Without question, Batman is the most popular superhero of all-time. He’s had more films, television series, and even more cartoons about him than any other superhero (or even any other team), and has inspired dozens of creators to write and draw thousands of comics about him. And all that before you get to the vast army of sidekicks he’s amassed over the years: Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, and more. So many comics have been written about the Dark Knight that you could build an entire universe around him, his supporting cast, and their villains without ever mentioning the DCU.
Knowing that, it’s no surprise that there have been dozens of interpretations of the character over the years. It’s a simple costume that’s undergone dozens of variations, from color changes to switching to body armor before going back to actual cloth material. And because everyone loves a good list, CBR’s decided to assemble one for 15 of Batman’s appearances and rank them all, from worst to best. Now in this case, we’re only counting on-screen appearances, so think television shows, cartoons, and films rather than comic book outfits. So, do you think you can guess which one makes it to #1?
15. BATMAN AND ROBIN
Without a doubt, this is the worst of all Batman costumes. You can argue for the campy appeal of Batman and Robin, and how it’s a shout out to the ’60s Adam West-era of Batman if you like, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We mean, the Batman quadrology is insane from the jump, the first half of it is just dark and gothic while the second half gives in to the manic day-glo elements of the Batman mythology. We get it, that’s cool.
Honestly, the first suit with the infamous Bat-nipples isn’t even the worst of it. Silly though they were, the real insult are the silver armor pieces on the second outfit. Batman’s supposed to be stealthy, not a reflective surface for wary night drivers. Their need to make the Dark Knight into a walking, talking toy advertisement wrecks one of the best designs of all time.
14. 1943 BATMAN
This one’s a blast from the distant past. Not even five years after Batman’s first appearance, Columbia Pictures decided to create a theatrical serial series that was based off the Batman. Not really the most accurate version of Batman, the 15-part series saw Batman and Robin as secret government agents working to defeat the schemes of a Japanese agent during the Second World War.
This suit is objectively awful. Far from the Superman suit George Reeves would wear a decade later, this costume only drew attention to how ridiculous the Batman outfit was. Its hood barely fit, and looked more like a cheap Halloween version of a costume in a much better show. It does hold to the themes of the main color scheme to maintain the stealthiness of Batman, so there’s that at least.
13. PROTOTYPE BATMAN – GOTHAM
It took the character several years to evolve to a point where this would be even possible, never mind believable, but we’re at least headed in the general direction. Smallville lasted a decade and never got this far, but at the start of the most recent season with the aptly titled “A Dark Knight”, Bruce gets a bit of help from Batman mainstay Lucius Fox with some body armor and a mask that will remind fans of… something else.
Granted, it is still a prototype outfit, but it’s a good one. You can kind of see how it seems like the beginning of Bruce’s journey into heroism; it’s just lacking the obvious inspiration of the bat, as he hadn’t had that important moment in his life just yet.
12. BATMAN FOREVER
If not for having the first introduction of Robin, Batman Forever would almost be something of a lost movie in the Batman film franchise. While Batman and Batman Returns are remembered for the weirdness of being Tim Burton-directed films, and the Nolan trilogy is remembered for being an almost perfect superhero-thriller, and Batman and Robin is…well, notoriously awful, not much makes Forever stand out.
So it goes with the film’s Batman outfit as well. It’s not particularly bad, but there’s nothing that makes it stand out either, aside from it being the first appearance of the notorious Bat-nips. The first outfit in the movie does take the absurdly silly-looking rubber-molded muscles from the first two films to a brand-new level, though. Never has an action movie hero tried so hard to be ripped.
11. ADAM WEST BATMAN
Like it or not, the Adam West Batman series defined who the Dark Knight was to an entire generation. Though the series only stayed on for three years, it’s reinvention of the Dark Knight’s mythology into something bright and fun (and undeniably, lovably campy) stole the hearts and minds of kids everywhere by showing a comic book character come to life, right down to their outlandish sound effects.
Costuming and special effects had come a long way since the Caped Crusader’s last appearance on the big screen in 1949, so this suit is quite the leap over the suit from the Columbia Pictures era. Still, the Adam West suit tries a little too hard to bring the costume to life from the comics without considering the changes that would have to be made for him to look cool in the real world.
10. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN
The New Adventures of Batman was a short-lived cartoon series that came out in the late ’70s, roughly ten years after the Adam West series went off the air. The series followed Batman, Robin and Batgirl on their adventures keeping the city of Gotham safe, while dealing with the occasional interference from Bat-Mite, a creature from another dimension.
The cartoon felt much like a continuation of the Adam West television series, right down to re-using the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward for Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight’s outfit here is identical to the one used in the Batman television series, but it works better because it’s easier to make a cartoon’s design look right compared to a live-action outfit. Batman’s cape doesn’t look nearly as ill-fitting, and while the show remains light-hearted he’s still more imposing than he ever could have in real life.
Between the ’60s television show and several cartoons over the ’70s, it wasn’t like seeing him was a new thing…but fans had never really seen him before like they would here in the 1989 Batman film. With his popularity having waned in the late ’70s, Batman’s producer Michael Uslan went out of his way to finally give us a definitively dark and serious version of the Caped Crusader.
