“The victory is in the preparation.” That’s the one very simple rule that has made Batman one of the most effective crime-fighters in the history of comic books. It’s the guideline that drove him to spend his youth training in the martial arts, criminology, crossword puzzles, and everything else that he uses to bring justice to a city that’s constantly plagued by murder clowns and angry snowmen, but it’s also what led him to create an almost endless arsenal of ridiculously specific equipment.
Seriously, say what you will about the inherent goofiness of keeping a can of shark-repellant spray in your personal helicopter, but if you run up against a problem where your helicopter is being attacked by a shark, you’re going to be glad you have it. So today, we’re paying tribute to the Caped Crusader’s enduring philosophy with a look at some of Batman’s very specific gadgets.
It says a lot about Batman that having little metal versions of his own logo that he throws at people to knock them out isn’t even close to being the weirdest thing about his gadgets. No, if you really want to see the weirdness of the Batarangs, you have to get the specific ones, and there aren’t much weirder than Batarang X.
Originally appearing in “The 100 Batarangs of Batman” from Detective Comics #244, it was the brainchild of Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff. As the title implies, there were plenty of other highly specialized boomerangs in that story, too, but Batarang X was touted as a weapon so dangerous that it was kept in a locked (albeit clearly labeled) vault in the Batcave. When criminals start using Batrangs of their own, however, they’re forced to unleash the pure destructive power of… a very… large… Batarang.
Okay, so it doesn’t seem that weird, but the fact that Batman uses it as a stealthy mode of transportation, as though a twelve-foot bright red boomerang shaped like a bat would be less noticeable than literally anything else? Even for him, that’s pretty strange.
THE NTH METAL BATARANG
It’s always worth mentioning that while they’re usually thought of as being a product of the Silver Age, there are a few specialized Batarangs that managed to slip into more modern comics, too. In 2014’s Batman Eternal #6, for example, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes and Trevor McCarthy showed Batman taking out the Gentleman Ghost with a Nth Metal Batarang.
Two things: First, Batman got access to the mystical space metal that gives Hawkman the power of flight and used it exclusively to make something that he could throw at people he doesn’t like. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Batman lives in a world where he has to fight ghosts so often that he just carries around a special anti-ghost boomerang in his belt all the time. Remember that next time someone tries to tell you he’s a gritty, street-level vigilante.
THE MIRROR COWL
The one thing you really have to give to Batman is that he comes up with some pretty unique solutions to his problems. Then again, I suppose that’s to be expected when your starting point is a guy who decided to end all crime by dressing up as a bat and driving around in a rocket car. That’s some pretty far out-of-the-box thinking.
When he ran up against a criminal called the Mirror Man in Finger and Moldoff’s Detective Comics #213, however, he had to deal with the problem of a villain who could use an “X-Ray mirror” to see through his mask and discover his secret identity. And even worse, one who could hook that mirror up to a camera and broadcast it to the world. The solution: a specialized “mirror cowl” beneath his regular mask that would distort his features, preserving his identity.
In other words, Batman lined how cowl with shards of glass right before getting into a fistfight, which has got to be the second most buck wild thing about this story. The first? The fact that he even put mirror shards on his bat-ears, just in case.
THE TRUTH CHAMBER
While we’re on the subject of mirrors, no list of specific gadgetry would be complete without a look at the infamous Truth Chamber. Admittedly, it’s less of a “gadget” and more of an architectural feature, but definitely, serves the same sort of purpose.
Making its first appearance in Detective Comics #134’s “The Umbrellas of Crime,” by Bill Finger and Jim Mooney, it’s basically just an interrogation chamber with a truly bizarre twist. After being captured, a criminal would be brought to a hall of mirrors in the depths of the Batcave, lit by creepy lights and rigged up to a PA so that Batman’s booming, stentorian voice can terrorize criminals into confessing their crimes. It’s surprisingly effective, too, considering that most people are not instantly terrorized by the sight of their own reflection, even if you throw a couple of colored lights in there for good measure.
The Truth Chamber didn’t make a lot of appearances, probably because Batman having a psychedelic torture chamber in his basement is a little too weird even by the standards of a guy who keeps a robot dinosaur and a giant penny down there. In 2010, however, Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham brought it back for an encore performance in Batman and Robin #16. In a run full of deep cuts, that one might’ve been the deepest.
When I say that Morrison went for some deep cuts, I wasn’t kidding. The entirety of his run on Batman was filled with references to what, up to that point, had been a pretty obscure Silver Age story about Batman being transported to the distant world of Zur-En-Arrh, where a man named Tlano fought crime in a multi-colored costume as the Batman of Planet X. In that story, he had a device called the Bat-Radia that could “manipulate atmospheric molecules” to do… well, whatever the story required, really.
When Morrison and Tony Daniel brought those ideas back in 2008’s Batman R.I.P., they came in a very different form. The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh was Bruce Wayne using a backup personality that Batman created in case anyone ever brainwashed him — rebooting his own brain into “Safe Mode,” if you will — and the Bat-Radia was a pocket-sized transistor radio rewired to activate a set of secret security measures in Arkham Asylum.
