Dark Knight Discussion: Batman’s Costumes Through the Ages (Part 1 of 2)

Batman has been making his mark on comic books, film, and television for 75 years, fighting colorful criminals and pursuing a near-psychotic need for justice in Gotham City. Thanks to iconic stories and an irresistible character, Batman has become famous around the world and is instantly recognizable to billions of people on first glance.

But The Dark Knight has not always looked the same. Much like the tone of Batman’s many stories; Batman himself has adopted many different styles throughout the years. From rugged pulp detective to high tech crime fighter, Batman’s look has transitioned over the years. Due to both artistic choices and plot developments, The Caped Crusader evolves from year to year while still maintaining many costume elements that have stayed essential since almost the very beginning.

While almost every superhero has undergone costume changes, few have made the change an integral part of the character itself. Spider-Man sticks with the red and blue, Superman slightly switches to suit the times, and Iron Man’s armor updates more often than his underwear, but Batman makes an impact with every little alteration. From major changes needed to battle new enemies to color palette swaps to match his mood, Batman’s costumes reflect who the character is at any moment across 75 years.

For a look at when The Dark Knight must take on near-impossible changes, read Batman’s Many Armors. For more in-depth looks at Batman, visit the Dark Knight Discussion section.

The Original Batman

This is the one that started it all. Bill Finger and Bob Kane created Batman with pulp detective heroes and Zorro in mind while also adding in new elements of the then-brand new superhero genre. The hero’s wings were modeled after Leonardo Da Vinci’s concept drawings in particular.

While the idea of Batman was created by Kane, it was Finger who really developed the look. Kane’s Batman wore red and had a domino mask, but it was Finger who added the cowl and many of his iconic elements, along with many of the character’s defining traits that appeared in Detective Comics #27. Of course, the costume would undergo many changes in the following issues. The wings would change to a cape, the purple gloves would be replaced with black ones featuring scallops, and the overall shape of the mask would change to a more form fitting design with straight ears. Here, it looks closer to Wolverine’s mask.

This Batman was much more of the time, looking like a cloth costume that a man in the 1940s could create, rather than the high tech expensive battle armor that would come decades later.

Biggest Addition: Of all the pieces that were already in place in this first iteration of the Batsuit, it was Batman’s cowl that had the biggest impact. While it would change drastically, it was this piece  that set The Dark Knight apart from his fellow heroes from the very beginning.

Golden Age Batman

While it’s not quite the Batman that we all know and love today, The Dark Knight got close to the costume that would last fairly early in his career. By Detective Comics #36, the Batsuit have adopted a grey and blue tone that would come to define many of the character’s outfits. Batman also had smaller and sleeker ears on his cowl and scallops on his gloves. While it was not a complete overhaul from the original look, the amount of changes added up to a far better look than what the character appeared as in Detective Comics #27.

While there were some tweaks here and there, the Batsuit stayed largely the same throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s. However, the style of the comics as a whole changed, with artwork becoming cleaner and brighter in order to fit the more family friendly and less gritty aesthetics that were part of the first Batman books.

Biggest Addition: With a brighter shade of blue having quickly replaced the black and purple before this version, it’s the scallops of the gloves that stand out the most here. These longer and more aggressive additions would eventually be made into a piece of Batman’s arsenal instead of just part of the look.

1950s Insanity

During the 1950s, DC Comics would put Batman and Robin into a wide variety of strange stories that were typical of their publishing style at the time. Some of the most memorable (not necessarily for the best reasons) were those that saw the Dynamic Duo swap their outfits in order to fight criminals or deal with strange powers. Like many of the comics of the time, these stories would live on in infamy, showing how far The Dark Knight had gone from being just that.

In “The Zebra Batman,” the hero would be turned into “Zebra-Batman” after fighting with Zebra-Man caused him to change appearance, have strange powers, and be able to repel all solid matter. In “The Rainbow Batman,” The Dark Knight would wear a different colored costume every night without explanation, only to later reveal that he was doing it to draw attention away from an injured and vulnerable Robin. In “Batman and Robin – The Mummy Crime-Fighters,” The Dynamic Duo are exposed to a spaceship that turns their skin green, so they wrap themselves in bandages to conceal their now vulnerable identities. All these stories are rubbish.

Biggest Addition: None of these costumes would leave a permanent mark on the legacy of the Batsuit, except to remind fans that the character made some strange segues during The Golden Age of Comic Books. But these strange costumes would be refenced decades later in Grant Morrison’s Batman saga and the TV show Batman: The Brave and The Bold.

