Happy Batman Day! The Dark Knight through the years

By Henry Hanks, CNN

Published 9:25 AM ET, Fri September 25, 2015
01.Kane:Fingers 1930s Original01.Kane:Fingers 1930s Original
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The now-annual Batman Day falls on September 26 this year, celebrating all things Dark Knight with special events at bookstores, comic book shops and elsewhere. The character was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, with his first appearance in "Detective Comics" No. 27. (DC Comics -- a Time Warner company, like CNN -- recently agreed to give Finger a co-creator credit). Courtesy DC Entertainment
Four years later, "Batman" first hit the big screen as a 15-chapter movie serial. It had a strong anti-Japanese sentiment -- with Batman and Robin fighting a Japanese spy during World War II, complete with racial slurs -- so it's far from politically correct when viewed today. Lewis Wilson and an age-appropriate 16-year-old Douglas Croft were the first actors to play the Dynamic Duo, and the serial's portrayal of faithful butler Alfred influenced the comics. (As for Robin, he was introduced in the comics in 1940.) Everett Collection
By 1949, Columbia Pictures' movie serial budget was cut to the bone, and it's apparent in the sequel "Batman and Robin." Robert Lowery and John Duncan took over the roles of the crimefighters, and this time Commissioner Gordon and Vicki Vale were added to the story, as well as a new villain, the masked Wizard. Everett Collection
By the 1950s, comic book sales had dropped, and there was an anti-comic book movement (which went all the way to the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency) that forced characters like Batman to fight space aliens and encounter ever-more outlandish plots (any actual violence involving human beings was forbidden). The characters Batwoman and Batgirl were introduced after psychiatrist Fredric Wertham said the book had an "atmosphere of homoeroticism." Courtesy DC Entertainment
As the story goes, Batman comic book sales were so bad that DC considered canceling them. Editor Julius Schwartz can be credited with saving Batman in 1964 when he rebooted the character with a "new look." Courtesy DC Entertainment
Batmania took the country by storm in early 1966 with ABC's TV series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The tongue-in-cheek series was an overnight success that lost steam by its third and final season. AFP/Getty Images
Writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams brought the edge back to Batman in 1971, setting the stage for a more serious, dark tone. Courtesy DC Entertainment
The 1986 Frank Miller comic storyline "Dark Knight Returns" brought an even darker sensibility with an older Batman in a dystopian future. Courtesy DC Entertainment
1988's violent, disturbing "The Killing Joke" storyline by Alan Moore is considered by many to be the definitive Joker tale, though it remains controversial to this day. Courtesy DC Entertainment
1988 was quite a year for the Joker as he also took the life of the second Robin, Jason Todd. Courtesy DC Entertainment
Fans rejoiced in a big way with Tim Burton's blockbuster 1989 film "Batman," which brought the Dark Knight to mainstream audiences. Michael Keaton portrayed the cowled detective, and Kim Basinger was Vicki Vale. Warner Bros.
Burton took things to an even weirder place with 1992's "Batman Returns," featuring Michelle Pfeiffer's acclaimed performance as Catwoman. Warner Bros.
Fox premiered "Batman: The Animated Series" in 1992, and it was leaps and bounds ahead of other network animation of the time. Some fans see this as the definitive adaptation of Batman. Warner Bros.
Batman faced the hulking Bane for the first time in 1993 and lost. Bruce Wayne was taken out of commission, briefly replaced by the psychotic Jean-Paul Valley. Courtesy DC Entertainment
Val Kilmer took over for Keaton in Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" in 1995. Chris O'Donnell joined the cast as Robin. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Some consider 1997's "Batman and Robin," with George Clooney in the title role, a low point for the character. Bad reviews and box office put the franchise on ice (as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze would say) for eight years. Getty Images
Christopher Nolan brought some realism to Gotham City in the 2005 reboot "Batman Begins," starring Christian Bale. Warner Bros. Entertainment
The sequel, "The Dark Knight," won over audiences and critics in 2008, grossing over $500 million in the U.S. and leading to a best supporting actor Oscar for the late Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker. Warner Bros.
2009's immersive video game "Arkham Asylum" won several awards and led to a series of follow-ups. Courtesy DC Entertainment
Along with the rest of DC Comics, "Batman" and "Detective Comics" relaunched and renumbered with No. 1 issues in 2011. Courtesy DC Entertainment
Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy ended with "The Dark Knight Rises" in 2012, for the first time bringing an end to Batman's story. Warner Bros. Pictures
Fox did the "Batman Begins" prequel idea one better with the TV show "Gotham," which begins the night young Bruce Wayne's parents were killed and focuses on Detective Gordon, who faces widespread crime and corruption. Fox
Ben Affleck will play the newest screen Batman in 2016's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." warner bros