For 73 years now, readers have been entertained by the adventures of Bruce Wayne AKA the Batman, a Dark Knight Detective who patrols Gotham City and protects the world at large. Blessed with no superhuman or supernatural abilities, Batman relies on wits, strategy, instinct, training, and unique weaponry to aid in his crusade against crime.
Over the years, this hero has been featured many times in live-action media showcased in movie theaters. This week, yet another film is being released that stars the grim detective, The Dark Knight Rises, which concludes a trilogy of stories directed by Chris Nolan and starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne.
So let’s take a look at the many actors who’ve played the part and the costumes they’ve worn, shall we?
THE MOVIE SERIALSBatman’s first foray into live-action was in a 15-chapter movie serial in 1943. Lewis Wilson starred as Batman and Douglas Croft portrayed Robin. This version of Batman worked as an agent of the government and stamped the foreheads of his enemies with tiny bat-symbols.
Lewis Wilson didn’t do a bad job as Bruce Wayne, but his costume left a lot to be desired. With floppy ears, an ill-fitting mask, and a lighter-colored cloak than the Dark Knight is usually seen wearing, this Batman wasn’t exactly intimidating. The bat-symbol also had several stitched lines high-lighting its wings.In 1949, another 15-chapter Batman serial was produced. This one starred Robert Lowery as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin. This Batman had a darker cape and cowl, but still wasn’t quite working. The floppy ears and ill-fitting mask are hard not to notice. Nevertheless, these movie serials proved very popular and fans watched reels of them for years afterward.
ADAM WESTBy the 1960s, Batman comics were going back to emphasizing the character as a detective and vigilante rather than a campy adventurer as he’d been in the 1950s. It was decided that now was a good time to modernize the old Batman serials, presenting a new live-action Batman in a TV dramatic series that would mimic the atmosphere of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” However, the folks in charge of putting the show together didn’t think anyone could take a comic book hero seriously, so the show was turned into a campy adventure half-hour series that seemed more akin to the 1950s version of Batman.
Adam West and Burt Ward both starred in the new series and a live-action movie came out between the first and second season. Batman: The Movie was a great success. This version of Batman was almost a literal interpretation from the comic book drawings. Just as Batman’s cowl was often cast in shadow, Adam West’s mask had a shadow painted on the front.
MICHAEL KEATONFor years, producer Michael Uslan tried to get a new live-action movie made that would present a dark, serious version of Batman. And after years of dealing with people who kept saying that the public wouldn’t go for it, Tim Burton directed just such a film. 1989’s Batman starred Michael Keaton in the title role and featured Jack Nicholson as the Joker.
Keaton initially expressed doubt that he was right for the role, as he was not the Olympic-level athlete that Batman is often portrayed as in the comics. Burton reassured him that this version of Batman would not be wearing a form-fitting costume but instead would don battle armor. This Bruce Wayne was not quite strong enough on his own, so he would use armor to compensate for this.This was the first time the films gave Batman body armor and the comics later began referring to Batman’s suit by that phrase rather than as a simple costume. Michael Keaton’s suit as also entirely black, with only the bat-symbol and the utility belt being the exceptions. Interestingly, his utility belt had no visible pockets to carry weapons and tools.
A major weakness in Keaton’s suit was that it prevented him from being able to turn his head. This problem would continue through the next few versions of the live-action bat-suit.
VAL KILMERAfter directing Batman and Batman Returns, Tim Burton decided to turn the reins over to Joel Schumacher, though he did remain as a producer on the next film Batman Forever, released in 1995.
Val Kilmer was cast in the role of Bruce Wayne. Chris O’Donnell joined him as Richard “Dick” Grayson AKA Robin. Batman wore two suits in the film. The first seemed to be Keaton’s basic style, but there were some differences. The neck was thinner, the torso constructed to look more like human muscles. The belt was now black like the suit, with bat-wing style sections. And there were nipples on the suit.Frakking. Nipples.
Later in the film, Batman dons a new suit that has built-in radar and targeting capabilities (though how that stuff works or helps Batman throw a Batarang better isn’t really explained). This suit was closer to a steel gray rather than black and had a giant bat-symbol rather than the yellow emblem.
And it still had nipples. Because of reasons.
GEORGE CLOONEYSchumacher then directed Batman & Robin in 1997. Feeling that he had given Batman sufficient reason to “get over” the trauma of his parents’ death in the previous film, Schumacher presented a brighter, more family friendly version of the Bat-characters. The movie starred George Clooney as Batman, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, who in this version of events was Alfred’s niece rather than Jim Gordon’s daughter. This change was made because the guys in charge decided their actor portraying Gordon was too old to have a daughter so young, whereas I suppose no one cares how old a lady’s uncle is.
The film was lame. No fault of the cast, but it was lame. It tanked.
In this movie, Clooney wears a similar costume to Kilmer’s first suit, although this time the raised bat-symbol and the circle around it are black, which seems a very odd design choice. And again . . . nipples.Later on, Batman donned a different outfit with lots of silver high-lights there is nothing more advantageous for a ninja-trained Dark Knight who relies on stealth than big, shiny silver areas that highlight all of your vulnerable spots for the enemy. Wait, you don’t think the studio used this as an excuse to sell more toys, do you?
Anyway, it’s a ridiculous costume that looks as if Batman auditioned for the Ice Capades. Fitting, since Mr. Freeze was in the film.You’ll note, of course, that although Batman and Robin had fake nipples decorating their suit, Batgirl did not. Because she’s a girl. And in the United States, nipples on women are scary. Even though we all have them.
Moving on . . .
8 years after the previous movie, director Chris Nolan put together a reboot of the Batman film franchise. Nolan wanted to focus more on certain story elements from the comics and to create a world that was more grounded in reality, where Batman and his tools seemed far more possible. The movie Batman Begins starred Christian Bale in the title role.During scenes depicting Batman’s training in the East, Nolan had our hero wearing old style ninja armor. This served as an obvious inspiration for Batman’s later suit, right down to the scalloped bracers he wore to protect himself from blades.
The armor was also seen in a few different stages before it truly became the bat-suit. The cape was now cloth rather than rubber or any kind of material that matched the rest of the suit. The cloth was necessary since Batman used it in the film to glide from rooftop to rooftop, much as he did in many comics over the years, ever since his first appearance. Watching the movie, audiences saw Bruce Wayne install audio enhancements and a voice changer into the cowl. He also sprayed the entire suit with black latex paint so as to appear invisible to infrared camera. This suit was theatrical but utilitarian.
This version of the suit was also the first one that allowed the actor portraying Batman to turn his head somewhat.In the sequel film The Dark Knight, Batman realized the shortcomings of his suit and how much it cut down on peripheral vision. He sacrificed having the majority of his body armored in order to have a suit that allowed for greater freedom of movement.
This new cowl was based more closely on the design of a motorcycle helmet and the rest of the suit was now divided into smaller pieces to help the hero’s agility and motion.And that brings us to the present. Will Batman return to one of his previous suits or will be wear a new one in the new movie The Dark Knight Rises? Go to the theater and find out for yourself! Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
[Alan Sizzler Kistler is a bi-coastal author, actor and comic book historian. He has written The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge, both available at Amazon and local bookstores. His Twitter handle is: @SizzlerKistler]FACEBOOK and TWITTER!