The Black Bat

The Black Bat

The Black Bat was the name of two characters featured in different pulp magazine series in the 1930s which had nothing to do with each other.

The first Black Bat

He appeared in "Black Bat Detective Mysteries", a short-lived pulp which saw six issues, all written by Murray Leinster (a pen-name of William Fitzgerald Jenkins), between 1933 and 1934. He was a man called Black Bat in the way Simon Templar was called the Saint; unlike the Simon Templar books, however, none of the Black Bat stories ever mentioned the character's real name.

The second Black Bat

In July 1939 Ned Pines' Thrilling Publications (also known as Standard or Better) introduced a new Black Bat in a series called "Black Book Detective". Written mainly by Norman Daniels under the house name G. Wayman Jones, the stories describe the crime-fighting career of former District Attorney Anthony Quinn. In a clear departure from most pulp characters and heroes, this Black Bat was actually an origin story, describing how Quinn became the Black Bat after being blinded and disfigured by acid, an idea borrowed a few years later by DC Comics for the creation of Batman villain Two Face when D.A. Harvey Kent was disfigured by having acid thrown in his face (Detective Comics#66 August 1942. His name was later changed to Dent).

The Black Bat and The Batman

Both Black Bat and Batman hit the newsstands around the same time, and both claimed that the other was a copy. The threat of lawsuits ended when DC editor Whitney Ellsworth intervened. Ellsworth had once worked for the Black Bat's publishers and brokered a deal that allowed both characters to co-exist peacefully. It is probable that the costumes of both characters were copied from the 1933/34 Black Bat series which featured costumed illustrations of the Black Bat inside the pulps though actually the "Black Bat" in the stories was indistinguishable from any other man in his choice of clothing. Batman creator Bob Kane always contended that the only bat-like man he had seen was the villain from the 1930 film, "The Bat Whispers". However, the Black Bat did have a permanent influence on the Batman: chief Batman scribe Bill Finger called Kane's attention to the unique guantlets the rival character wore. Subsequently, similar "fins" were added to Batman's gloves which remain to this day.

How the Black Bat got his abilities

In the first issue, DA Tony Quinn is blinded by acid and believes his career is over until Carol Baldwin arrives. She tells him that her father is a small town policeman who is dying from a gangster's bullet and that a surgeon is willing to perform an operation to graft his corneas onto Tony Quinn's eyes so that he can see again. The operation is done in secret and when the bandages are removed, Quinn finds that he can not only see normally but can even see perfectly in darkness too. While blind, Quinn had developed the necessary skills of the blind; sharper hearing, more sensitive touch, a better sense of smell, etc.

The other characters

Like many other crime fighters, Quinn is unhappy about all the criminals who slip through the law's net on legal technicalities, etc and decides to work outside the law in another persona to bring them to justice, and so the Black Bat is born, with Quinn deciding to keep the role of a blind man and later acquires the title of "Special District Attorney". Carol, a "resourceful and intelligent girl" decides to work with Quinn on his secret crusade and next comes Butch O'Leary. None too intelligent but completely loyal and "a hulking giant of a man who was never happier than when his fists were flying in defense of the law and in the aid of the Black Bat". Last came "Silk" Kirby, a small time crook who had tried to rob Tony Quinn one night and had been persuaded to stay on as "officially" valet to the blind Quinn but in reality a valuable asset to the Black Bat using his Underworld skills.

Quinn has a secret underground tunnel to a gatehouse at the rear of his house which leads to a quiet street, which he uses as the Black Bat. This is necessary not just because of criminals who want him dead but because of the police too as he works outside the law. Friend to Quinn, the bulky Lieutenant, about ten issue later, Captain McGrath (under Commissioner Warner) is also enemy of the Black Bat. He suspects they are one and the same and often tries to prove it, with tricks, even once having a doctor examine Quinn's eyes. While Quinn can see perfectly, he can also make his eyes appear like those of a blind person and the doctor is fooled. Quinn usually turns the tables on McGrath, making him look foolish in his attempts to prove he is the Black Bat.

The Pulps

Covers of the Black Book Detective where Black Bat was the main story with some back-up stories were normally dark and featured a crime being committed while in the background shadows is the symbolic face of a brooding Black Bat looking on. Few covers broke with this tradition, like #27 where the Black Bat is seen being attacked by a huge dog and a knife wielding woman.

Unlike many heroes of the pulps, the Black Bat did not come up against the fantastic but battled ordinary criminals who prey on the weak and helpless. The stories were detective stories too with the criminal and details revealed in the last pages by Quinn. Issue 7 has the Black Bat fighting against a gang of arsonists burning down tenement buildings for insurance money, regardless of who dies in them. Issue 11 has the Black Bat investigating a strange plane crash as well as a missing fortune in diamonds, needed for America's war effort. Russia initially started the war on Germany's side so issue 12 deals with Russian spies who commit sabotage and murder in America. Issue 13, a fiend uses a hospital for illegal and deadly experiments, even punishing his own men with horrible torture if they fail him.

