In my previous post detailing the first year of Batman’s life in the comics, I mentioned a lot of aspects of the character that not only defined him, but made him an extremely popular superhero in the early Golden Age of comic books. As time went by in Batman’s life, it became clear that his great gadgets defined him as much as his skills as a crimefighter, and none more than his cool car, the Batmobile.
When thinking of the Batmobile, most fans of Batman think of the cars from the movies or the very distinctive Batmobile from the 1960’s TV series (I had a toy Batmobile from this era that towed a Batboat on a trailer – one of my favorite childhood toys!) But what was the origin of this famous set of Bat-wheels?
Batman first used a “specially built high-powered auto” way back in the pages of Detective Comics #30 (August 1939). This was not the Batmobile that fans of the Golden Age came to know and love, and was just a souped-up red sedan. We didn’t learn much about this car other than it was fast! It did not bear any distinctive design or embelm to let the public know it was Batman’s ride. That was probably a good thing, as on occasion Batman would use this car to trail crooks.
In Detective Comics #33 (November 1939) we learned Batman’s origin for the first time, but Batman was still driving the “high powered” red sedan. In Detective Comics #37, Batman has a new look for his car, a black convertible. This car has no bat-emblem or insignia, and we are told that Batman is out for a drive in this car on a lonely road and has to stop for directions because he is lost (He was still working on those detective skills!)
In the pages of Detective Comics #38 (April 1940), where we also got to meet Robin the Boy Wonder for the first time, Batman has switched back to his trusty red sedan. In this story, the young Dick Grayson (prior to taking the oath to become Robin) is driven from the scene of his parents’ murder in this familiar vehicle of the Batman. There’s no explanation about the apparent change of cars from the previous issue.
In Detective Comics #40 (June 1940), Batman again trades the red sedan for the black convertible (Robin probably thought it wasn’t cool to ride around in a sedan). This auto is called “Batman’s car” in this story, but once again it does not bear any insignia or emblem to identify it as the vehicle of the caped crusaders.
Finally, in Detective Comics #48 (February 1941), Batman and Robin travel down a flight of stairs into a secret tunnel under the Wayne home into a “seemingly deserted old barn”. Here, we find our heroes climbing into a vehicle, and “There is the quiet purr of a supercharged motor – and the Batmobile streaks out in to the night!” For the first time, we learn the name of Batman’s crime fighting vehicle, the Batmobile! Strangely, this car is a hybrid of the two previous Batmobiles. Like the original sedan, it is red in color, but it is also a convertible like the black car from a few issues earlier. This new car is also unique in that it sports a small gold bat-shaped hood ornament to identify this as Batman’s car.
A few months later, things finally settled down in that Bat-motor pool and a Batmobile was introduced that would remain relatively unchanged for the rest of the decade. In Batman #5 (Spring 1941) we are shown the familiar black sedan with the tail fin and the bat head featured prominently on the front of the car.
This famous incarnation of the Batmobile was featured on the cover of Batman #20 (December 1943 – January 1944) and Batman #47 (June-July 1948) and was a mainstay for our heroes for many years.
All good things must come to and end, and the familiar 1940’s Batmobile was finally retired in a fiery crash off of a bridge in which Batman was seriously injured. This gave DC Comics the opportunity to introduce “The Batmobile of 1950”, the cover story of Detective Comics #156 (February 1950).
In this story, the great Dick Sprang renders a new and modern version of the Batmobile (well, modern for 1950) complete with a mobile crime lab, radar and built in television. Not only was this car the ultimate gadget, it was also super fast, being powered by jet engines. While the car was a sedan, the passenger compartment was enclosed by a glass bubble. This car was the mainstay for Batman and Robin throughout the 1950’s, and was not replaced until the New Look Batman stories began in 1964.
While the Batmobile was one of many gadgets used by Batman to fight crime in the Golden Age of comic books, it was certainly one of the most important, and continues to play a key role of in the development of the character today. I wish I had a cool set of wheels like that!