Some costumes are just iconic. People who have never read a comic will recognize it on first glance. It just has that staying power, so much so that changes to it are usually fairly simple and subtle. Because no one wants to mess with what works.
Bruce Wayne was born in Gotham City, heir to the multi-million dollar companies of Wayne Industries and Wayne Enterprises. Despite their fortune, Bruce’s parents Thomas and Martha believed in actively giving back to their city, Martha through charity work and Thomas through being a physician. Another major influence in Bruce’s life was Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred had once worked as an agent of MI-6 before leaving violence to pursue a career on stage, but circumstances later led him to leave England and adopt his father’s former role as Wayne family Butler. Alfred was Bruce’s teacher in many areas and his best friend.
When he was six-years-old, Bruce accidentally fell into a cave beneath Wayne Manor, a forgotten place that had once been used by his ancestors as a hiding place for escaped slaves. The incident caused Bruce to develop a great fear of bats and he had many nightmares. A few years later, Bruce was given a new reason for nightmares. On one of the rare evenings where both of Bruce’s parents were able to spend time with him, the family attended a theatrical re-release of The Mark of Zorro. Leaving the theatre later, they were confronted by a mugger named Joe Chill who demanded Martha’s pearls. When Thomas instinctively moved to protect his wife, Chill shot Bruce’s parents before his eyes and then ran off. Having asked her mother to wear the pearls so their outing would be a special night, Bruce blamed himself for his parents death.
Refusing to be overcome by hate and grief, young Bruce made a promise on the graves of his parents, to protect people from suffering as he had and to make the city his parents had called home a place where such crimes would be unthinkable. He spent the next several years training, learning from Alfred and many others, including detectives, bounty hunters, criminals, assassins, martial arts masters, escape artists, magicians, boxers. Eventually, he returned to Gotham City and a series of events led him to create the identity of the Batman.
During the day, Bruce Wayne masquerades as a mentally lazy playboy with little interest in his own company. But at night, he becomes a fearsome Dark Knight whose enemies sometimes wondered if he was a man in body armor or a demonic force. Over the years, Batman has worked alongside the Justice League of America, the Outsiders, and has trained several apprentices to aid in his war on crime and evil. He knows he will never win the war, but he believes every single life is precious and worth saving.
Got it? Great. So let’s take a look at how Batman’s uniform has evolved over the decades.
With the success of Superman’s adventures, National Publications (which would later evolve into DC Comics) asked its writers to come up with new superheroes and masked mystery-men. It’s been said that Batman creator Bob Kane originally intended his dark detective to wear a red bodysuit with black shorts, black boots and no gloves. He’d be disguised by a simple domino mask and would wear stiff, bat-like wings attached to his back. These wings were inspired by DaVinci’s drawings of how a man might be able to achieve limited flight. The idea of the Batman was also inspired by the character Zorro (who also used a cave as his lair) and by a mystery-suspense 1930 film titled The Bat Whispers, which involved people being hunted by a killer who wore a dark, bat-winged cloak that helped him hide in the shadows.
Kane liked this idea of a hero who would lurk in the shadows, seeming like a dangerous creature on first glance. Despite the fact that Batman’s creation was spurred on by the success of Superman, Kane decided that his hero would not possess any supernatural abilities but that he would only appear supernatural at times to his enemies.
When Kane’s collaborator Bill Finger (who would create Bruce Wayne’s origin story and many of the things we love about him) saw this design, he suggested a few changes. A winged cape rather than two stiff, completely separate wings. A horned cowl rather than a domino mask. Gray instead of red. Gloves so he wouldn’t leave fingerprints. And blank eyes to give him a more menacing appearance. This last trait was inspired by the Phantom, who had been a very popular hero in newspaper strips for some time now.
Kane made these changes and so here we have the original 1939 version of the character who was originally called “The Bat-Man” (starting with the next issue, the hyphen was dropped from the name). This look is unique amongst costumed crime-fighters of the era. Superman had a skin-tight uniform, but it was colorful rather than something meant to blend in with shadows. The Shadow also dressed in a dark cloak and had menacing eyes, but he was very clearly a human being when you looked at him. The Green Hornet and the Crimson Avenger both pretended to be gangsters, but their costumes were really just normal clothes with an added touch of drama (a face mask and/or cloak) and could’ve easily been worn by straight-forward superheroes.
