With the hype building for Michael Keaton’s return as Batman for The Flash and Batgirl, it’s hard to believe that fans were once outraged at the actor’s casting in the late ’80s. To fans who hated the campy 1960s Batman series, it seemed like an insult to cast a relatively diminutive and wiry comedian best known for manic roles in Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom as the Dark Knight.
Ultimately, many factors contributed to the fans’ change of mind, but none as powerfully as the simple sight of Keaton wearing the Bat-suit for the first time, transforming the energetic oddball into a skulking figure of the night.
That costume continued to evolve when Keaton returned to the role for 1992’s Batman Returns, and especially when Val Kilmer and George Clooney followed in the Joel Schumacher-directed sequels Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. And the suit is evolving again now that Keaton is back to journey through the DC multiverse with Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen.
Thanks to recent leaks, we got our first glimpse of the costume Keaton will wear as an older Batman, now in his 60s, for his upcoming DCEU movies. While there are similarities between this suit and its previous iterations, the new costume clearly indicates a Batman who has been changed by decades of crime-fighting.
For most viewers, the most notable difference is the logo. Taking inspiration from the suit Batman wore on TV and in comics, director Tim Burton and costume designer Bob Ringwood added several Gothic points to the Bat symbol. For Batman Returns, Burton and Ringwood removed the extra points but kept the rounded look of the logo. In the upcoming films, Keaton’s Batman will be wearing a logo similar to his Returns look, albeit more in an oval shape, much closer to the version seen in the Sam Hamm and Joe Quinones comic series Batman ‘89.
At first glance, the new suit also follows Returns in its stylized musculature. In his first outing, Keaton wore a suit that appeared to be spandex over his chest and abs, later revealed in the film to be a bulletproof chest plate. But Returns toned down the detail of the muscles a bit to make the suit look more like battle armor than rubber abs and pecs. While Schumacher went back to a more realistic, anatomical design for his movies, later installments largely eschewed the emphasis on muscles for a more tactical look, especially Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and this year’s The Batman.
Keaton’s new costume splits the difference between the two Burton suits. Although the outline is certainly inspired by the sculpted look of Batman ’89, the additional line work indicates armor like in Returns, and not real muscles. The black belt, replacing the yellow utility belt worn by Keaton in previous films, completes the tactical turn for his Batman. Less emphasis on color, apart from the yellow oval, could also hint at a Bruce who’s not as interested in the theatrical or aesthetics as he is sticking to the shadows. The yellow of the oval has historically also served a tactical purpose: the bright symbol is designed to draw the eye of gun-wielding attackers, who are then more prone to aim at Batman’s armored chest than his head. At 60, this Bruce probably can’t afford that many more blows to the head.
The more prominent and detailed gauntlets are definitely taking a page from the modern ones worn by Christian Bale and Robert Pattinson. In fact, the spikes almost look like the projectiles Bale used to get out of a bind in The Dark Knight. Whether this is the case or not, there’s no doubt Keaton’s Bruce has used the last few decades to develop a few more tricks up his sleeve, including a way to weaponize his gauntlets beyond punching. But in terms of appearance, these gauntlets seem to be most heavily inspired by the beefier ones drawn by Bat-artist Greg Capullo in the comics.
Then there’s the way the new cape and cowl sit over Keaton’s shoulders. In his first two films, the cape and cowl naturally sat over part of his chest, with the more Gothic detail of the ’89 and Returns cowls wrapping themselves around the top of the yellow oval. And while in Batman Returns Bruce took off his mask by ripping it off the rest of the cowl, it kind of looks like the new mask is sectioned off at the neck so that Keaton can take it off like a helmet.
The mask itself has been tweaked a bit too. While we can’t see the whole cowl (or how long the ears are) in the images above, previously leaked set photos reveal its slightly rounder, more helmet-like shape. The shape is a bit more defined, not unlike the one he wore in Returns, but the details of the mask and straighter brow are more akin to the ’89 version. The Returns mask was sculpted in a way that made Batman look like he was always pissed off, but WB has softened the mask’s demeanor a little, perhaps to better complement the presumably more lighthearted tone of The Flash. It also better resembles the way Quinones is drawing the cowl in Batman ’89.
You can’t see it in the leaked pictures, but set photos have also confirmed that the new suit will retain the Air Jordan sneaker design for the boot, a welcome detail that is sure to please fans of ’90s Batman trivia.
While some of these updates can certainly be seen as concessions to modern sensibilities, they are very much in line with comic book representations of an older Batman. In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman begins in a variation of his blue and grey duds but has donned full armor by the end of the story. In Kingdom Come, a broken Batman must rely on robotic sentries until he puts on armor to join in the final battle. While Keaton’s Batman will likely be spryer than these comic book antecedents, the new costume suggests that this Bruce Wayne’s life has only grown more complex in the 30 years since we last saw him.
The Flash hits theaters on June 23, 2023.