- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

“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.

Mr. Barris believes he struck the right balance between the spirit of the show and the history of the character. “The gas nozzles that stuck out in the front were really lawn sprinklers, and the audience could watch and say, ‘Wait a minute — I use that sprinkler on my yard,’ and that would make them laugh,” he says.

On the big screen, the famous car has lived up to its reputation as the ultimate symbol of the Dark Knight, except for a minor skid in “Batman and Robin,” the later of two 1940s serials. That serial had the crime fighter tooling around in a 1949 Mercury Convertible while changing into his costume in the back seat.

The Batmobile’s movie career resumed in earnest in 1989 with “Batman,” the first installment in director Tim Burton’s blockbuster film franchise. Mr. Burton worked with production designer Anton Furst, who offered a radically extended, black-bodied torpedo model with an intake in the front for the rear jet turbine. It was 20 feet long, had a fiberglass body and retained the fin wings so popular with older models, but the bat mask was gone. The gadgets were more sophisticated and included a 360 spin jack, side missile launchers and famous armor that enveloped the vehicle at a command from its master.

That basic car design came back for the 1992 “Batman Returns” before director Joel Schumacher took over the series in 1995 for “Batman Forever.” His production designer Barbara Ling worked with art illustrator Tim Flattery to produce a black skeletal model with visibly glowing innards, a trio of bat fins and gadgets that even allowed it to climb walls (with help from the special effects department).

Yet another redesign followed for “Batman and Robin” (1997), with concept vehicle creator Harald Belker presenting a 28-foot, single-seater that bore a resemblance to the bat cape. It had a Chevy small-block V-8 and could uncomfortably fit a 5-foot-10 Batman at best.

“As a car designer, it was unimaginable to be working on the Batmobile,” says Mr. Belker, who is currently developing gadgets for “Spider-Man 3.” “I kept saying, ‘This cannot be true.’ However, it was one of the funniest movies I ever worked on because it was one of the last extravagant wastes of money in Hollywood.”

The current version of the fearless crime fighting machine, from “Batman Begins,” is completely custom-made, as opposed to other versions, which used a plastic shell over a frame. It is equipped with six monster truck tires, a 340-horsepower engine and is over 9 feet wide, 15 feet long and weighs 2.5 tons. It accelerates from zero to 60 in under 5 seconds and can jump 4 to 6 feet in height, up to a distance of 60 feet, and then take off as soon as it hits the ground.

It was radically redesigned to accommodate director Christopher Nolan’s vision. Using a very hands-on approach, he and production designer Nathan Crowley worked out of Mr. Nolan’s garage for about eight weeks to produce half a dozen ideas for the vehicle.

“I’ve never been on a project where I’ve gotten to do conceptual work so early on,” Mr. Crowley said in production notes for the film. “We set up a little machine shop and started making models of cars out of anything we could get our hands on. Chris would take a break from writing and come into the garage, where I’d be with my car concepts, covered in glue.”

To the Batmobile

Fans have numerous ways to enjoy their favorite vehicle via multiple multimedia avenues:


The most comprehensive site on Batmobile lore has been created by scale model builder and graphic artist Bill Spencer. The History of the Batmobile (http://www.batmobilehistory.com/) covers almost every permutation of the car, including its cartoon appearances.


Owning one of the Batmobiles can be as easy as purchasing Mattel’s current 13-inch model from the “Batman Begins” film. It costs $29.99 and includes a black, battle-damaged paint job, rocket engine and laser sounds, lights and a button that reveals twin, side projectile launchers.

Also, Corgi USA, the original maker of the 1966 toy Batmobile, has resurrected the die casting license. Over a dozen, highly detailed models covering comic book designs are available at toy stores in 1:24, 1:18 and 1:43 scale versions with prices starting at $9.99.

Sequential Art

DC Comics offers numerous Batman comic book compilations. The best selection of stories highlighting the Batmobile designs include Batman in the Forties, Batman in the Fifties, Batman in the Sixties, Batman in the Seventies and Batman in the Eighties, which average $20 each and contain more than 200 pages of stories from legendary artists, such as Dick Sprang, Bob Kane, Walter Simonson, Alfredo Alcala and Sheldon Moldoff.

Video Games

Electronic Arts’ Batman Begins simulation ($39.99 for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube) allows players to drive the new Batmobile in vehicular combat levels that mix with stealth-based, third-person action.


All of the older movies with their slick Batmobiles can be found on DVD releases from Warner Brothers Home Video ($9.99 each), and a look at the not-so-slick Batmobile can be seen via the 2-disc “Batman and Robin: The Complete 1949 Movie Serial Collection” (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, $29.99).

Animation fans can see the Batmobile in the new compilations “Batman: The Animated Series, Volume 3” (Warner Home Video, $44.99) and “The Batman: Training for Power” (Warner Home Video, $14.99).

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