But the Batman is a whole new take on a super-hero, making him appear villainous. His curved mask ears imply a bat’s ears, yes, but they could just as well be a devil’s horns. Unlike the blank eyes of the Phantom or the Crimson Avenger, his are slanted, heightening the demonic aspect.
Look at the Batman, squint a bit, and you see a vampire. In this famous comic cover above, we have an actual vampiric villain known a the Monk taking an unconscious victim to his creepy castle, yet it is the Batman who seems more threatening, implying with his gaze that even supernatural creatures should fear his vengeance.
Notice the cape here. In the initial story, it’s pretty stiff, which is understandable since it’s meant to act as a short-range glider. When Batman leaps, the cape extends into two actual wings, similar to DaVinc’s sketches. Advantageous when our hero needs to get from rooftop to rooftop, but it seems cumbersome if he’s going to be fighting hand-to-hand.
There’s also the now-famous utility belt. It doesn’t just carry Batman’s items. The size and bulk of it imply a weight-lifter’s belt, which complements the fact that Batman is an athlete rather than someone who relies on supernatural powers. Notice also that the belt buckle is circular. That will change starting with the hero’s next adventure. Likewise, these small purple gloves (which have often been recolored as dark blue in later reprintings) will be gone pretty quickly.
You’ll also notice Batman’s symbol in these early stories (recreated by this more modern drawing above). It could be a silhouette of a bat, but without the head and ears, it seems to really just be a pair of wings. Compared to the symbol we know and love, it seems to be missing a major piece.
Starting with his second adventure, the stiff cape was altered. It would still extend into wings when Batman jumped off a rooftop, but when it was at rest, it now took on a looser, more operatic appearance. This increased the vampire effect and allowed Batman to be very cool-looking when he wrapped his cloak around his form and moved stealthily through the shadows.
As the issues went on, Batman’s curved ears were also altered, straightened out so that his face had a stronger look now. This also improved his silhouette, making the Batman one of the few characters who can be identified the world over simply by his shadow.
How often have we seen criminals look down and notice that they are standing in the shade of a horned, winged figure whom they suddenly realize is standing behind or above them? We see that shadow and we know exactly who it is. It’s a great effect and instantly sets the atmosphere of our character.
Batman’s second story showed a change in his belt as well as in his cape. The buckle was now square and at times it would have Batman’s rope visibly attached to the side of it. Later on, the rope was tucked away inside a pouch on the belt. Later still, it was said to wind up on a spool hidden within the buckle. Eventually, Batman would simply use grappling guns instead.
Batman’s gloves were quickly changed from small purple things into larger ones that matched the color scheme of the rest of his uniform. This definitely was an improvement. Now the costume is a balanced uniform rather than seeming as if pieces of it were added at the last minute.
In some of Batman’s initial stories, he occasionally had a gun holstered to his belt. “What? A gun?!” Yes, faithful readers. During his first year of his stories, the Dark Knight would occasionally use lethal force. He didn’t do it often, believing that the gun was only to be used when faced with threats that couldn’t be imprisoned (mutated giants, vampires, etc.). In a couple of rare instances, he did kill ordinary criminals in battle, such as when he snapped a guy’s neck by kicking him at the right angle. But he wasn’t like pulp heroes, such as the Spider or the Shadow, who often killed criminals without great concern.
When Whitney Ellsworth became editor of the comic, he decided that Batman should operate by a stronger moral code since kids were reading these stories. The police might tolerate a vigilante who beat up criminals, but someone who used lethal force and wasn’t held accountable? What message did that send to young readers? And so, since he hadn’t used the gun all that much anyway, the firearm was dropped and as far as continuity was concerned, Batman operated by a strict non-lethal policy. Over time, this has become one of the strongest aspects of the character, that he will sometimes risk his life even to save his own enemies.
