Friday, August 19, 2005

Batman Begins - Part Two: Dressed to Chill

A recent comment on my earlier post about Batman Begins has me thinking more about the costume itself, and I realized in responding that I've got another post's worth of opinion to share.
Now, I love the film, and this is by no means grousing on what I think is a near-perfect effort, but I am in the camp that wishes they'd had the guts to forgo the body armor introduced in the 1989 Batman film.

The problem I have historically had with the Bat-armor is similar to the one that Sandy Collora (director of the Batman: Dead End short) has - which is that there is no body armor currently available capable of deflecting bullets that still leaves one flexible enough to do karate. Sandy argues that you are faced with a suspension of disbelief either way - either that a man can fight sans armor and survive or that a super-armor has been developed that doesn't exist in the real world. Similarly, I've always felt that Batman relied on fast moves and close combat instead of armor, and, in fact, the Batman Begins filmmakers seem to understand this too, as evidenced when Henri Ducard tells Bruce, "You know how to fight six men. I can teach you how to fight six hundred." Lucius Fox's later statement that the armor can stop anything but a direct shot also suggests they are actually "playing down" the armor of previous films, where their choice to keep Batman to the shadows reflects their understanding of his M.O. (Side note: I do like the heavier cape of some of the Batman films, which suggests that the cape itself may have some defensive qualities. Capes are impractical, yes. But you can't dispense with Batman's, so I'd like to see a martial art worked out specifically with that in mind, incorporating his cape into the combat in a way that made sense - both defensively and offensively.)

My second problem with his use of armor goes back to my analysis of his primary motivation - which you know from my previous post I conceive of as his (selfish) need to prove to himself that death cannot catch him unawares no matter what the situation. The use of armor negates the threat, and therefore, fails to feed the psychological need that compels the character in the first place. Simply put - it's a cheat. Recall again the line from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns when Batman switches off the (rubber bullet firing) guns of the Batmobile, stepping out to face the Mutant Leader because, "he has exactly the type of body I wish he didn't, and I honestly don't know if I can beat him."

My third objection to the armor is that it is a strong connection to the previous franchise, whereas every other aspect of this film is a relaunch. The armor was the invention of the 1989 Batman (along with the unfortunate misconception that the Joker's mouth is frozen in a grin - a mistake that prevented Nicholson from using the full range of his facial expressions, and one which I hope the filmmakers will forgo for the next film in this new franchise. But I digress...) It was interesting to watch the statements released to the press before Begins was released. The studio was officially calling the film a "prequel," while the filmmakers, possibly cautioned about dismissing the previous franchise too openly, hemmed and hawed about whether it was a prequel or a reboot. However, their inclusion of Joe Chill as the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne (as opposed to the Joker) is an obvious indication of their intent to separate from the Burton/Shumacher monstrosities - and their allegiance to the continuity of the comic books - and it's even possible the body armor was a studio-insisted upon aspect of the production they were not allowed to challenge.

However, despite all of the above, I am slowly, grudgingly accepting the necessity of armor in a world where street gangs can have access to military grade weaponry, and if armor we must have, appreciate the attempts in Batman Begins to justify it as cutting-edge prototype technology. Furthermore, while no such armor currently exists, every day our technological world makes it a more credible fiction than it was in 1989. I am also a big fan of the animated spin-off Batman Beyond, so much so that I wouldn't object to that story becoming part of official DC continuity, and since that future Batman relies on a high-tech suit decked out with sensors and weaponry, it necessitates a gradual evolution from the current cloth suit to the future suit. In fact, something of the sort is already happening, as witness the computer-assisted vision and armor plating of Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee's recent two-part graphic novel, Batman: Hush.

One thing I'd really like to see incorporated into the live-action suit is the traditional white eye slits. I was hoping they'd forgo the black eye make up in favor of something like the plastic eye-bubbles used in the recent Daredevil film (the only aspect of Ben Affleck's costume I liked actually). Spiderman showed us that you don't have to have an actor's face visible at all for him to emote or for the audience to connect with him emotionally. And masking the eyes might actually lend Batman a psychological advantage and add to his intimidating visage. (It also makes it less likely that close associates like Rachel Dawes will recognize him.)

As to the cape - absolutely it should detach from the cowl. One of my favorite visuals is still the Denny O'Neil penned, Neal Adams draw desert swordfight between Ras Al Ghul and Batman, where Batman removes his shirt and cape but retains his mask. Also, the cape should fasten in the front, under his neck, not at the shoulders, so that it can hang down straight in front and completely cover him.

As to the yellow oval, revisionist history/fan opinion holds that it was added when Batman began his formal relationship with the police and was meant to reflect the Bat Signal, so its absence is justified here. Personally, I prefer the black and grey outfit to the blue and grey one, though it would be nice to see the actual blue and grey of the comics on the screen one day - just to see it "brought to life" somewhere other than (and hopefully more convincingly than) the old Adam West series.

