Comic book companies often look at costume design as “the more changes, the better.” Batman is a character who had one of the most famous costume changes in comic book history (albeit just by adding a simply yellow oval), but otherwise managed to only go through a handful of looks in the 20th Century. In the 21st Century, though, Batman has gone through as many costumes as he had in the first 50 years of his existence, and more new looks are undoubtedly coming in the future!
With the amount of costumes he has now worn, we are primed for a ranking of Batman’s comic book costumes. As a note on structure, we’re only talking costumes he’s worn in the “main” continuity, so no alternate reality costumes or possible future costumes. Also, no temporary one-off costumes, but we will count costumes worn by other people who have filled in for Bruce Wayne as Batman.
15. RABBIT ARMOR BATMAN
Following the apparent death of Batman (as well as the Joker) at the conclusion of “Endgame,” Gotham City had to figure out what to do now that they were without a Batman. Gotham City Police Department, working with a private tech company, decided to answer the call themselves by making a Batman mecha suit of armor to fight crime for Gotham City as part of the police force. The person that they chose to wear the armor was Commissioner James Gordon (who better to trust as Batman than one of the few people Batman trusts himself?).
The armor was a bit odd looking, but it is worth noting that designer Greg Capullo almost assuredly had that in mind, as the armor is supposed to look sort of alien-looking. It’s supposed to be jarring to see. In addition, the comics with the armor in them even hung a lantern on the whole “rabbit ears” look, as Gordon himself commented that they looked like rabbit ears to him.
14. SPIRALING AZRAEL BATMAN
When we were recently counting down the worst things that Batman has ever done, one of the very top spots was devoted to the fact that he allowed Jean-Paul Valley to take over as Batman while he was recovering from a broken back. The reason that it was so particularly egregious is the fact that Batman first met Jean-Paul Valley when Valley was brainwashed into becoming the assassin known as Azrael. Batman helped him defeat his programming, and then took it upon himself to train Jean-Paul as a vigilante, sans the programming.
However, when Batman then left Jean-Paul alone in charge of the Batman name, the programming kicked in and Jean-Paul soon turned Batman’s costume into a grotesque collection of weapons, as Jean-Paul became deadlier and deadlier as Batman (until he finally snapped and killed a bad guy). Dude had mini wrist-rockets and a flamethrower! It was like the kind of thing that would give the worst excesses of the 1990s nightmares!
13. ORIGINAL AZ-BATS
It’s funny, with how bad his costume ended up looking, it made the original Batman costume that Jean-Paul came up with for Batman look almost tame in comparison. However, it’s still a pretty strange look. When Jean-Paul first took over as Batman, he just wore the traditional Batman costume. He then added some special claw gloves. However, when it came time to take on Bane one-on-one, Jean-Paul decided that he needed a lot more protection (after all, Bane had just broken the back of his predecessor).
So Jean-Paul came up with the armored look, which, to be frank, is not all that bad of a costume in general. It’s just not a good costume for Batman. That said, it also served as a strong excuse for what happened to Batman so that people would not guess that there was a new Batman patrolling Gotham. In other words, everyone saw Bane throw Batman to the ground after breaking his back, so it made some sense for him to return wearing a suit of armor and beating up Bane.
12. PURPLE GLOVES
It’s hard to get across just how little care was often put into comic books and strips back in the 1930s and 1940s. This was disposable entertainment with an emphasis on “disposable.” Comic books would be put together like an assembly line by packaging studios, and sometimes be thrown together over a weekend whenever a publisher got a fresh batch of printing paper. During World War II, for example, it became hard to find printing material, so coming across some extra paper was seen as a huge boon. Comic book artists routinely copied full sequences from the most talented comic artists of the day (typically Hal Foster and Alex Raymond).
With that in mind, there seems to be a decent chance that Batman having purple gloves when he debuted in “Detective Comics” #27 was just a weird screw-up by whomever colored the comic book. Coloring of comic books were particularly lax back in the day. Sometimes creators wouldn’t even know what color their character would be until they saw the printed comic book. Whether that is the case or not, the end result is a weird-looking design for a character from the shadows.
