November 23, 1998 12:00 PM

On a visit to the Warner Bros. studio a few years ago during production on one of their four Batman movies, Bob Kane scowled when he passed a wall decorated with Warner cartoon stars. “He said, ‘Always Bugs Bunny! Where’s Batman?’ ” recalls Paul Levitz. publisher of DC Comics. “So I grabbed some Magic Markers and told him to go at it. He did, and I think Batman and Robin are still on that wall.”

Kane, who died of an apparent heart attack in his West Hollywood penthouse Nov. 3 at 83, first drew the moody crime fighter in 1939. His Caped Crusader went on to generate billions from toys, the ’60s TV show and the Batman films. “He died in my arms,” says second wife Elizabeth Sanders, 48, an actress he married in 1987.

Brooklyn-born Kane led a life as serendipitous as Batman’s was clouded by tragedy. After attending art school in Manhattan, he landed a $25-a-week job with DC Comics in 1938. The next year, assigned to create a hero as successful as Superman, he decided to morph Zorro, the title character in the movie The Bat and a Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a vehicle with bat like wings into a dark dude. “I wanted to create a costume that was so awesome,” Kane told PEOPLE in 1989, “that the crooks would be petrified.” Stan Lee, 75, a pal and the creator of Spiderman, says he and Kane used to sock each other on the arm while arguing whose superhero was supreme. “He’d shout, ‘Batman!’ I’d shout, ‘Spiderman!’ And we’d go on like that until we broke up laughing,” says Lee. “I’m going to miss that laugh.”

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