The release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the closing chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, has put all things “Bat” into the forefront again. Not the least of which is the iconic car driven by the caped vigilante himself. Here is a brief history of the various incarnations of the Batmobile, as it appeared on the screen.
Batman debuted in 1941, in Detective Comics number 48. In its original incarnation, Batman drove a bulky red sedan, devoid of any logo save for a gold bat hood ornament. What it did have was a super-charged engine and a reinforced nose, perfect for smashing through walls. It evolved pretty quickly from there, becoming more and more stylized and iconic in the hands of various artists.
However, Batman’s wheels did not fare much better its first time around on the silver screen. In the 1943 movie serial, titled simply “Batman,” the caped crusader (Lewis Wilson) drove a black Cadillac rag-top. Incidentally, it was also the car driven by his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne — which is probably not the best way to keep a secret identity secret.
Iconic, old chum
The Batmobile became a sporty twin-seated open-top roadster in 1964 comic books. It is this look that was emulated for the Batmobile in the 1966-1968 campy television series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. It was built by movie car legend George Barris, who also built cars for “The Munsters,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Knightrider,” “The Dukes of Hazzard” and many others.
Barris’ iconic Batmobile was based on a 1955 Lincoln Futura, an abandoned concept vehicle. It has come to be what most people think of when they hear the term “Batmobile.” The same vehicle was also used in the 1968 film based on the television series.
Tim’s wonderful toys
The Batmobile did not return to the screen until 1989, when it was redesigned for Tim Burton’s Robin-less “Batman,” starring Michael Keaton. It was built it on a Chevy Corvette chassis by the late Oscar-winning production designer Anton Furst, who was also the production designer on “Full Metal Jacket.”
The same vehicle would also come to be used in Burton’s follow-up film, “Batman Returns.” Unlike any previous versions, it was much more of a four-wheeled tank, heavily armored and stylishly extravagant. It had massive bat-scalloped side fins, a front jet turbine intake and rear afterburners. Its on board arsenal included twin M1919 Browning machine guns, cannonball-like bombs and a grappling hook launcher.
As an interesting side note, comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham owns and drives one of the screen-use Batmobiles from “Batman Returns.”
In part two of this piece we will see how the Batmobile changes under a couple of new directors, and under one serious reboot.