies with Catwoman, there is clearly something between them. She is, in the end, the mother of his child. A child she would die and kill for, both of which she comes to do.
The Red Hood
A madman in a mask who plays vigilante. In many instances, he is far more of a villain than a hero, especially his first. His thirst for vengeance, his distaste for Batman’s way of crime-fighting, and his lack of self-control lead him to do some pretty terrible things. Red Hood made a huge impact when he first appeared in the comics, not just for taking Batman to the limit but due to the reveal of who he was under the hood. Jason Todd, the second Robin. This returning Robin was brought back from the Lazarus Pits by Ra’s al Ghul(Scarecrow in Titans) to be what Bruce wouldn’t. It didn’t work out so well, obviously.
Other Infamous Batman Villains
There are so many fantastic villains that come from the Batman Universe. Here are a few quick names of the most infamous.
- Real Name: Edward Nigma
- Notes: The Riddler discovers Batman’s secret identity in the Hush storyline. Still, he is convinced by Batman not to use it with a riddle. The riddle is, “What power is there in knowing a secret when it’s no longer a secret?”
- Real Name: Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot
- Notes: For all its flaws, the show Gotham has arguably the best version of Penguin. You can watch him go from a nothing lackey to a feared crime lord and supervillain in the city of Gotham.
- Real Name: Pamela Lillian Isley
- Notes: She is arguably the most powerful character, bar none, to emerge from the Batman Universe. She wants to save the planet by getting rid of the people. Fair enough, right?
- Real Name: Victor Fries
- Notes: Freeze is searching endlessly for a cure for his wife. He commits crimes without caring about the consequence of this end. This leads to a great deal of sympathy from The Bat.
- Real Name: Jonathon Crane
- Notes: Scarecrow’s fear toxin has given him control of Gotham on more than one occasion. Most recently on the show Titans.
- Real Name: Harleen Frances Quinzel
- Notes: Having her own comics, films and cartoon, Harley is one of DC’s hottest properties. Harley also develops one of the first LGBTQ relationships in DC comics when she and Poison Ivy fall in love.
- Real Name: Eduardo Dorrance(on the show Gotham, but no name in the comics)
- Notes: Bane has broken Batman’s back on film and in the comics. He should never be overlooked.
A bullet-proof, trick-laced super vehicle that would fit right into a Twisted Metal game. This car has evolved over the years but is always a standard of any Batman.
The Utility Belt
Where he keeps hundreds of tricks for the many super-powered foes or when he is outnumbered. Batarangs for distance throwing, smoke bombs for escape, anti-toxin serums and first aid, as well as sleeping and even kryptonite gas, usually sit in this belt. It also holds brass knuckles and the infamous grappling hook he uses to traverse the city.
Yes, Batman does have a suit like Tony Stark. He only uses it to fight super-powered individuals or when he is too old to physically do his usual crime-fighting.
There has been a Bat Submarine, a Bat Helicopter, and even a Bat Space Shuttle. I kid you not.
The Batplane or the Bat Wing, gets the most use and is the only one of these to be a staple of the comics and films. In some instances, it can even transform into a Bat Submarine!
The Crime Families of Gotham
The typical criminal element was Batman’s original opposition. The Falcones and The Maronis are the most infamous crime families in Gotham. These long-term crime families are given love in every film adaptation because there is no crime for Batman to fight without them. His fight with them perhaps arguably creates the rise of the supervillains.
The infamous Asylum is where the supervillains of Batman’s world go after capture. Labeled the criminally insane, they come here instead of prison for obvious reasons. Hugo Strange is often connected with this Asylum and the reason for many of its failures.
I don’t know who is working security because they do a terrible job. Arkham has not just been broken out of several times; it has been used as the base of attacks against all of Gotham on multiple occasions. In Batman Begins, this happens thanks to Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul.
In a widely acclaimed banger of a game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, you get to be Batman and clear up the place as the inmates have taken over.
Birds of Prey
The ladies of the Bat-Family team together on more than one occasion and for their own comic book run. (They also have a short-lived television series). Originally the group consisted only of The Oracle(Barbra Gordon) and Black Canary, later bringing on The Huntress and Barbra as Batgirl instead of Oracle.
It’s gone through many changes and team upgrades. You can even see them pretending to be a team in the Harley Quinn movie called Birds of Prey…except it is not a team movie, honestly.
Actors Take the Helm
Batman was first portrayed by Lewis Wilson in 1943 Movie Serials entitled Batman. They loosely embodied the character crime-fighting alongside Robin, but were a bit more political and targeted at rallying people behind the war at the time.
Adam West embodied Batman’s campy, fun, genuinely comic view of the character in the ’50s and 60s. The old show still has a cult following that led to West taking on the mantle again in two animated movies in the late 2010s before sadly passing away.
