The Second World War gave us all a lot of crazy ideas that turned out to be really great things for the United States and, after a few years, the world. It gave us microwaves, the mass production of penicillin, and, later, Batman.
The idea all started in California, already a central hub of America’s most creative types. Those creative minds were focused on repelling what seemed like an imminent invasion of Japanese troops at the time, and no idea was deemed too crazy at the brainstorming sessions — as long as it meant pushing Japan back into the Pacific Ocean when the time came. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson of the California State Guard came up with the idea of “Bat-Men,” modified paratroopers who could avoid enemy ground fire by gliding through the air and into the coming fight.
Major Nicholson conceived the idea while watching free-jumpers at air shows who used wingsuits to control their descent before opening their parachutes. He enlisted (not literally) the aid of a famous wing suit jumper named Mickey Morgan to spearhead the new paratrooper unit idea.
The Major, as he came to be called, was a U.S. Army cavalryman who served under Gen. John J. Pershing during the Punitive Expedition in Mexico and fighting Moros in the Philippines. During World War I, he was sent on diplomatic and intelligence missions in Siberia, documenting the movements of Russian and Japanese troops.
Nicholson had a long history of publishing, writing his first two books in the 1920s. During the Great Depression, he realized that with so many people out of work, books were just out of reach of most people, so he devised a way to sell printed material at an affordable price: the comic book.
Before World War II, Nicholson founded one of the first-ever comic book companies, called National Allied Publications in 1934. With titles like Fun Comics and New Fun Comics, Nicholson published an entirely new concept in comics. Rather than reprinting funnies from daily newspapers, he introduced new characters and continuing storylines. In 1935, the Major hired Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who sent him the concept of a superpowered hero on butcher paper – it was the blueprint for Superman.
Later on, National Allied Publications would morph into what we know today as DC Comics. The company’s first sensational character came in Detective Comics #27, featuring the new character, Batman.