In 1943 Columbia Pictures released a 15-chapter serial based on DC Comics' Batman, who had officially debuted in 1939 in Detective Comics. While based on the Batman comics, Columbia Pictures took liberties with the character and storylines making the character their own.
Despite Batman being one of the biggest and longest-running movie franchises, the 1943 theatrical serial is largely forgotten, leaving Batman fans to wonder what the serial was about and how it impacted the rest of the Batman films, TV series, and comic books. Without the Batman serial, the Caped Crusader wouldn't have many of the classic lore elements that fans know today.
10 The Batcave
The Batcave has become an iconic superhero lair that fans expect to see or hear about in every Batman film or show. The 1943 serial featured the first version of the Batcave. Before the serial Batman didn't have a headquarters to work out of, he operated in Gotham City.
But the serial deepened Batman's commitment to his role as a hero by giving him a place to plan and hide if necessary. The Batcave was first known as Bat's Cave, showing that Batman felt a sense of ownership over his lair and made it personal. Since Batman was based on pulp comics, the serial creators had room to expand the mythos of Batman and make him more interesting for future comics and series.
9 The Villain Reflected The Culture
The main villain in The Batman serial was specific to the story created by Columbia Pictures. Dr. Daka was depicted as a Japanese secret agent with American henchmen. This story was politically charged as World War II raged in the Pacific and Europe.
Like many future superhero movies, Batman's nemesis reflected the culture in America. Many people were weary of those of Asian descent living in their neighborhoods. From a modern perspective, it is clear that Dr. Daka was based on stereotypes and racial biases, but the villain felt real to audiences at the time. Dr. Daka never reappeared outside the serial.
8 Alfred Was Changed
Alfred appeared in the comics alongside Bruce Wayne. But his early comic appearances painted a different picture of Alfred than the serial did. In the serial, Alfred is a slender butler who assists Bruce Wayne in his efforts to take out devious villains.
In the comics, Alfred was a short and stout man employed by Bruce Wayne, but he didn't know him his whole life like in the serial. According to IMDb, Alfred's appearance in the comics was significantly impacted by the serial and led to him being depicted as a slender butler who was once a crimefighter and has continued to be described as such.
7 The Serial Success Led To A Dynamic Duo
1943 was just the start of Robin and Batman being depicted as the Dynamic Duo of Gotham City. Their characters performed well with audiences, leading them to get another serial in 1949, Batman and Robin.
Without the 1943 depiction of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, there may not have been a television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The 1943 serial showed the mentorship that Batman provided for Robin and the father and son relationship that developed between the two orphans. While comics and movies have changed their rapport, Batman and Robin still have the same basis as in 1943.
6 There Was No Batmobile
The Batmobile has become a staple in the Batman series and movies, but in 1943 the Batmobile wasn't a part of the serial.
The car the Dynamic Duo used to get around was Bruce Wayne's personal car which should have affected his secret identity, but the citizens and villains of Gotham didn't seem to notice. This version of the Batmobile may have shown the need for Batman to have a more covert vehicle that better reflected his role as a hero with immense wealth and technology.
5 The True Boy Wonder
According to IMDb, Douglas Croft was and still is the youngest person to play Robin. At just 16 years old, Croft embodies the name of "The Boy Wonder" as he looked the part more than any of the Robins after him.
Croft showed that Robin could be a leading player in the Batman franchise and paved the way for animated series and movies about Robin. Robin's costume in the 1943 serial inspired other versions of the character's hero garb. In almost every version of Robin, he wears a mask similar to the one Croft dawned and his simple cape.
4 The Costumes Contrasted The Characters
The Golden Age DC comics showed that Batman wasn't afraid to kill and take on villains who were more equipped than he was. However, The Batman serial didn't have the means to make the characters as sophisticated and polished as they were in the comics.
Many viewers of the serial have noted that the costumes in the series were handmade and weren't fitted to the actors wearing them. Batman's cowl is often tilted to one side or the other due to Lewis Wilson moving. Robin's mask was held on with string. Overall, the costumes' production value affected the characters' quality and the serial's modern reception.
3 The Villains Were Original
The Batman serial led to more serials, including the first Batman and Robin serial that followed a similar format to the first one. All the villains featured in the early serials were original to the series and never appeared in the comics or other movies.
The villains shown reflected the studio's vision of what a villain should be versus the concept of the writers in charge of Batman's nemeses in Detective Comics. The serial's original villains were much less complex than the ones in comics and only existed in their specific serial. Once Batman and Robin thwarted the villain, they were never heard from again, which made each series feel disconnected from the last.
2 No Bat-Gadgets
Batman has become known for using unique gadgets that help him capture and subdue villains. But in 1943, Batman didn't have the same technological resources he does now. This may be because there weren't many options for tech gadgets that wouldn't make the serial feel too sci-fi or because of the film's low budget.
The series didn't introduce even rudimentary Bat-gadgets, including batarangs, grappling hooks, or gliders. However, Batman had a ray gun that he used to hold villains at bay, making the 1943 version of Batman one of the few to handle a firearm.
1 The First Batman On Screen
Unlike Batman's comics debut in Detective Comics, the Dark Knight didn't have the most outstanding debut on screen. Lewis Wilson was the first actor to make the Caped Crusader come to life on screen and took his role very seriously.
Wilson's acting skills aside, Batman's first appearance was hindered by the film's low budget, which made him seem like a weird man in tights who had too much time on his hands rather than a wealthy man on a mission to better the lives of the people of Gotham. According to IMDb, Wilson was only 23, making him the youngest actor to play Batman. His age made him seem too young to have the wealth he did, making his partnership with Robin more believable.