The history of graphic narrative is quite old, though with the advent of cover and inside illustrations for American pulp magazines in 1886 (Argosy Magazine), as England had their own “Penny Dreadfuls,” pulp magazines with creepy short stories and , of course, the Baker Street detective, Sherlock Holmes, who appeared in a couple of different 'pulp' magazines in 1887, and soon made the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories at home with the famous The Strand Magazine in 1891. American 'pulp' science fiction stories began with Hugo Greensbeck's “Ralph 124C 41+” in Modern Electronics (April 1911, novel-form in 1925), followed closely by Edgar Rice Burrough's “Under the Moon of Mars” in The All Story (serialized Feb. to July, 1912 – eventually published in novel-form as A Princess of Mars), and then Burroughs published his iconic adventure/fantasy charter, “Tarzan of the Apes: A Romance in the Jungle” in The All Story (Oct. 1912). The pulp magazines (so named because they were printed on the cheapest paper imaginable) were off and running and fantastic characters, new genres poured forth upon the newsstands covering just about every topic and setting one could imagine. Newspaper comics began to produce sequential graphic narrative with the likes of Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond in 1934, and Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician in 1934 and The Phantom in 1936. Soon, eager magazine publishers decided to bundle together the newspaper comic strips and sell them as “funny-books” or “comic-books.” It wasn't long before the publishers were clamoring for original content and what happened next changed (read: substantially influenced) sequential graphic narrative and, after a fashion, the inclusiveness of literature itself.
Comic-books (leaving the “funny-books” tag to other genre historians), or rather the publishers of such magazines, soon clamored for original content and began releasing science-fiction, western, thriller, adventure, and other types of comic-book stories scattered throughout various titles. And, then the first superhero story was printed and sold, Superman starring in Action Comics #1 (June 1938; New York: Detective Comics, Inc.). I've heard and read (though I can't cite the reference off-hand), the three most famous global fictional characters are Tarzan, Superman, and Sherlock Holmes. Superman was an instant mega-hit and comic-book publishers ordered their writers to come up with more superheroes (not necessary with super-powers, but with a costume, a cool name, and some gimmick or trick which set him apart from the rest). Scheduled for April of 1939, artist and writer, Bill Everett, created a half-human and half-Atlantean anti-hero who could fly with little wings on his feet, was very, very strong, and could breathe in and out of water, for a give-away comic-book entitled Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 (New York: First Funnies, Inc.) ...which was never released, given away or sold. As a matter of fact, no copies we known to exist until several turned up in 1974 and left the comic-book world breathless. So, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner came close to being the 'second' superhero, but it ...wasn't in the cards, stars, or on the newsstands.
The coveted number two position behind Superman, went to Bat-Man when he starred in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939; New York: Detective Comics, Inc.). One name was given as both writer and artist and that was “Rob't Kane,” soon thereafter signed 'Bob Kane'. The non-superpowered superhero was a master detective and in superb physical condition, inspired (as is said) by selecting elements of Zorro (All-Story Weekly, Aug. 1919, in his manifestations as adventure hero in pulps and later in films) and the pulp mystery hero, The Black Bat written by Murry Leinster (6 issues of Black Bat Detective Mysteries between 1933 and 1934). The secret identity of Bat-Man was the spoiled billionaire, Bruce Wayne (claimed to have derived from the historical Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), a king who fought successfully for independence from England, and the revolutionary hero, Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania (who would later serve in the U. S. House of Representatives voting for Georgia 1st Congressional district and representing the brief and barely nominal anti-Administration Party, which consisted of Jefferson, and James Madison decrying anything suggested by Alexander Hamilton). Proper credit for inspiration, costume design, secondary characters, villains – in other words the guys who wrote and told Bob Kane what to draw – was decades in coming, with the writer, Bill Finger, now receiving co-credit in all media (maybe the heirs get a few bucks; I don't know). [Note: In a Bob Kane bio published in Detective Comics #328, Kane claims he was inspired by a movie called The Bat, which was released in 1926 (the silent film was based on a 1920 play of the same name and adapted from the novel, The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart. A “caped” murderer was introduced in the stage version, but in the novel the killer is simply ...a homicidal criminal. Two other film versions were made: a “talkie” entitled The Bat Whispers in 1930 and a 1959 version starring Vincent Price, again entitled The Bat. In Kane's 1989 autobiography, Batman and Me, he changes which movie inspired him and names the 1930 The Bat Whispers. For Kane's bio from Detective Comics, see p. 20 and p. 21.]
