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A pulp fiction era comes to an end as the creator of Batman dies

HIS IMAGINATION created a benign multi-millionaire who spends his spare time fighting evil criminals with his bare hands and always wins.

Batman never swears and has no superhuman powers; he is driven by the jarring memories of a childhood tragedy, and he has become the most popular cartoon hero in history. And now the man who created the Caped Crusader against evil as the world slipped into the Second World War is dead.

Bob Kane, the cartoonist who created Batman for DC comics in 1939, died in his sleep yesterday in Los Angeles, taking with him the inspiration that created the world's most enduring and endearing superhero. He was 83.

"He is a wonderful character who drew on everything from the popular pulp fiction of the day to the Phantom newspaper comic strip, the Shadow radio programme and, of course, the Zorro movies and even the Lone Ranger," the US comic-book historian Mark Evanier said yesterday. Kane came up with the idea of Batman a year after his fellow crusader, Superman, was born on the planet Krypton.

The bat symbolism was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of lurking criminals, against whom the superhero - who was by day the suaveBruce Wayne - constantly fought in the dark alleys of Gotham City. Kane saw his prodigal son turn into the star of a television show (eventually transmitted in 111 countries), a cartoon, four comics and, most famously of all, three Hollywood blockbusters, almost half a century after his creation. Copies of the some of the original pre-war comics are now believed to be worth more than pounds 100,000.

Kane remained intimately involved with the character, inventing his sidekick Robin (and spawning a San Francisco sub-culture based on the assumption that the two had a homosexual relationship), as well as the Joker, the Riddler and Catwoman, who, despite her curvaceousness, did no better at tempting Batman into a life of crime than any of the others.

From the 1950s Kane stopped drawing the strip but still supervised it and in 1989 he was a consultant on the first Batman film, which reportedly netted Jack Nicholson $50m for playing the Joker. Kane's wife, Elizabeth, appeared in the Batman films as a Gotham City gossip columnist. His rocket- powered car, the Batmobile, inspired BMW in its creation of a racing car in the 1970s, and his laboratory, the Batcave, is the father of dozens of eponymous seedy nightclubs around the world.

The enduring appeal of Batman could be his very human frailty: Bruce Wayne, his millionaire alter ego, had seen his parents being murdered when he was a boy, and when he turned into Batman, Kane's character acquired all the dark intensity of someone out as much to seek vengeance on the wider world of evil as he was simply to fight crime.

"In the comics, Batman has no superpowers, he can't fly, he can't dodge speeding bullets, he can't climb up walls," said Jan Wiacek of the Forbidden Planet comic store in London. "He is a human being like the rest of us, although he's very smart and a very good fighter, like a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Lee." Batman comics remain one of their top- selling lines.

Those of us brought up on the 1960s television show, with its Roy Lichtenstein- inspired "Pow" and "Bam" fight titles, would be forgiven for thinking Batman was not only a goody-goody but one who could fly. But Kane's original character - who will, his publishers said, live on in the comics - is altogether a darker, more troubled, and more human superhero.