Logo Study: Batman Part 1

Detective Comics 27 inside page
All images ©DC Comics, Inc.

Here we go with a lengthy look at the logos of Batman from his creation to the present. Above is the very first page of the first published Batman story in Detective Comics 27. The model for comics stories at the time was the Sunday newspaper strip (then usually a large full page), in which the top panel contained the character logo, the story title and a brief explanation of who he was. This is exactly what artist/creator Bob Kane did in most of his early Batman stories. The logo here is simple, rather crudely drawn block letters with a telescoped drop-shadow. Note that the character’s name is THE BAT-MAN, much as one might call someone coming to fill your home fuel oil tank the oil-man.

Bob Kane took all credit for the creation of Batman for many years, but late in life acknowledged the contribution of writer Bill Finger to both the stories and the look of the character. Kane was also notorious for farming out much of his artwork to others, but in the first year or so, at least, I think the art is mostly or all by Kane. It has a crude energy and cartooniness that seems to align with Kane’s other comics of the time. Note that he was already thinking about bat shapes for the captions in this very first panel.

Detective Comics 30 inside page

Like the early Superman stories, Kane drew the logo from scratch for each Batman story in the first 12 appearances in Detective Comics, and it was different every time. By issue 30, above, Batman’s ears had grown much longer, and are first used to punctuate/divide the logo. In the caption BATMAN has lost the hyphen, but still retains THE in front of it. Here the logo is still crudely-drawn block letters with drop-shadow, now angled and in slight perspective. The composition of the panel as as a whole is interesting, though, and my favorite part is the much more effective bat-shaped caption.

Detective Comics 31 inside page

In Detective Comics 31 Kane hit on the formula that would last for years, after a few side trips. If anything, these letters are even MORE crudely drawn, and not helped at all by the red inline coloring. The drop-shadow is gone, but the Batman head has been enhanced by bat wings behind the logo, creating a very effective and distinctive combination, I think. This particular Batman head is also better than the previous one, capturing the mystery and menace of the character in a few strokes. But I doubt Kane realized how good this idea was, as he was about to go in a different direction.

Detective Comics 32 inside page

Detective Comics 32 is cover dated October 1939, and this story was probably produced in spring or early summer of that year. Over in the other main title by the same publisher, ACTION COMICS, Superman was a runaway hit. Bob Kane was, if nothing else, a shrewd businessman. I think he must have looked at his competition and thought, “Let’s try a logo like that, maybe it’ll sell more.” So, as you can see, he copied the Superman logo created by Joe Shuster and refined by Ira Schnapp almost exactly for this story. And though he tried hard to make the letters more regular, they are still a bit wonky in places. Not too bad, but not nearly as even and classically shaped as the Schnapp Superman logo. Kane followed this new idea, redoing it each time, with varying degrees of success on the Batman stories in Detective 33 to 37 and 39.

Detective Comics 38 inside page

Issue 38 was a departure in style, with Batman in a banner, and below the first appearance of Robin and his own logo. We’ll talk more about Robin another time, but this signalled the end of the Superman-like Batman logos at least. And for the first time, the letterforms of Batman have taken on an Art Deco style somewhat like that used on the cover logos of other DC comics like ACTION and ADVENTURE. I think it’s a stylistic improvement. Looking at the art, I suspect that it may have been the idea of someone other than Bob Kane. By this time Kane had hired Jerry Robinson and George Roussos to help him with the art, and the figure work above is much more anatomically correct than what Kane had been doing on his own. Jerry Robinson has confirmed in a conversation with me that he designed that original Robin logo, and I think it’s safe to say he also did this Batman logo too.

Detective Comics 40 inside page

With Detective Comics 40, Batman finally gets a real logo that is much more finished and professional looking, and one that would be photocopied and reused on subsequent stories. And, thankfully, it goes back to the idea from issue 31, with the stylized Batman head and wings behind the logo letters. Here the letters are even more Art Deco than in issue 38. There are some Art Deco fonts still around today that look quite similar. In any case, the letters are well-drawn, evenly weighted and consistent. The right side of the B is a bit too wide, and with inconsistent curves, the letter outlines are too thin, but these are minor points. Overall, this is a very good Batman logo, and miles better than what had gone before. The Batman head has also been improved by someone who understands anatomy and foreshortening, and the wings are also quite consistent and stylish. Even cool! Too bad the bottom edge is partly covered by the scroll caption, but that gives a convenient home to the Robin logo at least. Later versions had only the Robin logo in a box or circle there. This logo remained on all the Batman stories in Detective Comics until mid 1941 and I believe it was also created by Jerry Robinson. More on that below.

Detective Comics 54 inside page

We’ll leave Detective Comics title pages with this new version introduced in Detective Comics 54, adapted from the cover logo already being used on the new BATMAN comic, with the addition of “with ROBIN the Boy Wonder” at the bottom. Here’s the version from BATMAN #1:

Batman 1 cover

This follows the same plan as the previous logo, but with much taller letters. While they are impressive, and still Art Deco in style, there are some inconsistencies. The overly wide bottom loop on the B, for instance, the way the diagonal strokes of each A get thinner at the top , as well as the outside curve on the lower part of the B, which is not completely circular. The head on this version is more Kane-like, with the tall ears and more square jaw. The version above from Detective 54 has a different Batman head, with short ears and more rounded face.  Amazingly, in a recent conversation, I learned that Jerry Robinson designed this logo. He told me, “I was never a calligrapher, so the letter shapes may not have been right, but the Art Deco look was intentional.” As a logo, I think it’s quite effective. It captures the essence of the idea Kane had back in Detective 31, but refines and improves it greatly. Note also that, while BATMAN has been one word for some time, his name remains punctuated and separated by the head. This would be true for many decades.

That’s all this time, more to come!

More chapters and other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.

23 thoughts on “Logo Study: Batman Part 1

  1. Todd Post author

    Here’s a comment from “Nik” that somehow didn’t get into this comment thread:

    Amazing stuff; I think the importance of a good logo on a comic is really underrated. Batman’s “head and shoulders” look is one of the all time greats.

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  13. Devon

    I find it fascinating that Batman paralleled the avante garde of the times. As a designer, I would not have chosen an Art Deco typeface for the logo. The font displayed in the Detective Comics 40 doesn’t reflect the darker element of Batman. However, such type decisions now serve as indicators of past culture and design aesthetics.

    -Devon

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