By Detective Comics #37, almost a year after his first appearance, Batman’s gloves lost the slightly swashbuckler design. Now they fit more closely to his forearms and had three spikes emerging from each one. Writer Bill finger referred to them not as “gloves” now but rather as “gauntlets.” We saw in stories that these gauntlets were thicker than simple gloves and hid things within such as lock picks. Years later, the film Batman Begins proposed that the spikes on the gauntlets served a practical purpose in helping Batman defend himself from blades and swords.
Even without the practical purpose, the spikes on the gauntlets match the scallops of Batman’s cloak and also give the impression of a bat’s claws, making our hero immediately a bit creepier and more fearsome in appearance. You don’t want to be punched by a spiked gauntlet, do you? Those things might cut your face! The shape of them also adds to the Dark Knight’s very cool silhouette. And they make his gloves very identifiable, so again we can be aware of Batman’s presence without seeing his face, such as in the picture above where he grabs two criminals from behind. We see nothing but those gauntlets and we know who it is.
The final cosmetic tweak was to the bat-symbol on our hero’s chest. Before he ended the first year of his career, ears were added to the center, making it a true bat’s silhouette. As time went on, it became bigger and a bit more stylized, finally giving us the first true bat-symbol.
FAMILY FRIENDLY DETECTIVE
Eleven months after the Batman first appeared, he was given a young apprentice. By this time, it was decided that the comic needed to be a little more family friendly. Batman dropped the “the” that preceded his name and his appearance was tweaked once again. The ears were shortened and his form became broader like a football athlete rather than its previous wiry frame. He tended to stand tall now more often than being creepily hunched over and wrapped in his cloak.
By now, the glider wing aspect had been dropped. Batman’s cape did not become like wings unless he grabbed the edges with his own hands and raised them in a menacing manner.
And there was a slight change in color tones. Initially, it had been clear that Batman wore a black cowl and cloak, with the color blue used to emphasize folds in the fabric and give it a three-dimensional feel (although the cape’s interior did appear to be dark blue). By now though, Batman’s mask, gloves and boots seemed to literally be colored blue. Our hero had become a bit brighter. Villains still feared him, but now ordinary citizens knew he was clearly a good guy.
(By the way, I just want to point out with pride that this famous cover of the Dynamic Duo in the spotlight was drawn by my dear, departed friend Jack Burnley, co-creator of the Golden Age Starman).
These changes to Batman made sense when you consider that the Darknight Detective was now going to be the adopted father and mentor of a young boy. There were already enough parents in the world who were concerned about the influence of comics on their kids and publishers definitely didn’t need anyone freaking out over a series that involved an adolescent living under the care and guidance of a menacing figure who looked like a vampire. By making Batman more obviously a superhero rather than an intimidating figure you could mistake for a villain, it was a visual message that young Robin (and the reader) was in safe hands.
This design became the standard look during the Golden Age of comics and for a while beyond. Though every now and then Batman’s adventures would lead to crazy things happening such as the costume being made-over with a zebra print or getting a different color scheme or having a genie’s turban added to it, these changes never lasted longer than an issue usually.
THE FIRST BATMAN?
For those who don’t know (and don’t feel bad if you don’t, everyone was a comic book newbie at some point), let’s quickly discuss the term “retcon.” This is short for “retroactive continuity” and basically refers to when a new story comes out that adds to, revises or replaces previously established continuity. When a writer kills off a character and then years later a different writer tells us the character didn’t actually die because he jumped off the boat seconds before it blew up or it was actually a clone or robot who died, that’s a retcon. When you’re given an “untold tale” that takes place in-between previously published stories, that’s a retcon. This device shows up not only in comics, of course, but TV shows, movie sequels and, especially, soap operas.
In the 1950s, Batman’s comics occasionally tried to retcon the past as a way of surprising readers with unknown history. In one story, he met a circus acrobat who had been using a batsuit in his act years before Bruce Wayne had begun operating as a vigilante, making this performer “the original Batman.” And a while after that, Bruce found a film reel of his father Thomas Wayne wearing a bat-man costume for a masquerade ball that had a “flying creatures” theme. When Bruce saw this, he realized that when he had decided to become the Batman years later, his subconscious had recalled his father’s old costume and had caused him to unknowingly base his uniform on the same design.
