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The real origins of The Batman

by Critical Commons Manager

Before the campy, high-tech 1960s TV version of Batman, Columbia produced this deadly serious theatrical serial The Batman, featuring the caped crusaders battling forces of evil on the home front. In the inaugural episode, "The Electrical Brain," Batman and the Boy Wonder battle a Japanese agent, Prince Daka, who operates out of an abandoned Little Tokyo storefront exhibit depicting scenes of Japanese wartime atrocities. Except for the Japanese Cave of Horrors, the Little Tokyo district of Gotham City (a stand-in for Los Angeles rather than New York) has been entirely abandoned following a "wise government's" decision to deport all persons of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps. Here, Daka leads a band of American collaborators in creating a "new order" loyal to Imperial Japan, through the development of such technologies as a death ray, electricity-induced mind control and some very sophisticated audio and video surveillance equipment. By contrast, Batman and Robin operate out of an entirely non-technological Bat Cave (populated by real bats) and oppose Daka's sinister plans using only their fists. According to the demands of the genre, each episode ends with a cliffhanger, such as Batman being overpowered by Daka's thugs and tossed from a rooftop) that is quickly resolved at the beginning of the following week's episode.

The inversion of more recent tropes of technological proficiency in this iteration of the Batman franchise is worthy of note. While Batman's failure to participate in the war effort abroad may be excused by his defense of the domestic homeland, perhaps the use of high-technology for mere crime-fighting would have been a more difficult sell to wartime movie audiences. The show's narrative exposition is careful to justify Batman's domestic activities, as well as the deportation and detention of Japanese-American citizens by the War Relocation Authority. Among the justifications for this otherwise constitutionally troubling government action was the possibility of domestic spies using amateur radio technology to communicate with Japanese submarines, a fear that is more than validated by the Daka's technological mastery over electrical and radio technologies. The trope of Asian cultures' propensity for "brainwashing" and mind-control is also underscored by Daka's apparatus for turning patriotic American scientists and industrialists into obedient zombies controlled by radio signals.

The Batman serial exemplifies tropes of WWII era anti-Japanese racist propaganda

A racist stereotype Japanese spy uses high tech electrical and radio equipment to create a new world order

from The Batman (1943)
Creator: Lambert Hillyer
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Posted by Critical Commons Manager
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