Sunday, April 27, 2014

BATSOWL - The British Batman of 1918


As most of you will know, this year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman. However, the notion of costumed 'bat-men' didn't originate with Bob Kane's creation. One such earlier character was Batsowl, who starred in a series of prose stories in the British comic Illustrated Chips in 1918. 

I'm not suggesting for a moment that there was any connection of course. Bob Kane was born in 1915, so it's highly unlikely he'd have seen a British comic when he was three years old. However, there are some interesting similarities between the two characters, not least being the costume, as you can see from the header illustration above.

Like Batman, Batsowl's other identity was a wealthy figure. In this case, an Earl, Desmond Devance...


He also had a secret underground laboratory, not dissimilar to the Batcave...

...and his appearance struck terror into people...


Sadly, like most British comics of the time, Batsowl is uncredited. I don't know how long the serial ran as I only have one episode, which is the one I'm showing here. It's from Illustrated Chips No.1477, dated December 21st 1918. This was one of the comics presented as a facsimile in 1972 in the Six Comics of World War One collection. (More info about those comics here.) 


It's highly likely that both Batman and Batsowl were both partially influenced by The Phantom of the Opera, written in 1909, and The Scarlet Pimpernel (which was adapted as a very popular London play in 1905).


Click on the image below to read this chapter of Batsowl and see the 'British Batman' for yourselves...

10 comments:

Phil Boyce said...

Blimey! (As you might say.) This is really interesting and the story itself is actually a good read too, would be interesting to read other episodes not only to find out the author, but to see if there are any other similarities too!

Lew Stringer said...

No doubt someone out there has more episodes so perhaps we'll hear more about it. Time Warner (who own DC Comics) now own the rights to those old Chips comics so they could publish it themselves and even bring him back for a team-up with Batman!

Not that I'd hold my breath for that happening.

Malcolm Kirk said...

There's another possible influence on this story. The penny dreadful Spring-Heeled Jack series, published by Aldine in 1904.

Bertram Wraydon, (ooh... look at those initials), is accused of spying for the French by his nasty cousin and loses his estate to him. Wraydon is sentenced to death but escapes to seek his revenge. Most people in the story remain unaware of this and it's all a bit Count of Monte Cristo.

He also has a costume with bat-wings & pointy-eared headgear, lurks about a lot in shadows and fog, is from a wealthy background, has a secret hideout, various gadgets, (such as a flaming gas grenade), likes to help all victims of wrong-doing, and obviously leaps about quite a bit.

There's also apparently a bit where he carves a letter 'S' into someone's forehead, which seems very Zorro-ish to me.

The story was adapted into a play called 'Curse of The Wraydons', which was later made into a film starring Tod Slaughter.

Lew Stringer said...

Good point, Malcolm. How could I forget Spring Heeled Jack? Yes, a definite influence on Batsowl I'm sure.

Zorro was first published in 1919 though, so a relative latecomer, but an inspiration for Batman of course.

Rich said...

Is there any chance that Bob Kane's dad was a soldier in WW1? It's a long shot, but it may be that he picked up a copy of this travelling back through England.

Alan Cowsill said...

Great blog. Now I want to read a Batcowl/Batman team up!

Manic Man said...

I kinda don't want to say much on the subject but.. "Bob Kane's creation".. erm.. Surely, you know better then that... I know it's American comic history but still.. tis tis..

Nice information though.. I've read bits on Batsowl before but.. some reason never interests me.

Lew Stringer said...

Rich, I think the connection between Batsowl and Batman was more indirect than that. I understand that the idea of 'bat men' was used in some of the old pulps, so perhaps a pulp writer was influenced by Batsowl, and the pulps influenced Bob Kane. We know that The Shadow was an influence on Batman for example, so perhaps other pulp stories were too.

Lew Stringer said...

Manic, Bob Kane was the one who came up with the name Bat-Man for his character. Yes, Bill Finger then fleshed it out into the character we recognise today. Finger's additions to the character are closer to Batsowl than Kane's red-costumed initial drawings admittedly.

George Shiers said...

There was also 'The Bat', which appeared in a couple of Gerald G. Swan comics in 1940 illustrated by William A. Ward, but admittedly this comes a year later than Batman.

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