Urban Legends about the Batman, Bob Kane, and H.P. Lovecraft

This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.

“Get them, boys. Get them or it’s curtains” (The Riddler, 1966).

1-Adam West Batman-DailyMail UK

Batman 1966 Source: Dailymail UK

I grew up in the sixties amid the Bangs, Booms, and Pows of the Caped Crusader on ABC. There was the badass Batmobile, in one of its first real-life incarnations. Week-by-week, Adam West and Burt Ward duked it out with a variety of villains. In each episode, the Dynamic Duo braved a new cliffhanger where they almost, but not quite died, like a Monty Python sketch. Batman’s famed Utility Belt aided the Caped Crusaders in their escapes. 

Soon, the campy Batman became so popular, it birthed a movie with corny lines like, “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”

Yet, I knew there was a Batman beyond the duly-deputized, wholesome-as-apple-pie, Dynamic Duo. Into my young hands came Batman comics of the forties and fifties. In the darker Batman, the head of a bat formed the grillwork of Batmobile.

Unlike many, I lost track of Batman, in my many moves across the United States, as a military brat. My interest in the Batcave was replaced by a thirst for knowledge about the Great Old Ones. Like Batman, their spectral remnants also populated the deep bowels of the earth. The name Howard Phillips Lovecraft arose in that pursuit.

Then in 1989, Tim Burton reignited the Batman franchise on the silver screen. Michael Keaton gave a psychotic edge to Batman. That portrayal matched an equally-crazed Joker, brought to raging life by Jack Nicholson.

I felt triumph in that movie. To this day, I listen to Danny Elfman’s Theme to Batman, to recharge my inspirational batteries.

Next, I suffered a manic-depressive existence as different actors downed Batman’s cowl. I flew to new heights with Christian Bale and Batman Begins (2005) – what a Batmobile! In other instances, I fell to deep lows, when George Clooney headlined the star-studded, monster-mash Batman and Robin (1997).

Beyond Batman, Lovecraft stepped out of the shadows of my life and became a dominating passion.

My emotional rollercoaster with the Batman movies brought to mind the difference between wish-fulfillment and reality. What I expected from such movies differed wildly from the reality I sat through with dwindling audiences of fans.

At one stage, the question arose about Bob Kane (Batman’s Creator) and H.P. Lovecraft, “Did destiny unknowingly cross their paths?”

Was there any substance, a link between the two men? Or was it simply a wish that a relationship existed when there was none?

Did Batman lurk in the shadow out of time?

The Internet Rumor, the Great Old Ones, and the Batman:

“The ‘Bat-Man,’ a mysterious and adventurous figure fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his lone battle against the evil forces of society … his identity remains unknown” (1).

2-detective_comics_27_by_superman8193

Detective Comics No. 27 by Superman8193

Writer and artist Bob Kane (1915-1998) is credited as the seminal creator of Batman (launched 1939). There is hot debate on how much Bill Finger (1914-1974) co-created Batman, conceived elements in the franchise’s mythology, and contributed to its commercial success. For our purposes, that controversy is best sorted out by comic historians. Bob Kane even merited a cameo appearance in Tim Burton’s Dark 1989 reboot. 

In the other corner stands Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937). Lovecraft endures as a father in both Gothic and Speculative Fiction, as he wrote of far-flung monoliths in the past and far-off cyclopean edifices of the future. Many metaphors that Lovecraft coined or magnified have become staples of today’s literature.

Floating on the internet, in various forms, vague citations, and broken links are references to an alleged meeting between an elder Lovecraft and youthful Kane. They largely repeat in sketchy detail what follows:

“According to Wikipedia, the link is more direct than I had suspected. Bob Kane was a Lovecraft fan and met the man himself.

‘H.P. Lovecraft met Bob Kane, Batman’s co-creator, in 1935 on a train. The young Kane told Lovecraft that he loved how he wrote his stories and told him about a vigilante that had literally gone insane with vengeance over something that cannot be destroyed: the essence of evil itself. Kane was so grateful for being able to meet Lovecraft only two years before his death that he created Arkham Asylum as a means of paying tribute to his hero’” (2).

What fueled the notion, a wish-fulfillment that brings two greats together in birthing one immortal creation – the Batman? Or was it due to a little-known truth?

Was it analogous to the quest for facts about the fictional Necronomicon?

Among the many problems with the purported Lovecraft/Kane encounter surrounds the Arkham Asylum.

