Gouache on paper
Collection of the artist
“This portrait of Batman is part of the poster series that had full-figure shots done of just about all of the main DC superheroes, particularly the members of the Justice League. I was doing this as an intended companion piece to the Superman piece I did, which wound up being a standee sold throughout comic stores and featured in comic stores featured as a cardboard, full-sized, six-foot-some figure that you could put comic books inside pockets on the cape area. So I designed the Batman one to be able to physically do the exact same thing, where they could put these pockets over the cape and hopefully present Batman comics the same way that we did with the Superman ones. But alas, that never came to pass, and this was only ever a poster. In fact, the main poster this was released as was cropped at the waist, so that we could to do the effect of having these life-sized posters – a series of them. I knew that the full figures would get seen somewhere – which they eventually would in various book collections of projects of mine. But the initial representation and release of them as posters was in a cropped format, mostly for the effect of – I was hoping that – people would buy into the series of posters so they could have kind of the equivalent of a life-sized portrait of each of these key heroes to display in their homes or display in comic stores. I did get a chance to see that done with friends of mine who have a comic store, they did that with all the posters I did, and it was very gratifying to see, frankly.
“But the hope was I could keep going on and on and on, and do almost every DC character, but part of everything I’ve done for DC and for Marvel comics has always been a little bit subversive. I’m trying to often embrace a version of the characters that’s of my own making or at least my own fan choice. I’m often times picking up on an older style of the character, especially with constant revisions of costumes and advancements in character biographies over time where they change the character completely. I like to go back to what a character was intrinsically, what it was designed to be.”
Alex Ross painted portraits of his favorite DC Comics characters (including the Batman painting shown here), which DC intended to reproduce as life-size posters. The finished paintings were then reproduced into life-size posters sold in comic book stores..
Drawing its inspiration from popular pulp magazine detective stories of the 1930s, Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). In Detective Comics #33 (November 1939), co-creators artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger explained Batman’s background: while leaving a Gotham City movie theater one night, millionaire Thomas Wayne, his wife, and son were held up at gunpoint. Mr. Wayne fought the thief and was shot and killed, along with his wife. A witness to their brutal murders, young Bruce swore to avenge their deaths. To fulfill this purpose, over the next several years Bruce Wayne trained to become a “master scientist” and conditioned his body “to perform amazing athletic feats.” While ruminating on a disguise he could wear to terrorize criminals, a bat flew through an open window in his study “and thus is born this weird figure of the dark … this avenger of evil. The Batman.”
Though lacking any superpowers, the Batman character achieved immediate success, permanently becoming the feature in the Detective Comics title while also gaining his own Batman title in Spring 1940.
Batman was one of the few superhero characters to be successful during the downturn in superhero comics of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Following the introduction of the restrictive Comics Code in 1954, superhero comic books regained popularity, albeit with watered-down stories that omitted any violence or frights. Accordingly, goofy plots prevailed for the next several years as Batman fought menaces from other worlds and other times, such as "The Phantom of the Library" and "The Jigsaw Creature from Space." He was disguised as "The Armored Batman" and "Rip Van Batman" while fighting alongside new characters like Ace the Bat-Hound and Mogo the Bat-Ape. Batwoman and Batgirl also became fixtures during this period to combat the perception of Batman and Robin as gay lovers.
The preposterous pinnacle of Bat banality was reached with the 1966 Batman television series starring Adam West. The instantly popular series was a hit with children and adults alike, so much so that ABC aired two episodes every week for two years. Audiences quickly tired of the tongue-in-cheek nature of the series, however, and Batman's ratings began plummeting during its second season.
As the number of Batman viewers declined, so did sales of the comic book. Beginning in 1969, with the creative team of artist Neal Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil, DC Comics took Batman back to its roots. Reflecting the turbulent times in America, the stories became darker and more somber. Just as in Batman’s debut in 1939, in which he unapologetically killed a criminal by throwing him into a vat of acid, the Batman of the 1970s also resorted to violence to subdue criminals. The work of Adams and O'Neil set the tone of Batman for the next few decades, as evidenced by artist Frank Miller's beaten-down Caped Crusader in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns from 1986, the crippling of Batgirl and murder of the second Robin in 1988, Batman's near murder by foe Bane in 1993, and Christopher Nolan's gritty The Dark Knight film in 2008.