By Rob Roglev, Associate Director Online Design, DK Publishing
For those of us who drive, cars reflect our personalities. Pragmatists often gravitate toward vehicles with the best fuel efficiency, ample cargo space, and extra-large cup holders, while gearheads bow to the allure of sleek lines, heated leather bucket seats, and a stable's worth of horsepower. Fortunately, there are makes and models for just about everyone, but what if you're a Super Hero vigilante? A small demographic to be sure, but the heroes of our imagination demand something more. Those who don the cape and cowl require something bold, brash, and powerful. Something intelligent and intimidating, yet sexy. And of course, if you're the Dark Knight, something in black.
To be sure, Batman has always been known for his ride. Whether it's the tank-like Tumbler of recent filmdom, the gothic-inspired racer of late '80s Burton, or the fabulously finny Futura of '60s television, the Batmobile has been an iconic fixture within the Dark Knight mythology for many years. Witness some of the more interesting designs from the comics uncovered in Batman: A Visual History.
Somewhat ironic in hindsight, Batman cracked his first case in 1939's Detective Comics #27 while driving a rather unremarkable, though Dick Tracy–esque red sedan. Given this was the masked vigilante's first true appearance in comics, we can forgive the inimitable Bob Kane for foisting a common taxicab onto the world's greatest detective. (Bruce Wayne's checkered yellow suit on the other hand, ouch.) Hopefully the windows were tinted.
Fortunately, as the legend of the caped crusader grew in the 1940s, his crime-fighting arsenal became more advanced. The establishment of a Batcave coincided with a more distinctive design for the Batmobile. Along with a beefy engine upgrade and stealthier paint job, the humble sedan became festooned with a giant bat-faced radiator emblem, intended to strike fear in the ever-increasing menagerie of criminals plaguing Gotham. The latter quickly raised the ornamental ante, as even the Clown Prince of Crime set about acquiring his own Jokermobile, replete with giant Joker grill!
With the coming of the 1950s, the evolution of the Batmobile echoed auto design of the period with the inclusion of fins—or rather fin, as the Dark Knight opted for a single sharklike vertical stabilizer, cleaved through the rear of the bulbous, yet still somehow streamlined sedan. The new and improved 1950 Batmobile took center stage in Detective Comics #156, as Batman, forced to rebuild his ride after a terrible wreck, took the opportunity to include certain nonstandard amenities like dashboard radar, a dome searchlight, dual rear rocket exhaust ports, and even a full crime lab located in the backseat. (What, no undercoating?)
One of the more intriguing iterations of the Batmobile was featured in Detective Comics #219, where the cowled one and his humble sidekick tracked down a gang of criminals racing antique cars by debuting one of their own: the 1905 Marmon Batmobile. I won't say they're particularly elegant in this instance, but the requisite rear stabilizer fin and bat face grill do make me yearn to retrofit them onto a '76 Impala. (I miss that beast.)
So it may not technically be a Batmobile as we've come to know it, but the Bat-Tank from Detective Comics #236 is particularly noteworthy given the armor the Dark Knight has been tooling around in lately onscreen. Faced with an evil scientist's neutering of their best crime-fighting tech with such diabolically cunning countermeasures as an oil slick, the dynamic duo decide to scale things up a notch with a (sigh) magenta tank. That Marmon is looking better all the time.
Hollywood influences on the Batmobile's design increased in the late '80s as Tim Burton's take on the caped crusader spawned what remains the sexiest bat ride ever. The comics responded in earnest with fresh design cues that brought new life to the venerable cowl car. A lengthening of the chassis, reduction in ground clearance, and overdue removal of the bat grill (in favor of rim spinners, apparently) made for a low-slung and stealthy beast of a Batmobile.
The present-day Batmobile has become ever more fanciful and futuristic in its design. Whether it's the single-manned Bat-Bobsled of Batman #666 or the spaceship-like flying cowl car from 2009's Batman and Robin, followers of the caped crusader can rest assured that the Dark Knight will always be behind the wheel of something sleek and awe-inspiring.
BATMAN and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © DC Comics. (s15)