Batman is such a huge part of popular culture, that even if you’re not a bat-fan, you know many of the key elements of his lore. You could have never read a single Batman comic, or seen a movie or cartoon featuring him, and chances are you’re familiar with things like the Batmobile or the Batcave. That’s how ubiquitous the character is in most forms of media.
But what if we told you several pieces of Dark Knight iconography originated outside the comics? Some are important, and some are small. But Batman non-comics media has seen the tail wagging the dog since 1943. Here are some of the biggest examples of Bat-lore that originated somewhere other than DC Comics, and which have migrated to the printed page.
The Batman matinee serials originated the Batcave, and probably even Alfred (1943)
The old Saturday matinee serials were Batman’s earliest translation to a non-comics medium. The black and white, low-budget films first came out in 1943, followed by a sequel in 1949. The serial made lots of changes from the comics, like making Batman a government agent and not an independent vigilante. This also came out at the height of World War II, and thus, the villain isn’t the Joker. Instead, is a racist Japanese caricature named “Dr. Daka.”
But for all these changes, the serial was an enormous success. In fact, it helped make Batman a household name to millions. They then transitioned a few notable things introduced in the serial back into the comics. The Batcave (or here, the “Bat’s Cave”), along with the secret entrance to it from Wayne Manor through a grandfather clock. Both have become fixtures of Batman’s comics lore not long after.
One of the most important characters in the Batman mythos was also likely created for the serials. Although he appeared a few months earlier in the comics. According to Batman: The Complete History, although Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, first appeared in Batman #16 (April 1943), they believed that the writers of the 1943 serial asked DC Comics to write the first Alfred story, which was published prior to the serial’s release, as a way of introducing the character. We may never know for certain, but this feels like a very probable scenario.
The Adventures of Superman radio show originated the Batman/Superman partnership (1945)
Today, we think of DC Comics’ two most iconic superheroes as either best friends and partners, or frenemies who occasionally come to blows. But the idea of pairing them together didn’t actually start in the comics. Yes, the two shared a panel as “honorary” members of the Justice Society in two stories in the 1940s era All-Star Comics. But they were just there to smile, wave, and leave. They barely acknowledged each other.
No, it was the Adventures of Superman radio show that realized that DC’s two most famous heroes should team up on the regular. Batman and Robin first appeared on the air in 1945. Superman figured out Bruce Wayne’s secret identity by using his X-ray vision (of course) and the two soon became friends and partners. They worked together on several cases. And when the actor who portrayed Superman needed some time off, Batman would take over for weeks at a time. Somehow, it took DC six more years to team up Clark and Bruce. We now think of them as two halves of the same coin, but it wasn’t a comic book-inspired notion to even team them up.
Batman ’66 originated Batgirl, Catwoman’s modern costume, Mr. Freeze’s name, and Poison Ivy (sort of)
The Batman television series from 1966 was a smash hit right out of the gate. And it influenced the comics in many ways. For starters, it returned many villains that DC Comics shelved years earlier. Most notably, Catwoman. But once the TV series brought her back, the comics followed suit. For the first 25 years of her existence, Selina Kyle wore a purple and green dress as the Feline Fatale. But the producers of the TV series made the no-brainer decision to put her in a catsuit. The comics soon followed, and we only occasionally saw the dress in the comics after that. A version of the catsuit became the standard.
Mister Freeze is another villain who owes a lot to Batman ’66. When looking over the older DC Comics for villains to use, the producers found a one-off “freeze ray” villain named Mister Zero. All we knew about Mister Zero from that one story was that they exposed him to experimental chemicals and he became dependent on sub-zero temperatures to survive. The Batman ’66 producers renamed him Mister Freeze, and three different actors portrayed him over the course of the series run. From there on out, Freeze became a top-tier Batman villain.
Of course, two enormously popular female characters from the Batman mythos owe their existence to Batman ’66. After Catwoman ran away with the series episodes she was in, the show’s producers wanted a new female costumed character for the show. They went to DC’s Carmine Infantino to design a new Batgirl. He introduced Barbara Gordon in early 1967, and a few months later, the producers took Barbara to TV. But it was their direct interference that led to Batgirl’s comic book creation. Similarly, the show’s producers wanted another costumed Femme fatale villainess. Infantino came up with Poison Ivy, but they canceled Batman before she could ever appear on it.
Batman ’89 originated the all-black costume, and the gothic design of Gotham City.
Batman might have the nickname “the Dark Knight,” but in the comics, he was almost never any darker than navy blue and grey. The original 1939 comics at least had Batman in a black cape, but the suit was always gray. It wasn’t until Tim Burton’s groundbreaking 1989 film that Batman sported an all-black suit, with just that touch of yellow in the emblem. In 1995, the comics finally followed suit, and Batman was in an all-black costume at last. He’s gone back to black and gray since (it just looks better on paper), but he did go totally dark for several years.
Another concept introduced in Burton’s Batman is the idea of a neo-Gothic version of Gotham City. Despite the literal goth in its name, for decades, Gotham just looked like New York. Designer Anton Furst created an epic, gargoyle-infused version of Gotham for the film, and almost instantly, the comics followed suit. After Burton’s film, no artists could resort to just making Bruce Wayne’s home city look just like Chicago or New York. It had to become the stuff of nightmares.
Batman: The Animated Series originated Renee Montoya, Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze’s origin story
Many people believe that Batman: The Animated Series is the best interpretation of the comics in any media. And frankly, we agree. But many things which originated in the series found their way into the books. For starters, they created GCPD Detective Renee Montoya for the series (although she debuted in the comics a few short months before). Mister Freeze’s real name, Victor Fries, and his entire tragic backstory, was a creation of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Even minor villains like Lock-Up and even Condiment King came from B:TAS. Of course, the most notable is one Harleen Quinzell. These days Harley Quinn is arguably one of DC’s top 5 characters. But Dini’s college friend, Arleen Sorkin originally inspired her. And the rest is history.
Justice League Unlimited originated the Batman/Wonder Woman flirtation
For the majority of their comics existence, they romantically paired Wonder Woman with pilot Steve Trevor, or in an occasional alternate timeline, Superman not with Lois Lane. But it was the Justice League animated show that really played up a Batman/Wonder Woman flirtation for the first time. And why not? The noble princess and the dashing and sardonic bad boy? It’s the stuff Rom Coms are made of. It was only after JLU did it that the comics followed suit, and then, of course, Batman v Superman as well.
Joel Schumacher’s Batman films originated Dr. Chase Meridian and Nightwing’s red costume
Batman Forever and Batman and Robin have been fairly or unfairly maligned, depending on your point of view. So, there’s not a lot of stuff that came from those movies that lept into the comics. Except for two things. The first was Nicole Kidman’s character, psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian. Marc Guggenheim brought a version of the character into mainstream continuity in Legends of the Dark Knight, back in 2013. Her physical appearance had to change somewhat, so as to not have to pay Kidman any royalties. She also showed up as recently as last year, in last year’s Fear State crossover.
Another relatively short-lived influence the Schumacher films had on the Batman comics was during the New 52. During this era, Nightwing ditched his signature blue and black for red and black. The exact same colors and design Dick Grayson wore in Batman and Robin. We hardly think this is a coincidence. He wore that costume for years, although he’s recently gone back to blue. But we wager whoever designed that red costume had a soft spot for Chris O’Donnell’s version of Dick Grayson.