Batman is a fictional animated superhero, created by Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, first appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. Batman made his first ever appearance or “public debut in the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics, issue #27”, and has since made great strides to become one of comic’s most recognizable faces and representatives. Although Batman’s first appearance came in 1939, he did not have his own comic book until a year later in 1940 conventionally titled “Batman”. Today, that particular comic book is still an ongoing project having just released its #710th issue for May 2011 and continues to be an ever-present figure in every major media platforms or mediums.

After 70 years within the comic books genre, Batman continues to remain one of the world’s most treasured and popular comic books around. The storyworld of Batman has since then witnessed a massive transmedia expansion, with new different plots, characters and themes introduced since the original comic publication, ranging on a wide variety of media formats; from films, television to radio and video games.

Batman’s early popularity within the comic book world meant that it was only seen as natural for the story to be re-created, re-told and transmediated onto other different platforms.

  • Films
From a Batman perspective, films are not only by far and away the most popular destination for a storyworld expansion and have since appeared in a range of films since his inception. While there is no question that the Batman films over the years have been truly successful, what make Batman films a particularly interesting case to study are the adaptations made by different directors have created down the years. 

Film Serials
With Batman’s narrative just kicking off the comic book scene, serial films proved to be a great medium to expand the Batman storyworld into. The 1940s era saw Batman made his first ever appearance on film in a 15-chapter collection of serial films released in 1943, just three years after his first comic book was released. Serial films are short-length clips that are shown in theatres prior to an actual full-feature screening; the medium provided a good opportunity and platform for audiences to be introduced to new subjects or characters in short snippets without having to fully commit to a whole feature-length film. Despite receiving negative reviews initially, a marathon re-release of the serials were re-screened in 1965, and the Batman serials are today considered “the most financially successful serial of all time” (Reid, pg.20).

Leslie Martinson's "Batman" (1966)
Following the success of the serial re-release, “20th Century Fox made (Batman’s) first feature in 1966” (Reid, pg.20) and based the plot to its popular television series that was running earlier that year. Using the opportunity to widen the Batman narrative from a 30-minute episode to a longer-length scale, the film incorporated the same actors from the TV series to play the two lead roles, Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin respectively. Despite receiving respectable reviews from its critics and audiences and making an approximate $1.37 million US dollars, the film did not fare on the same wavelength of its television counterpart. Nevertheless this presented a decent first Batman-based film as more Batman films would look to this first major motion picture as an inspiration for future projects.

Tim Burton & Joel Schumachers' "Batman" (1989-1997)
This is the first series of Batman films to be produced, with the quadriology being a rather mixed bag of success and failure. In 1989’s rendition of “Batman”, the film was considered a huge success commercially and critically, making over 411 million at the box office coupled with Golden Globe, Academy Award and other film award wins and nominations. Through this film, Burton & Schumacher were able to re-create a look for Batman, a ‘darker’ themed character very different from Adam West’s lighter and more comical version. Using the same concept of Batman, Burton and Schumacher have created a different version of Batman based on their interpretation of the comics and thus give us a varying perspective of Batman in his storyworld. “In 1989 Tim Burton’s, Batman was ushered in the era of the modern superhero/comic book movie” (Darius, pg.154). 

Christopher Nolan's "Batman" (2005-Present)
The current ongoing Batman film series franchise is a re-creation yet continuation of the same dark Batman implemented by Burton and Schumacher from the previous films. However, Nolan’s films and Batman himself is slicker, full of energy and action. This adapted interpretation of the character has no doubt suited and interested this century’s new generation of audiences with Nolan’s Batman films being a massive hit. The Dark Knight, Nolan’s second Batman instalment, is ranked 7th in the all-time worldwide box office list and reaching the billion dollar mark. This adaptation from Nolan has further extended and built on Batman's story using Burton and Schumacher' previous work.

  • Radio 
Batman’s first ever appearance on the air was on a radio show featuring Superman, which was broadcasted by the Mutual Radio Network in 1945. The broadcast came in a program called “The Adventures of Superman”. Despite the “several attempts to give Batman his own radio program, it never happened” (Ryall & Tipton, pg. 288). This was because “there was simply no room for a Batman Radio series separate from the Superman program” despite producers’ hopes that “Batman and Robin would spin-off into a show of their own” (Harmon, pg.71). Unfortunately, by the time anyone wanted to create and produce a Batman based radio program, television’s popularity was already on the rise and “there was not to be time for Batman until television gave him his due” (Harmon, pg.72). Although the Batman concept has never quite hit the radio waves as previously hoped, attempts to turn the concept into a reality proves that producers do realize the benefits transmedially of turning an original comic book series into a radio program.

  • TV
Following the successes of the film serials re-release, the Batman series was further expanded into television in what seemed like the next step up from the serials on both the narrative and duration scale. The longer 30-minute episodes were able to extend the Batman storyworld allowing further exploration of the character’s personality and an expansion of the storyline that previously could not be looked into on the timeframe of a serial. Today the first-ever Batman TV series, "which premiered on 12 January 1966 and ran two nights a week until March 1968, has the distinction of being the general public’s main reference point for Batman” (Cartmell & Whelehan, pg.189) with some considering the TV series as the main reason behind Batman’s transmedia success in other media platforms as well.

  • Animations
Although Batman and his supporting casts’ first appearance in animation was in a short TV series called “The Batman/Superman Hour”, when it comes to this animations or cartoons there is nothing bigger or more well-known than “Batman: The Animated Series”, broadcasted between 1992 till 1995, which has very much bought the animated Batman character into prominence and popular culture. It is today known as Batman’s first ‘serious’ animation and is considered by many as the best to date. Subsequent animated films such as 1993’s “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” and 1998’s “Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero” has been based on the narratives and characters from this series. The Batman franchise has certainly done well to capitalize and transmediated into animations because of its appeal to younger audiences.

  • Video Games
Since Batman’s first video was released in 1986, the narrative has seen its main character been portrayed in at least 30 different games. Despite those numbers, the video game platform has not had the impact most thought Batman would with its films and television shows dominating the Batman storyworld over the video games. The Batman Begins game for example, which was released in 2005 to accompany the film, has received relatively average reviews and has been described as “still worthwhile for Batman fans, (but) the gameplay feels too much like a mishmash of several other well-known gaming franchises and ends up overly simplistic”.

The video game medium apart, there has been success stories all round for Batman in every other medium. While some die-hard comic book fans might not agree, the general consensus regarding Batman is that it has done very well in transmedia; the storyworld has no doubt been expanded, the narratives has varied from the original comic books and various different interpretations have been seen.

Batman has appeared in virtually every single transmedia platform there is to exploit. Generally, most of them have experience successes and without significant numbers of audiences and interested fans, there is no way it would continue to be the success it is today after over 70 years since Batman first comic book was published.


*Statistics are courtesy of this website.

In a nutshell, Batman was certainly been a successful transmedia example of a comic book character that has turned into a worldwide phenomenon and one of comic book’s most loved figures. For anything to survive the length of time that Batman has needs the ability to adapt, change and appeal to new environments, themes, issues, and lastly audiences. All in all, “Batman’s survival as a cultural icon over sixty years can be attributed to his ability to adapt and change with the period”