Why is it that we’re so in love with Batman? Is it because he represents the best of us; the way in which we all have the capacity to turn tragedy and adversity into something positive and productive? Is it something primal within us that gravitates toward the righteous anger and notion of vengeance that he represents? Is it because, while we know we’ll never be bequeathed an alien power ring or bitten by a radioactive spider… we could maybe be like Batman if we pushed our minds and our bodies a little harder? Or is it just because he has such an awesome costume, striking fear into the hearts of criminals while inspiring hope in the hearts of the just?
Whatever our reasons, we’ve followed him through 79 years’ worth of adventures across various media from comics to TV shows and cartoons to video games to movies. Whatever the challenge, and whatever the stakes, Batman has always found a way to save the day. But there have been some occasions where his usual gray and black (or blue and black, depending on when you grew up) weren’t fit for purpose. Sometimes The Dark Knight has needed to encase himself in armor to bring justice to the streets of Gotham…
20. JIM GORDON’S “BUNNY SUIT”
Veteran comic book fans will know that Bruce Wayne is not the only intrepid crime fighter to don the Batsuit. Indeed, after the Dark Knight was presumed dead after the the events of 2014’s “Endgame” arc, the consensus was that Gotham needs a Batman. The GCPD decided that it was time to bring Batman into the public sector, making him a deputized agent of the law, with none other than Jim Gordon climbing into a heavy duty battle suit. There are some clear anime influences here and while it’s a pretty cool design on its own merit there’s something resoundingly (and deliberately) not-Batman about it.
19. JEAN PAUL VALLEY’S “AZBATS” SUIT
The ’80s were a time in which comics really grew up, not just in terms of their subject matter, but the themes and issues that they addressed. Unfortunately, the ’90s learned all the wrong lessons from the previous decade, mistaking violence and nihilism for complexity and depth. The “Knightfall” saga of 1993-1994 was a solid idea, but mired in the excess that plagued ’90s comics.
After Bruce Wayne was beaten and crippled by Bane, he was replaced by the vigilante zealot Jean Paul Valley aka Azrael. Despite Valley’s good intentions, his psychological conditioning by The Order of St. Dumas led him to turn the Batman persona into an armored Batman/Azrael hybrid that fans dubbed “Azbats”. The “Azbats” suit went through numerous incarnations, each bulkier and less Batman-like than the last. Go read the novelization by Denny O’Neil, it’s actually way better than the comics.
18. BATMAN FOREVER SONAR SUIT
While all of the Batsuits of the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies from 1989-1997 were technically armored, the sonar suit from Batman Forever was the first to embrace the armored, faintly sci fi aesthetic that would define Batman’s look on film in the later films of Christopher Nolan. The suit is a first in terms of cinematic Batsuit design.
While its predecessors were black, the sonar suit is a shimmering gunmetal gray. While its predecessor (dubbed the panther suit) was covered in sculpted musculature, the sonar suit eschewed the anatomical look of its predecessors for something almost biomechanical in its appearance. While Batman Forever ranks as one of the most frustratingly uneven entries into Batman’s cinematic canon, this is one of the most underappreciated of the armored suits.
17. NIGHT OF OWLS ARMOR
The New 52 reboot of the DC universe in 2011 was a mixed bag, but it did contribute several excellent Batman stories. Among them was the “Night of the Owls” crossover event that saw Gotham besieged by a seemingly indestructible hoard of highly skilled undead warriors known as the Talons. As the wily and formidable forces of the Court of Owls infiltrated Wayne Manor and eventually the Batcave, Batman realized that special measures were needed.
Thus, he climbed into this bulky suit that looks a little like the Mk1 Iron Man suit with a few Robocop influenced thrown in for good measure. It may not be the coolest or most iconic of this bunch but seeing Bruce emerge in the suit to confront the army of Talons, growling “Get the Hell out of my cave!” gave us chills!
16. BATMAN VS PREDATOR
They say that man is the most dangerous game. And for the ultimate hunter in the galaxy, only the peak of human perfection will do to test their extraterrestrial prowess. Batman has fought the Predator several times in the comics; but while their skirmishes were ultimately fun but disposable ’90s ephemera, they did yield this awesome armored Batsuit.
Lots of designs of this nature have not aged well but there’s something timeless about this suit of armor. It’s elegant yet savage, sleek yet formidable. Its bulk is offset by the sleek finish and sharp edges on the ears and glove fins. The way the helmet’s visor has no eye holes makes him look almost like a Xenomorph and there’s something endearing about how the yellow disc of the logo clasps the cape together.
15. ARKHAM ASYLUM
It’s easy to forget how groundbreaking Rocksteady’s 2009 game Arkham Asylum was. There are many fans who remember what a unique prospect it represented…finally, a Batman game that didn’t suck. yet, not even the most optimistic gamer and Batman fan could have envisioned what a huge contribution the games added to the Batman mythology.
