BATMAN ON FILM, 'The Dark Knight Fansite!' Est. 1998.

OPINION

Clothes Make The (BAT)-Man
Author: Alex Winck
Saturay, June 23, 2007

EDITOR'S NOTE: A response to this op-ed by Mark S. Reinhart can be found HERE. - "Jett"

A new Bat-Suit has been revealed, but the fan complaints are old. Ever since the Tim Burton days, comics fans have had the same criticism: Batman never wears a suit that looks like it was ripped off from the comics pages.

And there’s actually a number of reasons for it. Fans forget that Batman is a different superhero from Superman, Spider-Man or Fantastic Four. He doesn’t have superpowers. He isn’t naturally bulletproof. He doesn’t have a spider-sense and superhuman agility. Batman can’t make force fields, nor is he made of rock.

His suit is part of his arsenal -- like the gadgets or the Batmobile. Therefore, given that he’s a billionaire, he’ll use the best technology that money can buy to help him fight crime. To wear an advanced suit that offers him some protection while also decent freedom of movement is a natural step.

Another thing they forget is that no superheroes these days wear just spandex tights. Even the Superman, Spidey and FF suits include rubbery muscle padding armor to give them the “comic book effect”, that is, the look of a perfectly defined second skin to a muscular body. Without that, you get the ridiculous “pajama” look. The only difference is that with those characters you have to use your suspension of disbelief and pretend that they look naturally like that, while Batman has the “protection suit” argument. And they forget it’s been established in comics several times that Batman doesn’t wear just a plain spandex costume -- he DOES wear protection. Only the comic book page isn’t the movie screen and it’s much easier for the artist to cheat with that than for a filmmaker. The artist can pretend that he looks like he just wears tights and then there’s a protection bodysuit underneath it, in live-action you can’t disguise the difference in volume, shape of muscles, etc. The result would be about the same as armor anyway.

Other fans argue with the color, given that his suit usually looks darker than in the comics. Also no superheroes in movies these days wear suits with colors as bright as the ones in comics. Even the FF wears a darker shade of blue than in traditional comics. In Batman, there’s the extra reason that the character is REQUIRED to look dark: he’s supposed to be mysterious and stealthy and disappear in the shadows. Much more than the body suit, the secret to Batman’s look in his silhouette, his shadow. That’s what you see in his most iconic images in BEGINS -- The Batman standing on the tower all covered by his cape, standing on the building with his cape billowing, landing from the stairway in Arkham, landing to fight Ra’s and his ninjas.

Others argue against the hi-tech look of the BEGINS and TDK suits. “Batman is supposed to look animalistic and monstrous, not hi-tech”. All good, only that’s never been conveyed by the body suit either. I don’t see how spandex tights make anyone look “animalistic and monstrous” either. Plus, we, the audience, can have a good look at his suit because we are allowed to know that Bats wears a special, protecting -- and cool-looking-in-its-own-way -- suit. The thugs don’t get that good look, they see the shadowy bat-like figure that appears suddenly from the shadows, attacks them and disappears again. The bad guys don’t have a chance to look and say, “Hey, it’s a guy in a hi-tech suit!” Plus -- like in BEGINS -- the darker you light the suit, the least the hi-tech details are notable. You barely see them for most of his movie appearance.

I confess I have problems to this day with the original Bat suit -- but they have nothing to do with the design, or the color, or even the fact that it was body armor. My issue is that in the first two movies, the suit was so heavy and rigid, Batman’s whole body movement looked awkward; i.e. “robotic”. It was hard to buy him as an agile martial artist and acrobat. Plus, it was also used to disguise the fact that Michael Keaton didn’t have the built physique. God bless Keaton, I thought he gave a terrific performance, but as someone who loves the training, discipline and “badass” aspect of Batman, that always bothered me. In addition, the suits have become increasingly lighter and allowed more freedom of movement over the years. For the first time, with the new suit -- instead of being basically one big piece of foam rubber -- it’s segmented in 200 individual pieces with different materials, which should allow even greater freedom.

And, at last, he can really turn his head!

The least is said about Schumacher’s nipples, the better.

