Fri
Feb 4 2011 6:11pm

Batman Noir

The Killing Joke

From his earliest inception, Batman has been tied to the noir genre. When Batman was first introduced by Detective Comics (now DC Comics) in 1939, the character and his stories were heavily influenced by the grittiness of the detective pulps of the time. Batman was a grim figure perfectly fitted to the world he resided in: part detective and part avenger. As the early character evolved over the course of the next issues he appeared in, he gained a tragic origin story worthy of any embittered or disillusioned noir or pulp protagonist. Not surprisingly, Batman was immediately extremely popular and by 1940, a year after the character’s introduction, he had gained his own comic book series.

Detective Comics #27

But the world that Batman was being written in was soon changing, and by 1950s the series had taken on a lighter, more conventional comic book tone. These changes only intensified as comic books came under attack for their alleged “corruption of the youth,” and soon there was little in the Batman comics to connect the character to his detective pulp and noir origins. There were flirtations with science-fiction, and in the late 1960s the camp-filled Batman television program worked its influence over the comics as well.

Batman Year One Part 4

Then in the late 1980s, Batman returned to his roots. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke brought Batman back to his grim, dark origins. Similarly, Miller’s “Year One” examined the Batman origin story with a heavy dose of noir themes like police corruption and gangland activities. In the 1990s, Batman: The Animated Series brought Batman-noir to television, painting the magnificent picture of a shadowy art deco Gotham City filled with plots, scheming, mystery and danger. The Batman franchise has even explored Batman’s noir themes in different settings, notably the dark Victorian story Gotham by Gaslight and the Lovecraftian The Doom That Came to Gotham.

Gotham by Gaslight


G. D. Falksen loves noir in all its forms, and admires the magnificent way that Batman embodies and portrays the genre.

2 comments
critter42
1. critter42
I would have to disagree the transformation took place in the late 80s - the Adams/O'Neil run in the 70s did that. Some of those stories they produced are the very definition of noir - however, it just wasn't recognized outside of the comics community until TDK came along (and really the 89 movie) and made headlines.
rob mcCathy
2. roblewmac
Dear Tor dot com.
If nobody is going to write about the 1975-6 Joker solo series I would like to
Rob L McCarthy

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