Our first look of the battle damaged armored Batsuit showed us a Batman that we didn’t even know we needed. The suit stuck to the traditional gray and black color palette with enough detail and texture to make the suit look rugged and functional without looking too visually busy or elaborate. It looks bulky enough to protect Batman from harm, yet light and sleek enough to enable him to move the way we expect Batman to move in a game.
14. BATMAN BEGINS
A lot of younger fans won’t remember just how long the wait felt between 1997 and 2005. While numerous aborted Batman movies came and went over the late ’90s and early ’00s it wasn’t until Warner Bros. secured promising indie director Christopher Nolan to direct a movie depicting Batman’s origin that the prospect of a new Batman movie finally became a reality.
In the run up to the movie, however, fans wanted more than anything to know what the costume would look like. As in previous incarnations, this version of Batman would be clad in black armor. But this incarnation eschewed the sculpted musculature of the Burton/Schumacher films for something a little more plausible and realistic. This was a perfect fit for Nolan’s more naturalistic take on the character and brought us one of the most memorable Batsuits in cinematic history…and not a nipple in sight!
13. THE SUIT OF SORROWS
The beauty of the Batman character is in his malleability. Although film noir inspired crime drama is the character’s natural habitat, he lends himself just as well to supernaturally inspired stories to sci-fi inspired stories. The suit of sorrows made its debut in Paul Dini’s phenomenal run on Detective Comics, making its debut in Detective #838. The suit seamlessly combined elements of mystery, crime drama and the supernatural.
The armor was forged from the melted down swords and armor of dead soldiers and was said to drive even the most chaste and pure of wearers to madness. Upon wearing it, Batman finds his abilities amplified…but his proclivity for violence increased along with them. The armor merged really well with Batman’s traditional look making for a look that’s ancient yet timeless.
12. ARKHAM ORIGINS
The problem with prequels is that while they’re temporally set before the original, the sophistication of production methods combined with more experienced production staff make for an end result that’s altogether a little more polished and sophisticated than the original. So it is with this design for the prototype ‘Arkhamverse’ armor in WB Montreal’s highly underrated Batman: Arkham Origins.
While its clear how the suit’s design has been extrapolated from the previous Arkham games’ suit design (with a little Dark Knight trilogy influence in the cowl) it actually looks a little more polished than the original. While it may not hold up quite so well as a precursor to the classic Arkham suit, it’s an excellent piece of design in its own right borrowing from previous iterations while bringing some fresh ideas of its own to the table.
11. BATMAN RETURNS
It’s fair to say that Batman Returns has continued to divide fans since its release way back in 1992. Many Batman purists regard it as a Batman movie in name only while hardcore Tim Burton fans regard it as a masterpiece of production design. While the story was always going to play second fiddle to the visuals in a Tim Burton Batman movie, this dark urban fairy tale boasts some superb visuals for all its lack of narrative cohesion.
Among the film’s many design achievements is the newly designed armor. Costume designer Bob Ringwood streamlined the suit from the original Batman, replacing the sculpted musculature with more art deco and industrial affectations. The armor looks great and actor Michael Keaton clearly has a greater range of movement in it than its bulkier predecessor.
10. INJUSTICE 2
It’s a testament to the iconic nature of a character like Batman that he remains recognizable no matter how many liberties designers take with his appearance. This armor for last year’s Injustice 2 does an admirable job of doing something new and innovative with Batman’s design while still remaining true to the character.
While the costumes in the game are infinitely customizable, the default suit does a great job of taking the familiar aspects of Batman’s design and tweaking them to make them look new and fresh. The logo on the chest for example is unlike any other iteration and while the cowl shares some common elements with the Nolan movies and the Arkham games it is still unique and visually interesting. There’s a smoothness and a sleekness to this suit that contrasts nicely with the previous iteration from the first game.
9. KINGDOM COME
Kingdom Come ranks as one of the best Elseworlds stores in the DC canon. The poignant and intelligent story by Mark Waid with sumptuous artwork by Alex Ross contrasts the core members of the Justice League with a world populated by younger and more violent super powered beings that have learned all the wrong lessons from them.
This iteration of Batman is no longer active; his body ravaged by battle and contained by a robotic exoskeleton he leaves the fighting to his robotic Bat Knights. In the story’s climax, however, he suits up in an armored chassis that borrows some design elements from Robocop in the arms, legs and chest with a little Darth Vader influence where the collar meets the helmet. While we haven’t seen much of this design since, it is nonetheless an original and charming look that resonated strongly with fans.
8. JUSTICE LEAGUE TACTICAL SUIT
Justice League may not have been a critical darling, but those willing to look beyond the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score found a lot to love, or at least appreciate. Gal Gadot was charming as ever as Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill brought us a Superman who’s finally at peace with his place in the world, Ray Fisher was a revelation as Cyborg and Messrs Momoa and Miller crushed it as Aquaman and The Flash respectively. The film also gave us some excellent production design amidst the inconsistent digital effects.
