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Batman at 80: Why the Dark Knight Endures

From his comic book origin 80 years ago this weekend to his multiple incarnations on TV and the silver screen, there’s no denying Batman’s pop culture impact.

The brainchild of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman is perhaps the most accessible – the most American – of superheroes. He has no powers, only his keen wit and fighting skills to hold off the best rogues gallery in comics, including the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler as well as his sometimes love interest Catwoman.

Batman also has a relatable origin story – one that has been copied many times in the 80 years since Detective Comics 27 debuted on March 30, 1939.

His planet didn’t explode. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. His parents died in a botched mugging in front of young Bruce Wayne, marking the boy for life. But instead of falling into depression he transformed his pain and turned it into hope.

“There’s just something utterly American about that,” said current Batman writer Tom King, during a panel discussion at this weekend’s WonderCon in Anaheim. “I think that’s what makes Batman universal.”

Veteran comic artist Greg Capullo agreed that Batman is a timeless character because we live vicariously through the Caped Crusader. We can’t always get justice for ourselves – but Batman does despite living through an unthinkable truma.

“People can have a bad thing happen in their life and use it as an excuse for why they’re failing,” Capullo said. “He chose to rise up and become a victor. I think we see that champion in him. I think that’s something we should all aspire toward.”

“He’s a really simple folk hero at the end of the day,” said writer Scott Snyder, who has partnered with Capullo to create more than 50 issues of Batman stories – and who recently completed writing their Batman swan song Last Knight on Earth, which debuts May 29.

Yes, he lives in a mansion and drives amazing cars and has the best crimefighting gadgets his billions can buy, but his humanity – his quest to make good from tragedy – makes him relatable. Snyder called it the intersection of heroism and pathos.

He also obliquely rebutted Justice League director Zack Snyder’s recent assertion that Batman regularly kills bad guys instead of handing them over to Commissioner Gordon.

“There’s a misperception that he’s into scaring people,’ Scott Snyder said. “He’s about inspiring people to be their best selves.”

RELATED: The Most Personal Batman Story Ever …

The character has also thrived over the decades because of the core character Kane and Finger created, said former Batman writer Peter Tomasi. Each new scribe adds fresh layers on top of that base, making him just as relatable in settings as diverse as modern cities to westerns to comedy – even romance.

“Just when you think you may be a little bit bored, in comes a new team,” Tomasi said.

Artist Becky Cloonan – the first woman to draw for the Batman title – called the Dark Knight’s story a piece of modern mythology. The story is told and retold by writers who bring their own experiences to the character.

Artist Joelle Jones said that everyone is born knowing who Batman is.

Batman is perhaps the most accessible – the most American – of superheroes.

After 80 years and thousands of adventures (Detective Comics 1,000 debuted last week, only the second comic – aside from the Superman vehicle Action Comics – ever to hit that milestone) what’s left for Batman? Even the World’s Greatest Detective may have trouble solving this enigma.

But if King has anything to say about it – and he’s writing the main Batman title for another 30-plus issues – it could be a bit of romance, mixed with plenty of action.

Near the middle of his 100-issue run writing Batman, King controversially had Bruce and Selina Kyle’s Catwoman nearly get married, until the cat got cold feet. That sent Bruce on a downward spiral – allowing bad guy Bane to take advantage of the situation.

“Can they actually find love?” King asked. “As get closer to end, we’ll get the answer.”

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