These two costumes are deliberately meant to not be as cool as Batman’s own look. The circus performer outfit looks like something makeshift and off-the-rack, which makes sense for that character. And Thomas Wayne’s look definitely says “Batman at Mardi Gras.” The wings are no longer functional and are meant purely for show and the mask is meant to be decorative rather than a useful disguise. A pretty fun redesign on things. This costume ball Batsuit has recently been appearing in comics again in stories by Grant Morrison.
THE BATMAN OF ZUR EN ARRH
There’s not enough room to go into every weird alternative look Bruce Wayne has had, but here are a couple I thought I’d mention for this particular column.
The 1950s had some wacky stories for Batman. In one tale, he helped out aliens. In another, he was subjected to mind-warping gases by the villain Professor Milo. In 1958, a strange tale appeared where Batman was brought to the planet Zur-En-Arrh by a native scientist named Tlano. Having witnessed the Dark Knight’s adventures on Earth, Tlano was inspired to become a hero himself, emulating Bruce’s costume, cave and equipment.
But seriously, I have to wonder if this guy isn’t color blind. Red and yellow is already a risky combination depending on how you use them, but to then also have your cloak, boots, gloves and trunks be colored purple? Really? And what’s with the sleeveless top over the yellow undershirt? It gives Tlano a strangely hipster look. As Tim Gunn might say, this is outfit is simply “perplexing!” Despite all this, Tlano has to be given some credit, though. His idea of a stylizing the bat-symbol by putting a yellow oval would come up again in six years when Bruce decided to alter his uniform again.
In modern continuity, writer Grant Morrison retconned the Zur En Arrh adventure, saying it didn’t actually happen but was a hallucination that Batman had suffered due to a mind-altering gas used on him by the villain Prof. Milo. The dream that Batman could find a planet where he was as powerful as Superman was apparently some subconscious envy.
Morrison also wrote that years later, Batman thought back on this and other adventures where an enemy had caused him to lose his perception of reality and/or fall under a hypnotic or telepathic attack. To protect himself in the future, he used experimental hypnosis and psychological techniques to create an alternate personality that would activate if his conscious mind was coming under another’s control, an alter that was inspired by his old hallucination of Tlano, the “Batman of Zur En Arrh.”
Some time later, this fail-safe alter was activated and readers saw our hero transform into a raging, bloodthirsty version of himself, a crazed Batman who did not have Bruce Wayne’s morality and stitched together a new costume out of mismatched materials he found in the street. So we again have Tlano’s batsuit, but now there’s a reason for the strange appearance. The clashing colors and ripped edges work as a visual symbol of our hero’s temporary madness while his Zur En Arrh persona is in the driver’s seat.
Once the alter left and Bruce’s true personality resurfaced, he naturally traded this look in for his normal batsuit. A very clever way of giving this costume real meaning.
NEW LOOK BATMAN
In the 1960s, Batman underwent another change. While still a colorful hero, he was now not as overtly cheery as he was during the late 40’s and the 50’s. DC wanted to bring him back to being more of a detective, someone driven because of childhood trauma. He began to be drawn in a more naturalistic style by artist Carmine Infantino, who added another cosmetic change. Starting in 1964, the bat-symbol on his chest was now surrounded by a golden circle.
There’s a common story that this was done because DC needed to trademark the symbol and you can’t trademark a simple silhouette. This story, however, is not true as you can certainly trademark a silhouette. It seems that the golden oval was added simply to visually announce and emphasize to readers that Batman was under new direction and that changes were happening to the book. It was also a matter of Carmine Infantino simply trying to update the look.
The “new look” Batman introduced in 1964 was cemented in the eyes of the general public when it appeared in the famous Adam West TV series that began airing two years later. As the character moved into the 1970s, artist Neal Adams tweaked things further by giving Batman a body more akin to an Olympic gymnast and less like a football player. The blue of Bruce’s uniform was darkened and the bat-symbol finally gained a standard look that all artists followed for years to come.
So the basic “new look” wound up becoming the standard for roughly thirty years. Some people have called this look “your father’s Batman.” I just call it “classic.”
