If Batman ever had a brother, he would be the pulp hero called the Black Bat.
Both bat-caped heroes debuted in the same year, 1939. It was a strange coincidence. Blame The Shadow for that. He was in his eighth year fighting crime in the pages of his celebrated pulp magazine, and Orson Welles was bringing him to life on radio, when two different publishers decided the time was perfect to copy The Shadow.
Batman was the creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Huge fans of The Shadow, they literally took a random issue of The Shadow Magazine and adapted it into a six-page comic book story, reimagining The Shadow as the Batman. He debuted in Detective Comics #27, dated March, 1939, in "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," which was freely adapted from the 1936 Shadow mystery, Partners of Peril.
At virtually the same time, over at the Thrilling Group pulp house, editor in chief Leo Margulies asked prolific writer Norman A. Daniels to create a new hero for Black Book Detective magazine. Daniels came up with a character he called the Tiger. Margulies liked his idea, but decided the new hero should be more mysterioso, like The Shadow, and renamed him the Black Bat. And so he became, wearing a black cowl and matching batwing cape. The new nemesis of criminals was first published in the July, 1939 Black Book Detective.
As they appeared on the covers of their respective magazines, Batman and the Black Bat were strikingly similar. While the Black Bat lacked Batman's signature spread-winged chest emblem and bat-ears on his cowl, both had similar finned gauntlets. In a police lineup, they would have been hard to tell apart!
It wasn't long before the two publishers of nearly identical bat-heroes were, like vampires, at each other's throats. But before the lawyers could start billing, it was mutually agreed that as long as they stayed in their respective markets, neither hero need perish. This is why Batman never had a pulp magazine, and the Black Bat stayed out of comic strips.
The similarities did not go much beyond their ebony costumes. Everyone in the civilized world today knows that Batman is really millionaire Bruce Wayne. But the Black Bat was a district attorney named Anthony Quinn—this was long before the actor of that name made the scene. Blinded by a cowardly criminal, Quinn lost his sight, his face acid-scarred around the eyes. No longer able to practice law, Quinn retired. But a miracle eye transplant restored his sight, and more. Quinn discovered that he could see in the dark. This gave him inspiration.
Gathering together a small band of assistants—reformed conman "Silk" Kirby and muscleman "Butch" O'Leary—Quinn decided to wage an unrelenting secret war on the criminal element. Joining him is lovely Carol Baldwin. It was the corneas of her dying policeman father which were grafted into Tony's own eyes, restoring his sight.
The exchange between Quinn and Silk is similar to the scene where Bruce Wayne was inspired to become Batman:
"But how are you going to handle it, sir?" Silk wanted to know. "Your face, if you'll pardon me, is disfigured. It won't be a pleasant sight when you first see it. You'll be recognized."
"My face?" Quinn leaned back and compressed his lips. "That can be taken care of. Plastic surgery can make it over. But not now, Silk. Not now! I want people to think I'm helpless and that I haven't enough interest in life to have my features mended. We'll operate anonymously. No one must know who we are. I'll have to wear a mask, of course—a complete hood, I suppose, if my features are as bad as that doctor said they were."
"Yes sir," Silk nodded, "it will have to be a hood. I'll make one, sir, of silk. Black silk, that can't be seen in the night. You can dress in black also and be nothing more than a dim shadow in the darkness."
"But there must be some means of identification," Quinn pursed his lips. "Something by which men can recognize me. An insignia—a name, Silk—I have it! I've been blind—as blind as a bat. I still am so far as anyone knows. I shall prowl during the night. Bats are blind and fly by night also. I'll be the Bat, Silk. The Black Bat!"
Here the tale of the twin bat-avengers once again converges. Tragedy forged both heroes and drove them through countless exploits. If the origin of the Back Bat sounds faintly familiar, it's identical to that of Harvey Dent, the acid-disfigured district attorney who became Batman's twisted arch-nemesis, Two-Face.
The first Black Bat adventure, Brand of the Black Bat, relates all that. It's a stirring story of crime and corruption, and of a courageous avenger determined to track down the vicious gangster who robbed him of his brilliant career, all the while thwarting Captain MacGrath of the N.Y.P.D., who suspects Quinn and the Black Bat are one and the same. For like The Shadow, but unlike Batman, The Bat carries a brace of .45 automatics and the will to use them. This does not make the cloaked vigilante popular with the police.
The Black Bat proved so successful he ran for more than a dozen years, expiring only when the pulp magazine fell out of favor in the early 1950s. In Germany, the Bat had a second career, racking up 700 new adventures never suspected by his disappointed US readers. There he was known as Schwarze Fledermaus.
There has never been a media crossover for this long-running pulp hero. No radio show, no movie serial, no comic books. So it is with justifiable pride that RadioArchives.com lures the Black Bat out of the shadows of his original era and into the 21st century with his first audiobook, read with impeccable skill and fidelity by the accomplished Michael McConnohie.
If you find Brand of the Black Bat as exciting and absorbing as we think you will, of course we'll make more!