The Batmobile And Batsuit: A Visual History

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Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice director Zack Snyder unveiled his new-look Batmobile and a glimpse of Ben Affleck in his new Batman costume yesterday. It was met with wide acclaim, some condemnation (as is inevitable in any discussion of Batman) and lots of jokes about Batman’s bulked-up look. But how does it compare to previous suits and cars through the years? We’ve gone back to take a look…

Lewis Wilson was technically the first screen Batman, appearing in a 15 film serial in 1943. Why is he so often overlooked? Well, probably because his costume is utter bobbins. The giant granny pants, the shiny disco-belt and the razor-pointed ears all give him the air of a rather half-assed cosplayer, and his physique is more 'gym teacher' than 'world’s finest'. Worst of all, his Batmobile was just a black limo! What even is the point of a Batman – a secret agent fighting World War II Japanese spies, no less – who can’t even commit to his own logo?

Robert Lowery followed Wilson, and unfortunately made most of the same missteps. The Bat-costume is similar but even less well-fitted (check out that cowl), and the Bat-belt lacked the traditional pockets – not that that stopped this Caped Crusader pulling out an oxyacetylene torch at one point. Where did it come from?! The car is a 1949 Mercury rather than a custom vehicle, making this just another overweight, out-of-shape, Bat-wannabe.

Adam West gets a lot of grief, but we’ll say this for him: compared to his predecessors he looks positively sporty – or as sporty as one can in yet more granny pants and a cowl that features comedy eyebrows. His Bat-belt is fully loaded with everything from Batarangs to Bat-shark repellent, and while it’s still satiny and camp as a row of tents, it’s a giant leap forward for the series. That yellow belt and logo provide a nice pop of colour that’s thoroughly on-trend even now. And West had one extra weapon at his disposal...

At last! A proper car, a shiny black dream machine with red detailing and twin bubble windscreens and gadgets from a Bat-beam to Bat-tering Ram, this is a Batmobile to be proud of. If the ‘60s show had achieved nothing else, bringing us this car would assure it a spot in many young boys’ hearts, given the potential for literally leaping to and from the car into action (something that West regularly did) and chasing villains against dodgily rear-projected landscapes. Sure, the detail should probably be yellow – the better to coordinate with its owner – but it’s hard to fault this retro-futuristic baby.

Those outraged about “Batfleck” would do well to remember the furore that greeted Michael Keaton’s casting as Batman, a shout that died to a murmur when Tim Burton’s film finally arrived. Keaton looked the business, in a rubberised suit that seemed at least vaguely high-tech and armoured (the ab plating isn’t a million miles from Christian Bale’s Batman), and boasted a cape that actually served a purpose, serving as both fire-shield and glider. Your move, Edna Mode!

Built on a Chevy Impala chassis, the Batmobile for Burton’s hero (used in both Burton’s films) is a gorgeously sleek, clearly branded affair. Ultra-low slung and boasting batwings on its rear fenders, its ownership is immediately obvious – but as a bonus it comes with a jet after-burner, small bombs, crazily thorough locking system, a grappling hook and the ability to jettison body parts to squeeze through small spaces. If only real-world cars came with a similar package.

Outwardly, it’s very similar to the first Keaton Batsuit, but this one made the actor’s life a bit less miserable because it was thinner and more flexible – an improvement devoutly to be wished when you’re spending hours every day wearing, essentially, a tyre. Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito had the more miserable time on this outing, in their respective fetish gear and padded prosthetics.

On its own, this is bad but bearable. The yellow has been toned down to give a more sombre appearance to Val Kilmer’s Batman, and there’s a hint of jet venting around the edges. The shininess gives it an armoured air, and the abs are at least less ridiculous than Chris O’Donnell’s Robin. But the slouchy boots, and the increasing stylisation, leads in a direct line to the monstrosity that was to come next, and we can’t forgive it for that.

Batman’s all about stealth, right? So what could be more natural than to festoon his car in neon lights and raise the fender fins so high that they threaten passing aircraft? We’re not sure Schumacher thought this one through. It’s been said that this aggressive, pointy design is phallic, but to us it looks more like a missile’s abandoned skeleton, or the head of a dragon who’s really into house music.

The nipples that killed a franchise! The codpiece that doomed Batman! While there are several different looks here for George Clooney’s Batman, Chris O’Donnell’s Robin and Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl, they’re all irredeemably dreadful. You can take your pick of – Joker wept – nipples or silver highlighting with a sort of lightning codpiece. It’s testament to Clooney’s sheer talent that we were ever able to take him seriously again.

Where goes the Batsuit, so the Batmobile – and it turns out that flaming side panels the vehicular equivalent of rubber nipples. The fins are even bigger, the cockpit is even smaller, and there’s video conferencing to other Bat-vehicles to make up for the lack of passenger space. This one also appears to boast a continuity-defeating time-travel drive, since it’s wrecked in one screen and pristine in the next. Now that could come in handy.

Christian Bale was the first Batman to be able to turn his head to any degree, which is some sort of achievement. His suit was based on molded neoprene with a thin cowl to allow him to look around (and to communicate “a man with angst” according to costume designer Lindy Hemming) and there isn’t a nipple in sight. Apparently this utility belt contains a soothing Bat-balm to our troubled eyes.

After the Schumacher mobiles, it was time for a page one rethink of the Batmobile. What Christopher Nolan and his team came up with instead was a million miles from the streamlined Burton car, with a design that looks like a Humvee mid-explosion. It’s tough, it’s rough and the only thing we don’t really buy is its ability to get around unseen. Then again, none of these cars ever had much chance of that. Perhaps Wilson and Lowery had the right idea after all.

It’s a similar look (and the same car) for Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s second and third outing, but there was further thinning of the neck armour to allow more mobility – and of course some reinforcement against dog bites. Hemming describes the cowl as more “animalistic” but honestly, this was tweaking a classic rather than a reinvention of the wheel. They stuck with the same 110-piece design for the third in the trilogy.

There may be further tweaking to this before release, but the evidence here is that Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck’s incarnation will be a hybrid of Nolan’s modern toughness and a more traditional cape and cowl. The result is close to the Dark Knight Returns model (compare the size of the logo and monochrome style) and certainly Affleck’s beefed-up physique seems to fit that approach.

If Affleck’s suit is a hybrid of old and new, his car similarly looks to have taken elements of all that’s gone before. The huge wheels and deconstructed construction give this an air of the Tumbler, but the cockpit nose is closer to one of Burton’s outings and it’s a lot smaller than Bale’s vehicle. There’s a slight hint of sand buggy around those big back wheels, but we’re confident it will look cool in motion.

This latest shot gives us our best look to date at the front of the Batmobile, and shows that it's a seriously aggressive piece of work. This may be the most menacing profile that the car has ever presented, especially given those swivel-guns (funny how Batman's general aversion to guns rarely extends to his vehicles) and what looks like some heavy-duty grappling equipment below them. This car seems almost entirely made of fins; don't get too close or it might cut.