LOS ANGELES — EARLY in the action of ``Batman'' a newspaper cartoonist depicts the mysterious figure prowling Gotham City. It looks like a bat wearing a man's suit. In the corner of the drawing is the signature, ``Bob Kane.'' ``That was supposed to be me in that scene, playing the cartoonist,'' says Bob Kane. ``My wife and I had been promised bit parts in a few scenes. But we couldn't get to England at the time; so we were left out. But the drawing there is mine!''
After 50 years at the easel, the creator of Batman, now 67 years old, is enjoying his renewed celebrity. He and his wife, actress Elizabeth Sanders, have joined me for dinner.
``You know Hollywood. When you're hot, you're hot. Well, now things are hot again for Batman. ... My phone rings every 20 minutes - Letterman, Carson, all the big shots. It's been unbelievable!''
Although he's lived in Los Angeles for almost 20 years, Mr. Kane's voice still betrays the Bronx drawl of his native New York. Just now a young man joins us. He represents Gallerie Michael in Beverly Hills, which will premi`ere Kane's newest one-man art show on July 12. The two men pore over the brochure proofs. The show goes on a world tour after leaving Beverly Hills, explains Kane. ``And next fall my autobiography, `Batman and Me,' will come out. Buy it! Hey, it's expensive living out here! Holy condo, Batman!''
Kane talks in exclamation points, like the characters in his cartoons. He created Batman for the May issue of Detective Comics 50 years ago. He readily admits that many boyhood influences went into the character.
``When I was only 12, I saw a book of drawings of inventions by Leonardo da Vinci. One caught my eye - and that was a man on a sled, and he had large batwings attached to his arms. ... I must have filed that away in my memory, I guess.
``Then later, at the movies, I loved Douglas Fairbanks Sr. He was my idol. His Zorro character - he had a dual identity. He was a foppish guy who at night would put on a mask, cape, and sword and ride his horse out of a secret cave. ... And there's even another influence I've thought of - that old Chester Morris movie from the early 1930s, `The Bat Whispers.' There was this guy dressed like a bat, and there was a scene where a light was shot onto a wall, and you could see a bat figure inside it....''
Despite some initial reservations, Kane is now happy with Michael Keaton in the Batman/Bruce Wayne role. He notes that a shaped hairstyle, dapper tuxedo, and a molded suit provide the complementary bulk to Keaton's rather slight figure.
``And I also like this return to the brooding, misterioso mood of the first year of the Batman comics,'' he adds. ``That was the way things had been before Robin came along and lightened things up a bit for the kids.''
Meanwhile, Kane is beaming at his wife. Suddenly, he looks over at me. ``Just one last thing,'' he says. ``Thank you, Leonardo, wherever you are!''