This year, we celebrate Batman’s 85th anniversary. That’s 85 years of solving mysteries, upholding justice and kicking butt. And to think, it all began with a simple six-page story in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. Those six pages have led to multiple video games, blockbuster films, TV shows and so much more. Today, Batman’s iconic yellow oval bat-logo is recognized around the world.

It’s easy to forget that Batman wasn’t always the only feature in Detective Comics. The comic was an anthology, featuring many other characters from various creators. In addition to Batman’s debut, Detective Comics #27 contained stories starring Speed Saunders, Buck Marshall, Bart Regan, Crimson Avenger, Bruce Nelson, Dr. Fu Manchu, Cosmo and Slam Bradley. It’s possible that you might recognize some of those characters, but none of them can claim to have half of Batman’s cultural impact.

What was it that made “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” (Batman’s debut story) so special? Why aren’t we celebrating Bart Regan’s anniversary instead? In order to ponder this question, I’m going to ask you to do something difficult: forget everything you know about Batman. Forget every episode of Batman: The Animated Series, forget Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and forget the Caped Crusader’s massive cultural impact. Revisit “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” without any preconceived notions of who Batman is and the cultural impact he has.

Going through the story, Batman immediately comes off as a mysterious and provocative figure. “The Bat-Man, a mysterious and adventurous figure, fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his lone battle against the evil forces of society… His identity remains unknown,” the opening narration says. This introduction is accompanied by a silhouetted image of Batman. The pulp hero’s cape is spread open, making him appear more menacing. His entire body is in shadows, obscuring his features.

Right off the bat (no pun intended), this tells us that Batman is a figure of mystery, piquing the curiosity of readers. The Dark Knight is silent for most of the story. He battles villains and gathers clues, but we don’t know the purposes of the clues he’s gathering or what he’s deduced. Batman doesn’t speak until the end of the story, cementing his status as a strong and silent figure.

Bruce Wayne is seen in this initial adventure, but readers don’t learn that he’s Batman until the final page. Once again, this tells us that Batman has more than a few surprises that we aren’t privy to. For comic book readers in 1939, this was the type of protagonist they wanted to get to know better.

“The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” established Batman’s mysterious nature, his foreboding presence and his keen detective skills. These core qualities have remained with the character for the past 85 years. However, I also think Batman has endured for so long because of how malleable he is. The Dark Knight can be placed in a space battle alongside the Justice League, or a gritty crime noir story set in the Gotham City streets. Both settings feel natural for Batman. How many other characters can claim the same thing?

Consider the differences between Adam West’s Batman and Christian Bale’s Dark Knight. Tonally, their character interpretations are miles apart. Still, at their heart, both actors embody the core aspects of Batman that were introduced in “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” Reread the story’s opening narration again and you’ll see how that description applies to both actors.

Batman’s ability to evolve has allowed him to be something different for everyone. When audiences needed light-hearted adventure, Adam West’s Batman was there. When comic book readers were ready for something mature and thought-provoking, The Dark Knight Returns hit the stands. When moviegoers needed a reminder that not all superheroes were like Superman, Tim Burton’s Batman lit up the big screen.

Plus, we absolutely adore the car.

Even Batman’s debut story is somewhat of a chameleon. “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” has been retold in 1969’s Detective Comics #387, 1991’s Detective Comics #627, and 2014’s Detective Comics #27. The 1969 version portrays Batman as a more fleshed out and empathetic figure, trying to teach Robin the dangers of confirmation bias. Detective Comics #627 contains two versions of the story, adding more horror and building on the world of Gotham. The 2014 retelling takes us inside Batman’s head with narration boxes. This is in heavy contrast to the 1939 version which presented Batman as silent and mysterious.

Although the tone is different in each retelling, the core story remains the same. It’s still a story about Batman solving a murder mystery connected to a group of business partners. If you need some examples on how Batman has evolved (and how he’s remained the same), I recommend reading all these retellings in release order.  

When you take a step back, it’s amazing to think about how far Batman has come. There are plenty of 1939 pulp characters that have been forgotten while the Dark Knight has stood the test of time. Think about how different all our lives would be if those six pages hadn’t been included in Detective Comics #27. How different would the last 85 years have been? What would a world without Batman even look like? Batman is so engrained into our cultural identity that it’s hard to even consider.

Long live Batman. Happy 85th anniversary, Caped Crusader.

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Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.