A word on his height - Batman's height in the comics has long been established as 6'2". Of all the actors to portray him on screen, only two are this height - Adam West and Christian Bale. But Bale's Batman isn't heavily muscled. He's much closer to Bob Kane's original idea of the "acrobat-man" or Neal Adams renderings than he is to Miller's Dark Knight. (His temperament is closer to the O'Neil Batman as well.)

Finally, a few years ago, at the San Diego Comic Con, I met a guy in a Batsuit who I actually thought look the part. Both the quality of the suit, and the physique of the person inside, simply worked. Standing next to this Batman, it was the first time in my life I actually believed that someone could wear the costume and not look silly. This in broad daylight too. In fact, this guy was actually a little intimidating. And I'm not sure but what I didn't like the mask better than any of the movie versions. The utility belt could use some work, and I'd certainly go for a non-reflective grey for the tights, but otherwise I think this costume is spot on. And his torso should amply demonstrate to Hollywood producers that they can dispense with those sculpted latex muscles once and for all if they have the right actor in the part. Click on the picture for a larger view and see if you don't agree with me.

32 comments:

A.R.Yngve said...

We can't apply the rules of the DC universe too slavishly to film. The comic-book version of the Batsuit just doesn't intimidate much in real life.

It's the old maxim that "the unknown is scary" -- if Batman worked in broad daylight, he couldn't scare anyone. "Look, there's guy wearing a cape and mask in broad daylight. Let's beat him up."

HOWEVER... there is a minor character in the comic book THE TICK, who would be utterly scary in real life, by night or day. You don't have to change his outfit at all.

I'm of course talking about... The Chainsaw Vigilante. ;-)

RobB said...

a.r., I thought you were talking about Chairface.

Another insightful bat-post Lou. I found out recently that I'm friends with Sandy Collora's cousin. That is, my wife and I are friends with him and his wife, and I finally asked him, are you related to the guy that does that Batman movies?

I'm hoping the BOOMERANG channel will start showing the BATMAN BEYOND series so I can TiVO it. Batman Beyond was nicely tied into the JL Unlimited series with this year's season finale.

Lou Anders said...

Hi, A.R.
I am in total disagreement with you. The material of the costume has nothing to do with its intimidation factor, whether it's cloth, rubber, or latex. In fact, sculpted rubber muscles are a lot less intimidating (and seen a very mixed message, particularly with faux-nipples).

Hi Robb,
6 Degrees of Separation, no? I once took a class on writing for Star Trek taught by Ron Moore and Brannon Braga. I ended up working for Star Trek Monthly and found out that two of the other students (Bryan Fuller among them) ended up as staff writers.

Re: JL Unlimited- I have some very strong opinions about "Epilogue," which I suppose I will blog about in a few days.

Michael Jasper said...

It's funny -- I have similar strong feelings about the bat-suit as well. I tend to agree with you, and I really hate the armor -- seems to go against what Batman's all about.

The thing about Batman is that he has no super-powers, so it's all about what self-taught skills he brings to the table.

The all-white eyes would be a cool -- and logical -- addition to the movie versions of the suit. Guess it's too late now for that...

And yeah, that guy in the Batsuit IS intimidating. Even if he's all shiny...

RobB said...

RE: Epilogue - I'm guessing you didn't care for it? I have a some mixed feelings about it, but I'll wait to see your thoughts.

A.R.Yngve said...

Yeah, that nippled suit was a mockery. I loathed BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN & ROBIN.

But: I maintain that the comic-book world works by different rules. For example, the rule that the superhero's pecs are fully outlined underneath perfect-fit tights. The sculpted muscles on superhero suits in movies can be seen as an attempt to EMULATE that look -- not a convincing one, though...

Perhaps bat-armor works better if it doesn't reflect light, like a stealth fighter - all you see is the outline.

How do you get that all-white eyes effect in real life?

Lou Anders said...

A.R.
Again I submit that the picture I posted demonstrates you DON'T have to have the sculpted armor. I can see that guys pecs just fine. If he was coming at me with a round house kick in a dark alley, I'd be plenty panicked!

Robb,
I really enjoyed all the continuity bits they tied together, but have philosophical problems with it. I'll post about it shortly. I just wanted to give the current post a little time at the top, before Bowing to the Future becomes Batman Central!

Mahesh Raj Mohan said...

I was always partial to the blue-and-gray suit with yellow symbol just because that was the image of Batman I grew up with in the comics. I agree that the bat-armor needs to be dumped.

That dude looks a lot more 'Batman-like' than a guy I saw dressed in plastic Bat-armor in '89 at the Con (let's just say he was about a foot too short and a hundred pounds too heavy...)