I think Nolan did a great job in taking the look of comics and translating it into something that works on the film screen, which is his job, after all. But of course there will be those who’ll never be happy ’til it’s 100% accurate. Well, you know, you all will always have Adam West’s suit…

…But wait, what is it with the big pockets on his belt? And the Bat-symbol on the buckle? Why is his cape so stiff? Since when Batman has a beer belly? They’re ruining the iconic image!;-)

A RESPONSE TO MR. REINHART

I just read Mr. Reinhart’s comments on my articles regarding Batman’s and The Joker’s look. First, I need to say I’m a BIG Batman fan too – I think just the fact I take the time to write these articles is evidence of it – and that I love how these characters have been portrayed by artists like Adams, Bolland, etc. on the comic book page. But, also with all due respect to Mr. Reinhart, I don’t think he fully understood the purpose of my articles. Maybe I wasn’t clear about some things and I’d like to cover that.

I NEVER said Nolan’s take on Batman and The Joker’s look is the ONLY one or the PERFECT one or that it completely invalidates other takes or other ideas of how to make these characters look on screen. In fact, as I said a number of times, both these characters have had a number of different interpretations. Adams’ Batman is very different from Jim Lee’s. Which is different from Mazzuchelli’s. Bob Kane’s Joker´s different from Adams‘, which is different from Bolland´s, which is different from Dave McKean’s. Part of the reason why these characters have endured the test of time is that they have a strong core but also are flexible enough to maintain that core in the face of different approaches. A lot of things that are deemed now “classic” or “definitive”, both in visuals and characterization, were deemed “blasphemy” when they’re originally proposed.

All I’m saying is there is a sense of purpose to everything Nolan´s been doing. I haven’t seen him take any decisions that betray that core of those characters, even though some fans seem to think so for the simple fact that he doesn’t necessarily give them an image that they feel an attachment to; or at least not EXACTLY that image. I understand that attachment, I feel it too, but I respect an artist’s desire to add their own take and one that fits the larger picture of what they’re doing. All his decisions in BEGINS were related to the story he was telling and fit into the context of what he was doing. He didn’t do anything that was like, say, bat-nipples, something with no purpose that distracts from and ultimately ridicules the character. Could The Joker look terrifying and different from Nicholson and still look more like his traditional look in comics? Let’s hypothetically say yes. Does that mean there’s something necessarily “wrong” with the new take? No, not to me. I still perceive The Joker as the terrifying distortion of a clown’s look, which is what the character has been originally intended to be.

Plus, fans often take initial images too literally in the sense of how the character will look on the screen. A recent picture of Nolan shooting a scene with The Joker has already revealed the character much closer to his classic comics look than the first picture indicated. People who have been on the set have said that The Joker DOES wear a purple suit, when many thought he wouldn’t, and that he doesn’t look quite as “gruesome” as the big close-up first picture indicated. More than anything, people are saying that Ledger is indeed delivering a chilling performance as the character, and we all remember how criticized that casting was at start. To this day we see people complaining about the BEGINS suit based on pictures of it with white background and direct light, which is not how the character looks in 90% of the movie. Based on early pictures, many people assumed Batman would look “robotic” on the big screen, and he didn’t. I think most fans agree with me that he looks like the dark and scary creature of the night that he means to project in comics, and he surely also will in THE DARK KNIGHT. That is what matters to me in the end, not if he wears this or that shade of gray or if the suit looks more like cloth or not.

Plus, as Mr. Reinhart states, the most important thing in the end is of THE DARK KNIGHT will turn out to be another well-done installment in Nolan´s bat-franchise. If I sound so confident about what he does, it’s because I have seen how he works and I see that all he’s doing is in the sense of capturing the core of The Dark Knight Detective on the screen.

But of course, in some ways, we all have our own favorite Batman in our head, and no filmmaker can make the same Batman movie we all have in our individual minds.

Alex Winck, AKA "Ultimatefan," hails from Florianópolis, Brazil. He's a journalist and advertiser and I writes the scripts and articles for Sesinho, the most popular educational comic book in Brazil. It has one million copies distributed for free in schools and with an estimated readership of four million.

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