A Little Bit About Batman

My top training moments for "Batman Day"

Posted Sep 20, 2019

Batman has a long and distinguished career in comics and movies (and a less distinguished career in 1940s serials). Ever since springing from the minds of Bill Finger and Bob Kane in his debut in Detective Comics #27 from May of 1939, we've been regaled with tales of his physical prowess, crime-fighting ability, and detective skills. Throughout this history, the best of Batman represents human resilience, determination, and compassion.

For me, the defining feature of Batman is his martial arts mastery. In honor of Batman Day, here is a brief rundown of some of my favorite moments in the comics from the Golden Age to the near present.

1) Golden Age  (1930s—mid 1950s)

Detective Comics #27, May 1939 “The case of the Chemical Syndicate”

1st appearance of “the Bat-man”. No description of his training history is given but he does appear to have significant fighting prowess dispatching several gun-wielding thugs. To be honest, a lot of what he later represents is not really on show here.

Batman #1 Spring 1940 “The legend of the Batman—who he is and how he came to be!” (Originally found in Detective Comics #33)

This is the first attempt to describe the origin story of Batman. Bruce Wayne is shown using one hand to hold a gigantic barbell over his head. The extent of his physical training covers one panel! I saw this as a great opportunity when I was writing Becoming Batman.

Detective Comics #38 April 1940 “Introducing Robin, the Boy Wonder”

This is the first documentation of Batman training in boxing and jiu-jitsu, although he is shown using a  judo “trick” in Detective Comics #36 from Feb 1940 “Professor Hugo Strange”.

Batman #4 Winter 1941 “Blackbeard’s crew and the yacht society”

Batman explains to Robin that they must understand how to use all weapons but must never use deadly force. This is a great example of Batman realizing he must think about how his enemies will act in order to defeat them.

Batman #31 Oct/Nov 1945 “Trade Marks of Crime” 

Using jiu-jitsu, Batman disarms and throws an attacker who tries to club him with a bottle. A key example of disabling without destroying.

2) Silver Age (late 1950s—early 1970s)

Giant Batman Annual #1 1961 “How to be the Batman”

Batman has amnesia and Robin takes him through a training regimen of boxing and acrobatics in the hope of jogging Batman’s memory and restoring all his skills. While this is a bit unconventional, it does work and speaks to the difference between memory encoding for physical skills and people, places, and events.

Batman #200 March 1968 “The man who radiated fear

Bruce Wayne’s training now shows gymnastics and acrobatics including walking a tight rope. This is one of the first times that we see an increase in Batman's repertoire of training that would somehow support (or not) his night-time Dark Avenging.

Batman #232 June 1971 “Daughter of the Demon”

Batman's regimen now includes realistic strength exercises, track & field, and gymnastics training. 

Batman #243 August 1972 “The Lazurus pit”

Batman is shown using a judo arm lock on a knife-wielding attacker and saying he has “years of practice in judo”. This is one of the most realistic representations of a martial arts move in this era.

Batman #260 Jan-Feb 1975 “This one’ll kill you Batman” 

Batman fights a huge gang of adversaries. As a “master of unarmed combat,” he uses kung fu, aikido, judo, and “plain old fisticuffs”. This story highlights the need for Batman to acquire skill in many different aspects of fighting. FYI, this one did not kill him, actually.

3) Modern Age (late 1970s—present)

Batman: Year one Graphic Novel 2005 From Batman #404 1986 “Chapter One: Who I am and how I come to be”

Batman’s extensive prowess in martial arts is shown. While apparently this includes smashing through bricks with his fingertips and chopping a tree down with a sidekick, the representation of his training history given by Frank Miller is very well done and served as a major grounding for "Batman Begins".

Detective Comics #568 Nov 1986 “Eyrie”

Batman fights with martial arts weapons for one of the first times and improvises a stick for a “bo staff”. When I first read this back in the day I was early on in my training and found this to be a pretty cool story. I still do.

Detective Comics #598-600 1991 “Blind Justice” story arc

Multiple flashbacks to Bruce training in Europe & Asia with ninja-like master. Introduces Henri Ducard as major teacher who emerges again in “Batman Begins”. Really nice arc that includes some nice philosophy and some significant statements around avoiding lethal use of force.

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity” Graphic Novel 2004

Batman who “has trained a lifetime to prove them wrong” incapacitates thugs who “find courage…with a gun in their hands”. A great example of Batman's ongoing anti-gun stance.

Batman Begins: The movie and other tales of the Dark Knight 2005 “The man who falls”

Bruce Wayne’s odyssey around the world trying to gain fighting prowess is shown. Major reflection of the storyline in the amazing Christopher Nolan and David Goyer film.

“Superman/Batman: Supergirl” Graphic Novel 2005 

Alongside Superman, Batman uses a battle-ax to fight Darkseid’s hordes in an effort to free Supergirl. Superman describes Batman as “…versed in nearly every known weapon…” This story clearly documents Batman's prowess with weapons and shows how he uses them as tools to amplify his (human) abilities.

Taken in sum, Batman's history and ongoing adventures continue to resonate. He's a human like you and me who pushed himself to the limit with determined effort. He resonates because of the feeling of our own inner superhero. Please do your daily best to find your own bit of Batman within and put it to good use!

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2019)