11. BATMAN INCORPORATED
During “Final Crisis,” Batman was seemingly killed by Darkseid. Instead, Darkseid’s Omega Beams sent Batman back in time. This was all part of a time trap. The idea was that Darkseid knew that Batman would find a way to get back, so he devised a trap so that whenever Batman got back to his own time, he’d trigger a universally destructive explosion. Luckily, Batman figured this out in time and managed to avoid it. However, as he got to the present, he saw a glimpse of the future and saw the worldwide destruction caused by a group calling itself Leviathan.
He then decided to form an international group of Bat-operatives called Batman Incorporated. While he was busy setting this up, he let Dick Grayson (who had taken over when he thought Bruce was dead) remain as Batman in Gotham City. He also got a new costume to differentiate himself from Dick’s costume. It had a lot of piping and a protruding, glowing yellow oval; future artists tended to tone down almost all of its elements.
10. NEW 52
Another example of a costume design that ended up working better when other artists drew it, if only because they toned down the odder elements of the design, is Jim Lee’s design for Batman in the New 52. A lot of Lee’s designs for New 52 characters involved the use of armor, even on characters who otherwise wouldn’t seem to be prone to wearing armor (like Superman). Lee used a lot of the piping approach of the Batman Incorporated costume, but included it in the armor design and a utility “belt” that was just individual patches on the armor.
When Greg Capullo drew the armor in “Batman,” however, he made it look a lot more relaxed and natural-seeming. It worked a lot better in that context, especially as Capullo’s “Batman” was constantly in motion, which didn’t really fit with the stiff design of the armor. Capullo kept that in mind when he got the chance to re-design the costume at the end of his run on the book.
When Bob Kane first designed Batman’s costume, his idea behind Batman was more similar to Hawkman than anything else, in the sense that he saw the character as literally flying like a bat via Bat-like wings. Incidentally, Kane was influenced by some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs of a theoretical flying machine. Kane’s collaborator, Bill Finger, told Kane that he should make the wings a cape instead. In addition, while Kane was thinking a red costume, Finger told him to go darker instead.
The end result was a character who looked like he would fit right along famous pulp heroes like the Shadow, with a distinct-looking cowl and a cape that still managed to maintain some of its wing-like approach. This was the type of character that you would take one glance at and think, “Yeah, this dude wouldn’t mind snapping a neck or two to get the job done.” That fit the early style of Batman stories perfectly.
After the Commissioner Gordon Batman armor experiment ended (with Gordon doing quite well, really, just not quite the same levels as the main man), Bruce Wayne returned as Batman, wearing a brand-new costume designed by Capullo. The best thing about the costume is that it really looks like the type of outfit that a superhero can move in, which was a marked improvement over the last two outfits. It looks like something an actual person could wear.
The color design elements are unusual, as Capullo debuted a number of unique color ideas, like having the bat symbol on the chest surrounded by a yellow line rather than a yellow oval and purple lining in the cape. In a lot of ways, he seems to be trying to evoke the entire history of Batman’s color schemes, which is appreciated. It is a good-looking costume. The cowl also pays homage to Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” Batman cowl.
7. YELLOW OVAL
During the 1950s, the “Batman” titles were very much the second-class citizens of the DC Comics line of superhero books. In fact, the “DC” aspect of the company’s name (which was named after “Detective Comics,” where Batman debuted) was rarely as de-emphasized as it was in this era, when the “DC Bullet” featured DC in the center of the logo circle but Superman at the top of the circle and National Comics on the bottom (talk about a cluttered logo). Batman’s stories were mostly just riffs on ideas used in Superman comics of the era (Vicki Vale as their Lois Lane, Bat-Mite was their Mr. Mxyzptlk, etc.)
Sales had lagged enough that Julius Schwartz was brought on board and he brought star artist Carmine Infantino with him. They wanted to emphasize that this was a new era in Batman comics, so they changed the costume by adding a yellow oval behind Batman’s bat symbol on his chest. However, that was pretty much it for changes, so it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking.
In 1994, Bruce Wayne took back the Batman mantle from Jean-Paul Valley. Once he did that, he promptly took a vacation and let Dick Grayson fill in for a little while. When Bruce returned, he was ready along with a new costume that he debuted in a four-part storyline across the four “in-continuity” “Batman” titles of the time (“Batman,” “Detective Comics,” “Shadow of the Bat” and “Robin”) called “Troika” (where they fought some Russian villains). The weirdest part of this costume was that it was not even finished by the time the storyline began!
