Some weapons become more iconic than the fictional characters that use them. Others are a vital aspect of a character’s personality. In this column, we take a look at some of the greatest fictional weapons of all time.
Batman has relied on a seemingly never-ending supply of gadgets and weapons since his creation in 1939. While some have come and gone (he used to kill people with a gun!), only two have stayed for the long haul: the Batarang and the Batmobile. In today’s entry, we examine the Batarang, its many forms over the years, and its iconic place in Batman history.
The Perfect Weapon for The Dark Knight
It’s a fairly simple weapon – a bat-shaped throwing device used by Batman to incapacitate his enemies. This straightforward idea is what makes the weapon so iconic and has allowed comics, movies, and TV to create countless interpretations. Every film version of the Batarang looks and acts differently and countless types of Batarangs have been created, often becoming very convenient for whatever situation the Caped Crusader finds himself in during the story.
Batman’s gadgets are meant to help him deal with the unexpected and give him the edge over his foes. However, it’s his hand-to-hand combat that puts an end to criminals. The Batarang can serve a wide variety of purposes, but its greatest strength is in disarming enemies from a distance and bridging the gap between the Dark Knight and his target. Without this midrange offensive tool, he wouldn’t be able to effectively fight and use non-lethal means of combat.
These weapons can clog guns, pierce hands, rattle brains, and cut cords. In addition, years of training and on-the-job use have sharpened Bruce’s aim. He rarely misses a slow-moving target, but quick enemies may be able to dodge them. After all, Batman is only human. When going against a super-powered being like Superman or a mutated enemy like Killer Croc, the Batarang will provide little more than a distraction. In the end, quick thinking and long-term planning are what take these targets down, not one weapon.
The ability to take this simple weapon and wield it with great skill is a perfect representation of Batman: a non-powered human whose determination and dedication have helped him overcome every enemy in his way.
History of the Batarang
The Batarang first appeared several issues after Batman’s debut, originally used in Detective Comics #31. These weapons were boomerangs with winged cutouts that made them resemble a bat.
Like a boomerang, these returned to the Dark Knight after being thrown. Over time, these weapons began to change and take on new purposes. Additionally, the weapon was often attached to a rope, helping Batman grab onto buildings and walls to swing and climb across Gotham. However, when Batman’s projectile grappling gun was introduced in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, this usage was quickly usurped in the comics. Batman has rarely looked back.
The weapons also quickly lost their boomerang abilities. Instead, they became ninja shuriken, spinning through the air and straight into the enemy. They also became smaller over the decades. Gone were the oversized boomerangs that couldn’t fit on Batman’s belt in reality. Instead, the Batarangs were small enough to be held between Bruce’s clenched fingers, giving him the ability to throw more than one at a time.
Their shapes changed as well. Some were round like his symbol in the ‘80s and others had sharp, pointed tips. Batman and Robin have also been known to use mechanical launchers to send their weapons further than normally possible. However, when the unhinged crusader Azrael took over for Batman after he had his back broken by Bane, the Bat-Imposter took things too far. In addition to his many mechanical Batsuit upgrades, he attached a Batarang machinegun with an ammo belt. These could fire hundreds in a minute, tearing apart enemies and falling in line with his general disregard for life.
Once Bruce was back under the cowl, he didn’t even consider making this part of his arsenal. While these devices may cause fatal injuries in the wrong hands, Batman’s skill prevents them from being anything more than incapacitating.
Batarangs on Screen
Since the Batarang has been a staple of Batman’s arsenal since nearly the beginning, they have also been present through the character’s many iterations in movies and television. Except for the Batmanserials in 1943 and 1949, but those suck and no one cares about them.
Adam West’s Batman television show and film didn’t exactly use the weapons as boomerangs, but they were big and clunky, giving them that appearance. He didn’t use them very much, usually just threatening to hurl them at a villain. West’s Batman preferred to let his fists do the work, typically accompanied by visual onomatopoeia like “Bam!” and “Boof!”
It was really Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 that solidified the style of the Batarang. It’s surprising that it took so many decades, but since then, comics, TV, and movies alike have used the weapons as shuriken rather than actual boomerangs. These bad boys knocked out goons, broke weapons, and even broke The Riddler’s weird, mind control contraption that made no sense. Take that, illogical plot devices! Batarang in your face!
At one point in Batman and Robin, in between all of Batman’s butt and nipple shots, the Dark Knight opens up his Bat-Cabinet to unveil a series of Batarang money shots. There’s so many different weapons on display it’s hard to keep track. But it’s easy to say that the Caped Crusader has a batarang for every occasion. All four films in the ‘80s and ‘90s series stick with a similar aesthetic – flat black coloring with a glossy coat. They fit with the suits, all black and shiny in the neon lights.
The Dark Knight Trilogy rebooted the Batarangs along with the Caped Crusader himself. These were simple and straightforward weapons. Scenes even showed Bruce shaping the bronze metal on his work bench in the Batcave. Some of these folded in half and others were one solid piece. They don’t feature much in any of the films. In fact, their only real moment in the spotlight is when Bruce takes out some lights with them during his first night on the job.
In any case, they were a vital aspect of showing the new direction of Batman on film. Gone were fancy gadgets and huge weapons. In their place was a small and simple shuriken that could potentially be made at home.
Most often, the cartoon forms of Batman feature batarangs most prominently. They are featured in the classic opening of Batman: The Animated Series and come in handy in countless episodes. This Batman relies on his wits and physical superiority, with Batarangs regularly stopping super criminals and thugs alike. In the future-set cartoon Batman Beyond, Bruce’s replacement Terry McGinnis uses these weapons as well. They may look significantly different and be upgraded with tech that produces a variety of effects; they are still a vital part of the character.
The early 2000s cartoon reboot The Batman gave the weapons a more high tech feel. There wasn’t anything particularly special about them, but they glowed blue and hummed as they streaked through the air. In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman’s weapons featured a bright red trim, staying in line with the series’ use of bright, ‘60s style animation and a lighter feel.
Every so often, Batman pulls out a Batarang that does far more than the average weapon. Most often, these have been shown in TV and movies.
Batman Returns may have the most over-the-top alternate Batarang of them all. In a showdown with some of The Penguin’s goons, the Dark Knight pulls out a programmable remote control Batarang. He punches in the location of his four enemies and lets it fly, smacking into them one by one in a complete circle. It’s highly illogical and kinda cool. That is, until a poodle snatches it out of the air. That’s not a joke.
While the ‘90s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series really only sticks to classic Batarangs, Batman: The Brave and the Bold gets creative. The Caped Crusader uses a gas Batarang in one episode, narrowly missing a target on purpose and spewing a trail of knockout gas in its wake that engulfs the enemy’s head.
The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole doesn’t use Batarangs all that much, but it does let Bruce try out one alternative. Kinda. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman knocks out several thugs with some darts in their necks. Why does this qualify? Well, their shaped like bats! Why didn’t he just use those on Bane?
The videogame Batman: Arkham Asylum offers up some of the best alternate versions. Best of all, you get to be the one tossing Batarangs into the skulls of bad guys! These include the Sonic, Remote Control, and Reverse Batrangs. Best of all, the Dark Knight can wield three at a time, possibly the coolest looking of all options.
While the size, shape, coloring, and function of these weapons may change over time, their ultimate purpose remains the same. In any incarnation, the Batarang is a vital aspect of Batman. While it may not be the most defining feature of the character, a Dark Knight without his most trusted weapon is incomplete.