“Traditionally, Western males are really into machinery, power and cars, which represent symbols of masculinity,” says comic book artist Norm Breyfogle. “Batman is all of that wrapped up in one guy. A rugged individualist who drives and designs tough cars.” Cars don’t come much tougher than the high-tech urban assault tank serving as the Batmobile in the new “Batman Begins,” which opened Wednesday. Nicknamed the Tumbler, this Batmobile is the latest in a venerable line. The versatile crime fighter on wheels has undergone multiple redesigns — in comics, television and movies — during the past 66 years, becoming, in the process, almost as legendary as the DC Comics superhero who rides in it.
Originally drawn as a red, modified sedan by Batman’s first illustrator and creator, Bob Kane, in the 1930s issues of Detective Comics, the car was merely a mode of transportation rather than a stylish, gadget-loaded machine.
With issue No. 5 of the monthly Batman series in 1941, it metamorphosed into a dark blue Lincoln Zephyr with a serrated fin to represent a wing and a front grill depicting a bat face, officially assuming the moniker the “Batmobile” to go with the cool new upgrades.
The transformations would continue from the 1950s to today, as the car changed according to shifting tastes in auto body design, Batman’s requirements and artist’s visions. Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics and editor on the Batman titles from 1978 to 1981, believes about nine radically different cars came to fruition in the comics over the years.
“The artists who loved cars were the ones who really did a great job of visualizing the Batmobile to readers,” Mr. Levitz says. “Carmine Infantino, Dick Giordano and Dick Sprang created some of the most memorable for me.”
Through the decades, Batman drove hip versions of Studebakers, Corvettes, Porsches, Jaguars, a DeTomaso Pantera and Mustangs — muscle and sports cars incorporating bubble windshields and bats while coming in colors ranging from shades of blue to black and often highlighted with yellow striping.
Those marvelous gadgets associated with the vehicle also continued to proliferate, as grappling hooks, flamethrowers, pop-up surveillance equipment, ejector seats and a research lab (conveniently located in the trunk) gave the Caped Crusader a mobile workstation away from the bat cave.
In a radical new design, Mr. Breyfogle, who worked on Detective Comics and Batman from 1987 to 1993, took a Lamborghini Countach, added a jet-fighterlike cockpit, bright yellow bat symbols and sweeping exhaust systems to give the Batmobile a spaceship appearance.
“I had Hot Wheels as a kid, and my favorites always seemed to look like Batmobiles, sporty with lots of curved glass and very futuristic,” he explains. “When I began drawing Batman, I was just following the tradition that the character had a unique vehicle design: very aerodynamic with mirrored, bulletproof glass and bulletproof wheel wells and the Bat symbol incorporated into the design.”
Pop culture’s most iconic Batmobile made its debut in 1966 on the live action “Batman” television show. The campy ABC series turned Batman’s mode of transportation into a media darling, thanks to the memorable design of the King of Kustomizers, George Barris.
Working closely with Bob Kane, show producer William Dozier and even star Adam West, Mr. Barris had three weeks and $15,000 to create a car that still consistently makes top 10 lists of favorite television vehicles.
“Bob Kane’s version was not as appealing to me, and I wanted to incorporate the actual bat features throughout the car,” says the 77-year-old Mr. Barris, who is currently working on the Adam Sandler film “The Benchwarmers.”
So he took a Lincoln Futura concept car, made the headlights into the ears, turned the lights into eyes and made the hood scope into a nose. He added 15-foot-long bat wings that extended to the rear, defined the double bubble cockpit and incorporated the logo into the tires. The body was painted bat black, with purplish red fluorescent highlights to bring out its sleek design.
Its marvelous toys included rocket tubes, a battering ram, an emergency Bat turn lever, a tire inflator, an automatic fire extinguisher, oil spreader, Batphone, chain cutter and radar screens. Almost every gadget on Mr. Barris’ 5.5-ton masterpiece worked, down to the famous Bat Chutes.
“Everything had to work because we did not have those computers back then that special effects artists use these days,” he says.View Entire Story
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