Did a Victorian-era penny dreadful inspire the creation of Batman?

Illustration for article titled Did a Victorian-era penny dreadful inspire the creation of Batman?

Batman is one of the most watched and portrayed fictional characters we have. Earlier today, we looked the tangled history of his creation in comics. But is it possible his origins are even older?


Commenter Michael Munro suggests that we should take a look at an old penny-dreadful as an inspiration to Batman:

IMHO Batman owes a great unacknowledged debt to Spring Heeled Jack, who transitioned from London urban myth (1830s) to melodrama anti-hero (1870s) to prototype superhero (1880s-early 1900s). As written by "penny dreadful" author Alfred Burrage, SHJ was a wealthy aristocrat who assumed the disguise of a devilish, bat-winged avenger of the night, maintained a secret underground lair and used his athletic and technological skills to battle evil-doers - sounds familiar? . . . Basically, the collection of story motifs centered around a wealthy protagonist who assumes a heroic, masked secret identity dates back to Spring Heeled Jack in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. By the time Batman was created, those motifs had already been elaborated in pulp novels - most famously by Johnston McCulley's Zorro character and by Russell Thorndike's "Scarecrow"stories - to the point that they were part of the zeitgeist. Batman was just the most influential comic book manifestation of those themes.

Of course, there are a lot of characters that claim inspiration for our modern takes on Batman, including Sherlock Holmes and, of course, Zorro (who may have also grabbed inspiration from penny dreadfuls himself, suggests Munro).

So, what do you think? Are there other characters that also share origins with Batman? Tell us about them in the comments now.

1st Image: cover of Burrage's novel; 2nd Image: Batman via Garhoul




Spring Heeled Jack was actually a bit of a monster who assaulted women and escaped by seemingly leaping high distances (early Superman?) but he's nothing on Spanko who like his name suggests, lifted up young ladies petticoats and shouted his name while smacking their backsides with an iron rod. Gangs of men went about dressed in drag to try and catch them. Yes, 1830s London was INSANE.