Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When did Batman first get called 'the Dark Knight'? And who are you calling a 'punk'?

Here's an interesting bit of Batman trivia for you.

As far as I know, the 1980 three-issue limited series THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN is the first time Bruce Wayne's alter-ego is called "the Dark Knight" in the modern era. (Writers in the Golden Age of Comics mostly referred to Batman as the Caped Crusader and occasionally, the Masked Manhunter or even, in the spirit of alliteration, the Gotham Gangbuster.)

Most fans assume writer Frank Miller came up with the Dark Knight nickname based on a shortened version of the nickname the Darknight Detective.

And that's partially true. Miller popularized the Dark Knight title for Batman, but he wasn't the first "modern" writer to use it. Len Wein — a veteran Batman writer who co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing — is. (More on that — with proof — after the jump!)

The popularity of the Dark Knight nickname took off after Miller's 1986 four-issue limited series, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Now it's recognized as Batman's official nickname.

(Remember how I reminded you a few months ago that Miller's 1986 four-part, graphic novel-limited series actually first was called BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT and now goes by the subtitle of the second issue, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS?!? The proof is in the title pages!)

Fittingly, writer Milton "Bill" Finger first used the name the Dark Knight in BATMAN No. 1, but as far as I know, the title got little use afterward.

The Darknight Detective nickname became popular in the latter part of the 1960s when writer Carmine Infantino rooted Batman in using his detective skills extensively and got the Dynamic Duo away from their silly and increasingly outlandish science fiction-style adventures. The name Darknight Detective (this lifelong fan's favorite nickname for his all-time favorite character) saw even more references throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s.

In RETURNS, Miller shortened the Darknight Detective title to the more intimidating sounding Dark Knight.

Soon after the popular yet controversial story of Wayne returning to being Batman after a decade of retirement was published, the very popular Caped Crusader title slowly but surely disappeared from various Batman titles.

Since the late 1980s and well into the 1990s, the Dark Knight nickname stuck and became the nickname above all nicknames for the increasingly grim guy from Gotham City.

But back to my point and the historical, first modern appearance of Batman's popular nickname.

That's right, true believers — Len Wein is the first writer since Finger to coin the phrase "the Dark Knight." It happens only twice in THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN — in the second to last panel of issue 1 (see below) and again on the second page of the second issue.
These are the final panels of issue 1 of THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN.
Notice the rare, pre-Frank Miller reference to Batman as "the Dark Knight" in the next to last panel.

* * *

Batman trivia tidbit #2: Who you callin' a "punk"?

Speaking of issue 2, Miller's gritty Batman isn't the first one to call someone a "punk" — something the Dark Knight says many times in RETURNS.

In the opening page of the second issue of UNTOLD LEGEND, a very pissed-off and determined Batman enters a seedy bar to get some information.

The "punk"/Dark Knight scene starts with Batman addressing a man with the unoriginal but fitting name of Snitch, asking questions about the origin of the package containing his father's shredded Batman-like Halloween costume. Quaking with fear, Snitch says he "ain't heard nothing about no packages."

That's when a second guy attacks Batman from behind.

Wein's script goes like this: "…and, in that selfsame instant, the Dark Knight moves!" Batman flips the second guy over his shoulder, saying: "If you want to play rough, punk … you picked a bad night for it!"

Batman then returns his attention to Snitch and makes some DARK KNIGHT RETURNS-esque threats.

"That wasn't very smart, Snitch! I just wanted to talk — and but now I'll get my answers another way," Batman tells him.

Snitch is on his knees, looking even more terrified as he did when Batman first started talking to him. That's when he brandishes his gun — and Batman brutally back-hands him. For four panels! The expression that artist Jim Aparo gives the out-of-control hero is one of unbridled rage.

For the sake of that "punk," it's a good thing Robin (Dick Grayson, now a young adult) tracks down his senior partner. ("That's enough!" he bellows at Batman from off-panel.)

Robin shows up and intervenes, keeping the Dark Knight from doling out any more unnecessary punishment. The Teen Wonder then makes Batman realize how much carnage he's caused, showing him the unconscious bodies of two other men.

Many Batman fans will cringe when I say this, but it's moments like this that the Dark Knight needs a Robin. Even the mighty Batman needs a partner to keep him in line.

In the 1990 "Lonely Place of Dying" storyline, Tim Drake — the third eventual Robin — convinces Bruce Wayne after the murder of Jason Todd that Batman needs a Robin to keep him accountable and from getting out of control/"going off the deep end."

That's exactly what the original Robin, Dick Grayson, does in this scene from UNTOLD LEGEND. "Just protecting your back, Batman," Grayson tells him.

"Y-Yes … of course! There's nothing more this punk can tell me!"

So in the end, Frank Miller's far darker and more violent Batman owes quite a bit to Len Wein's incarnation from six years earlier.

Consider this yet another history lesson from your favorite, neighborhood-friendly blogger and lifetime Batman fan!

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