Friday, December 9, 2011

The Bat Symbol Throughout the Ages: A Visual History.

Some time ago I read this post about the ways that the Bat-signal has changed over time. It's an interesting meditation on the uses of said signal over the decades, and now in a time when its function could easily be replaced by the Bat-beeper or the b-Phone. In particular, I'm like the portions of the above article that discuss the way that the bat-signal of years past has functioned as an almost physical object symbolising Batman's dominance whereever it's projected. You see, I've been playing Arkham Asylum off and on since I got it in October. This may spoil part of the game for some people, but it came out in 2009, so yeah, spoilers away. Early on, Batman is exposed to Scarecrow's fear gas and experiences vivid hallucinations. This culminates in a platforming section, where the player is stalked by a gigantic manifestation of the Scarecrow whose gaze will kill you if he sees you. How this is relevant is that after reaching the top of a tower of ruins Batman defeats giant Scarecrow, for the moment. How? By shining Bat-signal onto Scarecrow that blasts him like a big freakin' laser beam.


In the spirit of that article I linked to before the nightmares started, though with less analysis and sophistication, I present: The Bat Symbol

Join me, won't you, as we journey into the heart of Batman iconography.

The Bat Logo at its birth.
At Batman's point of origin, the Bat symbol is a small black design that conveys a simple message. This guy identifies with bats. Batman was a big hit and within a decade of his creation, his story escaped the confines of the second dimension and joined us in the third.

This one has a bit more detail. A little too much if you ask me. There were two Batman film serials produced in the forties. Ironic screenings of these films at the Playboy Club in the sixties would inspire the Batman series starring Adam West, and its general attitude towards the subject matter. Batman's series continued on to the fifties. Superhero comics suffered a sharp decline in popularity when World war Two ended and only the most popular survived. Batman was among them, but as with his stablemates Superman and Wonder Woman many things were tried to inject some novelty into the series.

In 1964 Julius Schwartz attempted to inject new life into Batman by veering away from the novelty and science-fictional stories that dominated Batman in the fifties. Batman and Robin went back to their detective roots, solving mysteries and fighting crooks. Along with this new direction came a new look for the bat symbol.

A yellow ellipse meant, as I understand, to give the symbol a more modern design. Of course, this back to basics approach only lasted until a certain  Bat-channel decided it was Bat-time for Batman to receive a shot at the big time.

This is the image of Batman and his attendant icons that would dominate the popular imagination at least until the mid to late eighties.

After the television series ended, Batman sped back to his dark, mysterious roots. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams led the way, and by 1979 Batman had a flavor fairly similar to what readers and viewers today expect. In 1986 The Dark Knight Returns would teach everyone that comics weren't just for kids anymore, but, for the most part, the image of Batman in popular consciousness wouldn't really change until 1989.

I remember Batmania. It's probably the earliest Batman related thing that I consciously remember. Scratch that, I remember a Batman coloring book that featured Two-Face, Catwoman, the Joker, and maybe the Riddler, though I'm not sure about that last one. Then came the classic Animated Series.

I love the Animated Series and all, but I thought I'd take the oppurtunity presented by this caption to express my annoyance with the art shift after the show channel jumped to the WB, which this picture is an example of.
Notice what's gone missing? Where'd the little yellow circle go? I haven't read or heard what anyone else on Earth has to say on the matter, so this is pure speculation, but I think it has to do with Alex Ross's design for the character in his painted comics.

Alex Ross's streamlined designs of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Bats here have influenced most depictions of those characters since the late nineties/early aughts. For Batman, apparently, streamlining meant going back to the Golden Age style circle-less Bat-symbol.

Which brings us up to about this moment in time.

I know they're going for some sort of gritty utilitarian realism with the Nolan-Bats Bats-suit, but I'm just not feeling it. The Symbol is almost subsumed by the costume. If I was a crook who got in a fight with this Batman, the symbol probably wouldn't even read to me as a symbol. It would just look like another odd flap on his body armor. This is a problem. Batman's logo is there on his chest to be seen. Why else put it there when the whole ensemble already screams BAT? It announces, "I am Batman, run for your wretched lives."

Anyway, as popular as the Nolan movies are, I think they've already been outdone in the arena of popular consciousness.

There's a Bat-symbol you can see clear as an unnatural shadow passing in front of a full moon. I'm not happy with every aspect of the game, and I did more or less like 'The Dark Knight', but if I had to chose between this and the collective bat-reboot movies for the popular idea of the Bat-franchise, it's this game by a country mile. (Though i'm less than thrilled by the trailers I've seen for the next installment of both.)

Next: the Unstoppable

1 comment:

  1. I thnk Batman should wear the gold circle at home, and plain gray when he's on the road