From simple transportation to villain annihilation - The evolution of the Batmobile
Since his inception, Batman has had a contentious relationship with firearms. When he first appeared on the comic book scene in the 1930s, guns were part of his arsenal. But not for long. To differentiate Batman from the Shadow — a popular pulp comic hero who greatly influence Batman’s creation — and keep him from killing the recurring villains in his rogues’ gallery, Batman ditched firearms. But what reason would a non-powered hero have to forsake one of the great equalizers? DETECTIVE COMICS #33 was the first time Batman’s origin was revealed and gave the Dark Knight an in-universe reason for his aversion to guns.
Over the decades, this creed has become mutable. Batman has occasionally picked up a firearm for various reasons. But the one place his prohibition on guns seems to have completely deteriorated? The Batmobile. Covered in machine guns and rocket launchers, the modern day Batman appears to have no aversion to guns as long as he doesn’t physically have to hold the thing.
That’s an interesting psychological puzzle in and of itself, but I digress. When did this trend of Batmobiles armed to single-handedly put down an insurgency take hold? An investigation reveals it took many a year for Batman’s transportation to morph into Bat-Tank.
[Many thanks to BatmobileHistory for their VERY thorough database!]
1939 - Proto-BatmobilePhoto Credit: DC Entertainment
Back in the day, the Batman wasn’t terribly concerned with keeping his identity a secret. The first time we see the Dark Knight behind the wheel is in a snazzy red coupe in “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” The very same coupe Bruce Wayne was driving on previous pages.
1941 - Red BatmobilePhoto Credit: DC Entertainment
Similar to the Proto-Batmobile of the past, the red coupe had a Bat hood ornament to denote this was indeed Batman’s car. The only concession made to fighting crime was reinforced armor and a Bat-Ram used to batter down walls or knock around a villain in a car chase.
1944 - Batmobile ProperPhoto Credit: DC Entertainment
Over the next couple of years, the Batmobile evolved until it resembled the Batmobile most fans know and love today. In BATMAN #20, this Batmobile graced the cover and quickly became the iconic standard for Golden Age Batman. Other than what appears to be bulletproof glass in the windshield, this was merely a cosmetic change.
1949 - Batmobile Takes To WaterPhoto Credit: DC Entertainment
In DETECTIVE COMICS #147, the Batmobile got an upgrade to take to the high seas. Now watertight, it was propelled over open water using a system of air tanks and retractable props.
1950 - Batmobile Is Evolving!Photo Credit: DC Entertainment
Ten years ahead of its time, the Batmobile the debuted in DETECTIVE COMICS #156 to replace the old model (trashed during a car chase) added a bevy of new features. The Bat-Face now sported a knife edge to slice through barriers, rocket thrusters were added for speed, and a searchlight was mounted to the roof. Inside Batman had a television, radar, and a complete laboratory.
1966 - Batmobile Television DebutPhoto Credit: DC Entertainment
In keeping with the camp of Adam West’s classic “Batman” series, the Batmobile was equipped with gadgets such as the Bat-tering Ram and the Bat Smoke Screen. It also had parachutes to add in quick 180 turns, spiked caltrops, and a smoke screen. Perhaps due to the nature of television, this is iteration of the Batmobile where weaponry begins to show up in the form of rockets. After all, you can’t have an action-adventure show without explosions right?
1968 - “The Adventures of Batman”Photo Credit: DC Entertainment
In Batman’s classic animated TV series, the Batmobile evolved yet again. New additions included a chain slicer, emergency flotation devices, and a hover mode. No new offensive capabilities though.
1973 - “Superfriends”Photo Credit: DC Entertainment
This Batmobile shared all the same gadgets as its predecessors — emergency eject, grappling cables, etc. — but it deserves inclusion as the first time the yellow Batman symbol is used.
1986 - Frank Miller’s BatmobilePhoto Credit: DC Entertainment
It should come as no surprise that the first time the Batmobile becomes a military-grade offensive vehicle was during Frank Miller’s alternate timeline BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. This Batmobile took up three lanes of traffic and bristled with everything from machine guns to large canons. Sure the machine gun was loaded with rubber bullets, but at that velocity they’re just as deadly. On the defensive front, the Batmobile was impenetrable by Earth technology. It’s also equipped with a fully medical bay.
1989 - Tim Burton’s BatmobilePhoto Credit: Warner Bros.
And the Batmobile was never the same again. Hot of the heels of Frank Miller’s dark take on Batman, Tim Burton introduced Batman to a wider audience. To go with the gothic Gotham, the new Batmobile was streamlined in appearance but just as deadly. Machine guns, bombs, disc launchers, and shinbreakers were among the offensive arsenal. If Batman was put on the defensive, he could employ oil slicks, smoke screens, or eject the interior of the Batmobile as a “Batmissile.” Burton’s Batmobile also came standard with voice-recognition software.
1992 - “Batman” The Animated Series”Photo Credit: DC Entertainment
Without having to worry about things like physics or “available space,” the Batmobile of “The Animated Series” was stuffed with more gadgets than you can shake a stick at. Old standbys like smoke screens and reinforced armor chassis lived side-by-side with wheel slashers in the hubcaps, tear gas, a missile rack, and a high-tech shield to prevent anyone from making off with the Batmobile for a joy ride.
1995 - “Batman Forever”Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
A return to a simpler time, Joel Schumacher’s Batmobile was a defensive vehicle. The most prominent new feature was the ability for the Batmobile to lock all four wheels into perpendicularly, allowing for a nimble quick-change in direction during a high speed pursuit. This Batmobile was also capable of traveling vertically using a combination of grappling hooks and jet exhaust.
1997 - “Batman & Robin”Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
That didn't last long. Schumacher’s second Batmobile had a single cockpit which housed voice-activated offensive and defensive capabilities. Sharpened fin blades, rocket launchers, bombs, and grappling hooks at both the front and rear made this Batmobile more than a mode of transportation.
1999 - “Batman Beyond”Photo Credit: DC Entertainment
Set in the future, this iteration of the Batmobile came with a suitable gadget set. Capable of both hovering and flying, the car also has a drop hatch under the driver’s seat to allow Batman to literally get the drop from above. High tech camouflage rendered the Batmobile invisible or it utilized a holoprojector to look like something mundane like a dumpster. Electrified grappling hooks, missiles, an on-board recorder, and giant magnets with which stow away on larger vehicles rounded out its abilities.
2005 - Christopher Nolan’s BatmobilePhoto Credit: Warner Bros.
Despite telling Catwoman “No guns. No killing.” Nolan’s version of Batman loaded his military-grade vehicle to the teeth. Rocket launcher, missile launcher, a retractable turret, and exploding caltrops were all incorporated. And not one of them was even given a perfunctory “Bat” prefix. At least Bat-Turret would’ve sounded PR friendly. As the most deadly Batmobile to date, it’s no wonder Gotham wanted the Batman off the street. That kind of firepower would make anyone nervous.
2016 - “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Based on photos, Zack Snyder’s Batmobile is taking pages from both Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan. While there isn’t a specific rundown of its abilities, the front-mounted turret and armor-plated looks indicates a military-grade powerhouse.