YEAR ONE RETCON
Now, in the 1980s, a few ground-breaking and highly influential stories came out. One such tale was The Dark Knight Returns, a mini-series written and drawn by Frank Miller. Taking place in a possible future, it featured an older Batman who had been retired for a decade and now found himself drawn back into the fight, less patient and more violent than he had been before.
In this comic, Miller messed with the Batman costume. First, he got rid of the utility belt we had seen for decades. Rather than something with capsules lining the outside, this was a heavy belt with pouches. Miller also came up with a story reason for the bat-symbol having a yellow oval. Batman explains to the reader that it is a deliberate target to draw fire to his chest, which has extra armor plating underneath, so his enemies might not think to shoot him in the head instead. This idea was adopted by Batman writers to follow.
Miller clearly didn’t care for the yellow oval around the symbol, quickly dropping it in the story. Soon, Batman donned a new costume that emulated his old look of darker colors and simply having a bat silhouette on the chest.
With the success of The Dark Knight Returns, Miller was asked to do a story that would revise and modernize Batman’s origins. Batman: Year One became the new official beginning of Batman’s career, showing how he first began his war, how he befriended Gordon and how he came up with his iconic disguise. In the story, Miller had Batman wear the same basic costume he had worn for most of DKR.
So this Year One uniform with the bat silhouette and heavy pouches was retconned into being Batman’s original suit and is featured often when writers and artists wish to portray something from the Dark Knight’s “early days.” Along with this, Batman’s stories were taking a darker tone all around during the 1980s, showing that he was a superhero who didn’t necessarily play well with others and often preferred to stand alone in the dark. His batarangs were no longer blunt throwing weapons but were now personalized shuriken that could embed themselves into the hands and limbs of his enemies. All of this brought our hero back to being called “THE Batman” as often he was simply called “Batman.”
Later comics would establish that Batman adopted his capsule utility belt and yellow-oval symbol some time after he recruited Dick Grayson to be his apprentice Robin.
In the 1990s, Batman went through one of his most trying experiences. First, he began suffering exhaustion from several intense adventures happening right after each other, with no time for rest. He suffered dizzy spells and his body was reacting sluggishly. Then, in the saga Knightfall, a new criminal named Bane freed the inmates of Arkham Asylum, forcing Batman to push himself even further both physically and mentally as he desperately tried to stem the chaos. After having been on his feet for days with little sleep, Batman was in no condition to fight when Bane at last confronted him. The fight ended with Bane breaking the Dark Knight’s back.
Some months earlier, Batman had befriended Jean-Paul Valley, a young man who had been trained and conditioned against his will to be “Azrael,” an assassin who modeled himself on the angel of death, flaming sword and all. Wishing to be better than a programmed killer, Jean-Paul had become Bruce’s new apprentice, receiving instruction from both him and the new Robin, Tim Drake. Despite his inexperience, there was no questioning Jean-Paul’s physical prowess and fighting ability and so he was chosen to be the new Batman.
But the more time he spent confronting the madness of Gotham’s villains, the more Jean-Paul found himself falling into old habits. The hypnotic conditioning that had been part of his assassin training (called “the System”) began kicking into gear in subtle ways and this ersatz Batman found himself designing a new batsuit that ensured bloodshed. It also involved the strange 1990s habit of adding pouches, belts and spikes seemingly for their own sake.
This outfit makes a lot of sense for Jean-Paul because, as we can see, it is a combination of the Batman look and the Azrael costume. This whole storyline, which was told over the course of Knightfall, Knight’s Quest and Knight’s End, was meant to emphasize that a bloodthirsty Batman who had no qualms about killing was simply not Batman. Yes, he may have killed in a few of his earliest Golden Age stories, but by the time he had been fully tweaked and developed into something the writers and editors were happy with, the Batman was firmly established as a guy who did not treat human life cheaply. This costume tells us otherwise and gives us a very strong insight into Jean-Paul’s character. Look at the boots. Even if he just kicks someone, he’s liable to slice their face!
This armor also emphasizes how Jean-Paul falls short of Bruce. Bruce was good enough and clever enough that he could take on a room full of ninjas and different super-villains using just himself and a few tools in his belt. Jean-Paul had to rely on heavy armor, gauntlets that fired batarangs like bullets, blades, and a heavy-duty glider cape to take on the same menaces.
