Last month, Batman returned to theaters in Matt Reeves’ new film The Batman. His take on the character is a new version of the character, one unconnected to all of the various other versions that we’ve seen over the years from the likes of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, Joel Schumacher, and Tim Burton, and with it, an entirely new costume for the caped crusader.
Batman is what I’d call a perennial cosplay: the character’s been around for more than eight decades in comics, games, movies, and television, and all along that time, costumers have dressed up as him for everything from Halloween to conventions.
Over those eighty-three years, we’ve seen innumerable variations on his outfit, and cosplayers have tackled many of them. So what makes a Batman costume Batman?
“Batman is iconic,” Batman cosplayer Dom Charland explained to me. “He’s one of those superheroes that EVERYONE knows, and so many people grew up with.” Charland came to my attention last month with a series of pictures that he’d taken on a New York City rooftop, perfectly capturing the look and feel of the character looking over Gotham.
Charland explained that he decided to first get into Batman cosplay with a realistic version of the character from Batman: The Animated Series, and ended up acquiring a costume from The Nashville Knight and Napier’s to come up with a bodysuit that captured the animated look in a realistic costume, and picked up his cowl from fan-studio Tigerstone FX.
“I find that Batman and Spiderman are the most popular by FAR with kids and crowds,” Charland explained, “something about being a hero that could be anyone. You’re not a guy wearing a Batsuit, you’re Batman. The second you tie that cape and swirl around, it’s an instant impact.”
Vermont-based cosplayer Luke Hungerford echoed that idea, explaining that the character’s seen so many versions, he can appeal to just about everyone. “I think the main appeal comes from the history of the character,” he said. “There are so many iterations of Batman that anyone can relate to; kids who grew up watching the animated series might grow up to replicate that suit, people who love Christopher Nolan’s trilogy can build a super armored "realistic" bat suit. There are so many different directions you can take the character, and that makes him incredibly accessible to anyone in the community no matter their experience level.”
Batman cosplayer Al Vasquez noted that Batman is a multigenerational character, and that the appeal for him lies in his heroics. “I’ve been a life-long fan of the Batman since I was a toddler,” he explained. He got into costuming when he heard about how the creator of Nolan’s Batmobile had begun taking the vehicle to children’s hospitals to cheer up patients. “I thought to myself: while I didn’t have access to a Batmobile, I could definitely work to build a suit of my own to do charity work.”
With so many versions of the character, where does one start, and just what’s essential to the character himself? Certainly, there’s a familiar look to the character: a cowl with ears, a cape, the insignia on the chest, and a utility belt. But plenty of characters have those elements: what makes him Batman, and how do cosplayers replicate the look?
Charland explained that he felt that the most important part was the cowl: “Are you a Long Ear bat? Short Ear? Is your cowl emotionless and stoic? Angry and Aggressive? Can you turn your head and be tactical, or are you a silent Sentinel?” The cowl, he explains, conveys so much to bystanders. “You could easily remove your cowl and don another and the entire energy of your Batman changes.”
He ticked off some of the other items: the body suit (with all of its variations, such as with trunks, muscles, textures, or without), the bracers, the high boots, the utility belt, the cape, and chest emblem. “Let’s not forget,” he added, “all those wonderful toys!”
Hungerford echoed that: “I think the most important thing for a batman cosplayer is to nail is the shoulders up: that silhouette is so iconic, and getting the proportions just right can really elevate the suit.”
Vasquez noted that different sorts of events require different types of costumes. “Usually, I’ll try and wear a suit that’s popular at the time or that’s familiar to children,” he said. “For conventions, I’ll tend to get a little more creative with some of the suits and do something vastly different or unique to what everyone is used to. I’ve definitely tried to do all types of versions of the character.”
Vasquez noted that it’s not just the costume that’s important: it’s the pose and poise of the character. “The suit does most of the work,” he said, “the cape and the cowl are the first steps. Doesn’t matter if it’s a store-bought or custom build: it’s all about how you present it. You wear the suit and your confidence just skyrockets. You become the Batman. You stand a little taller and your voice is a little more deeper and gruff. You just naturally embrace the mannerisms and catch phrases. Batman walks into a room and he’s unshakable: he owns that room.”