The Arkham Asylum first appeared in Batman #258 (Oct. 1974), written by Dennis O’Neil with art by Irv Novick (3). By 1974, Bob Kane was not involved in writing Batman. Dennis O’Neil’s inspiration for the Arkham Asylum was taken from Lovecraft’s fictional sanatorium that appeared in The Thing on the Doorstep (4). But that is a later homage to Lovecraft that had nothing to do with Bob Kane.

Of note, Lovecraft had an intimate and insidious relationship with Asylums. His father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft (1853-1898) died of Neurosyphilis in Butler Psychiatric Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island. Coincidentally, Howard Philip’s mother, Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft (1857-1921) was admitted to the same Psychiatric Hospital, due to a nervous breakdown. She later died there of a botched Gall Bladder operation.

Among Lovecraft’s pen pals, Julius Schwartz (1915–2004), who once acted as HPL’s Literary Agent with At the Mountains of Madness, had a long, illustrious career with DC Comics (5). Schwartz served as the primary editor for Batman during his tenure. He revived darker elements of earlier Batman titles into the Dark Knight’s print stories. However, whether elements of Lovecraft’s mythology crept into Schwartz’s Batman is conjecture (6).

Some Similarities between Lovecraft and Batman Tropes:

Lovecraft’s tales and Batman stories share many tropes, spawned from their Gothic and Pulp roots. I would like to focus on some briefly while spending more time with others.

First, take Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook (1925). Does HPL’s claustrophobic depiction of 1920s Brooklyn prefigure a crime-ridden, shadow-haunted Gotham City?

“Malone was content to keep…the secret of…what could make old brick slums and seas of dark, subtle faces a thing of nightmare and eldritch portent…What could he tell the prosaic of the antique witcheries and grotesque marvels discernible to sensitive eyes amidst the poison cauldron where all the varied dregs of unwholesome ages mix their venom and perpetuate their obscene terror?…Hordes of prowlers reel shouting and singing along the lanes and thoroughfares, occasional furtive hands suddenly extinguish lights and pull down curtains, and swarthy, sin-pitted faces disappear from windows when visitors pick their way through. Policemen despair of order or reform, and seek rather to erect barriers protecting the outside world from the contagion” (7).

Second, consider one of Lovecraft’s earliest works, The Beast in the Cave (1905).

3_beastcave_by blewzenblog1

The Beast in the Cave by blewzenblog1

In that tale, Lovecraft describes what happens to human beings who spend too much time in caves:

“I occupied my terrible vigil with grotesque conjectures of what alterations cave life might have wrought in the physical structure of the beast, remembering the awful appearances ascribed by local tradition to the consumptives who had died after long residence in the cavern” (8).

HPL’s signature ironic twist, most often saved to the last paragraphs in a piece, here read:

“With a jerk, the white body rolled over so that its face was turned in our direction. For a moment I was so struck with horror at the eyes thus revealed that I noted nothing else. They were black, those eyes, deep, jetty black, in hideous contrast to the snow-white hair and flesh. Like those of other cave denizens, they were deeply sunken in their orbits, and were entirely destitute of iris. As I looked more closely, I saw that they were set in a faceless prognathous than that of the average ape, and infinitely more hairy. The nose was quite distinct…Then fear left, and wonder, awe, compassion, and reverence succeeded in its place, for the sounds uttered by the stricken figure that lay stretched out on the limestone had told us the awesome truth. The creature I had killed, the strange beast of the unfathomed cave was, or had at one time been, a MAN!” (9).

Two things stand out here. One, consider how a person loses his or her humanity; the longer they spent time underground. That was the lesson here and with the degenerate Martense clan, in HPL’s, The Lurking Fear (1922). What does this say about Bruce Wayne, spending excessive amounts of time alone, in the Batcave? Did Wayne’s isolation likewise allow him to live out the dark predatory beast that lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilization in each human being? Perhaps like in the movie, Altered States (1980), the Batcave became Bruce Wayne’s isolation tank, whose additive experiences, led him backward along humanity’s evolutionary chain.

If Bruce Wayne gazed into a mirror, would Richard Upton Pickman stare back? Consider Lovecraft’s words on the subject:

“Reid, you know, had just taken up comparative pathology, and was full of pompous ‘inside stuff’ about the biological or evolutionary significance of this or that mental or physical symptom. He said Pickman repelled him more and more every day, and almost frightened him toward the last—that the fellow’s features and expression were slowly developing in a way he didn’t like; in a way that wasn’t human. He had a lot of talk about diet, and said Pickman must be abnormal and eccentric to the last degree. I suppose you told Reid, if you and he had any correspondence over it, that he’d let Pickman’s paintings get on his nerves or harrow up his imagination” (10).

