2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Batman’s comic book debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, and over those seventy-five years he has grown to arguably become the world’s most famous and loved superhero. Striking fear into the hearts of gangsters, criminals and supervillains alike, Batman’s patrol over Gotham will never end as long as comic books continue to exist as a medium. His logo, the Batcave, various Batmobiles and other Bat-paraphernalia remain instantly recognizable, and his presence in a comic book, TV series or movie rarely fails to attract vast numbers of fans.
It is important, however, to recognize Batman is far from a lone crusader. Over the aforementioned seventy-five years, he has developed an equally strong supporting cast, several of whom have supported their own comic books in the past. Whether he acknowledges it or not, Batman would be incapable of carrying out his mission without these characters, so it seems only fair to shine a spotlight (or a Bat-signal?) on them to recognize their importance. Some of them are relatively recent additions to Batman’s comic book universe, while others are nearly as old as Batman himself. Many will also be recognizable from their appearances on-screen in the Batman films, whether the 1966 Batman starring Adam West, the 1990s movies of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney or the recent Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy starring Christian Bale. No matter whether your Bat-fandom manifests primarily through the comic books, movies or television shows, animated or live-action, or whether you agree or disagree with the ten I selected, this list should be a must-read for any Batman fan.
10. Lucius Fox
First introduced in Batman #307 in 1979, Fox’s business acumen have proven repeatedly important to Bruce Wayne’s ability to manage Wayne Enterprises, as he served as the company’s CEO. In more recent years, however, Fox’s engineering and design abilities have become just as, if not even more, important. With Batman constantly in need of new prototypes, gadgets and ideas, Fox has stepped in to fill the gap and serve as his primary technological consultant, using Wayne Enterprises’ resources and Research and Development Department to supply Batman whenever needed. This aspect of the character was played up in 2005’s Batman Begins, where Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) starts off in charge of R&D with the company, before moving into the CEO role at the end of the film.
9. Harvey Bullock
First seen in Detective Comics #441 in 1974, Bullock started as an unlikable, corrupt cop in the GCPD, and became part of a plan to remove Commissioner Gordon from his position. Over time, however, Bullock transformed into a detective who appeared mean or corrupt but was honest and sweet under his curmudgeonly, unkempt exterior. Bullock is usually overweight, an alcoholic and a smoker, but remains one of Gotham’s best cops, and a frequent presence at crime scenes or in cases which Batman is also investigating. Though he has not yet made a live-action appearance, he will appear as a main character in the upcoming TV series Gotham, played by Donal Logue.
8. Selina Kyle (Catwoman)
An ever ambiguous character, Catwoman never quite fits as an ally or a villain, choosing whichever side is more expedient to her at the time. Introduced all the way back in Batman #1 in 1940, she has delighted readers with her extraordinary athletic abilities, taste for stealing expensive objects and romantic attraction to Batman. She has so far also starred in three ongoing comic book series, as well as many mini-series, and appeared on-screen in Batman Returns (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), The Dark Knight Rises (played by Anne Hathaway), the 1966 Batman film and TV show (played by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether) and the ill-fated 2004 Catwoman movie (starring Halle Berry).
7. Jason Todd (Robin/Red Hood/Wingman)
The second Robin, Jason Todd debuted in Batman #357 in 1983, with an origin story similar to that of Dick Grayson. After Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DC Universe and allowed his origin story to be retold, he was depicted as a delinquent who first encountered Batman while stealing the Batmobile’s tires. With a cocky, headstrong atttitude, many fans failed to warm to the new Robin. In 1988, after fans voted he should do so through a 1-900 number, writer Jim Starlin famously wrote “A Death in the Family,” where Todd died at the hands of the Joker.
After Jeph Loeb teased his return in his 2003 story Hush, Judd Winick’s Under the Red Hood storyline brought Todd back as the Red Hood, an antihero willing to use violence and holding a grudge against Batman for not killing the Joker in revenge for his death. The explanation for his return from the dead was convoluted, but allowed the Bat-universe a more ambiguous display of what Batman’s mission could have become. Since DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011, Todd has starred in Red Hood and the Outlaws, alongside Roy Harper and Starfire.
6. Damian Wayne (Robin)
In 2006, Grant Morrison introduced Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul. Grown from Wayne’s DNA in a lab and raised by his mother to be the perfect assassin, soldier and ruler, Damian was arrogant and violent, but also very concerned with how his father thought of him. His relationships with Bruce and the rest of the Bat-family were rocky at first (and he and Tim Drake never entirely settled their differences), but after the apparent death of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s decision to take on the cowl, Damian became his Robin. After Bruce returned and resumed serving as Batman, the two were father and son as well as Batman and Robin, adding extra dynamics to their relationship. In 2013, however, Damian was killed in battle by an older clone version of himself in the service of his mother, Talia. A divisive figure turned fan favorite, Damian’s death became a powerful and emotional moment in Batman lore, and with no current plans to bring him back, he may remain dead for many years to come.