Lou Anders said...

I think it was Miller's Dark Knight that actually established the notion that the change in costume reflected the change in status. Thus, when he is again branded an outlaw, the return to the earlier black and grey suit.

I appreciate that the Justice League animated series has also returned to the black and grey look.

Ted said...

Regarding "the rule that the superhero's pecs are fully outlined underneath perfect-fit tights": I like the look of modern comics, but most of them are highly stylized drawings of the naked body that have been colored in. The simpler style of older comics actually bore a closer resemblance to the way tights look in real life. There is simply no fabric that clings tightly enough to reveal individual muscle fibers.

Alex Ross's paintings are perhaps the only modern comics that accurately depict what people in tights really look like. He uses models like the guy in Lou's Comic Con photo, but moviemakers have a hard time finding actors who possess both that physique and decent acting ability.

As for JL Unlimited, I gave up on it a while back. The original animated Batman series emphasized story over fights and explosions, and while the Superman series started the shift toward the latter, it never got as bad as JLU, which is basically wall-to-wall fight sequences.

Lou Anders said...

Oddly enough, I agreed with Ted until I was in a sporting goods store here in town that were selling a long sleeved, grey Nike sweatshirt that hugged the mannequin pecs and abs perfectly. If you'd painted a Bat on it, it would have been perfect. I embarrassed my wife by pointing this out while waiting in line!

Batfic fan said...

Concerning the armor:

If I remember at one point correctly, he gave his reason for wearing a yellow oval with a bat in it on his chest to create an available target for gunfire. The philosophy was that if the enemy saw a shadow come at them they would fire wildly and possibly hit him in a place he couldnt predict or protect, so instead he created something they would all want to shoot at, and then armored it.

That was one of the smartest idea I had ever heard about night fighting, but it made alot of sense to me.

Lou Anders said...

I think it was first expressed in Frank Miller's Dark Knight where he says "the plate holds...can't armor my head...why do you think I wear a target on my chest?"

Mellanumi said...

Hey, I totally agree with you about the batsuit. My biggest problem with the suit was the stylistics of trying to ground Batman in reality. I feel Batman is a creature of impressionism and expressionism, and psychological subjectivity. Once you try to justify his existence, you run into complications that require you to divorce him of his cape and ditch the ears, and give up the impossibilities of vigilante justice altogether. I admire Nolan's take, but the reason the suit worked better in Burton's vision is because Burton tapped in to the ridiculous operatic nature of the character, which made the use of armor seem logically, absurdly sound. Burton's Batman may not have been to the "t" truthful, but in many ways, his was more in spirit with the original conception of the Dark Knight. Nolan's version strives so hard to be forensically accurate, that I am left realizing just how impossible it is for Batman to exist in the real world.

I think, realism benefits Batman when it's used as a stylistic device, rather than when it's used as a narrative choice. Nolan's Batman feels incredibly clunky with that armor on--I've always said, when I do my Batman film (independent of or with studio cooperation), I will return to the idea of flexibility if not flexible tights. In many ways, the suit will be irrelevant because Batman's strategy will supercede the need for armor.

Lou Anders said...

I think Nolan was correct to leave him largely in shadow, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm F.Camargo, from Brazil, another fan who still wants to see the real Batman on screen. White eyes, grey tights, no armor...
I also want to actually SEE Batman in action, enjoy his martial arts skills against tough enemies. Batman Begins takes the idea of "invisibility" too far: not even the spectator can see clearly what Batman is doing during a fight. It was supposed to work only with his oponents, I guess...
About the all-white eyes: If Spiderman eyes were possible, why not...? And what about CG? Batman is all about mistery, and eyes are a key factor, definitely.

Lou Anders said...

Hi F. Camargo -
I agree with you on the eyes. I really liked what they did in Daredevil with the eyes there, which were opaque, and only covered about as much space as a real eye would. I'd love something similar. BUt in Hollywood - you have high paid actors who don't like obscuring their face!

Re: Fighting - yes, if you watch the extras on the DVD, it's apparent that a LOT of thought went into it that never showed up on the screen. I think the director did a good job of establishing that Wayne could fight so we'd take it as rote when we didn't see him fight as Batman, but we do need to see a bit more in subsequent films.

cap97 said...

I agree with your suit opinions completely. The actors can't move or hear in those getups and it shows. They can't even turn their head! It just looks silly and I really wish they would have done away with it in Batman Beyond. (Besides, if we're going with the "suspension" idea, why not a thick Spider-Man-movie-like spandex that's bullet proof. If they tell us it's bullet proof, then it is, right?)

That picture is great! That's the best Batman fan costume I've ever seen. I especially like the cowl, which is always hard to pull of in reality. I wish he had figured out a way to do the white eyes though, but I can see how that might be a problem.