Clearly, one axiom of Lovecraft’s fictional truth is, “The genes of ghouls reside beside the genes of genius in human beings.” How far had the genius Bruce Wayne regressed along the downward slope towards ghoulish Richard Upton Pickman? An oft-penned question in many of Batman’s darker tales was, “Exactly, how human is he?”

Hence, the allusions in a portion of the opening dialogue from the Tim Burton’s Batman:

“Knox: You know what they say? They say he can’t be killed. They say he drinks blood. They say…” (11).

And two, in early drawings, Batman had white slits but no eyes visible through his mask. The Beast in the Cave’s eyes were deep, black, almost invisible in the changeling. Also, Giger’s Alien (1979) had no eyes. Was the lack of defined eyes, a feature called the “windows to the soul” by romantics, to show that Kane’s Batman, HPL’s Beast, and Giger’s Alien were soulless expressions of a feral universe? Had Batman, per the following Nietzsche paradox, lost his humanity and become part of the “evil” he swore to stamp out?

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee. The tormentor becomes the tormented. People become what they love and hate, because their mind focuses on it. The hall of mirrors folding in on itself. Madness’” (12).

The Hound: Revenge, the Moon, Curses, and Graveyards:

To begin, let us look at Lovecraft’s The Hound (1922). Lovecraft’s tale is replete with crossover elements to the Dark Knight. 

4 lovecraft-hound by bryanbaugh

The Hound by Bryan Baugh

In The Hound, Lovecraft cleverly did not link his beast to an existing horror trope. It came from a graveyard and flew like a bat, yet it wasn’t a stock vampire. It cast a reflection, silhouetted against the moon – something else vampires did not do. It bayed like a werewolf, but what werewolf could fly? It was a ghoul in its day, gathering to the grave a jade amulet that embodied a cult dedicated to necrophilic debauchery and cannibalism. Yet, what ghoul was immortal, and possessed the traits of a werewolf and vampire?

Now consider Batman in light of those aspects of Lovecraft’s story.

One question that surfaces in the criminal mind is, “Who or what is the Batman?” We earlier touched on that thought, but let us ponder a few additional ideas. Where does Batman’s humanity begin and end? Batman’s feats defy explanation. Into that vacuum, diverse accounts arise from a crook’s perspective. Is he superhuman, a sorcerer, a psycho, or a Night Gaunt? Is Batman supernatural, since he often appears in more places than one? Does Batman possess omniscience, in that, he knows more than it is humanly possible to know? The fact that Lovecraft’s, The Hound, is a swirling amalgamation of horror tropes fits the vague questions and rumors that whirl around Batman’s nature.

Next, think of Lovecraft’s description of, “…vast legions of strangely colossal bats that flew against the moon…” and later:

“The horror reached a culmination on November 18, when St. John, walking home after dark from the distant railway station, was seized by some frightful carnivorous thing and torn to ribbons. His screams had reached the house, and I had hastened to the terrible scene in time to hear a whir of wings and see a vague black cloudy thing silhouetted against the rising moon” (13).

What part of the Batman mythos links bats and the moon?

The Bat-Signal.

The Bat-Signal symbolically calls Batman. Commissioner Gordon’s spotlight mimics casting a giant bat’s shadow against the face of a full moon. The full moon also summons other supernatural denizens. The appearance of werewolves is governed by the cycle of the moon. The Bat-Signal first appeared in Detective Comics #60 (February 1942). That means Bob Kane had a hand in its development. One harkens back to Tim Burton’s Batman when, at the height of a climb in the Batwing, the Bat-shaped jet is silhouetted against a full moon above Gotham City.

The last crossover element I would like to discuss is the graveyard. As Bruce Wayne’s parents were buried, he swore revenge on criminals. Out of that graveyard oath, as young Wayne sat in the alley of their deaths or amid his parents’ tombstones, Batman was born.

You might say a curse in a graveyard released Batman against the underworld.