Bright and Shiny Batman

The ‘50s and ‘60s had a big impact on superheroes throughout DC Comics and Batman was no exception. While the Golden Age Batman would quickly transition into stories where the hero would travel to other worlds, have insane hallucinations, and transform into a toddler, the final step was adding the new look of the yellow oval.

Of course, this change would have its biggest and most immediate impact on the look of Adam West’s Batman in the 1966 series. The blue and grey outfit with yellow symbol would be the costume of choice for this television iteration of The Caped Crusader, which would largely impact the public’s perception of the hero for decades to come. Take note of the short ears and outlines blue eyebrows against the black front of the cowl, these are some of the most identifiable aspects of the era.

Biggest Addition: It’s easily the addition of the yellow oval Bat Symbol that would mark this as a departure from the previous versions. Putting this brighter spot of color right in the middle of the previously dark hero’s chest would make a statement on DC Comics’ intention of bright and friendly stories for Batman.

The Neal Adams Look

If there was any artist who had the biggest impact on the appearance of Batman over the decades, it was Neal Adams. Tweaks included longer ears on the cowl and a longer cape, both of which added a more dynamic and darker look, despite still retaining the brighter blue and grey color scheme. Adams would also add more shadows to Batman and the stories he inhabited, which was suitable for the stories that writer Denny O’Neil would send him into throughout his run on the character.

Importantly, Adams made a very specific tweak to the Bat Symbol. While the yellow oval was retained, he changed the look of the bat within it. Here, the Bat was given rounded wings that smoothly fit with the curve of the oval, fitting it more appropriately. Previously, it was simply a miniaturized version of the big black Bat Symbol shrunken down and shoved inside the oval. It was this new version that would permanently stick, showing up in the movie versions and any future version that used this look.

Biggest Addition: While Adams would make minor adjusted to the Batsuit during his seminal run on the character, it was the way he drew Batman as a whole that made the biggest impact. His lithe and athletic take on Batman would be copied, even when the hero took on a more armored appearance.

Batman: Year One

When writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli created a revised and realistic origin for Batman, the hero’s first costume was given a great new look. Rather than use some version of the original clunky 1940s Batsuit, Mazzuchelli and Miller took the classic look the suit had evolved into and gave it a simpler and more realistic aesthetic. This Batsuit kept the trimmed down and grey bodysuit, without armor, but threw out the blue. Instead, the cowl, cape, gloves, and boots used a black color scheme that blended in with the shadows.

Here, the Bat Symbol ditches the yellow oval (which Miller hated) and instead goes with a big black bat spread across the hero’s chest. In reflection of the real world setting, Batman’s utility belt also used big pouches that would be able to hold his many small tools and weapons. Altogether, it’s a Batsuit that shows off Bruce Wayne’s fighting physique, but still shows him to be a real man underneath it all. Combined with his mistakes and injuries, this is a Batsuit that takes everything great about the hero’s look and combines it with simplified but great-looking concept.

Biggest Addition: With realistic pouches, armor, and weapons, this was the first time that Batman would be given a costume that would reflect a more real world sensibility. While the Batsuit would go through more complex versions, they would continue the more realistic ideas started here.

Back in Black

Following the events of Knightfall/Knightsend, Bruce Wayne returned to the cape and cowl with a new look that reflected the costumes seen in the then-current Batman movies. The thick black suit gives off an air of the heavy costume worn by Michael Keaton in Batmanand Batman Returns, with the bright Bat Symbol contrasting against the suit leaves a bold impression like the one used in the films. In addition, the shiny and metallic belt is almost exactly like the movie version. While this was introduced several years after the movies, in the 1995 “Troika” storyline, it was clear that they had left a lasting impression on the character.

As opposed to the thinner and more cloth-like version of the Batsuit, this was the first to have a durable and armored appearance. Additionally, this version of the Batsuit would add scallops to the boots, with this being notable as the only iteration to have such a look. Frankly, it seems somewhat clunky and overblown. This all-black Batsuit would last for quite some time, finally being altered to a look that would blend Neal Adams’ style and Year One in 1999’s “No Man’s Land.” While it was obvious why they went for this look, and why most films would stick with this monotone style, a dual color scheme is far more dynamic and interesting on the page.

Biggest Addition: While Batman had worn many Batsuits with darker overall color schemes, this was the first time that he would use an all-black look and the first time that the character would be adjusted to reflect a movie appearance. This would become a trend for all comic book characters who were adapted for the big screen.


2 thoughts on “Dark Knight Discussion: Batman’s Costumes Through the Ages (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Pingback: Dark Knight Discussion: Batman’s Costumes Through the Ages (Part 2 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  2. Pingback: Dark Knight Discussion: Batman’s Many Armors – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s