A figure stands in the shadows of the city of Gotham. You almost miss him as he melts into the darkness. His half-mask and long black cape trail the dusky wind behind him as he stares into the dangerous streets of the city he protects.
Today marks the birthday of the man who changed the face of DC Comics by giving the world Batman. Robert Kahn, or Bob Kane as he was better known, had a vision in early 1939 of a character that was a combination of actor Douglas Fairbanks' portrayal of the swashbuckler Zorro, Leonardo da Vinci's diagram of the ‘ornithopter’ (a flying machine with huge bat-like wings) and the 1930 film The Bat Whispers, based on Mary Rinehart's mystery novel, The Circular Staircase. This would be a superhero that would rival Action Comics’ Superman, which was the chosen favourite among the fandom at the time. Procuring the help of writer Bill Finger, Kane showed him his vision of Batman and the duo joined forces to put it down on paper.
This new DC character made its debut in Detective Comics #27, which was published the same year, and what followed was a total breakout hit. People loved the idea of a mortal man using idea, technology and training to fight evil and save his city from the notorious blackbirds wishing to destroy and exploit it.
Kane had begun his career in animation right after he graduated from Cooper Union at Max Fleischer Studio as a trainee, in 1934. Two years later, he entered the field of comics and worked through a series of studios, which included Jerry Iger’s Eisner & Iger, an extremely popular one at the time. It was through this company that he was exposed to others in the same market. Incidentally, his work was noted by two of the companies that later merged to form DC Comics.
A pure-blooded New Yorker throughout his life, Kane had been a part of the industry long enough to know how to manage business and success. When the demand for the Batman comic books grew tenfold, he hired more help to keep the series up and would work round the clock to give his readers what they craved the most – more Batman.
Although many have stated that Batman was as much Finger’s as it was Kane’s, considering that one couldn’t create without the other, today we would like to remember the latter on his 101st birthday by celebrating the enduring legacy of Batman and what we can take home from this iconic superhero.
“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol... as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting” (Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins)
One of the reasons Batman is so special is because he’s just a man. He wasn’t born in another planet (Superman) and he didn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider (Spiderman). He is an ordinary man, just like you and me, albeit a billionaire with access to high-end technology – Bruce Wayne. Bruce realises that his mortal identity will not help him save the city of Gotham. For that, he needed to create a new identity, a symbol of power and indestructibility, which would instil hope in the minds of his people and fear in the hearts of his enemies.
Keeping this is in mind, a true leader needs to become a symbol of hope and power to his or her people, making them believe that no matter the crisis, their leader will save the day.
“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” (Thomas Wayne to a young Bruce in Batman Begins)
Batman isn’t your ‘perfect hero’. He has a dark past, and his insecurities are relayed to the audience from the very beginning. He is a conflicted character, and that’s what makes him so relatable. His focus lies in the grey layers, and more often than not, he makes mistakes. To be a great leader, it is mandatory to fall a few times but to never let it defeat your will.
“All men have limits. They learn what they are and learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine.” (Batman, Knightfall)
The thing about Batman not being your conventional superhero is that you don’t know how far he will go for his purpose. In the comic book series, some of the more powerful villains like The Joker and Penguin have tried to provoke him time and time again, throwing his insecurities in his face and attacking his personal self. Each time, you want Batman to snuff them out and rise to the challenge, and more often than not he does. But you can always trust him to never cross over to the ‘dark side’ in that sense, even as he toes the line multiple times. As a leader, you need to expand your boundaries and challenge yourself every day, but you should know when much is ‘too much’ and when it is time to take a step backwards.
“He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.” (Jim Gordon in the Dark Knight)
Bruce Wayne may put up an air of billionaire playboy and live in a mansion and have his every whim answered, but essentially he is lonely, and so is his alter ego, Batman. In a sense, Batman can be more honest than Bruce Wayne, but his unconventional measures often make him a ‘villain’ in the eyes of the people of Gotham, often on the instigation of the true villains of the series. No one thanks him for saving their city, no one extends an arm of friendship in his direction. Thus, Bruce Wayne lives a solitary life with only his loyal servant Alfred for company, and the secret loyalty of his friend Detective Jim Gordon.
To become a great leader, sometimes one needs to make certain sacrifices on a personal level. But it is the reward that comes with mattering where it counts, that makes up for everything.