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Is This the Original Batman From the 1800s? 

Some claim this photo is the inspiration behind DC's Batman.
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The Batman we know and love is already 81 years old. He first appeared in DC Comics in 1939 and was originally called Bat-Man. But there is a photo going around on social media that people are claiming to be the originator of the Batman character. 

In the photo, a bearded man is seen wearing a mask similar to the one Batman uses in the comics and movies. But is the photo authentic? Is it the inspiration for DC’s Batman? That’s what we investigated. 

Where did the Batman from the 1800s photo come from? 

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Using Google’s reverse image search tool, we found out the earliest appearance of the photo was on January 16, 2005, on a website called Bandcamp. It was uploaded as a profile photo of a user named Dennis Kelly.

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The same profile photo was used on the website by a user named dangerbird1972 on August 18, 2011. 

In 2013, a Spanish website uploaded the same photo on July 17, 2013, with the caption, “Batman antiguo y bizarro” (old and mysterious batman). 

The photo eventually found its way on Reddit in 2017 and was captioned “This pre-Batman Batman (1800s?).” It was the first time the photo was assumed to be from the 1800s. 

 

Is the Batman photo from the 1800s photoshopped?

There are several ways to determine whether a photo was manipulated or photoshopped. The key is looking for inconsistencies in three elements of a photo: lighting, pixelation or resolution, and cleanliness of the image. 

Upon inspecting the digital image down to its pixels, we found that there is uniform pixelation on the mask, skin, and hair. This is done by zooming in on the image and looking at the size of the pixels in different areas of the photo. Uniform pixelation is a good indication that an image is not photoshopped. 

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Then, we took a look at the lighting in the image. This is a common mistake photo editors commit when doctoring an image: They forget to adjust the lighting when they stitch or overlap two images to make it seem like one image. The lighting in the Batman photo from the 1800s is generally even, which means this is likely an original photo that was not edited. 

Finally, we inspected the cleanliness of the image especially around the borders of the mask. This will tell us if the mask was simply pasted there, as healing tools can leave blurred marks on the photo. It was surprising that the photo’s outlines and borders are clean, with some of the person’s beard and hair overlapping the mask. This means the person really was wearing the mask when this photo was taken. 

But we performed another test to see if other images on the Internet shows a similar image without Batman’s mask. We cropped the person’s body and performed a reverse-image search on Google to find its original photo. All photos that came back were the same: a person wearing a Batman mask. It means that no other photo of the same guy exists without the mask and that the photo is actually authentic. 

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But is the bearded Batman photo really from the 1800s?

Some people claim it is, but fail to provide documents or evidence of their claims. The blog site Suffolk Gazette claims it is the photo of a man named Bill Smith from the 1800s who was the inspiration behind Batman.  

We cannot rule out the possibility that this photo is from the 21st century and made to look like it was from the 1800s. We did a little experiment to prove that it is easy to manipulate an image to make it look old. 

Photo by Wikimedia Commons / Roger Murmann.
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Photo by Wikimedia Commons / Roger Murmann.

The first photo is an image uploaded by Roger Murmann on Wikipedia on May 24, 2013. The second photo is the same image we edited in two minutes to make it look like an old photo from the 1800s. 

We don’t think Grandpa Batman was the inspiration behind DC’s iconic character. Creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger conceptualized the character and his story in 1939. Below is an excerpt from Kane’s 1989 autobiography detailing how they created Batman:

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One day I called Bill and said, 'I have a new character called the Bat-Man and I've made some crude, elementary sketches I'd like you to look at.' He came over and I showed him the drawings. 

At the time, I only had a small domino mask, like the one Robin later wore, on Batman's face. Bill said, 'Why not make him look more like a bat and put a hood on him, and take the eyeballs out and just put slits for eyes to make him look more mysterious?' 

At this point, the Bat-Man wore a red union suit; the wings, trunks, and mask were black. I thought that red and black would be a good combination. Bill said that the costume was too bright: 'Color it dark grey to make it look more ominous.' 

The cape looked like two stiff bat wings attached to his arms. As Bill and I talked, we realized that these wings would get cumbersome when Bat-Man was in action and changed them into a cape, scalloped to look like bat wings when he was fighting or swinging down on a rope. Also, he didn't have any gloves on, and we added them so that he wouldn't leave fingerprints.

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Sorry, guys. The cape crusader was not inspired by a grandpa wearing a Batman mask in the 1800s. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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