The First Batman Movie Was WW2 Propaganda
Batman first appeared onscreen long before the '60s TV show. The first live-action Batman was the Batman serial, a series of 15 shorts released to theaters in 1943. Roughly as much time passed between this first appearance and the '60s show as passed between the '60s show and Tim Burton movies.
The serial introduced a couple elements we all associate with Batman. Alfred, as we know him, was created for the serial, as was the Batcave. The serial also contains some stuff many of you have never seen outside of parodies, such as the ridiculous cliffhangers so common in serials. In one episode's closing moments, Batman may fall out a window, and another may have him in front of an oncoming train. Sometimes, the cliffhanger would be a preview from an upcoming episode. "Is Daka throwing Martin Warren to his horrible alligators?" asks the narrator at the end of episode 3. This is the first we have heard of these horrible alligators.
As a serial released to American theaters during World War II, Batman offered some blatant wartime messaging. The first episode's opening narration says that Batman and Robin "represent American youth who love their country and are glad to fight for it ... And in this very hour, when the Axis criminals are spreading their evil over the world, even within our own land, Batman and Robin stand ready to fight them to the death."
The villain is a Japanese spymaster, a "humble servant of his majesty Hirohito" aiming to "destroy the democratic forces of the United States." He operates out of a carnival, so it's possible that they planned him to be the Joker then switched him late into production.
One line ensures that we likely won't see the uncensored serial broadcast anywhere today. As we pan through a Japanese neighborhood in Gotham, the narrator says, "This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street." This happens within the first ten minutes of the first episode.
The villain, Dr. Daka, in addition to turning people into "zombies," is seeking to perfect an atomic weapon, "a forerunner of the atom smasher." As we've mentioned before, the military was so sensitive about nukes that they forbade D.C. from publishing a story in which Lex Luthor uses an atom bomb—and yet a Batman villain sought an atomic weapon in this movie seen by a much wider audience. Of course, in two years' time, the United States would create an actual atom smasher, with Japan the target.
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