Bat Man 1939

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AndyFish
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Bat Man 1939

Post by AndyFish »

There are several of us here who are big fans of the original version of Batman, with the longer ears and the black outfit with the purple gloves (which may have actually been blue in the comic). A few years ago I was developing a project for DC Comics and I reached out to Lynne Williams to see what she thought that costume would have been made of. I'll leave it for her or Chuck to reiterate their thoughts here if they'd like.

I'm certain it was fabric because 1 - Rubber is never acceptable for a Batman cowl and 2- there are several panels of the early comics where the cowl is just hanging floppily as he's getting ready to put in on. Despite the floppy images I'd imagine there was a shell underneath, much like the serial cowl so maybe a light wool or felt material. Chuck and Lynne make an excellent repro serial cowl (I think I was the one who first commissioned it) and I'm not sure what it's made out of but it's great and very soft.

In later interviews Bob Kane said he meant the whole costume to be totally black, like Keaton's was in the 89 film, but couldn't do that because it would have printed as just a big blob on the primitive comic pages of the day. With everything Kane says you really have to take a huge grain of salt so I give little weight to his opinion.

The costume evolves from black with blue highlights to blue with black highlights in just a year, so by BATMAN COMICS #1 Spring 1940 we have the change showing through. The new blue design also changes the ears to look more like what Adam's cowl had, with flat ears attached to the side of the head until we eventually evolve into the classic Dick Sprang look which in my mind IS the Adam West Batman costume.

Anyway, feel free to conjecture if you have any interest in the concept of the thread.
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Lou Szabo
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Lou Szabo »

Andy,
I always thought that first costume was black and gray. My reasoning for black instead of blue is that any black hair person would have blue highlights in their hair. As you said, it evolved into blue and gray, with black trunks (?). I never could figure the black trunks as my eyes replaced them with blue trunks until about 5 years ago.

I can see the all black costume not working when color is brought into the process. Even Dorothy’s slippers went from Silver to Ruby red.

On one hand all black blends into the night well, so is practical in real life. See SWAT, SAS, or Ninja outfits.
However it's hard to see in film or color printing.
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AndyFish
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by AndyFish »

Black and grey all the way Lou, just don't forget the inside lining of the cape has to be either a bright blue or even a purple would work! It's all about fashion. Those early adventures when he kept the whole suit in a trunk always made me smile. Lets not forget his firearm-- it looks to be a good ol' fashioned 1911 .45 pistol which was US Military issue until about 1984 when they switched to my personal favorite the Beretta 92FS (which John McClane uses in DIE HARD BTW). If you're going to be shooting vampire/werewolves you want something with a little kick to it.
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Larry A.
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Larry A. »

Andy, a .45 Cal DOES have a bad-boy kick. I know because I worked in the armoury in Navy Boot Camp and by the time I graduated from it, my wrists were3" in diameter thicker. I got to the point where I could hold one in each hand and rapid fire them without the pistols muzzle climb being more than 1/2".
Lou, I agree with Andy, Black and Grey, all the way. I am still looking for a fabric that is black but has Blue highlights to use on my outfit. Obviously NO luck yet.

I liked the idea that Bats kept his suit in an old steamer trunk. It just seemed right to me for the period.
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Lou Szabo
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Lou Szabo »

So was that “cape” in the first issue split in two in the rear, more like tails on a tuxedo, or scalloped and one piece?

That blue/purple inner liner is interesting too. Of blue, was it really blue or just a contrast like the highlights. I do like the contrasting color, it might make him appear larger.

As far as the .45, I wonder where spare magazines were kept. I’d love to see an illustration of that utility belt like they made of the later belts.

The gloves would hide any fingerprints, and wrist length would facilitate easy removal.

I would like to see a realistic animated or live action feature of those first issues.
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Chuck Williams
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Chuck Williams »

Hey Guys,
Lynne and I were just talking about taking a look at the '39 Batcowl to expand the leather cowl family.
I'm also wanting to take a look at the classic Sprang cowl in the "what if I was going to make a Batman costume" for the show.
The 1939 Bat is black and grey to me as well. The pops of color for the gloves is historically correct but I'm not a big fan.
I like the idea of a more natural-ish leather color for the belt versus a bright yellow.
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DrewMasie
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by DrewMasie »

I think a Williams '39 leather cowl would be awesome. I was thinking about the original costume and wondered what material could be used for the cape. Leather would be too heavy, and I don't know if synthetic fabrics were available back then (nylon was developed in 1935). I always thought the serial costume was terrible with the floppy cowl and loose cape. May as well be fighting in pajamas.

