Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.: BATMAN From the 90s to Today
Last week, we viewed his fashion history from 1939 all the way to the late 1980s. Now, let’s examine the outfits he’s donned in the past two decades.
The role of assassin, an “avenging angel” called Azrael, was passed from father to son over the centuries. Jean-Paul was now to take up the mantle and learned that he had already undergone several hypnotic training sessions, creating a program in his mind called “the System” that would turn him into a killer once he donned the Azrael mask. Later on, Jean-Paul would learn that he’d also been biologically engineered with simian genetics in order to make him stronger than a normal man.
Jean-Paul didn’t want to be a killer. Batman sympathized and believed Jean-Paul could put his training and skills to better use. He brought Jean-Paul to the Cave, where Tim Drake (who was Robin at the time) helped train the guy.
Bruce feared what would happen if word got out that Batman was defeated, possibly dead. Since Dick Grayson, the original Robin, had left Gotham to pursue a separate life as Nightwing, Bruce turned to Jean-Paul to become the new Batman. But the System seemed to be gaining power in his mind again. Jean-Paul quickly made new, potentially lethal gauntlets to help him as Batman.
This was clearly a merging of the Batman and Azrael styles, leading many readers to call Jean-Paul “Azbat.” And considering the identity of the person beneath the mask, it certainly works. This suit also emphasized a point that Batman editor Denny O’Neil wanted to make sure the readers understood: This was NOT Batman. Jean-Paul might be calling himself Batman, but the real Batman was Bruce Wayne, not just because he was the first but because of his morality and his refusal to go past a certain point. Jean-Paul had no such limitations. Paradoxically, it shows how limited Jean-Paul’s abilities are compared to Bruce, who doesn’t really need to wear such high-tech armor and bulky weapons to be effective as Batman.
In their final battle, Jean-Paul’s armor caught fire briefly. After the fire was put out, the suit was colored red but otherwise remained the same. This final touch of color change was just another sign that the old Azrael had come back.
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 were inspired by circus outfits. But by the 1990s, many thought that the trunks were a quaint design trope that spoke too strongly of a bygone era and had no real place in modern day outfits.
Following his victory over Jean-Paul Valley, Bruce returned to his classic blue and gray look. He then took a two-week break from his vigilante activities in order to make emergency plans, safe houses and satellite Batcaves in case of any disasters in the future. During this time, Dick Grayson acted as Batman in the classic suit.
Not a bad look, but now we’ve made Batman too simplistic. It’s basically a body stocking with spikes and a belt. Bruce obviously felt the same way, since the end of the story showed him altering the suit yet again, prompting Tim Drake to wonder out loud if they should rename their lair “The Cave of Style.”
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.
NO MAN’S LAND AND THE 21st CENTURY
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 (1999), 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. A great amalgamation of the different Batsuits up to that point.
Bruce kept the Year One suit for a decade. During the crossover Final Crisis, Batman 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.
DICK GRAYSON AND BATMAN, INC.
Where Bruce had three scallops on his gauntlets, Dick has only two. And, as most artists portray it, thee scallops were actually attached to bracers that fit over the gauntlets rather than directly to the gauntlets themselves. The second change 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 since it’s repetitive. The whimsical aspect works for Dick Grayson, however. Though he had stepped into the mantle of Batman, he wasn’t going to act like an exact copy of Bruce. He was more Caped Crusader rather than Dark Knight, prone to telling jokes and showing off a bit.
In 2011, DC Comics rebooted much of its superhero continuity and redesigned many of its characters. Bruce returned to being the only Batman, resuming his life in Gotham while Dick Grayson returned to his role as Nightwing. The new suit has followed the same mold of many other costumes in the “New 52” universe, with seams and pieces that emphasize it is personalized body armor rather than something that is purely a costume.
What new suits might Batman yet wear? Will we go back to streamlined Batsuits at any point or is padded body armor the only way to go with a realistic, human hero who has no powers? Will the yellow disc bat-symbol return? Anything’s possible. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
[Alan Sizzler Kistler is the author of The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge, The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook. He has been recognized as a comic book historian by various publishers and news media outlets. His Twitter is: @SizzlerKistler]
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