Initially, the concept was that it was just a big black body suit with the yellow oval in the middle. The big change, then, was that the “underwear” was no longer featured on the costume (something that Superman did not get rid of until 2011). By the end of the story, the costume added gloves and boots to the look. Few artists, though, seemed to know how to draw it correctly.
5. NO MAN’S LAND
In 1998, the “Batman” titles (and Gotham City itself) were rocked by a giant earthquake in the crossover, “Cataclysm.” In the aftermath of the devastation, Batman left Gotham City in his Bruce Wayne identity to lobby the United States government to provide aid to Gotham to help it rebuild. Instead, the government decided to just cut Gotham City off from the rest of the country, period. They gave people a few weeks to get out and then blew up all tunnels and bridges out of Gotham City and left whoever was still in Gotham to fend for themselves.
Oddly enough, Batman was out of touch for a few months when things got really bad (also on our list of the worst things he’s ever done), but when he returned, he was now rocking a much more down-to-Earth costume that included giant pouches on his utility belt, as Batman had to take a much more low tech approach to crime-fighting during “No Man’s Land,” as he was cut off from much of his Bat-technology.
4. GOLDEN AGE
As Batman became less of a neck-breaking type of guy, his costume slowly began to look more and more like a typical superhero costume and less like something worn by a guy who was going to break into your house (and maybe break your neck while doing so). Interestingly enough, the cowl took on its standard look within only a few issues after the original costume debuted (roughly around the time that Batman’s origin was revealed for the first time in “Detective Comics” #33). The colors then also slowly got bluer over time, until the costume was definitely mostly blue.
However, it was when artist Dick Sprang became the “main” artist on the “Batman” books in the mid-1940s that the Golden Age outfit took on its most familiar look, with the broad shoulders and barrel-chest. This was the look that Batman would mostly maintain even when they threw a yellow oval on top of it in the 1960s.
3. DICK GRAYSON’S BATMAN COSTUME
It seems weird to spotlight Dick Grayson’s Batman costume, as it is pretty much just the same exact costume worn by Bruce Wayne before Dick Grayson took over. In fact, we were originally going to leave it off entirely. However upon closer examination, there are some subtle differences between Dick’s costume and Bruce’s costume.
One of the more noticeable changes is in Dick’s utility belt, which now featured the bat-symbol on it. Dick’s costume also had a different wrist gauntlet and his gloves had less scallops on them than Bruce’s costume (before Bruce adopted the Batman Incorporated costume, that was the only real way to tell them apart — just count the scallops). In general, though, Quitely just tried to make the whole thing look a little more streamlined, to better fit Dick’s lighter, acrobatic personality. However, since it is so similar to the costume Batman had before Dick took over, we have to knock some points off for originality.
2. BRONZE AGE
The famous Bronze Age Batman costume is a lot like the Golden Age costume in the sense that neither of them were technically what you would call “new” costumes. However, they so drastically altered the look of Batman’s costume from what came before that it would be ridiculous not to consider them costume changes. When Neal Adams began drawing Batman in the early 1970s, the costume he was drawing was ostensibly the “New Look” costume, but Neal Adams streamlined the costume dramatically.
While the “New Look” costume was still broad like the Golden Age costume, Adams’ version slimmed everything down. He also exaggerated everything, with the bat-ears becoming longer, the scallops on the glove getting longer and, perhaps most importantly, the cape getting longer. This was the costume that Batman would wear for the next two decades. Over the years, artists slightly darkened the colors of the costume, but that seemed to be more a matter of lighting than anything else.
1. 21st CENTURY BATMAN
The perfect combination of the various Batman costume eras came at the turn of the 21st Century. With “No Man’s Land” now over, Batman could get back to being a normal superhero again and he began to fight crime in a costume influenced by Alex Ross’s Batman designs. It had a lot of the same feel of the Bronze Age Neal Adams’ costume; however, it was much darker than that and did not have the yellow oval on it.
However, it was not as black as the “Troika” costume. This was more like the approach of the “Batman: The Animated Series” Batman, with a large bat symbol, dark gray legs and shirt and black everything else (with the utility belt maintaining the pouch look, but also adding a bit of color to the proceedings). This was basically the costume that made its way into the “Justice League” cartoon series and lasted most of the decade in a time when people were changing costumes like crazy. It’s really the closest we have to the “ultimate” Batman costume.
What’s your favorite Batman costume in the comics? Let us know in the comments section!