Is a Williams '39 cape and bat emblem a possibility?
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Chuck Williams
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Chuck Williams »

I think so!
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Lou Szabo
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Lou Szabo »

Funny, this was running through my head today too. The utility belt - not bright yellow - it doesn't make sense to have everything dark, then a bright yellow belt.

The Bat emblem on the chest - that's pretty inconsistent panel to panel in those early books.

So no takers on what the cape was?

The boots were probably adapted from riding boots. My dad had a custom set made in Europe and they were pretty form fitting. Even the Duran Boots were/are form fitting. And what soles - Leather originally, but do you follow the '22 lead with loud, or more of a crepe sole for silence and stealth.

Jeez, this is like a letter's page. I think Chuck is probably half-way there with the cowl, having made a 39 bust already, if memory serves.

By the way, great interview with you and Lynne. Nice to hear your voices.
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SprangFan
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by SprangFan »

I think the costume definitely started off as black because (1) it's a color more associated with bats (you don't see many blue ones!), (2) Batman is obviously heavily inspired by The Shadow and Zorro, who both favored black and (3) the more black there is, the less you have to know about drawing wrinkles and drapes, which is handy if you're Bob Kane.

The blue lining of the cape doesn't make much sense "in universe" as it would work against the "stealth" objective, but in the real world it's essential for us readers to be able to differentiate the inside of the cape from the outside in various scenes, and how it's supposed to be flowing, billowing, etc.

I'm pretty sure they made the transition from black to blue so early because it quickly became obvious what a relative headache it could be inking in so much black all the time, and how limiting it was when trying to convey action. Andy, you'll already know this as an artist, but huge areas of black all next to each other require leaving lots of little line-like "negative spaces" to separate cape from cowl, figure from shadows, "ribs" in the cape, etc. It's more of a headache than just leaving big empty spaces to be filled in with color later on, and with everything that could go wrong when printing on pulp paper, there was just too much chance of it all ending up as one big muddy blob. Plus comics are a colorful medium, and by 1940 there was already a lot of competition from tons of characters in bright colors, all vying for the dimes of the same kids. Who wants to be the only guy in black and gray when everyone else looks like an explosion at the Technicolor labs?

As far as what Bruce Wayne would have made the outfit from in 1939, the body suit, like Superman's, seems to be some sort of wool material, with a "ribbed" elastic deal at the wrists and ankles. So basically it's long underwear? "Woolies"? The boots look like riding boots -- very tall -- and the cape...well, that's a tough one. At times it has real weight to it, like Dracula's cape, but for climbing, fighting and swinging around it should really be some kind of lightweight silk. In several panels it takes on a rigid "bat-wing" shape as Batman leaps or swoops, but I'm going to write this off as artistic license (even if in my opinion Kane was operating without a license).

I don't remember scenes where the 1939 cowl was "floppy" (maybe the panel where he retrieves the whole suit from a trunk?) but I know comics were all over the place on this subject as the years went by. Sprang drew a cowl that held its shape even off of Batman's head; like Adam's it must have had a shell. Neal Adams and most Bronze Age artists drew it as a floppy, all-fabric affair that folded down flat when swept back off Bruce's head. Some artists showed Bruce holding the detached cowl away from his body in one hand while the cape was still attached, while others showed the cape-plus-cowl as one continuous piece. In one story, Curt Swan even showed Clark Kent stepping on the cape of a Batman imposter to make the cape and cowl pop off his head as he walked past!

If Batman were around in *our* 1939, I would guess the cowl was fashioned from leather, like an aviator's helmet or an early football helmet, either dyed black or with black fabric stretched over it. The ears/horns might have been stuffed with densely packed cotton to hold their shape, which would have allowed for their huge size but cut down on the weight for greater comfort (if it were all leather, it'd be a bear to wear). Maybe there could have been a coil-like wire structure in the bat-ears to hold the shape better and add some strength against high winds, bumps into walls and whacks on the noggin.