19 has a man who is believed to be the Devil but the Black Bat reveals his trickery. 25 has Nazi fifth columnists are a supply of bauxite (aluminium ore) which America desperately needs for the war effort. 27 (around this time, page count of the BB stories started dropping due to a paper shortage, to about 45 pages for a time) Prohibition is over so ex-bootleggers move into the commodity market, stopping supplies getting through. 28 features a criminal hypnotist. 36 (Artwork is usually checked for "taste" but this one got through. A woman on the front cover who is obviously not wearing a bra.) One by one, people who know a secret start dying. 38 A man convicted of murder has the Black Bat convicted of charges too on which he must acquit himself. 39 Crooks plan to attend a rich party as detectives and steal two million in diamonds. 40 The death predictions of a man prove too accurate so the BB investigates. 41 In a 73 page story, a killer plots to control the Sentinel newspaper. 44 A jail break and bank loot vanishes.

Black Bat in Black Bat Detective Mysteries Index (The first Black Bat)

(Win = Winter, Spr = Spring, Sum = Summer, Fal = Fall)

1) (Oct 33) The Body in the Taxi

2) (Nov 33) The Coney Island Murders

3) (Dec 33) The Hollywood Murders

4) (Jan 34) Murder At First Night

5) (Feb 34) The Maniac Murders

6) (Apr 34) The Warehouse Murders

Black Bat in Black Book Detective Index (The second Black Bat)

1) (Jul 39) The Brand of the Black Bat

2) (Sep 39) Murder Calls the Bat

3) (Nov 39) The Black Bat Strikes Again

4) (Jan 40) The Black Bat’s Challenge

5) (Mar 40) The Black Bat’s Spy Trail

6) (May 40) The Black Bat’s Crusade

7) (Jul 40) The Black Bat’s Flame Trail

8) (Sep 40) The Black Bat’s Triumph

9) (Nov 40) The Black Bat and the Trojan Horse

10) (Jan 41) The Black Bat’s Dragon Trail

11) (Mar 41) The Black bat’s Dragon Trail

12) (May 41) The Black Bat and the Red Menace

13) (Jul 41) The Black Bat’s Summons

14) (Sep 41) The Black Bat’s Invisible Enemy

15) (Nov 41) The Voice of Doom

16) (Jan 42) The Eyes of the Blind

17) (Mar 42) The Blackout Murders

18) (May 42) Shadow of Evil

19) (Jul 42) The Faceless Satan

20) (Sep 42) The Murder Prophet

21 (Nov 42) The Nazi Spy Murders

22) (Jan 43) The Seventh Column

23) (Mar 43) Millions for a Murder

24) (May 43) Captains of Death

25) (Sum 43) Without Blood They Die

26) (Fal 43) Guardians in Black

27) (Win 44) Markets of Treason

28) (Spr 44) The White Witch

29) (Sum 44) Death For Charity

30) (Fal 44) Murder Deals in Ersatz

31) (Win 45) The Skeleton’s Secret

32) (Spr 45) The Marked Man

33) (Sum 45) Murder on the Loose

34) (Fal 45) Murder Among the Dying

35) (Win 46) Blind Man’s Bluff

36) (Spr 46) The Man Behind Murder

37) (Sum 46) The Survivor Murders

38) (Fal 46) With Malice Aforethought

39) (Feb 47) The Crime To Come

40) (Apr 47) The Lakeside Murder

41) (Jun 47) The Murder Prophet

42) (Aug 47) Dead Man’s Plunder

43) (Oct 47) The Long Ago Murder

44) (Dec 47) City of Hidden Death

45) (Feb 48) The Coiled Serpent

46) (Apr 48) Inheritance of Murder

47) (Jun 48) The Murder Maker

48) (Sep 48) The Lying Killers

49) (Nov 48) City of Hate

50) (Jan 49) Thirty-One Deadly Guns

51) (Mar 49) The Riddle of the Dead Man’s Bequest

52) (May 49) Murder’s Playground

53) (Sum 49) The Missing Million

54) (Fal 49) The Dennison Document

55) (Win 50) Murder Town

56) (Spr 50) Blueprint of Crime

57) (Sum 50) The Murder Genius

58) (Fal 50) The Black Bat Fights For Life

59) (Win 51) The League of Faceless Men

60) (Spr 51) The Dangerous Corpse

61) (Win 52) The Killer Who Wasn’t

62) (Win 53) Hot, Willing and Deadly

63) (Spr 53) The Lady of Death (Was published with the Black Bat character changed to Myro Catin)

64) (Sum 1953) The Celebrity Murders (An unpublished story by Norman Daniels.

"Black Bat Detective" ran for 62 issues, from July 1939 to Winter 1953, one of the few hero pulps to survive past World War II. Only a few titles have been reprinted. However, the character continued in German language adventures. []

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