When Bill Finger created Batman in collaboration with Bob Kane, neither the writer responsible for the character’s look, origin, rogue’s gallery, abilities, hometown, car, sidekick, or other iconic elements–nor the artist who came up with the name and subsequently secured for himself a permanent, exclusive “creator” credit on the character–could have likely imagined the legacy that the character would inspire.
75 years is a long time for anything to remain relevant in pop culture. When Batman first appeared, radio drama was still big after the “War Of The Worlds” prank; the kids went nuts for Glenn Miller; in addition to enduring classics The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind, the most important films included The Rains Came and Jesse James; and there were still people named Hitler in the New York phone book. And while we still talk about some of those things, only Batman remains as vibrant a cultural force in 2014 as it was in 1939.
That’s something that the visual art geeks at Austin’s Mondo Gallery are celebrating as part of the 75th anniversary of Batman. The character spent the ’40s and ’50s as one of the most successful creations in comics, the ’60s as the embodiment of kitsch on television, the ’70s and ’80s as the harbinger of the new tone that superhero comics would take in the years to come, the ’90s as the reverse-canary in the coalmine that told Hollywood that superheroes were the future of the blockbuster, the ’00s as the reigning socio-political allegory at the box office, and the past few years as–well–everything. It’s the comic that every creator wants to touch, the video game franchise that every gamer wants to play, the film franchise that every Ben Affleck can’t wait to star in, the TV drama that every network wishes it could launch.
And all of those various incarnations of the Batman appear at Mondo Gallery, starting Friday, October 24, and running through November 15. Mondo creative director Justin Ishmael was especially excited at the idea of letting the unfettered imagination of the collection of artists–including Jason Edmiston, Alex Pardee, Tom Whalen, and more–run wild through that 75-year history of Batman in countless styles and interpretations. “Batman is the most malleable character in the history of comics, whether it’s Frank Miller’s Batman, Tim Burton’s Batman or Christopher Nolan’s Batman,” he says. “The versions of the character have become inextricably tied to the vision of the storyteller and the time period in which it was told. We were excited to let our artists jump into the world of Gotham and let their own visions run wild.”
Gone With The Wind might have brought a certain romance to the Antebellum South, and Dorothy and the Tin Man might have found the wizard, but only Batman was able to represent the culture of every generation in a way that’s kept him relevant in ways that don’t belong in a museum–they belong in a gallery.