One of the regular sticks used to beat Joel Schumacher’s pair of Batman films with was the decision to put nipples on the Batsuit worn by Val Kilmer in Batman Forever. It’s not the main area of contention with the films, certainly, but let’s just go with that it didn’t help.
Digging through my back catalogue of magazines, I discovered an old issue of Premiere magazine, dating back to the film’s release in May 1995. As it turns out, even before the film came out, and even before the world wide web as we know it today had risen, the nipples were an issue.
In a big interview piece to promote the film just prior to its release, Jim Carrey – who played The Riddler in the movie – recalled that “it pissed off Bob Kane.” The late Bob Kane, the co-creator (with Bill Finger) of Batman. “Bob Kane was walking around going ‘I never put nipples on a Batsuit. Whoever heard of nipples on the Batsuit?'”
We hear you, Bob.
So whose decision was it? Director Joel Schumacher’s ultimately. In the same article, he said that “Bob Kane doesn’t understand why Chris O’Donnell [Robin] has an earring and Batman has nipples. I told him ‘it’s the 90s, Bob! Pumped up!'”
Schumacher added that “I wanted a very sexy, very sensual, very body-hugging suit. It’s my Gotham City, and if I want Batman to have nipples, he’s going to have nipples!”
That quote needs a little context, as there’s a light-hearted feel to the interview. The full piece certainly doesn’t read as though Schumacher is dictating to Kane how Batman should be. He did add that “I can’t understand why nipples on a man would be such a shocking thing,” and production designer Barbara Ling noted that “the idea was to get an anatomical kind of look.”
In 2014, Schumacher talked to Variety and admits he remains surprised that the nipples remain so controversial. “Yes, I was like ‘are you kidding me?’ I think that will be on my gravestone. It’s how I’ll be remembered,” he said.
But as is often forgotten, Batman Forever was seen, at the time of its release, as the resurgence of the Batman series. It was the biggest box office hit of 1995, made more than Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and set the series up for a fast turnaround leading to 1997’s Batman & Robin. The rest, as you very well know, is history…