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Robert Pattinson as Batman stands next to his black Batmobile in a still from The Batman (2021) Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

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The Batman’s new Batmobile throws back to a long-lost era of comics

What if Batman just … had a car?

If any one thing defines a Batman franchise, it’s the costume. But if two things define it, it’s the costume and the Batmobile — and director Matt Reeves shared his take on the car of all cars for the upcoming Warner Bros. movie The Batman today.

It’s the most understated Batmobile we’ve seen in a film adaptation — or even in comics — in a long time.

The rear of the new Batmobile from Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2021). Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

The new Batmobile is … a car

The new vehicle is undeniably a Batmobile, with its massive exposed engine, swooping fenders, and angular brake lights. But it’s still obviously a modified car, one that began its life on an assembly line, rather than as a bespoke vehicular techno-marvel. It even has a third brake light, presumably because Batman knows they’ve been shown to reduce rear-end collisions. This Batmobile both looks cool and is responsible.

Most Batmobiles of the past 30 years have been extremely cool, but not responsible.

Batman’s look has to have some consistency across the DC Comics line, so changes to his costume are a big deal. They’re usually accompanied by no small amount of editorial consideration and fan response.

By contrast, the look of his car is largely left up to individual artists to interpret, at least in recent years. (We seem more comfortable with the idea of Batman having a garage full of cars to choose from than a closet full of costumes to choose from, but we don’t have time to unpack the logic of that here.)

What most Batmobile designs in the comics do have in common is that they don’t look like cars. They either look like spaceships or tanks.

A hologram disguises a normal sportscar as the Batmobile, in Batman #88, DC Comics (2020). Image: James Tynion IV, Guillem March/DC Comics

Technically, the above version, from one of last month’s issues of Batman, is a sports car equipped with a “holo-interface” that makes it look like a Batmobile. But that means this car could have looked like literally anything. And yet it still looks like a Tron redesign of the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s 1989 movie.

Film versions of the Batmobile are an undeniable influence on the comics, which is particularly clear in the increasing tankification of the vehicle since the Christopher Nolan movies brought the “Tumbler” roaring onto the scene. Take, for example, Sean Murphy’s fleet of original and movie-inspired Batmobiles. (His tank-like core design for the White Knight series is seen top right.)

Batman and allies (including Harley Quinn) tear through Gotham’s streets in a fleet of Batmobiles, including the Burton, Nolan, and Batman 1966 versions of the vehicle, in Batman: White Knight, DC Comics (2018).
Nobody likes drawing the Batmobile as much as Sean Murphy likes drawing the Batmobile.
Image: Sean Murphy/DC Comics

And then there have been Batman designs that are somehow both a tank and a spaceship, like this heavily bat-branded take from the early ‘90s:

The Batmobile drives through city streets. It’s a wide vehicle with two huge upswept rear spoilers, its hood shaped like the Batman cowl with headlights for the eyes, and THREE yellow batsymbols both doors and its rear hood. As seen in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1, DC Comics (1992). Image: Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle/DC Comics

But if you take a look at a time when Batman blockbusters weren’t permeating the comic book-creating consciousness, you get a decidedly different bat-look. Here’s Brian Bolland’s Batmobile in 1988’s The Killing Joke:

Batman pulls the Batmobile into an abandoned carnival, sending sideshow performers scattering. The car is clearly a modified mid-century roadster, with a big stylized bat-face on the front of it and a huge, scalloped vertical fin sprouting from its back. Seen in Batman: The Killing Joke, DC Comics (1988). Image: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland/DC Comics

Hey! It’s a car! An incredibly stupid-looking car — because it’s the same design as the very first Batmobile to appear in comics.

Here’s another Batmobile from 1988, but from a story set within core Batman canon:

Batman drives down the streets of Gotham. The Batmobile is a customized muscle car with twin fins, an open roof, and twin half-bubble windshields for each seat, in Batman #426, DC Comics (1988). Image: Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo/DC Comics

This Batmobile looks like a car. Specifically, it looks like a recolored version of the Batmobile from the 1960s Batman TV series — the twin bubble windshields and rear fins are unmistakable.

Movies make the Batmobile, not comics

Unlike costumes, character designs, or plotlines, it’s hard to pin a movie Batmobile to a comic that inspired it. But it’s usually pretty easy to see which film Batmobiles influenced a comic book Batmobile. And that makes sense, once you think about it.

Movie productions have to build a car that actually drives, which is an impediment to replicating a vehicle designed through pure comic book logic. (Like, say, the Batwing.) But the car also has to look like a superhero’s car when it’s on the road with normal vehicles, which pushes the design into the spaceship-or-tank spectrum.

On the comics side of things, drawing cars is hard. (Unless you’re Sean Murphy, the Spiders Georg of car-drawing.) And one of the best ways to make drawing something easier — as well as to get genuinely good at drawing it — is to look at photo references, which movies, and merchandise based on those movies, make easily available.

The Batman’s Batmobile doesn’t look like any movie Batmobile that came before it — so it looks like almost no comic book Batmobile, either. But I personally wouldn’t mind seeing it in a comic or two down the road. It shouldn’t all be tanks and spaceships out there.

And that third brake light is so responsible!