In a similar fashion, a graveyard curse empowers The Hound. The anonymous narrator and his accomplish, St. John, are grave robbers. As such, they are criminals, sophisticates perhaps, but nonetheless criminals. As the twosome pursued their unwholesome acts, they invoked the graveyard curse that sealed their doom. Also, the Hound later killed a nest of hoodlums. Had St. John and company discontinued their deeds prior to the Holland Graveyard, they would have escaped its curse and lived.

Conclusion: The Destiny of Lovecraftian Heroes:

Few heroes stood out in Lovecraft’s stories. Of those protagonists – Dr. Marinus Bicknell Willett of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927), and Dr. Henry Armitage of The Dunwich Horror (1928) to name a few – they were more known for their brains than their brawn. Thomas Malone of The Horror at Red Hook was described as having a degree of physical prowess. However, he promptly lost his brute daring when confronted by a Lovecraftian Horror. 

5 Bat signal_by ferdyonfilms

The Bat Signal Source: ferdyonfilms

Seldom was a triumphant over evil little more than a delay in an inevitable doom.

Perhaps a better father to inspire Bob Kane’s, Batman was Robert E. Howard. Out of the imagination of “Two-Guns Bob” Howard stamped mighty Conan, moody Solomon Kane, and mystic King Kull. Their brains, brawn, and slicing blades triumphed over dark wizards, dynastic lords, and dim gods.

A young Bob Kane, inspired by a spectrum of Pulp brawn-barians, might have thrown a bat-cowl over Conan and viola, Batman. But such coincidences, as we explored in the alleged Lovecraft-Kane meeting, are purely incidental.

In the end, it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.

Are you interested in further Batman and Lovecraft crossovers? You might want to check out, Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham. A product of Mike Mignola, the creative genius who brought us Hellboy, Lovecraft eZine Editor, Mike Davis, calls The Doom, “A spectacular story! Every Batman fan and Lovecraft fan should own this one” (14).

——

End Notes:

(1) “The Amazing and Unique Adventures of the Batman,” Detective Comics, No. 27, May 1939.

(2) Related Link: toonzone.net/forums/threads/h-p-lovecraft-and-batman.

(3) “The Real Arkham Asylum,” by Bat Archivist, Gotham Archives: The home of the home of Batman: Gotham City, batmangothamcity.net.

(4) “’Gotham’: A Peek at the History (and Future) of Arkham Asylum,” by Graeme McMillan, hollywoodreporter.com, January 4, 2015.

(5) “Lovecraft’s Friends and Acquaintances, Julius Schwartz,” hplovecraft.com.

(6) “Comic Book Legends Revealed: #507,” by Brian Cronin, Comic News, cbr.com, January 23, 2015.

(7) The Horror at Red Hook, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1925.

(8) The Beast in the Case, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1905.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

(11) Batman, (1989), Quotes, Director: Tim Burton, imdb.com.

(12) “What did Nietzsche mean when he said ‘if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you” by Mike Leary, quora.com, July 20, 2013.

(13) The Hound, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1922.

(14) “’Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham’ will be Collected into an Omnibus,’” by Mike Davis, The Lovecraft eZine, March 31, 2015

John A. DeLaughter, M. Div., M.S. is a Data Security Analyst. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash horror zine, The Atlantean Supplement, The Eldritch Literary Review, The Chamber, and Horizontum (Mexico City). John’s first novel in the Dark Union series, NIGHT OF THE KWATEE is now available (on Amazon), published by Night Horse Publishing House. His horror short, “The Thing Beneath the Tree,” also appears in the PROTECTORS OF THE VEIL anthology from the Lovecraft Lunatic Society (on Amazon). Follow John’s latest publication news on Twitter @HPL_JDeLaughter or Facebook @HPLJDeLaughter. John lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi.

12 responses to “Urban Legends about the Batman, Bob Kane, and H.P. Lovecraft

    • Marcaeolog, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, I’m glad it was worth a read for you!

  1. That is a very clever idea for an article, John — and a hugely entertaining read! Thanks. Have to say, I was particularly taken with the Red Hook/Gotham comparison. Kind of thing where suddenly you see it and then can’t NOT see it…

    • Charley, many thanks for leaving a response. Hey, when you’re covering Batman and Lovecraft, the ideas just flow – note all the Lovecraftian-themed Batman that’s come out in the past several years. Lovecraft and his urban adventures in New York, when he was still married though separated Sonia Greene – well he was living Noir Nightmares – the stuff of crime-ridden Gotham City. I appreciate your kind words.