He delivered on that promise with the premiere of Batman, featuring a version of the character that abandoned all the blues and grays the character had been known for in the decades leading up to the film for an all-black outfit. They made up for Michael Keaton’s average physique with a suit of molded latex that made him look like an imposing Batman and an action figure come to life all at once.
8. BATMAN BEGINS
It would take nearly a decade before the Batman franchise recovered from the colossal critical failure that was the 1997 Batman and Robin film. When it finally did, it was with a decidedly more realistic look than anything we had ever seen before. Even compared to the gothic look of Tim Burton’s Batman duology, Batman Begins took the mythology of the Batman more seriously than anyone had before.
The first iteration of the Christian Bale Batsuit felt vaguely reminiscent of the Batman Returns suit, in that resembled body armor over having any sort of molded muscles. The suit just looked like something that a vigilante would need to survive on the streets of Gotham City. The only real flaw that keeps it from landing any higher is the suit was nearly impossible for Bale to actually turn his head in.
7. BATMAN V. SUPERMAN
It may be hard to do, but let’s set aside our feelings for the actual Batman V. Superman movie. However polarizing the film can be among comic book fans, that shouldn’t carry to an examination of the actual costume that was created for this film, which actually…wasn’t all that bad.
There may be some things to dislike about the costume, but Zack Snyder’s Batman felt like it brought the Frank Miller versions of the costume to life for the first time ever. It feels gritty, and even in the film it looks battered; like it’s been through quite a few rough experiences but still left Bruce Wayne alive to tell the story. This suit pays homage to the grim and gritty era of Batman, and like it or not looks pretty cool at the same time.
6. BATMAN RETURNS
Three years after the premiere of the incredible, smash hit Batman came Tim Burton’s follow-up film, Batman Returns. Featuring Michael Keaton again as Batman, the Dark Knight would go up against Penguin and the femme fatale Catwoman in his second outing.
As cool as the costume designs of the original Batman made Michael Keaton look, they perfected the design in the second film. The suit this time was made of a foam rubber material that emulated the look of the original Batman outfit, and toned down the toyetic look fans had gotten from the first film. It swapped out the ridiculous sculpted musculature in favor of a design that more closely resembled the body armor Batman would need to function in a city as rough and dangerous as Tim Burton’s Gotham.
5. THE DARK KNIGHT/THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
In a world where superheroes now have some major alterations to their costume in almost every film, it seems unlikely that the design of the Batman in Christopher Nolan’s classic trilogy would go untouched from 2008’s The Dark Knight to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. And yet, that’s exactly what happened, because you don’t mess with what works. Christian Bale’s Bat-suit is exactly the same between the two movies, something that makes sense in terms of how they found a design that worked perfectly for them and makes sense given that Bruce quit being Batman in the interim of the two.
At the same time, this is definitely one of the most realistic portrayals of Batman. There’s little dramatic flair to the costume (other than that it is one), and it’s instead one of the most utilitarian versions of the Batman ever made. Just too bad it can’t block knives.
4. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
Batman: The Brave and the Bold was a series that aired on Cartoon Network back in 2008, running for roughly three seasons before eventually coming to an end around 2011. The cartoon stood out from the other Batman cartoons before it by having a unique team-up aspect; every episode Batman would team up with a different animated character, usually a DC superhero.
This version of the Dark Knight was a shout-out to several versions of the classic ’60s Batman. Though the character remained incredibly serious, the universe around him had a lighter tone that felt reminiscent of the Adam West series. At the same time, the costume relied on a lot of light grays and blues to make the character less threatening, while the square-jawed look of Batman came right out of a Dick Sprang drawing.
3. BATMAN BEYOND
This suit is easily the biggest intentional departure of any Batman suit on the list. Just as the ’90s Batman series was coming to an end with the last of The New Batman Adventures, we got this gem of a series with a unique idea: set several decades into the future, Bruce Wayne is an old man guiding a young protégé named Terry McGinnis through the transformed Gotham’s dark, neo-noir world of crime-fighting as the next Batman.
Simplistic in design, the suit is almost entirely black aside from its signature red Bat-emblem and the underside of its glider wings. Meant to be the Batman of the next-generation, it manages to feel futuristic while adhering to the overall design ethos of the Batman uniform, and has become almost as beloved as the original suit.
2. JUSTICE LEAGUE
Okay, the Justice League film left quite a bit to be desired. A mess directed by two different people, it’s far too short to tell the story it needs to tell, even if the film seems like it drags on. The super-serious way the film is shot doesn’t match the story’s more jokey tone, and for the most part Batman’s kinda…useless.
But this list is more about how good the suit design is rather than how good the media it came from is, so that’s how this costume makes it so high up the list. The Justice League Batman “armor” just makes sense for a lot of reasons: it’s heavily armored to make up for how much slower an older Bruce would be, covering for his mistakes by letting him take more hits.
1. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
Was there really ever any doubt? Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s cartoon was an absolute masterpiece both then and now, succeeding both in having complex characterizations for its heroes and villains and in being perfect aesthetically. The series uses artistic license to give the series a timeless feel while incorporating beautiful art deco city design for Gotham City balanced with just the right touch of noir.
That intimate understanding of design extends to Batman’s costume as well, which feels like the Neal Adams Batman design come to life. There’s a perfect mix of gray, blue, and black — along with the classic “yellow oval” on his chest that symbolizes that this is definitely the “Dark” Knight Detective, but not so dark that he’d be scary to kids.
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