When you hear the name “Batman,” perhaps the first thing you think of before Gotham, The Joker or killing off Robin is the Batmobile. The one and only stock car of heroism.

Superman may be able to fly, but he’s never had a rad car like the Batmobile. Much like the average male, Batman makes up for what he lacks by having a fly ride.

And who can blame him? What better way to let criminals know that they’re about to get a legendary beat-down than to roar onto the scene with a car that roars, “I am severely maladjusted socially and looking for someone on whom to lay the smack down.”

At the very least, it lets them know that you’ve got massive funding. Odds are they’ll get the point that you’re well-equipped to counter whatever they might throw.

So let’s look at the Batmobile through the ages.

TV Batmobile

The Batmobile in the 1960s was the type of car you’d expect to see cruising the beach. Open top, rad paint job and low riding. It didn’t really look like much of a crime-fighting vehicle so much as an attention getter. And with how low it was to the ground, thank goodness there were no speed bumps back then.

But it did have the jet engine. Who knows where they got enough intake to initiate a jet process? High quality Detroit engineering, that.

1989/1992 Batmobile

This redesign was fantastic. It turned the Batmobile into a sleek gothic missile, and added a turbine so that the jet engine made sense. It looked polished, new and lethal. Though the stop-motion shield animation looked like a Beetlejuice FX-reelcast-off, the end result of the shielded Batmobile was awesome.

And it had freaking machine guns to blow apart obstacles. And apparently they were capable of really fine motor control since they could cut a perfect Batmobile-sized entryway in Axis Chemical’s dock entry doors. And did I mention the bombs? Because it could totally drop bombs, and it was remote-controlled by voice.

I remember obsessing over the Batmobile with the 1989 film. It was hands-down one of the coolest redesign elements of the whole film; I’d argue that it elevated Batman himself from cool to awesome.

As another blogger elsewhere has pointed out, though, when you go back to the car chase scene…it’s painfully slow. This Batmobile moves like a snail; it makes sense because of the armor, but you’d think a jet engine would have helped it move a bit quicker than that. Still, they took a good concept and made it great.

There were some minor tweaks to the design (and shielding animation) for Batman Returns, which were good. They also managed to make it move quicker. I’m not sure if they figured out how to lighten the frame, or if it’s just because they had a long section of straightaway to let it get up to speed in that scene. Either way, it was just a bit better.

1995/1997 Batmobile

Funky neon explosion. 1950s retro as imagined by a hyperactive.

Fitting, for the way the character functions in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

The strange thing is, I want to like the design. It’s fresh, it’s original, and it’s bold. Unfortunately, it takes that initiative into a direction that makes the Batmobile less a symbol of justice and more a symbol of pimping. Which, from what I understand, isn’t easy. But it certainly doesn’t inspire fear. Except possibly in the hearts of prostitutes.

In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

2005/2008 Batmobile: “The Tumbler”

Obviously inspired by the tank-like creation for Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, the Tumbler (they never call it Batmobile in the film, which is in line with the move away from corniness under Nolan’s watch). We all know it’s the Batmobile, so we don’t need to call it the Batmobile.

And what a Batmobile it is. This is a Batmobile that says, “I’m not f***ing around.” If Batman needs to drive through a wall to kick your ass, he will. He’s the only one who can get into or out of the Batcave because he’s the only one with the equipment to do it.

To be honest, I was in love with it for those reasons. While it met its end in The Dark Knight, spawning the equally awesome “Batpod,” it was fun while it lasted. I believed in this Batmobile, that it would get the job done and repel everything short of nukes. If you’re going to make a habit of going into harm’s way, why not be as armored as possible?

And it’s a far cry from the television show with its airy, surfer styling. This Batmobile shows that Batman regards the world as a place fraught with brutal, forceful danger and he’s going to stack the odds however he can.

Side note about the Batpod. I think there’s a theme through the film that Batman gets stripped down to his core, the basic truth of himself, and as a result like Luke losing R2, he loses his biggest piece of technology at a crucial moment and still comes out victorious. I think there’s something to that.

Conclusion

Of course, the gas mileage on all of these is probably terrible. Greenpeace really should protest the Batmobile and the message of oil consumption it promotes. For that matter, PeTA should put out messaging that bats have just as many rights as people and encourage Batman to be a spokesman for their rights.

In fact, maybe that should be the next reboot! Batman as an animal rights activist, who uses only green technology to fight for the rights of animals marginalized by industrialization. That would make a ton of money, and you could show it in school to get extra funding from the Department of Education!

DC Comics and Warner Bros. can send me a check now for that awesome idea.

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