One of my favourite DC Comics characters is Batman. A superhero that uses his physical strength and sinister appearance as the Dark Knight to spread fear amongst the scum and villainy of Gotham City.
2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Batman. The character was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939 (Robin his loyal sidekick first appeared in Detective Comics #38 in April 1940). At first Batman appeared in quarterly issues but his popularity gained momentum and he was soon appearing in the comics bi-monthly and by the 1950’s monthly. Nothing much has changed since and Batman remains hugely popular today.
What I like most about Batman is he is just a man. Admittedly one with some very handy skills, a vast fortune and of course awesome gadgets and vehicles!
Batman first appeared on film in 15 part movie serials in the 1940’s. The first was Batman in 1943 starring Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin The Boy Wonder. Batman also appeared in The Phantom serial in 1943. Then in 1949 Batman and Robin was released starring Robert Lowery as the caped crusader and Johnny Duncan as Robin.
I read the comics and love the gritty Michael Keaton Batman movies (Batman 1989 and Batman Returns 1992) and the later Christian Bale ones (Batman Begins 2005, The Dark Knight 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises 2012). The Batman movies by other actors in between these were not so great (Batman Forever in 1995 with Val Kilmer and Batman & Robin 1997 with George Clooney. The latter was the first appearance of Robin in the modern movies but it was also a franchise breaker that took until 2005 to recover from!). There has also many animated Batman cartoons and movies too over the years.
Ultimately though I grew up watching the campy yet fantastic Batman TV series starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin which ran from 1966 – 1968 (there was also a Batman movie in 1966). The movie and TV series brought all the classic villians into technicolour life – The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and The Riddler. Holy Cinemascope Batman!
The Batman movies had all sorts of great vehicles and aircraft but the most memorable ones were from the 1960’s. There was the Batmobile, the Batboat, the Batcycle and of course the Batcopter! Recently I have seen originals of these 1960’s vehicles at the excellent Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection in North Miami, Florida where they have a fantastic display hall dedicated to Batman. The best was seeing the original Batcopter actually fly at the Sun ‘n Fun Air Show in Florida (unfortunately it is missing the bat wings)! I have also in recent times seen various replicas and originals of the Batmobile from the 1960’s and later variants from Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992) and Batman Forever (1995).
The original Batmobile as seen in the comics was just an ordinary car but by the 1940’s the first true Batmobile appeared. The 1940’s version set the stage for a series of great vehicles to follow that have featured cool gadgets and weaponry – a battering ram, guns, rockets, lasers, anti-theft devices, you name it and at some stage the Batmobile had it!
The most famous Batmobile is the iconic 1966 one made by George Barris of Barris Kustom City for the Batman TV series and movie (1966-1968). He was given $15,000 and had less than 3 weeks to come up with the car. I think he did an amazing job!
The 1966 Batmobile was developed from the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car that was designed by Ford and built by Ghia in Italy for $250,000 USD (almost $2.2 million in today’s money!). Barris just happened to own the Futura at the time (he retained ownership and leased the car to Twentieth Century Fox). The two seat configuration and space age look of the Futura made it a perfect basis for a vehicle for the crime fighting caped crusaders. Following metal modifications and customisation including bat gadgets, you had a Batmobile! THWACK!
The TV series producers and Barris decided to build 3 fiberglass replicas of the car for display at car shows and fan events. As there was only ever one Futura, Barris used the original Batmobile as a mold. The original Batmobile was sold by Barris in 2013 for $4.2 million. Not a bad return considering he purchased the Futura from Ford in the 1960’s for $1!
In the 1970’s the Batman comics wanted to get away from the campy style of the 1960’s and get Batman back to the basics. Dark and gritty. The Batmobile of 1970 reflected this too and appeared as a muscle car with limited flair other than a bat mask on the bonnet/hood.
The later Batman movies generally maintained the spirit of the futuristic 1966 original Batmobile but also the darky gritty take on Batman himself. I think the 1989-1992 Michael Keaton version was the best of these. This Batmobile also had a smaller vehicle within it known as the Batmissile which was seen in Batman Returns and used to drive through a small laneway to help Batman escape a tricky situation.
The Christian Bale version of the Batmobile (2005-2012) was a more rugged military style vehicle (modeled off a Wayne Enterprises military vehicle known as the Tumbler). It appears the upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie (2016) with Ben Affleck as Batman is following a similar look.
The first aircraft operated by Batman appeared in Detective Comics #31 in 1939 and was known as the Batgyro (gyrocopters were gaining popularity in the 1930’s). This was soon replaced by the more conventional Batplane which featured in the Batman #1 comic book in 1940.
In 1950 they shot Batman and Robin into the future of 2050 aboard the Bat-Ship! Not even time and space could stop the create Batman story writers.
As aircraft technology progressed so did the Batplane. Jet aircraft were a common feature in the comics and came in many different designs. They were mostly loosely based of real aircraft at the time.
The Batwing first appears in Batman (1989) and Batman Forever (1995) and this became the standard for the Batman cartoons and comics from that period. In The Dark Knight Rises (2012) however the aircraft of Batman took on a very different guise in the Bat which was a vertical take off aircraft capable of hovering (almost a modern-day take on the original Batgyro!).
In Batman comics and cartoons he occasionally flies in a Batcopter. There was also the Flying Batcave (a huge helicopter with a crime lab used in 1950’s and 1960’s comics) and the Whirly-Bat which was a single seat personal helicopter.
The Batcopter originally used in the 1966 Batman movie is a customised Bell 47 helicopter. Twentieth Century Fox did not have the budget to use the helicopter for the Batman TV series so they leased the helicopter from National Helicopter Service for a few days. After filming it was returned to its normal look and went back into operation with National.
The original Bell 47 was later purchased by the Nock Entertainment Group who restored and modified the helicopter with modern avionics and made it look like the Batcopter again. Apparently the bat wings reduced power by 50% so I can see why they were not put back on when it was returned to flight in its near Batman guise!
The Batcycle has appeared in Batman comics, animation, movies and TV. In the comics it was a modified 786 cc street bike with a liquid cooled V-4 engine.
The Batcycle of the 1966 Batman movie and TV series was a Yamaha Catalina 250 fitted with a special sidecar that actually had within it a detachable go-kart for Robin. According to the Dezer Collection four were built but only one was used in filming. The rest were used for promotional events and only 2 survive today.
The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises (2008 & 2012) also featured a more military styled Batcycle known as the Batpod. The Batpod looked much meaner, was heavily armed and actually ejected out of the front of the Batmobile (Tumbler) using the massive 20″ tyres of the Batmobile.
The Batboat first appeared in Detective Comics #110 in 1946 when Batman and Robin went to the UK to help out Scotland Yard on a case. While there they were presented with the H.M.S. Batboat. Following this many variants of the Batboat have been featured over the years.
The first live action Batboat appeared in 1966 in the Batman movie and then also in some episodes of the TV series. Later it appeared in Batman Returns (1992) but was known as The Bat Skiboat and was used by Batman late in the movie to navigate the sewer system of Gotham City. The Batboat also briefly appeared in Batman Forever (1995) being driven by Robin but it gets destroyed by The Riddler and Two-Face.
Long live the Dark Knight!