Batman and the Joker | Designing Gotham

In this blog, we are looking into the design of two characters who are the epitome of hero vs. antihero – Batman and his infamous arch nemesis, the Joker – and how over several atically transformed.

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From beginning in comic books, to television and on to the big screen, the use of colour has always been an important aspect of designs for both heroes and villains. Primary colours were used for superheroes and secondary colours were given to the villains – a clever way of strengthening the contrast between good and bad.

Originally named “The Bat-Man”, Gotham’s mysterious hero was co-created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939. He made his debut in Detective Comics #27 (published on March 30, 1939) as the alter ego of wealthy socialite Bruce Wayne. Batman became so popular that he featured in a self-titled comic book series in 1940 as well as still starring in the Detective Comics.

Kane’s original designs showcased Batman in a more colourful attire. The primary costume consisted of a red coloured jumpsuit with a domino style mask and a pair of oversized bat wings. Finger then reviewed the designs and came up with several vital suggestions including swapping the mask for a cowl, a scalloped cape instead of the wings, adding gloves and replacing the red elements with a grey and black colour scheme.

“If they’re going to play with the Joker, they’d better be prepared to deal from the bottom of the deck!”

The creation of the Joker is credited to Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson who all convey different accounts on how the character was devised. A clear source of inspiration was an image of Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine from the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs found by Bob Finger, who displays the sinister maniacal grin that the Joker has now become famous for. The character first appeared in Batman #1 (published on April 24, 1940) as a psychopath who murdered characters for his own amusement.

From his first appearance in the comics, the design of the Joker was flamboyant, sporting his now signature bright purple attire and paired with his now iconic white chalky face, red lips, and green hair. It was clear the character wanted to be seen.

By the early 1960’s, the interest and sales in Batman comics had lowered significantly and Gotham’s hero needed a revamp. The comic book series was assigned to editor Julius Schwartz who bought in artist Carmine Infantino to come up with a new modern-day look for Batman. Changes included the addition of the yellow oval featuring the bat emblem to his costume.

In the mid 1960’s tv network giant ABC had secured the rights to create a “fun and hip” television series based on the comic book hero. The project was handed over to producer William Dozier, who decided that the show needed to visually exude a pop-art kitsch theme and heavily focus on comedy. Debuting on January 12th, 1966, the show was a hit and the fun aesthetic regained interest in the character.

The flamboyant nature of the series was reflected in the costumes for all characters. Costume designer Jan Kemp researched many Batman comics and took inspiration from Infantino’s new style. He quickly established that new combinations of bright colours needed to be introduced, so the characters carried the same exuberance on screen as they did in the comic strips.

Batman’s costume was one of the first designs envisioned by Kemp, who had to keep in mind that the costume needed to withstand stunt work. The Caped Crusader’s costume comprised of a blue satin cowl displaying painted ear, eyebrow, and nose detailing; a grey leotard decorated with the yellow chest emblem and Helenca tights (both garments were dyed that specific shade of grey for the production); a lightweight blue satin cape with the signature scalloped edges; a pair of blue gloves with winglets; a bright yellow utility belt; blue satin trunks and custom blue leather boots.

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