      • Noir Nightmares indeed, John. I finally got around to reading his collected ‘Letters from New York’ last year. His seeming stream-of-consciousness rants about immigrants of ALL descriptions are damned near hypnotic in their intensity!

      • Hey Charley: Agreed. I’ve read a cross-section of his letters, which included his Red Hook experience. HPL was at a low point; none of the things that he felt that made him “special,” including his ethnic heritage, made any difference in hiring him. His phobias were heightened by that reality to the point of outright paranoia. He was robbed there, of what little that he had. When one of his aunts suggested that he return to Providence, that’s all it took. Hypnotic was right! Again, thanks for adding to the ideas related to the article!

    • Hey Carlos, thank you for taking the time to leave your reflections. It’s fascinating when you stand back and think of how many Lovecraft homages are threaded through the Batman Mythos, especially as other creative writers bring their own Lovecraft influences whether consciously or unconsciously to the writing. Again, I appreciate your comments!

  2. To Carlos and John: As regards Lovecraft’s stint in New York where he was made to feel inadequate (or made himself feel this, more likely) due to the sheer impossibility of this other-worldly man ever holding down a 9-5 job, he really did try. He was a rectangular peg in a square hole to be sure; but because of Sonia and because of pride this man really did try! I’ll always admire him for that.

    For heaven’s sake, can you see HPL as a door-to-door salesman? Yet he tried! That’s a hell of a lot more than some work-shy blokes do to this day.

    He tried.

    And the ‘Letters from New York’ (Nightshade Books) show that. God, how it must have destroyed him inside, being perpetually rejected. You can see it in the letters: initial euphoria at thinking that he’s finally getting somewhere — and then the big crash landing when he got nowhere. Reading those letters would break your damned heart.

    I think that his growing, irrational hatred for immigrants came from the fact that he simply could not see why a well-educated white New Englander was denied jobs that he felt he could have done.

    As he knew himself, he was born out of his time.

    Some people think that it’s a stretch when I compare the life of Lovecraft to the other 50-plus-year passion of my life: the films of Sam Peckinpah. And perhaps it is. After all, could you get two men that were on the surface more different? One an impoverished genteel-type and the other a macho man who HPL would have been uncomfortable around to say the very least. Yet the very best of Sam’s films deal with men who were simply born out of their time: ‘Ride the High Country’, ‘The Wild Bunch’ etc. And I could certainly see HPL agreeing with Kristofferson in ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ when he says that times may change, but he won’t. There’s a pathos in that: the Kid won’t change, but the more pragmatic Garrett will. What haunts me is that given more years Lovecraft would have changed as well. He was on the way politically when he died, that’s for sure. You only need to glance at ‘Shadow out of TIme’ to see how very much he had changed.

    And like Sam’s anti-heroes and even Sam himself Lovecraft hated the up-and-coming technology except when it suited him.

    In Peckinpah’s most famous works his Westerns are barely that at all — they are set in the 20th century with characters looking back to a better time when they would have been happier. And when he DID do a Western (Pat Garrett) set in 1881 those characters are themselves looking back to an earlier, better time when they would have been happier.

    Sound familiar?

    They were more alike than people give them credit for.

    • Hey Charley, thanks for the follow-up comment. Yes, your words:
      “…I think that his growing, irrational hatred for immigrants came from the fact that he simply could not see why a well-educated white New Englander was denied jobs that he felt he could have done.
      As he knew himself, he was born out of his time.” Michel Houellebecq in his essays, “H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life,” spends considerable time exploring this aspect of Lovecraft’s life. Yes, and to Lovecraft’s credit, he started to grow beyond many of his earlier idiosyncratic views on life toward the end of his own. I’m not too familiar with Peckinpah, so I appreciate your relating that description of his work as it relates to Lovecraft. Again, thanks for the comments, Charley!

  3. DC put to rest the question of Bill Finer’s contribution to the creation of Batman forever, as Bill Finger was given a writing credit on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the TV series Gotham and the reissue of the first comic in the 75th anniversary reissue. He is also receiving co-creator status for Robin, Catwoman and Joker. DC did this back in 2015.

    Without Bill Finger’s efforts, there would not be a rich “Bat-verse.”

    • Hey Jerry, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Bob Kane was not known for a small ego or sharing the billing with anyone else. I’m glad that Billy Finger got his just due. As you noted, who knows what might have been missing from the Batman Mythos, were his contributions missing from the mix. Again, I appreciate what you shared!

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