Now, Superman was established as living and doing his superhero adventures in Metropolis, the Big Apricot in Action Comics #16 (Sept. 1939). Bat-Man? In Detective Comics #31 (Sept. 1939) there's mention of a “NEW YORK NIGHT,” in Dectective Comics #33 (Nov. 1939) the story takes place in “DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN,” followed in the next issue by a reference to “Midtown” in Detective Comics #34 (Dec. 1939). Newspapers were shown of NEW YORK WORLD, HERALDE, THE TRIBUNE, DAILY GLOBE, DAILY BUGLE, and AUTHENTICATED NEWS from NEW YORK CITY. Metropolis is referred to in BAT MAN #3 (Fall 1940) in the context of a train, the “METROPOLIS LIMITED” from Bat-Man's hometown.
Examples of Bat-Man's early New York City base (abandoned in favor of an imaginary city, Gotham.
Bat-Man's hometown, a “metropolis” in need of his personal protection, evolved from New York City to an unnamed big city within a reasonable drive or train-ride from Metropolis. The mythos of an icon comic-book superhero often (sometimes, too often) go through changes in location and secondary characters and Bat-Man, to an extant was no different. New York City was soon abandoned and left unnamed for a time. Subtle clues were scattered about – a 17th or 18th century homes with a short driving distance and I can categorically REJECT any proposal where NYC has such antiquated homes and large lawns with old trees ...just outside the city's limit. I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn from mid-1996 to late-1997 and ...no such quaint, placed on the Historical Register, homesteads hoary with age, yet with unique sidings, gables, distinctively slanted roofs and fire-place chimneys, seemed to be within a short driving distance. However, the hometown was forever named “Gotham City” in the fourth feature story in BAT MAN #4 (Winter 1940). Yet, in the previous third feature story, the newspapers TRIBUNE/NEWYORK, DAILY TIMES/NEW YORK, and AUTHENTICATED NEWS NEW YORK'S BEST/NEW YORK CITY are prominently shown. The second feature story in BAT MAN #4 doesn't drop any geographical names whatsoever. And, as these matters unfold, in the first feature story a copy of THE GOTHAM CITY GAZETTE is shown. Gotham?
Around the time of American writer and occasional fabulist, Washington Irving (he 'invented the myth Columbus believed the world was flat and he has been shown to have been mistaken about the invention of the 'donut', as other researchers have delved further back to 1805, though I hit on a 1790 reference in a few minutes of work), is said to have been the first to apply the name 'Gotham' to New York City, though English authors were likewise applying it to Newcastle, England at the same time. The name seems to have been in use since the late 15th century to refer to a village of “Wise men,” sarcastically meaning 'simpletons'. Gotham – various cities – New York City – and then in the DC comic-book 'universe, a separate city unto itself.
From Bat-Man #4 (Winter 1940).
Before we proceed any further with Gotham, it may be prudent to examine the Bat-Man, how he's changed over the years, the actors who have portrayed him in films and on television, as well as how certain comic-book writers and artists (other than Kane, Finger, and Robinson) have made a significant contribution to the mythos of the “Dark Knight,” the “Caped Crusader,” and the somewhat personal nickname, “Bats,” much like some refer to Superman as “Supes” on occasion. Also, for continuity's sake, the Bat-Man will henceforth make reference to the “World's Greatest Detective” as 'Batman'. Oh, and the Joker's nick-name, “Batsy,” is to be ignored.
Oh, almost forgot to mention BATMAN LIVE WORLD ARENA TOUR: DISCOVER GOTHAM CITY, a stage show based on Batman (played by Nick Court) and associated characters and villians a la Cirque de Homme chauve-souris with circus and magic elements.
Besides Batman's distinctive bat-winged shaped cape, gauntlets with bat-fins (for lack of a better term), and a form-fitting cowl (actually more of a mask), his bat-ears have evolved through portrayals by actors or drawn a particular way by various artists. Below is a sampling of the bat-ears as worn by various actors.
Bat-ears changing height over the years.
And, unabashedly showing favoritism, the tall, pointy bat-ears drawn by Jim Aparo and Neal Adams were always wonderfully unique and appropriate as far as getting the whole menacing and instilling fear thing going. The stubby ears, not so much...
Now, the other noticeable costume changes over the years has been Batman's chest logo or symbol. As most know (because Bats has mentioned it a dozen or more times), the chest logo is not just for design or fashion purposes, but rather serves as a mark, a “bulls-eye,” if you will, for criminals to aim for and shoot at. Underneath the chest logo is bullet-proof armor (metal, ceramic, various plastic fibers tightly interwoven, and in today's popular ballistic resistance material, kevlar). The logo has subtly changed over the years according to many different artists, but rather than go all anal-retentive and encyclopedic, I've chosen a sampling of the major changes.
