The History of the Batman Symbol Over the Years
This article was originally published May 31, 2018.
While the shared cinematic superhero universe is only 16 or so years old, many of the characters we see on-screen have a history that dates back decades. Enter Batman, one of DC’s oldest superheroes, whose origins can be traced all the way to his first iteration in the 1939 issue of Detective Comics. The Dark Knight has since become one of the most iconic heroes of all time, going through a series of reboots, reworks, and updates throughout the years.
As Bruce Wayne’s many costumes and looks have evolved, so too have Batman’s many logos. Here’s the full history of every single Batman symbol.
1939 — Detective Comics #27
This logo has the distinction of being Batman’s first symbol, marking his first ever appearance in Detective Comics #27. Interestingly enough, the number of points on the wings would change panel-to-panel, with continuity across single issues being a lower priority back in 1939.
The updated 1939 logo
It didn’t take long for the logo to get an update, this time adding ears and becoming more consistently drawn in the comics. And while it would sometimes get drawn with only five points, seven became the standard for years before another update in 1941 scaled it back to six (more on that soon).
1940 — Batman #1
A year after his first appearance in Detective Comics, Batman was given his own series, spawning a brand new logo. This time around, it came with a more detailed head, points on the top of the wings, and splashes of blue lines outlining the inside portion of the wings that were often drowned out in the printing process.
1941 — A third update in as many years
The Batman symbol went through a series of transformations throughout its early years, with DC’s artists constantly altering and tweaking many of its most basic design elements. In 1941, it got a rework that greatly reduced the logo’s width, producing sharper points for the wings both on the the top and bottom.
1943 — Batman’s on-screen debut
Just four years after his first appearance in the comics, Batman made the conversion to serials, starring Lewis Wilson as the titular hero. The resulting logo was a slight tweak to the 1940 iteration, featuring outlines, and seven points below the wings. This wouldn’t get an on-screen update for six years, when the second Batman serial debuted in 1949.
1944 — The wings begin to widen once again
While Batman was gaining popularity in the Lewis Wilson-led serial, he was also still going strong in the comics, featuring a widened logo in 1944 that echoed the origins of the suit we saw in 1940. The points below the wings had a tendency to waver between five and nine, depending on when the comic issue was released.
1946 — The first step toward the modern logo
Of all the early Batman logos, the one unveiled in 1946 was the one that closest resembled the symbol that became most known in the mid-’60s. Here we have a more standard shape featuring five points below the wings, with a width somewhere in between the 1941 and 1944 versions.
1949 — The second Batman serial
The growing buzz for Batman escalated into a second serial series, this time starring Robert Lowery. Titled Batman & Robin, the logo featured rounded ears for the first time ever, as part of a logo worn slightly lower on the chest than past editions.
1950 — The logo takes a step backward
Meanwhile in the comics, the logo took an odd step in a decidedly rounder direction, stepping away from the superior 1946 version. The rounded wings of the early-’40s iterations made their way back into the design, with five-point wings and more square footage.
1956 — A return to form
Six years later, we saw the logo once again abandon the rounded wings, taking down the square footage of the symbol and opting for a sharper look overall. While there would be a handful of updates in the years that followed, this one still frequently appeared for the better part of a decade.
1958 — A thinner logo takes shape
Two years later, the design took an odd left turn, thinning out the Batman symbol considerably for the first time, and slightly raising the height of the head. This one wouldn’t last long, though, soon reverting back just two years later.
1960 — An old favorite returns
Very much a compromise between the 1956 and 1958 logos, the 1960 iteration went back to the bulkier aesthetic, while keeping the raised ears. Beyond that small change though, it’s almost indiscernible from its 1956 predecessor.
1964 — The yellow background first appears
Theories abound as to why the yellow background was added to the Batman logo, but according to the editor, the only goal was to clearly distinguish the 1964 version of Batman from the Silver Age era of the hero. Whatever the reason, the yellow would make appearances in both the comics and on-screen all the way up to ’90s.