As time went on, Jean-Paul exchanged the mask for a helmet and altered the cape into several long spikes that doubled as armor. Now, it was no longer the Batman uniform, simply the Azrael costume with a touch of Batman’s influence. In his final adventure as the replacement Dark Knight, this was emphasized when Jean-Paul’s blue coloring was replaced with red.
Eventually, of course, Bruce Wayne came back, after having his back restored by a mutant with healing powers and then going through physical therapy and a serious refresher course in martial arts taught by the assassin Lady Shiva. During his retraining, he wore a standard ninja outfit with a hood. When his refresher course in butt-kicking was reaching its final stages, Shiva had Bruce wear a mask of Tengu. In Japanese folklore, tengu were supernatural creatures. Mostly, they were avian in nature, but some of them had distinctly different appearances and Shiva’s mask was based on a tengu that resembled a bat.
The tengu mask is actually quite appropriate for Bruce Wayne. Tengu were initially regarded as disruptive demons but over time they were seen often as protective spirits. The Batman himself was originally hunted as a criminal and terrorist until he gained the trust of the city and its law enforcement. When many first meet Batman, they consider him dangerous or insane until they get to know him better and realize he acts by a moral code and nobility that is his own. Demon and protective spirt all rolled into one.
This wouldn’t work for Batman’s main costume, but it’s great as a different approach since Batman is, at his core, a modern-day ninja who masquerades as a demonic creature.
After getting back to full form and taking the mantle of the Bat back from Jean-Paul Valley, Bruce Wayne wanted to rethink a few things about how he operated. Naturally, costume alterations were involved.
LOSE THE SHORTS
Since his creation, Batman had worn trunks outside of his pants, a style shared by many superheroes introduced in the 30s and 40s. This was partly because initial superhero costumes of the time were inspired by circus outfits. But in the mid-1990s, many thought that the trunks were a quaint design flaw that didn’t belong in modern-day superhero costumes.
In the storyline “Troika,” Batman experimented with his look and made a new battle suit. The blue was replaced by black and coal gray colors. The bodysuit was now all one piece, with no visible division between boots and gloves. Spikes were added to the boots in a style similar to the gloves. And the shorts were completely gone.
Not a bad look, but now we’ve made Batman too simplistic. It’s basically a ski-suit or ballet outfit with spikes and a belt. Fortunately, Bruce obviously felt the same way and by the end of the story he altered it yet again, adding gloves and boots while Robin wondered out loud if they should rename their lair as “The Cave of Style.”
Hey, that sounds like a fantastic lair for ME! Quick, readers! Send your money to Newsarama so we can get started on building my new stylish lair! C’mon, open up your wallets! … No? … Really? Okay, moving on.
After “Troika,” Batman went back to having his standard gloves and boots, but now coloring them in black and dark gray tones rather than blue. And he still stayed away from the shorts. This new status quo lasted a few years and many people dug it, saying it now made Batman more closely resemble the popular live-action films starring Michael Keaton.
Some fans missed the contrasting colors of the dark blue with the gray. In any event, this change was certainly the talk of the town for a while. I recall a few news programs on the radio even bringing up what a drastic change it was for Batman to lose the trunks. Personally, I’m a fan of that, as I think the trunks are simply unnecessary in this day and age and this look shows that the batsuit does just fine without them.
Depending on what artist was drawing him, he had tiny claw extensions on his glove and little shoulder hooks on the cape that would make his silhouette look more like a bat with folded wings.
One thing we should realize is that this look would not have been as effective years before because coloring techniques had often had trouble giving a good contrast when two dark colors or two shades of gray were placed next to each other. Inks would bleed into each other or the whole look would just seem to blend to the eye. But with new coloring technology and materials, we were able to give Batman this darker look.
Another thing that came back was the idea of Batman’s cape acting as a limited glider when he was leaping from certain heights or was swinging between rooftops that were fairly far apart. In a few comics, it stated that his cloak would take on this glider-like ability when an electrical charge was released from the belt, causing a “skeleton” frame interwoven in the fabric to become rigid. A similar idea would show up in the film Batman Begins years later.
