Volume III, No 6
Artist Joe Quesada discusses the Dark Knight’s New Suit of Armor
Interview by Michael Smith
Back in 1964, when then editor Julius Schwartz decided to, ‘Shake up,’ the new Batman titles, the Caped Crusader’s ‘New Look,’ amounted to little more than the addition of a bright yellow oval around his traditional, bat-like chest emblem. Years later, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams completely overhauled the character, returning him to his gothic – expressionistic roots. They lengthened Batman’s cape and ears, altered his color scheme (more blacks and greys then blues), darkened his environment, and gave him a sleek, super-stylized Corvette in place of a more traditional Batmobile.
Since then, Batman’s appearance and accessories have changed very little. With the possible exception of the Battle armor found in post-apocryphal stories – The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Vs Predator – the Batman’s costume remains much as it did when it first appeared over 50 years ago.
Of course, that’s all going to change in Batman #500.
Here is what artist Joe Quesada had to say about the enviable – or perhaps unenviable task of re-creating Batman’s image for a new generation of readers.
How did you become Batman’s new costume designer?
It all began with Sword of Azrael. At that time, the whole ‘Knightfall’ saga had been in the works for some time. When the Azrael proposal came across my drawing board, and Dennis [O’Neil] described what they had in store for the character, and that what I would be doing would have a major impact on the Batman mythos…well, I just said, “Absolutely, count me in.”
Is the new costume a logical successor to Azrael’s battle armor?
Definitely. It’s sort of a hybrid between Batman’s costume and Azrael’s armor. In fact, it begins as a fairly simple costume design, and then evolves into something really nasty! As a knight for the Order of St. Dumas, Azrael was trained to be a finely-tuned super-soldier…a sort of ‘vengeance machine.’ In many ways, his conditioning was similar to Bruce Wayne’s, so he’s sympathetic to Batman’s mission and some of his methods. But he also targets some weaknesses in Batman’s costume, and decides to improve it. Basically, he adapts the Bat-costume to reflect his unique crime-fighting methods.
Does Azrael construct the costume himself?
I’m not really sure. That’s an editorial decision, so you’ll probably have to ask Dennis.
If the purpose of Batman’s original costume was to, ‘strike fear into the hearts of evil-doers,’ how would you describe the purpose of his new costume?
To make them go in their pants! It also represents a more ‘hands-off’ approach to crime-fighting, which I think is something of a departure for Batman. In designing the costume, I tried to think like Azrael. I mean, he would probably look at Batman’s utility belt and say something like, “Nice idea, but I could probably improve it a little bit, because it takes too much time to fumble for the right gadget, flip the compartment open, push the right button, etc.” So what I did was computerize the armor and make it a little bit more, ‘hi-tech.’ Now, Batman doesn’t have to reach for anything. Everything he needs is at his immediate disposal.
So this thing is loaded with bells and whistles…
You bet. As far as I’m concerned, the gadgets have always been part of Batman’s appeal. Sure, he’s the world’s greatest detective, and a superb physical specimen and athlete, but he’s also a technological marvel. I mean, how many times have you read a Batman story and thought to yourself, “Hey, where did the grappling hook come from anyway?” Batman has always had plenty of gismos stuffed into his utility belt. Now, they’re just a little bit more realistic, simply because we’ve built them into a more technologically sophisticated suit of armor. It’s all part of the fun.
Meaning that Batman is now a ‘Knight,’ in the more traditional sense of the word…
You got it. That’s the point.
Was your costume design at all influenced by any of Batman’s other battle suits, particularly as seen in The Dark Knight Returns or Batman Vs Predator?
Not really. I’ve seen them all of course. I mean, The Dark Knight Returns is like a creative bible to me. But I didn’t want to look at that stuff because I was really looking for a fresh approach. Those were both great designs, but they just wouldn’t have been appropriate to Azrael’s character or purpose.
What guidelines were you given by the Batman editorial team?
They just said, “Go for it.”
It looks like you’ve eliminated Batman’s traditional insignia. What’s the story behind that?
Well, depending on how the costume is drawn, Batman’s body and cape form its own Bat signal. You’ll notice that the peak of the insignia runs down into his chest cavity, so that if the cape is drawn properly, he looks like his old chest emblem, particularly when seen from a distance. We’ve also given him a spotlight (situated just below his cowl), which, when lit, projects its own Bat-signal. Great for scaring the bejeebers out of bad guys!
What other goodies have you built into this thing?
For starters, the cape will be VERY unusual. It’s probably his most deadly weapon. If nothing else, it’s a very dramatic costume element, so artists who enjoyed playing with the cape before can still have fun with it now. Of course, Batman’s cape has always been part of the ongoing artistic battle…you know, the whole question of, “how can he wear a twenty-foot-long cape and not get tangled up in it?” Anyways, I wanted to give artists a nasty looking cape that was open to interpretation. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy drawing his costume as much as they did the old one.
Can Batman fly in this new get-up?
Probably not. He might be able to get some lift out of his cape, and sort of hang-glide a bit, but I don’t think that its cut out for aerial action.
How does it feel to be the guy who helped re-envision the Batman?
Absolutely wonderful! Batman has always been one of my all-time favorite characters. He inspired me to do comics, particularly after I read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Luckily, I landed the Azrael project, and I’ve had a ball ever since. Still, I have to say this: There’s simply no way to really improve on Batman’s original costume, ‘cause it remains one of the greatest superhero outfits ever designed. But the way I look at it…well, it’s sort of like ‘old Coke; new Coke,’ you know? Some people are gonna say, “Hey, you can’t do that.” I just hope that most readers will be pleased with the new look, and I can honestly say that I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’m just honored to be a part-if only a small part-of Batman history.