1966 — The most iconic Batman logo is born
In 1966, the most recognizable and iconic version of the Batman logo finally appeared, spreading the wings out on the yellow background, and rounding the edges to perfectly fit the oval. This one persisted for all of 30 years before the next comic book update, marking the longest run for any single logo in the Batman saga.
1966 — Adam West’s Batman
Batman’s history on-screen may date all the way back to 1943, but it’s the Adam West-led 1966 series where the Dark Knight really took hold outside the comics. For his logo, we got a smaller yellow oval with a shorter head and wings that aren’t quite in line with the background.
1986 — Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
A full three decades later, Batman’s iconic yellow background was finally ditched in The Dark Knight Returns comic, featuring an older version of Bruce Wayne. In the 1986 comic penned by the legendary Frank Miller, the logo expanded out to fill the whole chest, for a design aesthetic we never before had seen in any Batman comic or serial.
1987 — Batman: Year One
A year later, Frank Miller returned to DC to write Year One, a series that took us through Batman’s younger days. This spawned another new logo for our hero, thinning out the one we saw in The Dark Knight Returns, sharpening the middle, and giving it a generally more sleek look.
1989 — Michael Keaton brings back the yellow oval
Kicking off the long saga of Batman movies from Warner, Michael Keaton starred as the titular hero, donning a slightly altered version of the iconic yellow oval logo. The version we see here, though, didn’t match the one worn on the chest of Keaton in the film, with his more closely resembling the classic 1966 iteration.
1992 — Batman Returns
Michael Keaton’s second turn as Batman saw a design more consistent with the one advertised in posters, with a lighter shade of yellow in line with the iconic 1966 logo. This would also mark the final appearance of the yellow oval in the Batman movie saga.
1993 — Batman: The Animated Series
While the yellow oval would disappear from live-action Batman movies forever, it soldiered on in Bruce Timm’s popular animated series, beginning with Mask of the Phantasm. This version of the hero, voiced by Kevin Conroy, would go on to be the gold standard for all Batman cartoons for years to come.
1995 — Batman Forever
Batman Forever saw the torch passed to a newer, more modern Batman aesthetic, with Val Kilmer shedding the yellow oval in favor of a sleek, charcoal design. This in turn inspired similar armor-esque designs all the way up to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
1997 — Joel Schumacher’s infamous nipple suit
This particular Batsuit is by far the most dubious, with Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher making the peculiar choice to include nipples. George Clooney himself has since apologized for “ruining Batman,” in a film that even he admits was a mistake.
1997 — A second Batman & Robin suit
The climax of Batman & Robin mercifully saw a costume change that ditched the nipple suit, albeit for less-than-noble reasons. The second suit worn by Clooney was designed specifically to look more toy-like, and was shoehorned into the film for the express purpose of selling more merchandise.
2000 — The final resting place of the yellow oval
While the yellow oval left the movie saga back in the mid-’90s, it persisted in the comics all the way up to 2000. It was finally left behind after a 36-year reign, forever putting the most iconic Batman logo to rest at the turn of the century.
2005 — Christopher Nolan enters the fray
Since its inception, the live-action Batman movie saga was cheesy, light on story, and lacked anything that resembled production values. That all changed with Christopher Nolan though, with Batman Begins giving us a new kind of Dark Knight. This one dressed our hero in a full-on suit of armor, in a pitch black shade that made him a truly terrifying foe for Gotham’s criminal element.
2008 — The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises
The next two films in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy saw some slight tweaks to the design, shrinking down the logo considerably, while straightening out the upper edges of the wings to align with the top of the suit.
2016 — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman v Superman may have caught a lot of flack for its story elements, but it was intriguing to see the Batsuit’s logo revert to the one we saw in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns comics. It hearkens back to a weathered, jaded version of the hero that’s well past his Year One prime, setting him up nicely for the rest of DC’s expanded movie-verse.
Logo images come courtesy of HalloweenCostumes.com
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