THE INTEGRO-DIFFERENTIAL ROBOT ANALYZER
If we were being honest with each other, this entire list of way-too-specific Bat-tchotchkes could be lifted from the 1966 Batman television show. It was, after all, one of the hallmarks of the series, with all the increasingly bizarre crime-fighting paraphernalia clearly labeled for convenience.
That said, I tried to limit myself to only one, and the one that always sticks out, even in a world of Giant Lighted Lucite Maps of Gotham City and Bat-Reference Desks, is the Integro-Differential Robot Analyzer. It shows up in Season 2’s “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / “The Joker’s Epitaph,” a truly weird story that involves a miniature fake Batcave and the Joker building a handful of incredibly lifelike robots in prison. The Robot Analyzer is, of course, meant to analyze robots, and again, this is apparently enough of a problem that Batman has to have an entire dedicated machine to deal with it.
THE RAINBOW BAT-SUITS
Back in the Silver Age, there were a few prevailing rules for how to make a cover at DC. The first rule, of course, was to put a gorilla on it, but when you couldn’t do that, the idea was often that you’d ask an eye-grabbing question that the readers just had to find out the answer to. Case in point: Detective Comics #241, in which Batman insisted to Robin and the readers that he must — must! — wear a different costume every night, one in every color in the rainbow.
The answer was surprisingly underwhelming: it was all a distraction. While the citizens (and criminals) of Gotham City busied themselves trying to figure out why Batman was going in a new sartorial direction, they failed to notice that Robin was suffering from the same injury that Dick Grayson got in a very public incident, thus preserving their secret identities. Because that’s what reasonable people do, right? They keep special clothes around so that no one will notice the injuries being suffered by the children they take on their nightly crime-fighting missions.
THE BAT-ROBIN COSTUME
In Detective Comics #165, Edmond Hamilton and Dick Sprang’s “The Strange Costumes of Batman introduced a handful of… well, you can probably guess. There was one made of thin, highly flammable cellophane that Batman could fold to a tiny size and destroy instantly with a match that was used when the Caped Crusader went undercover in prison, and that was also pretty impractical for literally anything else. A costume that leaves you naked if you wander too close to a candle isn’t a great asset for most crime-fighting situations.
Like the Batarang X story, however, this tale was built around another suit that they hoped they’d never have to use, and that, of course, they end up using about seven pages later. In this case, it’s a Batman costume with what’s very clearly the outline of a bird with a big red dot on his chest, and it doesn’t take the World’s Greatest Detective to figure out why.
Sure enough, it’s the opposite of the rainbow costumes: a suit for Robin to wear (complete with foam-rubber muscles to make him look like an adult) to keep people from realizing that Batman is out of commission due to injury.
THE SCUBA SUIT
When I was a kid, one of the most difficult things in the world was finding a Batman action figure that actually looked like Batman. Usually, there’d be one in every toy line that had the right colors (I have fond memories of Combat Belt Batman, whose only off-model accessory was an oversized removable utility belt), and the rest would be, in, like, Arctic Camo or Neon Green with Grappling Hook Action. They were the ones you settled for when you couldn’t find the one you really wanted, but they never looked like the character.
Larry Hama and Scott McDaniel’s “Orca,” from Batman #579 – 581, feels like a story that was meant to justify that action figure. The real development here is, of course, the introduction of Orca, the whale-woman who managed to defy all the odds by making it to the big screen in The Lego Batman Movie. Bbut it also features the debut of a SCUBA-themed costume that Batman has just in case he ever has to slug it out with a villain who’s half-whale, half-scientist, all villain.
It’s not his best look, and here’s the kicker: they never even made that thing into an actual action figure. Missed opportunity for a two-pack, if you ask me.
HEAD-MOUNTED KNOCKOUT GAS VENTS
Batman’s tendency to prepare for every conceivable outcome means that he’s always prepared for the worst, usually in the weirdest possible way. For most people, being attacked by ruffians after crashing a rocket car — like Batman does at the start of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush — would leave them in a pretty vulnerable state. For Batman, it’s just another occasion to show the extent to which he’s booby-trapped his own body.
Not only does his suit let out a high-voltage electrical charge, his cowl features tiny vents that shoot knockout gas at his assailants. It’s pretty effective as such things go, but it does raise a lot of questions about whether someone should be emitting knockout gas from their face — you know, the part of your body that you use to breathe? But really, who are we to question Batman?
If head-gas vents and taser-clothes set the standard, Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.’s All-Star Batman takes Batman’s booby-trapped costume up to eleven. Maybe twelve. Heck, now that I’m thinking about it, it might just take it up to sixteen.
Over the course of a story that finds Batman dragging Two-Face five hundred miles outside Gotham City in the world’s most brutal road trip. Batman uses “Bat-Knuckles” that pop out of his gauntlets like Wolverine’s claws, an emblem that shoots off of his chest to knock out assailants while his arms are tied, and speakers in his costume that can convert his sidekick’s playlist into a devastating sonic attack. The best by far, though, are Batman’s ear-knives.
They’re exactly what they sound like: a pair of knives hidden in his cowl that uses his big pointy bat-ears as their handle. What truly makes them great, though is the fact that when he’s using them, Batman pretends he can no longer hear. That’s commitment to a bit that we can all admire.
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