Coming Clean: The Siegel-Shuster “Bat-man” Theory

There was some interesting response to my Siegel and Shuster “Bat-man” theory. Over at The Beat, “Did Bob Kane swipe Batman from Siegel and Shuster?”:

As I said, the frequent mentions of hoaxes, made me suspicious of this but in a tweet, Ricca says it’s not a hoax…That said, if it were it would be a pretty clever gag…And the truth is both Shuster and the swipe-happy Kane were drawing on familiar Dracula images. So this is almost certainly a case of swiping the same influence.

Still…interesting.

That’s a good way of understanding it. Whatever this panel is, both sets of creators were both definitely prone to similar influences. They liked that bat stuff. But is it a hoax?  Well…

Here are the facts:

1. Siegel and Shuster’s “Bat-man” appeared in More Fun Comics #28 in January 1938 in a story titled “Vampire Venom” (sorry for the date correction from the first post — grabbed the wrong reference). This issue was edited by Vin Sullivan.

2.  Bob Kane started working on More Fun Comics #31 with “Ginger Snap,” so he probably knew the magazine well. Vin Sullivan gave him the work.

3. In 1939, a year later, Kane was given the opportunity to create a superhero like Superman by Vin Sullivan. The conversation allegedly began with Kane asking Sullivan how much Siegel and Shuster were making.

 

4. The Batman we know that was finally approved (and which contained many swipes of other sources) featured the scalloped cape and the spelling of “Bat-man.”

These are facts. Unfortunately, people who do have copies of More Fun #28 dont want to crack their CGC cases and take photos. Here is the original I used — a shadowy microfiche copy. This site offers the whole issue, which gets us closer to a confirmation.

The hoax might be what we can take away from this. Can we know for sure that this image inspired our Batman? Not without more evidence. But I agree with Steven Thompson (who comments after the Beat article) — it’s not just the pulpy cultural battiness that plays into the image (including The Bat Whispers, a 1930 film based on a play that Joe drew a poster for in high school), and the Springheel Jack/Dracula bat-cape that is enticing, but that name — Bat-manall under a common editor.  And timing: Siegel and Shuster’s version was published about a year before Detective #27.

The black hole in the middle of this is the fact that Kane was not the sole creator of the character. I am not a Batman scholar, so I’ll tell you the same thing I tell everyone who asks why my next book is not about Batman: 1) because it’s messy and 2) see Marc and Ty’s book. Batman’s creation seems largely economic to me, which isn’t as interesting (though the character itself going forward obviously is, arguably more interesting than Superman — for that Bat-stuff, wait for Glen Weldon’s eventual book). All I am claiming here is that this image was within reach to all three parties: Sullivan, Kane, and Finger (who was writing for Kane as early as 1938).

I brought up the Millar hoax to illustrate how discoveries like this really tend to capture our imaginations — and then run away with them. We have to be careful. After all, this is just a small panel in a comic book from 1938. And it is absolutely drawing on the writhing mass of bat imagery that both teams of creators absorbed. But the panel is real. So what does that mean? I like to think of it in the context of Holmes’ famously overquoted When you have eliminated the impossible” spiel — but with a twist. With these facts, the notion of Siegel and Shuster inspiring the Batman cannot be eliminated as impossible. 

It is on the table.


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