Whether you’re a fan of grim and gritty, light and campy, or whether you’re a traditionalist or a futurist, there’s a Batman costume for you, isn’t there?
Be it black bat on the chest or yellow oval; long, pointy ears or short, rounded ones; body armor or cloth piping, it’s all been done, you’ve seen it – and it’s been a hallmark of the times you’ve lived in.
Batman is celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday and Batman @ 75 means a lot of costume changes! Follow me after the jump and we’ll take a close look at a few of them.
Look, cards on the table: I have a favourite costume – of course I do! – and it’s going to influence this piece of writing. We’ll get to my fave in a minute or two, but did you know that Bob Kane first designed his 1939 Bat-man with a red suit and a Zorro mask? Not too recognizable to the Dark Knight Detective the world knows and loves today. But bouncing those ideas for his first draft off of Bill Finger, Kane made changes to the costume and the man.
Here, now, was a winning formula: a creature of the night, in rippling cape and long-eared cowl, a black bat emblem displayed both menacingly and triumphantly on the chest – a Batman that would withstand the test of time.
One of the greatest (and most beloved) changes to Batman’s costume was the 1964 incorporation of the yellow oval behind the bat insignia. You can infer whatever you like about that design motif, but here was something that jumped out a viewer! And later comics would explain its usefulness: subconsciously, villains would tend to take aim at that particular spot of batman’s body – a spot reinforced with defensive measures like enhanced Kevlar to deflect bullets. Here was another psychological tool that the brilliant character could use against his enemies.
Besides, it matched his utility bet visually, a part of the costume which itself went from realistic pouches and pockets to capsule-sized holding devices.
In any case, the yellow oval would last over twenty years.
The colour of the costume itself actually changed. The grey tights lightened in hue and black became a midnight blue. This looked more vibrant not only in the physical printing of the comics, attracting the eyeballs of more kids (Batman comics sold nearly one million issues each month), but also on the television set during the late 1960’s.
Pop art was in. Dark and brooding was out.
Of course, the early eighties was a watershed time for the comic book medium – an art form that had finally matured. Comics could reflect life. Realism was in. Gritty was back. And nothing showed that more in mainstream comics than Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns series. Here was an aged, retired Batman, come back to rid Gotham’s streets of crime.
But this right-wing hero was definitely over–the-top. The black bat on his chest was enormous – as were the giant yellow pouches around his waist. More than ever, this was a real costume that a real man could put on himself – if that man was absolutely, abnormally, enormous in the trunk and chest!
The Dark Knight Returns remains one of the most beloved and influential comic book stories to ever see print. The sense of realism, of darkness in that series would proliferate through the next three decades of comic book publishing and even move it’s way into the animated adventures of the Batman character as well as the many films that carry his name.
If you look at Batman today, writers and artists have brought the design of the character to his logical conclusion: they’ve militarized him.
With Bruce Wayne being a billionaire, it stands to reason that he’d have all sorts of high tech marvels at his fingertips. His costume now is akin to war armor. He’s plated and every aspect of his body is absolutely functional – and lethal. Batman is now a walking, fighting, agile, twenty-first century tank.
I still like the idea of a well-muscled man, pulling a sweater over his frame, placing a mask and cowl over his head, and using his wits to combat evil. Leave the high tech gadgetry to James Bond. Give me a black suit, a grey shirt, a black bat sigil against a yellow oval and a long, flowing deep blue cape that billows against a moonlit city skyline. Give me a real man, fighting real crime with muscles and training and intelligence.
Every young kid can dream to be that!
Happy birthday – Batman @ 75!