Veteran DCEU costume designer Michael Wilkinson outdid himself with this armored Batsuit which brought a more rugged and technologically robust look to the familiar costume design. Since this may well be Ben Affleck’s last turn in the cowl, we’re glad he was able to look so great in it.
7. INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
In an age where an armored Batsuit is pretty much a given, designers walk a fine line between making a design look functional and dialing back the detail so that it doesn’t become so visually busy as to be distracting. Furthermore it has to look like a Batman costume should while being idiosyncratic enough to avoid accusations of aping previous designs from persnickety fans. Batman’s armor in Injustice: Gods Among Us manages this balancing act quite well.
The armor looks robust enough for him to go toe to toe with the more OP members of the DC Universe while incorporating sleek and sharp motifs in the ears, gauntlets and logo to give the suit a sense of menace. While the game used two different looks for the alternate versions of Batman, this design was favored by the illustrators who worked on the (excellent) spin off comic.
6. ARKHAM KNIGHT
While there will always be a certain segment of Batman fandom that will prefer their Batsuits low tech, it’s hard to imagine an armored, technologically loaded suit that’s as sleek and beautiful as the costume in 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight. This took all of the design elements of the suit from the previous games and gave them a glossier makeover.
The armor is more sophisticated in design and varied in textures than in previous games, utilizing the rendering power of the next generation of consoles and graphics cards. While it’s packed with tech bells and whistles, it’s still an elegant design that avoids being too visually busy. It looks powerful and impenetrable yet agile and flexible. The cape is even more dramatic than before and the long and razor sharp ears on the helmet combine with the cape to make an extremely imposing silhouette.
5. BATMAN: NINJA
There’s something really cool about seeing a familiar cultural icon through the lens of a different culture. The recent Batman Ninja anime seems like it’s seamlessly merged Batman’s aesthetic into a Ninja Scroll-esque mise en scene. Thus, this armor somehow manages to look completely different and yer somehow reassuringly familiar at the same time.
The armor and cowl are recognizably Batman’s but in this quintessentially anime world the samurai affectations like the dou and kusazuri somehow enhance the look rather than detracting from it. They’ve pulled off a minor miracle in somehow getting the image of Batman in fingerless gloves to work well and even the yellow bat stretching across the chest looks awesome. We can’t wait for the slew of high end action figures, statues, busts and other collectibles that will inevitably come in the wake of this bold redesign.
4. JUSTICE BUSTER
Tony Stark has a suit of armor that can take down the Hulk, you say? Move over, Marvel! Batman has a suit of armor that can take out the entire Justice League. And, as you might expect, it comes in black! Riding high on a wave of critical and fan acclaim for his run on Batman, Scott Snyder set about constructing the ultimate Batman vs Joker battle in the “Endgame” storyline.
The opening issues see Batman doing battle with the entire Justice League, who’ve been corrupted by a new strain of Joker toxin. Of course, Batman’s prepared for anything, even the combined might of the Justice League. Hence, he climbs into this beastly mobile tank to do battle with his friends. When a battle between Batman and the entire Justice League is the opening salvo, you know you’re in for an impressive story and “Endgame” did not disappoint.
3. THE DARK KNIGHT
Sometimes you’ve just got to throw out the rule book. While fans reacted positively to the Bat armor worn by Christian Bale in Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan was never completely happy with the limitations of the foam latex with which Batsuits had been constructed post Batman 1989. Chief among his frustrations was that Batman had, to date, never been able to properly turn his head on screen.
Thus, he and costume designer Lindy Hemming set about constructing a new suit of Bat armor from scratch. The end result was a suit of mail upon which plates of carbon fiber rested. Hemming drew inspiration from military armor and biker leathers to create a suit that came to be definitive for an entire generation of Batman fans.
2. BATMAN 1989
While the image of Micheal Keaton in the 1989 Batsuit designed by Bob Ringwood is so familiar in the popular consciousness that it almost seems old hat today, it’s impossible to overstate how this design indelibly changed Batman’s aesthetic in various media. Remarking that the notion of a Batman clad in tights was “obviously ridiculous”, director Tim Burton reasoned that in real life Bruce Wayne would be an average sized dude who would need to dress up as a bat for effect.
The result is this sculpted suit was far more transformative and intimidating than the unforgiving tights worn by Adam West giving the slender Keaton the unrealistically perfect physique of the comic book Batman. This would serve as the template for Batman’s cinematic costumes for almost two decades.
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Whether you love it or hate it, whether you regard it as a seminal work of fiction or a worryingly right wing manifesto that would give Ayn Rand pause, you can’t deny that Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has created more Batman fans than any other comic to date. The extreme and deconstructionist take on the Batman mythology has transcended the medium of comics and become an icon of pop culture.
In the final issue Batman takes to this armored suit to fight The Man of Steel himself, and its design was so perfect that Zack Snyder copied the design lock stock and barrel for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s bulky, it’s ugly, it’s crude and it look like it could all fall to pieces at any moment. It’s the perfect physical representation of Batman’s state of mind at this point in the story.
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