By Jason Strangis
The Joker. Catwoman. Robin.
These iconic comic book characters celebrated their 75th anniversary during a special panel at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con. Panelists included current Batman artist Greg Capullo, former Marvel Comics editor Danny Fingeroth, Batman author Will Brooker, and Lee Meriwether — the actress who portrayed Catwoman in the campy 1966 Batman movie.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Travis Langley, the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.
Langley started things out by talking about the incredible influence of Joker, Catwoman, and Robin.
“These characters changed not only Batman comics but comics in general,” Langley said.
First up, panelists discussed the impact of Robin, who first appeared in Detective Comics #38 in 1940.
“Robin was introduced to give kids a way to get engaged in the story,” Brooker stated.
Panelists also felt that Robin’s presence in Batman comics was a way to lighten the mood and tone down the darkness and violence. The addition of Robin helped create a slew of young sidekicks in comics (Bucky in Captain America, Speedy in Green Arrow, etc.).
Perhaps surprisingly, it was noted that the sales of Batman comics greatly increased with the addition of Robin.
Next, panelists focused on the most famous comic book villain of all time — the Joker. According to some experts in the industry, the Joker was created by former Batman artist Jerry Robinson — who reportedly based the appearance of the Clown Prince of Crime on a Jester playing card. Other reports say that the Joker’s appearance was based on former silent movie screen star Conrad Veidt from The Man Who Laughs.
And then there are those who feel the Joker’s creation was a collaboration between Robinson, Batman creator Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger.
In any event, Fingeroth noted that the introduction of the Joker “upped the ante for villains.”
Unlike other classic villains like the Riddler and Penguin, the Joker is much more confounding and hard to figure out.
“Batman doesn’t know anything about this guy,” Brooker said.
The Joker was introduced in Batman #1 (1940). In that same issue, another iconic villain would be created — Catwoman.
This femme fatale went through many variations and costume changes over the years, but still remains the best-known villainess in comic books.
“I never felt she was evil,” said Meriwether, who talked about playing Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie. She felt great affection and admiration for the entire cast that included Adam West as Batman, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, and Cesar Romero as the Joker.
As to why Catwoman has lasted so long, one panel member proclaimed: ‘She’s an archetype in cinema. She’s the dark femme fatale.”
Jason Strangis is a freelance writer who enjoys superheroes, sci-fi, and attending comic book conventions. He can be reached at email@example.com