Just about everyone knows who Batman is. He’s a character so recognizable, we can look at his shadow on the wall and know exactly who it is. As a hero on his own, a mentor to teenage apprentices, and a member of the Justice League, the Outsiders or Batman, Inc., Bruce Wayne has fought all types of menaces in various walks of life. He’s been to other dimensions and other planets, traveled through time and has a legacy that spans as far as the 853rd century. And he’s proven his versatility by constantly adjusting to new environments and ages.
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.
ENTER AZRAELIn the 1990s, Batman went through one of his most trying experiences. First, he was suffering increasing exhaustion from several intense adventures happening right after each other. One of these adventures (which involved Batman being drugged and tortured) brought a new apprentice into Bruce’s world: Jean-Paul Valley. Jean-Paul was a man in his early 20s who had recently learned his father had been an assassin for the secret Order of St. Dumas.
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.Around the same time Jean-Paul showed up, Batman first encountered the new villain Bane. And weeks after their initial meeting, the Knightfall saga began. Bane freed the inmates of Arkham Asylum, forcing Batman to push himself even further both physically and mentally as he desperately tried to stem the chaos. After having been on his feet for days with little sleep, and still suffering from the exhaustion of previous adventures, Batman was in poor condition when Bane at last confronted him. The fight ended with Bane breaking the Dark Knight’s back.
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.Several days later, he went further and made a suit of armor equipped with bladed boots, blade launcher gauntlets, a specialized glider cape (able to cover longer distances than Bruce’s cape), and a blinding bat-signal. He also moved the utility belt to his thigh, which was a style for many superheroes in the 1990s.
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.As time went on, Jean-Paul exchanged the mask for a helmet and altered the cape into several long spikes that doubled as armor. Now, it was no longer the Batman uniform, simply the Azrael costume with a touch of Batman’s influence. This symbolized Jean-Paul’s continuing fall from grace as the System took over his mind. He began suffering hallucinations of his father’s spirit and the ghost of St. Dumas, each goading him into action. He also became increasingly paranoid, attacking Robin because he believed the teen hero was a liability. And he refused to take off the mask, now believing the “Batman” was the only identity he had. All of this forced Bruce to return to action once he had recovered from his injuries and the two Batmen fought for the right to the mantle.
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.Following his defeat, Jean-Paul sought to redeem himself by continuing to act as Azrael but now operating in the role of vigilante. He helped Batman on many cases before later losing his own life in a battle with an enemy. The name of Azrael has passed on to a new person since then.
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.After returning to the role and letting Dick Grayson get back to his life as Nightwing, Bruce donned a new Batsuit for the story “Troika” in 1995. The blue was replaced by black and coal gray colors. The bodysuit was now all one piece, with no visible division between boots and gloves. Spikes were added to the boots in a style similar to the gloves. And the shorts were completely gone. At a glance, it seems to be a suit inspired by the incarnation of Batman portrayed by Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s two successful films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).
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.”Batman was now wearing a suit that resembled the classic look, but was still noticeably darker with black-deep gray gloves and spike-less boots to match his cloak and cowl. And he still stayed away from the shorts.
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.Batman wore this NML outfit for just under a year. He then switched to his Year One uniform in early 2000 when Gotham was reunited with the rest of the U.S.A. This was the first time since the 1960s that the mainstream comics version of Batman (meaning we’re not counting certain mini-series or stories that took place in flashback) was not wearing the yellow stylized bat-symbol.
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.Dick wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel by completely tossing out Bruce’s design. He was Bruce’s successor and wanted to still be instantly recognizable as Batman rather than as some strange warrior pretending to be the Dark Knight. So there are really only two changes to this look from the Year One suit.
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.Bruce eventually resurfaced. Rather than immediately have Dick Grayson hand over the mantle again, Bruce told Dick to continue operating as Batman in Gotham City while he operated as Batman internationally, creating a new strike force of heroes around the globe that would be known as Batman, Inc. (a modernization of the old “Batman Family” idea and an expansion of a group known as the International Club of Heroes). To distinguish himself from Grayson, Bruce adopted a new suit that looked more realistic as body armor, with visible seams and padding that usually wasn’t drawn by artists on Batman in the past. It also had a glowing bat-signal on the chest, bringing Bruce back to the classic 1960s symbol but in a new way.
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.Once again, we’ve dropped the golden disc symbol and returned to a simple bat silhouette on the chest. So far, the comics of the New 52 have shown that, in this new universe/continuity, this is actually the only costume Batman has worn, with the exception of the Batman, Inc. suit and the occasional use of specialty suits made for specific missions.
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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