It's easy to take iconic characters for granted. We just assume that the moment a Batman or a Rambo were dreamed up, the writer knew he had a world-changing icon on his hands.
Not so. It turns out a lot of the most legendary characters in pop culture came damned close to getting axed early in the game. Characters like...
Every superhero franchise is kind of in a Catch-22. You need a great, memorable archenemy, or even better, more than one. And you need to be able to bring him back again and again and again. But if a villain like, say, the Joker, has been out killing people for 70 years, doesn't that make Batman look a little incompetent? What kind of superhero lets somebody like the Joker keep slipping away?
How We Almost Lost Him:
That was what writer Bill Finger was wondering. Finger, who wrote the first Batman stories, thought that if Batman's foes kept coming back, it would make him a pretty lousy crime fighter. Take a guess what happened to the Joker in his first appearance in Batman #1.
He uses playing cards. We get it.
He got stabbed right in the damned heart.
Who Saved Him?
Ellsworth was the editor of National Publications (later DC Comics) in the 1940s, and by all accounts had one of the sissiest names in history. He didn't want Finger to kill off interesting villains (like he had done with Braless Woman and Sluterella in the past), so this time he told Finger to save the Joker. A new panel was quickly added.
Do all doctors react this way when they figure out a patient isn't dead?
If you want to know just how hard it is to think up good comic book villains, remember that scene played out in 1940. Hundreds of issues, a TV show and a bunch of movies later, he's still the best they could come up with.