NO MAN’S LAND
After suffering through two plague outbreaks and a horrible earthquake, Gotham was eventually cut off from the rest of the U.S. and forced to fend for itself. In this year-long story called No Man’s Land, Batman had to rethink his tactics and one thing that wound up being retooled was the utility belt. Miniature crime-fighting equipment was not as necessary as simple survival tools in a city that had no fresh food imports and no electricity in most places. So we wound up bringing back the Miller “Year One” belt and adding it to the current look.
This design was, to me, a great amalgamation of the different batsuits up to that point. You had the darker colors, which I think make more sense for Batman than the blue. You had the yellow symbol and yellow belt providing a nice contrast and breaking up the darkness of the suit. And you had the big pouches which I always thought looked more realistic than the capsule belt. Yeah, I know it’s comics and we can argue about what “realism” means, but this is just my own personal preference.
Batman switched back to his Year One uniform in early 2000 when Gotham was reunited with the rest of the U.S.A. This was the first time since the 1960s that the mainstream Batman comics (meaning not counting mini-series or stories that took place in flashback) did not wear the yellow stylized bat-symbol. Some fans missed it. Some preferred the dark bat shadow.
Batman stuck with the Year One batsuit for the next decade, right up until the recent mega-event Final Crisis. In that tale, Bruce Wayne helped bring about the defeat of the evil god called Darkseid, but was exiled to be lost in time and space as a consequence. With Bruce missing and presumed dead, it was time for someone else to take up the mantle of the bat.
CIRCUS BOY BECOMES DARK KNIGHT
Dick Grayson had filled in for Batman before, in a story called “Prodigal Son.” But now, believing that Bruce was dead, the former Boy Wonder decided to step into the role for real. Part of that meant making the look a little more his own.
There are really only two changes to this look. The first is that the belt buckle is now bat-shaped. My initial reaction to this is that it seems a bit whimsical for Batman. Plus, I’ve never cared for heroes who have their symbol appearing TWICE on their front body. Just seems repetitive. But Dick Grayson is a circus performer at heart and can certainly be described as being whimsical on occasion. So for him, rather than Bruce Wayne, I’m okay with this belt buckle.
The other change is with the gauntlets. Where Bruce had three scallops on the gloves, Dick has only two. And, as most artists portray it, these gauntlets had raised portions for the scallops, making them akin to wrist guards.
Not a major change, so it works. But I do personally prefer a plainer belt buckle and three spikes on the glove.
THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
On a few occasions, we’ve gotten a look at what might be ahead in Batman’s future. Here are a few of the most memorable designs.
In Batman #666, we saw a possible future where Bruce’s son Damian Wayne grows up to become the new Batman. In this future, Damian altered the costume, exchanging his cape for a special trench coat.
This emphasizes too much “Man” and not enough “Bat.” A trench coat is not the same as a cape or cloak, especially when buttoned up. And the collar seems to be killing Damian’s peripheral vision. Damian is less concerned about design and practicality than Bruce, but this really seems less like a batsuit and more like someone who decided to be “streetwise Batman” for a Halloween party.
In Kingdom Come, Mark Waid and Alex Ross gave us a future where anti-heroes had helped make the world a darker place and now many old school heroes were trying to fix it. Eventually, an older Batman got involved in the fray, leading a team into battle as he wore a new suit of techno-armor.
This armor makes sense in the story context. Kingdom Come gave us an older Batman whose body was breaking down because of all the stress he’d put it through as a younger man. So Bruce needed armor this bulky just to ensure he could move through a battlefield without immediately getting any further, potentially crippling, injuries. Strangely though, the design is a bit of a throwback, relying on art deco and steampunk-esque elements. While this says “Dark Knight,” it also reminds us of what people in the 1930s thought that future might look like and so it winds up feeling a bit dated.
In the story “Titans Tomorrow,” we saw another version of the future where Tim Drake (the third Robin) became Batman later in his life, a darker version who carried a gun and killed his enemies. This is basically the Year One uniform, but with a larger symbol and without the shorts.
Added to that, this uniform is constructed of larger pieces of body armor. This, along with the larger boots, visually inform us that this Batman is less about stealth and more about force. And the belt is curved a bit, adding just enough difference to let you know that this is a different guy.