Okay, so much for Bat-this and Bat-that; it's time to return to Gotham, the city of Bruce Wayne's birth, where his parents were murdered, and the city under Batman's protection. I ask a simple question – where is Gotham? Yeah, yeah, as mentioned above Bruce/Bats was once upon a time described as being from New York City. However, somewhat quickly, Batman's purview was specified as Gotham City. And, as these things go, the actual location of this fictional comic-book city was guessed to be New York City again, somewhere in New Jersey, somewhere involving the Delaware River, and/or Chicago with all the mobsters and crime families. Christopher Nolan who directed the outstanding “The Dark Knight Trilogy” of films (2005-2008-2012) wholeheartedly believed Gotham was Chicago and even filmed there. But, and this is due to a somewhat natural, in-house, and DC-authorized change, Gotham's location was finalized in Batman #258 (Oct. 1974), with further back-stories provided by writer, Len Wein, throughout the 1980s. Gotham is Boston. Let's examine this, shall we?
In 1974, when Arkham Asylum was first introduced in Batman #258 by Dennis O'Neil and Irv Novick (later, the full name, The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, was established), the H. P. Lovecraft usage was more than appropriate, it was long overdo. As a kid and reading comic-books, it was apparent Marvel Comics placed their superheroes in 'real' cities and DC Comics used fictionally named cities based upon 'real' cities. Even though Joe Shuster, the co-creator and artist for Superman used the city of his birth, Toronto, as the 'artistic' basis for Metropolis (as far as the name goes, after a similar change as mentioned above with Batman, in that at various times Superman's chosen hometown was Cleveland, or a large town near New York City, in Delaware, and elsewhere), Metropolis was New York City and, as I 'argue', though I believed such long before the 1974 introduction of Arkham was introduced, Gotham was Boston. As animals have their unique ranging territory, so too superheroes are scattered about America, though with Superman and Batman they were separated, but not by much as is the distance from New York City to Boston or about a four and a half hour automobile drive (as well as a singular direct rail-train from Boston to Metropolis, the “Metropolis Limited”). As a kid and into adulthood, I just assumed Gotham was Boston and (rather naively, I must admit, as I read a fair amount of various comic-book fanzines) really wasn't aware there were folks who placed Gotham elsewhere. However, I admit to being incredulous when I read the opinions of some (Nolan promoting Chicago had to have been more about film location than comic-book lore) and during the research for this column ...my jaw just kept dropping more and more. Even Wikipedia, the Internet's local barber who knows everything about everybody states Arkham Asylum, acknowledging Lovecraft's placement of Arkham as Danvers, the modern name of Salem Village, land reeking of historical evil, fear, and dread, was a Massachusetts city and a suburb of Gotham, excuse me, I meant ...Boston, even Wikipedia does not make it plain, simple, accurate, and state specifically Gotham is Boston. It's like the elephant is there, but no one wants to come out and say so explicitly.
The 1692 Salem Village witch trials, land confiscation by greedy
pseudo-puritans, the hangings (the Rebbeca Nurse house is still
standing and on the historic registry), was renamed Danvers (though a
southern portion split to form the town of Peabody), and in 1879 opened
the overly ornate extravagance, the Danvers State Insane Asylum,
replete with secret underground tunnels and literally cutting-edge
treatments (it's said the first lobotomy was performed there).
When Lovecraft visited Danvers it was no wonder he cursed it with an
eerie fictionalized name, history, and odd population. On a
personal note, as I write this, I find it hilarious that tomorrow I'm
driving to Danvers to assist an old friend and editor in helping to
finish the Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers Vol. 30, as he's got
some problems with Adobe Pagemaker. Sure, Danvers today is much
different than it was in Lovecraft's time and especially during its
witch-trials period as Salem Village.
In all honesty, the architecture of the Danvers State Insane Asylum was most impressive – indeed I would be hard pressed to cite a more imposing and elaborate building in New England, past or present. Unlike it's Lovecraftian DC universe counter-part, no one ever escaped from the Danvers State Insane Asylum. Arkham Asylum? It's been a revolving door for Batman's super-villians since it was introduced in 1974. Lovecraft's choice for a city with a sordid past and DC's decision to add it to the Batman mythos remains ...sound and at the risk of seeming to toss about insincere praise, quite brilliant.
So, Arkham is Danvers, a Massachusetts suburb of Boston, which makes Gotham a comic-book fictional name for Boston. Let's overlook Ben Affleck being from Boston and co-starring in the soon to be released Batman vs Superman: The Dawn of Justice movie. Batman is from Beantown… Holy Stating the Obvious, Batman!
I may not be the goddamned Batman, but I do live in Beantown,