Bob Kane, a self-described "doodler from the Bronx" who created the classic hero Batman for DC Comics nearly 60 years ago, has died. He was 83.
Kane, whose caped crusader remains an indelible icon, died Tuesday at his Los Angeles home. Spokeswoman Martha Thomases announced Kane's death Thursday from the comic book publisher's New York offices. A Burbank funeral director said services will be private.
The cartoonist was a young artist doing fill-in cartoons about dogs and cats for DC Comics in 1939 when he was selected to create a hero as powerful and appealing as their year-old Superman.
Kane has told legions of comic book conventioneers, interviewers and fans over the years that his inspiration came from three basic sources--Zorro, a Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a man trying to fly with attached bat-like wings and a silent mystery movie titled "The Bat."
His well-heeled and highly motivated earthling moved from pulp pages to radio in 1943, to television in 1966, to animation in 1974 and to the big screen in 1989. There have been three movie sequels to date and a children's television series is currently running on cable channels. Toys and T-shirts are big sellers, as are the comic books, with four current titles: Batman; Detective Comics; Batman: Shadow of the Bat; and Batman: Legends of the Dark Night.
Collectors prize Batman memorabilia, with an original Detective Comics No. 27, which introduced the character in May 1939, selling for $115,000. Lithographs of Kane's Batman art (he kept the originals) sell through art galleries for about $500 each.
"Bob Kane is a giant in the field of popular culture, one of a handful of people who launched the comic book industry and who gave the world a group of characters so colorful and inventive that they continue to captivate every new generation," said Jenette Kahn, president and editor in chief of DC Comics. "Bob will be greatly missed, but he has left a legacy that will keep his memory alive."
Asked in 1995 to analyze Batman's continuing popularity, Kane said: "Batman is associated more with the average man than Superman. He doesn't have super powers, but that's part of the longevity of him. He's Mr. Average Guy; he could bleed and die."
"And it's so eye-catching," he said. "Couple that with the fact that he fights for the oppressed. He battles for everybody."
Nevertheless, even Kane marveled over Batman's success, once commenting: "It's awesome and a little unbelievable. I wake up in the morning sometimes and say, 'Did I really do that?' When I hear the figures, I can't believe it. He's gone from acorn to an icon."
Kane made a cameo appearance in a crowd scene in the 1997 film "Batman and Robin." On the set as consultant, he praised actor George Clooney as the best cinematic embodiment of his hero, noting, "He has the square jaw and fits the prototype of my comic book Batman."
But Kane's opinion of the updated costumes became a running joke with the film crew, who said he roamed the set muttering, "Why do we have to have nipples on the batsuit?"
As a consultant on the films, Kane said he defined the characters and their history: "I write the bible, then let them interpret it their way--which they do anyway, of course."
The background is well-known to fans of Kane and Batman: Teenager Bruce Wayne, traumatized by witnessing his parents' murder, vows to avenge their deaths and uses his vast fortune to study criminology, perfect his athletic body and acquire clever vehicles and weapons to fight crime in his hometown of Gotham. Startled by a bat outside his window one night, he decides to dress as a bat to strike fear in the "cowardly and superstitious" hearts of criminals.
Over the years, Kane introduced Batman's stalwart young sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder, and archenemies the Joker, the Riddler and Catwoman.
Kane, who changed his surname from Kahn early in his career, assembled a staff to work with him on the comic strip, but remained the principal artist through the 1940s and closely supervised the work for many years after that.
He also created the television characters Courageous Cat, Minute Mouse and Cool McCool.
Survivors include his wife, actress Elizabeth Sanders Kane, who portrayed a Hollywood gossip columnist in "Batman Forever"; his daughter, Deborah Majeski of New Jersey; a sister, Doris Atlas of New York; and one grandson.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to Feed the Children, Make a Wish Foundation, the Westside Children's Center in Santa Monica, the Bay Area Youth Center in Hayward, Calif., or to any agency aiding needy children.