I have no good explanation for why Batman's utility belt was yellow: I'd think in any era you'd have to go out of your way to make that happen. But I know he had a utility belt because it had worked for Doc Savage.
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AndyFish
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by AndyFish »

I've always assumed the belt was actually camel color leather, since it was often depicted as orange.
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SprangFan
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by SprangFan »

That would make sense as we're already following the logic of traditional comic strip coloring (where black-haired people have blue highlights, as they never do in real life...except maybe at the retirement home). Dick Tracy's raincoat is always colored yellow when it's almost certainly supposed to represent beige, like Columbo.
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AndyFish
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by AndyFish »

Wow, Dick Tracy's rain coat beige! Mind blown. Makes perfect sense too, but it violates all that's right in the world.
Speaking of Tracy, if any of you get the chance read the strips from 1940-1950 they are absolutely out of this world and so entertaining. I'm also a big fan of the four Tracy Film Noir's from RKO from 1945-1948 with Morgan Conway as Tracy (my favorite) and then Ralph Byrd who had played Tracy in the serials-- the serials take way too much leeway on the strips and they lose all the humor, albeit often a very dark humor, that Chester Gould put into his comic strip detective.

It's debatable but there likely would not be a Batman Rogue's gallery as we know it without DICK TRACY having one-- the two occurred almost simultaneously but knowing Kane's penchant for "borrowing" I can't imagine he wasn't watching Gould's strip very closely.

Back to the subject, Chuck that would be pretty wild if you were to tackle the '39 cowl, just remember the edge of the cowl's jawline follows up into the ear. But man, imagine a Chuck Robinson Cowl, a Chuck Sprang Cowl! Wow!
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SprangFan
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by SprangFan »

I'm pretty sure the Tracy/Batman connection has been confirmed as far as rogue's galleries go. Since they were in production at the same time, I always viewed it as the equivalent of the Beatles/Stones rivalry, with each trying to outdo the other. Ultimately, Batman wins for me because his villains were built for the long run, and got more chances to shine. Tracy's foes had a habit of expiring (often gruesomely so) at the end of their first go-round.

Gould's quirky art style also would have strongly appealed to Kane, who would have seen it as a handy "out" for never mastering certain basic illustrative skills. It's a cinch he could never have mimicked a Hal Foster or Alex Raymond style, but Gould's was within reach. (It's like PeeWee Herman flying over his handlebars: "I meant to do that!")

As far as that goes, the Dick Tracy connection helps explain why Batman comics looked the same for so very long, when even Superman showed some evolution and well into a period when DC was publishing fresher fare like Infantino's Flash, Gil Kane's Green Lantern or Anderson's Hawkman. Obviously Bob Kane and to some extent DC felt the Batman feature was defined by its look, as surely as Dick Tracy was. In 1964, Batman took a new direction, while Dick Tracy still looks more or less the same even in 2022. It's interesting to consider how different things might be if it went the other way.
Back to the subject, Chuck that would be pretty wild if you were to tackle the '39 cowl, just remember the edge of the cowl's jawline follows up into the ear.
This is where I think a shell would be essential. The '39 cowl comes so far up on the sides that I'd think it would make it more likely to move upwards and block your vision at critical moments, or even slide back far enough to reveal your identity. Certainly that seems to be a constant danger with Lewis Wilson's cowl in the first serial. A shell or leather "helmet" would add weight, and a chin strap would be even more helpful.

BTW, as evident in Andy's avatar, the '39 cowl creates a really cool "wedge" or "V" shape, moving down from ear tip to the point of the nose and back up to the other ear tip. It conveys a certain sleekness as well as a sense of threat. I dig it.
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Larry A.
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Re: Bat Man 1939

Post by Larry A. »

Hi Sprangfan. I've been following this thread in particular, because I'm VERY interested in the 39 Bat Man. There is a fan with the name of Bat Texan, that folks with the same interests we have in common might want to check out.

Your ideas about how a "real" 39 cowl would be done are of great interest to me. The shape of Andy's avatar DOES give a Bat like look even more so than the latter cowls.
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