November 20, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Batman creator dies of natural causes

According to comic-book lore, inspiration came to billionaire Bruce Wayne when a bat came crashing through his window one dark night. The mythological birth of the Caped Crusader had special meaning for his creator, Bob Kane, who died Nov. 3 of natural causes at 83. A cartoonist of modest talent, the New York City native realized in the late ’30s that the future lay in the emerging genre of costumed-superhero stories. One day, while working feverishly under a tight deadline for DC Comics, an unexpected image crashed into Kane’s movie-tinged imagination — the half-remembered sketches of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, sketches that bore an eerie resemblance to…a bat.

Batman made his debut in Detective Comics No. 27, in May 1939, but it took another year for Kane to fully flesh out the character with writer Bill Finger. The complex, noirishly cool result became an archetypal figure in American pop culture. If Superman represented the clear-sighted idealism of a rising superpower, the darker vision of Batman spoke to American ambiguities in the second half of the century. ”Batman is the stern father who’s always right,” says Frank Miller, author of The Dark Knight Returns, a 1986 revamp of the Batman legend. ”He’s also a very spooky guy.”

Kane worked at DC Comics for two decades. Though he lived comfortably in L.A. with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Deborah, Kane never owned his creation and was cut out of the riches his character generated. In the early ’60s, he left the comics industry to dabble in TV and animation. At the time of his death, he was reportedly working on a script about a superhero called the Silver Fox.

Kane always remained close to Batman; he was a consultant on both the campy ’60s ABC show and Warner Bros.’ recent films. Though he always preferred his version, Kane rarely disapproved of later variations. ”It’s awesome and a little unbelievable,” he once said. ”I wake up in the morning sometimes and say, ‘Did I really do that?”’

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