Lou Anders said...

I liked how they handled the eyes in Daredevil (it was all I liked about that suit), and I wish they'd do something similar for Batman.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your blog! Many Kudos to being so informative and entertaining. I hope these studios are paying attention.

- Chris

Lou Anders said...

Thanks, Chris.
You know, as much as I prefer the black and grey - I sort of want to see what a real and accurate depiction of the blue and grey, yellow oval and all, would look like. Maybe just a shot of it - like a flash forward moment similar to seeing King Conan on the throne right before the credits - just to say "we know he gets there" and to have someone else in the colors besides Adam West!

ninjawookie said...

I was just browsing around for pics from batman begins and I came across your blog.

Although I would of liked to see a change with the costumes before seeing the movie, i actually think the body armour looked pretty good and worked really well for the film.

Having the grey and black costume probably would not have worked for the style of film they were working with, and probably would have stood out too much with all the other characters. You wouldn't be able to shake the feeling that you'd be watching a video from a cosplay convention.

The spider-man costume works really well in those films because everything is done in a style that is fairly comic booky. The same goes for something like Sin City.

Unless they chose to adapt Batman in such a literal way, where they would incorporate the exact images and art direction the grey and yellow just would not work for the film.

Even looking at the Alex Ross paintings, it sometimes looks too 'realistic' for its own good in the context of a superhero book.

As David Mazzucielli points out in his comic book essay to Batman Year 1. there is a fine line between making something too realistic in terms of style, as the more 'realistic' you render or represent something, the less believable it is.

ninjawookie said...

As for the eyes, if they were white, Christian Bale's fine performance would be missing, it's also a little power rangers.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Ninjawookie - I take your points, particular the one about the differences between realism and believability. I would love to see the actual blue and grey rendered once, even though I know it totally wouldn't play on screen. I am interested in the new costume for Dark Knight they've just announced, as it is, apparently, going to be a big plot point and is being described as sleeker and more form fitting, less "rubberized".

Anonymous said...

he is so hot

Anonymous said...

Lou,

You have a lot of awsome points and I totally agree with about 99% of everything you had to say.

I think the cloth Batman suit with an actor with a great physique would work out awsome and add some reality to the movies. I think that is why I liked Batman "Dead End" so much, that Batman wore a real costume.

One thing I wasn't sure about from your article was if you did or did not like you Batman's mask (from the picture". I thought it was kind of cool and also would love to see the white eyes put back into Batman's cowl.

All sorts of cool things could be done with the white eyes, one being the fear factor of not being able to see Batman's eyes. I think that would be extremely scary to a bad guy. The white eye lenses could also be protection for Batman's eyes, and maybe even a computer generated heads up display that could show Batman vitals as well as the environment he is in, kind of like terminator, but more human.

Well these are just my 2 cents.

If you or anyone would like to get in touch with me email me at RobertKowal@mac.com

Have a great day.

PS,
I love that Dude's Batman costume

Lou Anders said...

Hi Robert,
Thanks for your comments.
I very much like the guy's mask. I think the costume is near perfect. I'd make the grey a flatter, less shiny color, and probably the yellow of the belt could be a different shade. If you have to have eye holes, then his mask is the best I've seen. I'd love to see a Batman mask explore eyes the way that Daredevil did (the only thing I liked about that costume was the eyes!) Imagine those small, Daredevil eye bubbles in white!

But all these fannish nitpickings are just that - I was VERY happy with Batman Begins overall. That being said, standing next to this guy at ComicCon was the first and only time I really believed a man in a suit could be intimidating and have powerful presence in "real life." It was a great moment.

Anonymous said...

If you read the Batman Chronicles One You will find that Batman wore body armor... I prefer the gray and black suit but what can you do with hollywood.

Lou Anders said...

That Batman also executed criminals with twin pistols that were later dropped for fear they were too similar to the ones The Shadow used. And he was hastily retconned to have "never killed." But for most of his 70 year history, when you cut into his torso, it tears away and shows skin and blood. The armor isn't part of the canon, or wasn't. It's popped up a few places post-films, as is to be expected.

Catherine said...

Out of curiosity, would you or anyone have leads on contacting this Batman? I greatly admire his costuming prowess and seeing as how I have a TAS Catwoman outfit, I'd like to ask him about his costuming process. Long shot, but thought I'd ask! Thanks!

Lou Anders said...

Someone once contacted me claiming to be him, but they were unable to supply any more photos of this costume, so I don't think that was legit. Love to see more shots of him though. And your catwoman outfit.

Catherine said...

Email me at catseeksbat@gmail.com and I can provide you some pictures! My friends and I have an entire Gotham crew that we made ourselves, if you'd like to see those as well! :)