With The Dark Knight Rises opening this week, we’ll get another glimpse at the latest incarnation of Batman: and, of course, all of his wonderful toys. Insight Editions recently released two art books for Batman fans, one focusing on Christopher Nolan’s interpretation, and the other tracking the history of the Batmobile, arguably the most fascinating of Batman’s many gadgets.
Batmobile: The Complete History examines Batman’s iconic vehicle through the ages — although it turns out it wasn’t always so iconic. At first, Batman simply drives a bright red sedan, and it is only later that his cars have bat symbols or the Batman logo on them. Things really take off in the era of the TV show: despite its campy take on Batman that took decades to overcome, the car itself was a hit, possibly as popular with fans as the stars of the show.
When Batman hit the big screen in 1989, Gotham City got a bit darker and the Batmobile reflected that. Gone were the red accents — instead it looked more like a rocket engine on wheels. Subsequent movies went in different directions, from the neon-lit Val Kilmer Batmobile to the redesign for George Clooney (which for some reason barely gets covered in the book). Then, finally, the urban assault vehicle known as the Tumbler.
For the making of The Batmobile documentary (premiering tonight on the CW), filmmakers Roko Belic and Tara Tremaine got all five Batmobiles (driven by Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale) together for the first time, resulting in this cool pull-out spread:
The book is peppered with anecdotes and conversations with the people who designed and built these amazing vehicles. It’s incredible to think about how large some of these vehicles were (the George Clooney Batmobile is 32 feet long!) and the incredible feats they were able to do. Some of it was achieved through special effects and scale models, but the Tumbler is a beast of a machine, actually able to do many of the things you see on screen.
I enjoyed reading about the Batmobiles, but I did feel the book had an overemphasis on the TV and movie vehicles. Images of comic book versions, particularly more recent ones, seemed almost an afterthought, and there’s very little discussion about them outside of the images. I would have enjoyed a little more of that. Also, there’s a definite concentration on the latest version, the Tumbler. Fully two chapters are devoted to Christopher Nolan’s vision of the Dark Knight, and these sections don’t always stick to the Batmobile, either. Certainly it was probably easiest to get information about these movies because all the folks involved were actuallystill involved in making the final film, but it can feel like the book is trying to rush through the other stories just to get to their favorite version.
I will say, though, that reading through this book was a blast. The Batmobile in all its iterations is one of the coolest cars ever imagined, and flipping through this book made me want to go back and watch the scenes featuring the various models (though I’ll happily fast-forward through most of Batman & Robin). If you’re a fan of the Batmobile, you’ll enjoy perusing this book.
Now, if you’re a fan of the latest Batman movie trilogy, then The Dark Knight Manual is right up your (dark) alley. It’s designed to look like Bruce Wayne’s notebook, with sketches, diagrams, photographs, and notes about the tools and technology Batman uses, as well as profiles of various Gotham City notables and villains.
This volume, unlike the Batmobile book above, gives no illusions about continuity with other films or the comic books. This is all about the Christian Bale-Morgan Freeman team — though, interestingly enough, you won’t find their names in the book. Other than the copyright page and tiny “TM & © DC Comics” printed on anything that could be pulled out of the book, it’s all written as if it’s an artifact from Batman’s world, similar to The Jedi Path and the Book of Sith from the Star Wars universe.
There are a lot of photos and notes in the book that are just printed on (sometimes printed to appear as if they’ve been paper clipped to the edges), but one of the cool features of the book is all the extra stuff. For instance, there are a few police files, like this one of the Joker.
The photographs of Heath Ledger as the Joker are on stiff cardstock, attached only on one corner so that they lift up (but won’t fall out). The “evidence” pouch has several Joker playing cards, and on the right is a printed sheet (also loosely attached) detailing the Joker’s crimes and some notes about his identity.
The book is full of this sort of thing. There’s a lot, as you’d expect, from Wayne Enterprises Applied Sciences Division: pamphlets and blueprints on everything from the Tumbler to Batman’s utility belt to various devices that presumably will appear in the third movie. A nice touch is the inclusion of little sticky notes — they’re partially glued down and not movable, but the effect is cool. I do wonder, though, why anyone would have a pad of sticky notes printed that said “Cave Dimensions” with spaces for writing in height, length, and width by hand. There are also a few other pull-out items, like a large map of Gotham City and this pull-out blueprint of the Batcave.
The book covers Bruce Wayne’s training, the Batcave, the Batsuit, gadgets and weapons, vehicles, and then profiles of many of the major characters. Overall it’s a fun book to flip through and would be a great gift for a fan of the movie trilogy. However, if you’re looking for more behind-the-scenes or making-of info, you may want something more like The Art and making of the Dark Knight Trilogy (out later this month from Abrams). This particular volume can’t give you that sort of detail without breaking the illusion.
Disclosure: Insight Editions provided copies of both books for review.