It is Michael Keaton, however, that brought significant box office returns in his portrayal of Batman. In his film, Jack Nicholson also takes on the arch-nemesis many came to love, The Joker. Both actors did an amazing job.
Another Keaton Batman movie would follow with an excellent cast. Michelle Pfieffer knocks her Catwoman out of the park along with an enjoyable performance by Danny DeVito as the Penguin.
Due to popular requests, Keaton is set to reprise his role as an older Batman in the current DC Cinematic Universe.
Val Kilmer and George Clooney, two well-versed actors, failed to be convincing as Batman to many viewers in the following two Batman films. Yet, the villains, Jim Carey as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, were well-liked.
Christian Bale’s run as Batman introduced a film audience to Ra’s al Ghul and made DC a lot of money. It also brought arguably the best performance of a villain ever depicted in Batman: The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger rightfully won an Academy Award for his portrayal of The Joker.
A Gotham TV series shows a young Batman portrayed by David Mazouz. He is heavily influenced by James Gordon and his butler Alfred, who is rightfully represented as more of a father figure.
As of this article, Ben Affleck has hung up his Cowl after being part of the Justice League and Batman VS Superman films. He portrayed a more injured, veteran version of the hero.
Time will tell how Robert Pattinson does, but so far, he is winning the majority of the audience’s favor. His Batman is a more brooding, almost Frank Miller-Esq, Year One Batman.
See also: The Ultimate Sparky WandaVision Guide
Batman: The Animated Series
The 1990s let out one of the highest-rated cartoons of all time, Batman: The Animated Series. Many of the comic stories from the past and a more reasonable Batman existed throughout its run.
Dick Grayson’s Robin is a staple of the series, as is Jim Gordon. Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and nearly all the big named villains of the decades make appearances.
The Batman portrayed in this cartoon is still the most popular version of the Dark Knight. He carries the line between a relentless, sometimes unfriendly leader and a loving friend who cares deeply for others. This version of Bruce is brought back in Justice League cartoons and later iterations of Batman cartoons in the 90s and early 2000s. If the no-spoiler end of “The Batman” with Robert Pattinson is any hint, likely the one you’ll see in future films with this character.
More importantly, the hyper-popular character, Harley Quinn, got her start in this cartoon. That’s some obscure trivia for you.
One of the most popular female anti-hero comic book characters started out as a cartoon.
- Mark Hamill is the voice of The Joker in Batman: Animated Series.
- The Original Batgirl and Batwoman were short-lived and created as “romantic” interests because readers due to some fans thinking Batman was “gay”, luckily we’ve evolved and Batwoman is in fact an open lesbian in her current iteration.
- Batman is notorious for expert planning. An enemy once hacked his “in-case of emergency” plans to take down the entire Justice League and then used them to successfully take out the entire Justice League.
- On Titans, Jason Todd is killed the same way as in the comics. Only this time, it does break Batman, and he beats The Joker to death in vengeance.
- There is an entire series of DC Animated films dedicated to Batman that I highly recommend. Check them out here.
- Kevin Conroy voices Batman in Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond.
Question: Did Batman kill Joker?
Answer: Oh, yes. In Frank Miller’s Batman, The Joker kills himself and convinces the cops Batman did it to sully the Dark Knight’s reputation as a final act. In Tim Burton’s Batman film Michael Keaton can’t pull Jack Nicholson up, and Joker falls to his death. Yet, in The Killing Joke, it is an emotionally intense ending to a roller coaster of a storyline. They are laughing together until Joker’s laughter stops. It plays out tragically as if Batman excepts death is the only end Joker will accept to their dance.
Question: How old is Batman?
Answer: As a comic, wow, almost a 100. As a hero, it is written his year one starts at age 27, but he isn’t really an effective Batman until his 30s.
Question: Is Batman married to Catwoman?
Answer: No. Though he proposed, when the day finally came around, both admitted to not being the marrying type and called it off. They’re still a thing, though.
Question: Does Batman have kids?
Answer: Yes, all of the Robins. But also, yes, Damian Wayne and Terry McGinnis are biologically his children. Damian is more his actual son than Terry. Bruce is currently raising him, after all.
The Batman character has evolved so much over time. It remains a staple of DC and the very concept of a vigilante. He is a human that lives in a world where super-powered beings run rampant and normal is unusual, and perhaps he is indeed crazy.
No matter what iteration you read or what form of Batman you come across, he will always be dedicated to his mission. Sometimes, that means putting those he loves and cares about second. This causes many of his relationships to fail but gives us the hero we need.
Batman isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the lore of Gotham City and its Dark Knight will only ever get deeper.