Sketch Fridays #10 - 1939 Batman. Click to enlarge.

Sketch Fridays #10 – 1939 Batman. Click to enlarge.

For some reason––for no good reason––during the last few weeks, I have become enamored by the original costume Batman wore in his debut in 1939 in Detective Comics #27. It’s not that it’s particularly good––it’s not, by modern design standards (like I know anything about design, but that’s beside the point; purple gloves!)––but I am fascinated by the costume in the context of what Batman has become.

Batman's first appearance was weird.

Batman’s first appearance was weird.

I have the first two volumes of a series of releases called Batman Chronicles which aims to reprint every Batman story in order on newsprint in handy collections. How popular characters start out always fascinates me, and Batman is especially fascinating because he is an American institution at this point, along with Superman, to be honest (and maybe Spider-man). These are characters that exist beyond their copyright (not legally, but you know what I mean), becoming vernacular to an extent for, at least, three generations of Americans. Since the character made a big splash onto our culture pre-World War II, “Batman” has become a cultural reference point, something that “everybody” knows (again, at least in American culture) and can reference without being a nerd, dork, or geek. That all changes if you read the comics, but that’s a different topic.

As clunky as those first comics are, I really enjoy reading them. The art is crude and the creators don’t trust the audience. However, I have to step back and admit that, at the time of publication, “superhero” was a brand-new concept. Sure, reading Detective Comics #27 is nigh insulting today, but the tropes, expectations, and advancements had not yet taken place save for Superman.

Really weird, but entrancing.

Really weird, but entrancing.

So, I enjoy looking at that first costume and realizing that Bob Kane and Bill Finger had no idea what Batman would become. Hell, they had no idea who the character was; Bruce Wayne’s tragic origin wasn’t printed until over a year later.

This Batman––the one with the curved ears and purple gloves––cracked down on criminals both petty and organized. He was known to use a gun once in awhile. He really was initially presented as a hardboiled detective in boxing shorts and a cape. Batman appeared the same year as Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and was a decade after Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. It was hardboiled detective fiction plus pulp radio with a dash of Superman minus super-powers. In other words, debut Batman was a very strange creature.

When thinking about this week’s Sketch Friday, I made a point to remember that this early Batman had been on my mind a lot. I’m not really a superhero artist, and with the above sketch I think it shows even my subconscious doesn’t want me to be one––I’m sure I can draw better, but I try to draw these weekly images as quickly as possible––but I was trying to be as evocative and as pure to my own artistic roots as possible.

I first got into comic books in 1991 with issue number 1 of a rebooted, adjectiveless X-Men title with long time X-writer (heck, he’s the X-savior), Chris Claremont, and artistic wunderkind, Jim Lee, at the helm. Jim Lee became the artistic idol for me and I tried as hard as possible to draw like him for the next few years (and every year since then I have tried to draw less like him; not for a lack of respect or dislike of his style––he’s still as amazing as he ever was––but his influence was so palpable that everybody started drawing like him). He has had a really interesting creative career, starting at Marvel, leaving them to help start Image Comics with other disaffected artists, leaving Image (and selling his creative output from that venture) for DC Comics to becoming that company’s co-publisher.

My Jim Lee experience.

My Jim Lee experience.

When he started at DC, he was a superstar, so he naturally was given the flagship character and drew what has become a major story in Batman’s oeuvre. His style is melodramatic and highly rendered but still cartoony/comic book enough to be appreciated and different from today’s high-contrast, realistic tendencies (yes, I’m complaining). In the interest of curiosity, I looked around the internet wondering if Lee had drawn Batman in his original costume (with low expectations), but no results surfaced. So, with my diminished, non-comic booky style, I felt I needed to meld the two.

One example of many displaying Jim Lee's penchant for drawing Batman Captain Morganing on a gargoyle.

One example of many displaying Jim Lee’s penchant for drawing Batman Captain Morganing on a gargoyle.

Now, of course, my style is not nearly as rendered as Jim Lee’s, and I go into this drawing with that intent, but quickly realized I didn’t have the patience for it. So, the image at the top is my best, though hurried, attempt at melding two things that have fascinated me at various points in my life. If anything, take it as a subdued invite and plea to have Jim Lee draw Batman in his original costume.