Batman Beyond took place decades in the future when an elderly, retired Bruce Wayne wound up with a new successor. Teenager Terry McGinnis did not have years of training with assassins, ninjas and detectives to make him into a warrior. To compensate, he wore an exo-skeleton that this older Bruce Wayne had used towards the end of his career, a suit which enhanced strength and was equipped with special sensors, a radio, magnetic soles and retractable glider wings that could be used in conjunction with short-range rocket boots.
At first glance, this does not say Batman. He’s too skinny and there’s no cape. But like with Dick Grayson and Jean-Paul Valley, we have to remind ourselves that this isn’t Bruce. Terry is a teenager and the slight frame here gives a sense of youth and agility. The new glider wings in place of a cape remind us of Batman’s 1939 look (as do the long, curved ears) and they make more sense in Terry’s future version of Gotham where he’s not swinging from rooftops on a grappling hook but has to glide from skyscraper to skyscraper.
The one real criticism I would make is that the gloves and boots being extensions of the bodysuit might make this look TOO simplistic. A little contrast can go a long way. With this look though, you really just have Terry wearing a black body-stocking with ears and a bat-symbol. I don’t hate it, I just wonder if something else could be done.
To conclude our look at the future, we take a gander at a character introduced in Grant Morrison’s crossover DC 1 Million. In that story, we learned that a new generation of heroes would rise in the 853rd century, with the greatest of them joining forces in the Justice Legion A. One such hero was an unnamed man who had witnessed a massacre as a boy and was inspired to become the latest in a long line of Batmen. With his robot assistant Robin, the Toy Wonder, he acted as a hero and also served as warden of the prison-asylum planet of Pluto (I guess in the 853rd century, scientists decided it was a planet again, those fickle ninnies).
The full mask is interesting and definitely turns up the creepy factor. I’ve criticized blank face-plates on Iron Man in the past, but there’s a different between a face-plate and a mask. Here, the artist can still convey a lot of emotion through the character’s eyes or occasionally giving an impression of the mouth underneath. The full face mask also gives a sense of mystery. That could be ANYONE underneath. He could be young or old, scarred or bearded. Black, white, Asian, Latino. It might not even be a human being.
Some artists portrayed “Batman 1 Million” as having the standard bat ears while others gave a curved, double-pointed look to his cowl, which I think was more effective and made him stand out from Bruce. Notice also that the bat-symbol is replaced with a stylized cape clasp.
This is a nice look in that it still says Batman. But the cape-clasp looks slightly regal and so it seems overly decorative for a dark, sinister avenger. The gloves are once again part of the bodysuit but the boots are emphasized as being separate pieces. This is a strange conflict of design. Boots and gloves can be part of the body-suit or they can be separate, but it’s just odd to have both those elements in one costume. And while I do like this look in general, it just doesn’t feel right without a true bat-symbol emblazoned on the chest.
A new graphic novel is coming out called BATMAN: Earth One, taking place in a parallel universe and giving us an alternate look at Batman’s origin and his world. Artist Gary Frank has designed this new take on the Batsuit.
It’s definitely streamlined. The gauntlets look nice, with the spikes now clearly weapons rather than just decorations on the gloves. But the dark belt blends in a little too much for me. Without a break in the color, Batman’s appearance seems a little more bland now. In a movie, this would work, but this is the medium of comics and we have to think about what is attractive on a page. The raised border around the symbol also seems quite thick and excessive to me. And honestly, I miss the blank eyes.
Gary Frank’s Earth One design actually reminds me a little of an alternative design that was published in Wizard Magazine #136. Whereas Frank’s look is very streamlined, this Batman is weighed down with body armor and added gear, perhaps too much so. This may make Batman seem more realistic in terms of how much he should carry around in his war on crime, but it also makes me believe less and less that he can acrobatically move across rooftops.
And that wraps up this column on the Dark Knight’s wardrobe. Of course, the Batman has had several other strange looks on occasion and we haven’t talked at all about his different portrayals in other media. But those can be tackled in future columns. And we’ll get to Robin soon enough. Until next week, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.