Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beware...the Black Bat!

It's interesting to see how there are no new ideas in fiction, just innovative ways to combine existing ideas...
Take The Black Bat.
(Actually, Black Bat II. The first Black Bat was a gentleman detective similar to The Saint, who ran around town leaving calling cards with a bat. He didn't wear a costume, use gimmicks or have enhanced abilities.)

The Black Bat we're talking about was two-fisted, hard-fighting DA Tony Quinn, who got hit in the face by acid thrown by criminals.
It didn't disfigure him, but it did blind him!
Quinn learned to function without sight, slowly enhancing his other senses and even returning to practice law!
Then, an extremely-risky eye-transplant operation not only restored his sight, but actually enabled him to see in total darkness!
Quinn decided to keep his restored / enhanced sight from the world, pretending to still be blind, and using his connections in the police department and DA's office, to secretly battle criminals who evade capture and prosecution!
Donning all-black garb which incorporated a bat-like motif (to frighten criminals who are, after all, a cowardly, superstitious lot.), a pair of .45 automatics, and assorted low-tech gimmicks like smoke bombs and grappling hooks, Quinn took on spies and gangsters, not hesitating to kill when necessary.
Like most pulp heroes,  The Black Bat is assisted by a team of plain-clothes aides with specialized skills whose main function in the story is to discover plot elements and be caught by villains, requiring dramatic rescue by the hero.
Considered a vigilante, The Black Bat is hunted by the police, especially Captain McGrath who believes that "blind" Tony Quinn not only can see, but is The Black Bat!

As you can see, the character is a real amalgamation of elements of everything from Zorro to The Shadow to The Green Hornet.
But, ironically, NOT The Batman!
In one of those weird coincidences that occur in media (print/radio/tv/movie) production, The Black Bat and The Batman debuted almost simultaneously!
Black Bat's debut in Black Book Detective #1 was cover-dated July, 1939. (BTW, The Black Bat never had his own title! He only appeared in Black Book Detective!)
Batman's premiere in Detective Comics #27 was listed as May, 1939.
However, cover dates varied from 3-5 months ahead of actual on-sale date, so there's a potential overlap of at least a couple of months, and since conception and preparation of material for print took anywhere from three months to a year, deliberate copying was highly-unlikely.
That didn't stop their publishers from suing each other, claiming plagiarism!
Luckily, editor Whitney Ellsworth, who had worked for both publishers, created an out-of-court deal so that the two characters could co-exist on the newsstands.
One of the provisos was that each character would stay within their respective format...no pulp version of The Batman, no comic book version of The Black Bat.
There was a slight problem there, since The Black Bat's publisher (who also published Captain Future) was incorporating his pulp characters (including The Black Bat) into his new comic book line (which also featured original-to-comics characters like The Fighting Yank!
With a few minor changes, Tony Quinn aka The Black Bat, became Tony Colby aka The Mask (with an owl-motif garb) who appeared in the first 20 issues of Exciting Comics (but never made the cover)!

Interest in The Black Bat continues to this day, with both reprints and new tales currently in print!
And we at Atomic Kommie Comics™ have decided to incorporate The Black Bat into our retro-kool collection on t-shirts, mugs, and other collectibles.
Why not combine one (or more) of our goodies with either the reprint or original tales for a pulp aficionado's dream-come-true gift set?

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Thanx for posting!

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