WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Batman Annual #4, by Tom King, Jorge Fornes, Mike Norton and Dave Stewart, on sale now.
As any long-running superhero, there are plenty of looks that Batman has used over the years. Some have been remembered fondly and incorporated into other looks and characters. Others remain oddities of their time, Some even fade into obscurity, never to be utilized again. But some of the Dark Knight's weirdest costumes have outlived their original era because they were so over the top that they came to represent the era as a whole. One of which, the striped look of the Zebra-Batman, just made a quiet cameo appearance in the modern DC Universe.
THE ZEBRA SUIT
The Zebra Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #275, by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris. The story introduced Zebra-Man, a scientist named Jacob Baker, whose experiments left him with the ability to attract or repel anything that wasn't metal. This also covered his whole body in black and white stripes, leading him to (for obvious reasons) go by Zebra-Man. Baker was able to control his powers by using a specifically designed inhibitor belt. Taking part in a heist, he was confronted by Batman and Robin. But the battle left Batman irritated by the same energy that had transformed Baker.
The same black and white lines cover Batman's entire body, and he develops the same powers as Zebra-Man. But unable to control them without an inhibitor belt, Batman becomes an uncontrollable force of chaos. He hypothesizes he won't even be able to survive very long like this, as his body will repel all food and he'll starve to death. But Batman is able to charge a trap with energy and lure Zebra-Man into a fight that ends with Batman stripping him of the inhibitor belt and knocking him out. Batman is then able to use the belt to reverse the effects.
IN THE MODERN DAY
The costume has somewhat survived in the Batman mythos as a sign of the excess of the Silver Age. Premiering just a few years before the Marvel Universe would come into being as we know it, the Zebra-Batman costume has remained an easy jokey reference to when Batman wasn't as serious of a character. There have even been limited edition Zebra-Batman toys released over the years, including a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive LEGO and Funko Pop!.
However, the costume just made a surprise reappearance within the DC Universe itself. Batman Annual #4 is framed as the journal of Alfred Pennyworth, reflecting on the various missions that Batman has had to go on over the years. While some of the memories are more mundane (like bringing a former girlfriend to justice), some push Batman into the public eye (like his UFC fight). He even has some truly ridiculous moments, such as dueling dragons for the soul of Gotham. One panel also shows Batman forced into the Zebra look again. Considering the wall behind him is also zebra-striped, there's a chance Bruce is just using the suit as a disguise. But there's also a chance that this comic teases the possibility that the genuinely bonkers Detective Comics #275 is still canon within the Rebirth era.
Batman #83 releases November 20.