5. Tim Drake (Robin/Red Robin)
After Jason Todd’s death, Batman entered into a period of intense grief and anger. Tim Drake, however, introduced in 1989, was so smart that he was able to deduce Bruce Wayne was Batman, and tracked him down to try to help him, as he too noticed Batman’s change in behaviour. After earning Batman’s trust, as well as that of Dick Grayson, Drake became the next Robin. Drake starred alongside Batman in several comics and in his own Robin comic, which lasted 183 issues. Unlike other previous Robins, Drake’s father was alive for many years and became a supporting character in his life. Upon Bruce’s disappearance and Damian’s ascension to the Robin role, Drake became Red Robin and worked to track down Bruce’s disappearance. While his New 52 origins have been drastically changed, largely confining him to the Teen Titans and re-writing much of his history as Robin, Drake remains the favourite Robin of many fans who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, and an important supporting character for Batman.
4. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)
Desiring a new female character to balance out Batman and Robin, DC simultaneously debuted Barbara Gordon in Detective Comics #359 in 1967 and on the live-action Batman TV show, played by Yvonne Craig. The daughter of Commissioner Gordon, Barbara remained a crucial character not only as Batgirl, but as the head of the Gotham Library and later as a member of Congress. In Alan Moore’s 1988 tale The Killing Joke, however, the Joker shot Barbara through the spine, paralyzing her from the waist down and confining her to a wheelchair. Instead of writing her out, Batman writers transformed Barbara into Oracle, a computer expert able to find any information or carry out espionage activities for Batman and other heroes. In 1996, she became part of a new team, the Birds of Prey, along with Black Canary and a rotation of several other prominent female superheroes.
A modified version of her character, named Barbara Wilson, also appeared as Batgirl in 1997’s Batman and Robin, played by Alicia Silverstone. In 2011, as part of the New 52 reboot, Barbara’s ability to walk was restored and she re-claimed her position as Batgirl, though not without controversy. While some prefer her as Batgirl and others as Oracle, her place as an important supporting character to Batman is undisputed.
3. Commissioner Jim Gordon
Jim Gordon was the first supporting character introduced into a Batman comic, making his debut in the same issue as Batman in 1939. A constant friend to Batman, and a supporter of his work even when the rest of the GCPD opposes him, Batman and Gordon have remained strong allies through all situations and partners in reforming the GCPD at different points. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One perfectly captured his importance by serving as an origin story not only for Batman, but Gordon as well. Gordon has also repeatedly refused to uncover Batman’s identity, or ignore obvious evidence about his identity, to protect him. He appeared in the 1966 Batman show and the Burton/Schumacher movies from 1989-1997, but his most famous on-screen depiction was in Christopher Nolan‘s Batman movies, where he was played by the great Gary Oldman. Gordon is also set to be the star of the upcoming show Gotham, played by Ben McKenzie (The OC, Southland).
2. Dick Grayson (Robin/Nightwing)
The original Robin, Dick Grayson debuted in Detective Comics #38 in 1940. Dick and his parents were acrobats in a circus until the circus owner failed to pay a mafia boss named Tony Zucco, who sabotaged the Graysons’ act as a result. Identifying with the fellow orphan, Bruce Wayne adopted Dick and after realizing his desire to help him and his athletic abilities, trained him to be the first Robin. Dick partnered with Batman for over forty years, eventually ageing to the point where he attended high school and college. After becoming a prominent leader of the Teen Titans, however, Dick and Bruce had a falling out, leading Dick to shed the Robin persona and become Nightwing in the early 1980s.
The two patched their relationship and Nightwing became a firm ally of Batman, while also starring in his own ongoing series that lasted over 150 issues. Dick later reluctantly became Batman after Bruce Wayne disappeared at the end of Final Crisis in 2009, holding the role until his return in 2011. He then returned to his Nightwing role in the New 52, first in Gotham and then Chicago, before his identity was revealed during the Forever Evil event in 2013-2014. He is set to star in a comic book spy series called Grayson later this year. On screen, he was played by Burt Ward in the 1960s TV show and Chris O’Donnell in Joel Schumacher‘s Batman movies.
1. Alfred Pennyworth
While some have speculated that Batman cannot exist without a Robin, Alfred Pennyworth is truly Batman’s most indispensable supporting character. Alfred not only makes his food and dresses his wounds, but provides him with counsel in times of crisis, a strong word when he pushes himself too far and words of kindness when he is in emotional turmoil. Alfred’s background has changed at times, from inherited butler after his father, Jarvis, served Bruce’s parents, to slightly bumbling but capable former intelligence agent, to former Shakespearean actor, to former military doctor, with some mixing various aspects. As the closest thing Bruce still has to a parent, however, the importance of their relationship has remained through all changes. Alfred has appeared as a main character in the 1960s show, was played by the late Michael Gough in each of the Burton/Schumacher movies, and by the legendary Michael Caine in Christopher Nolan‘s films. He will also be played by Jeremy Irons in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and by Sean Pertwee in the upcoming show Gotham.