Geoffrey Long
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Why does Batman have pupils?

I have not yet seen Batman Begins – some friends of mine and I are going to see it in IMAX this week – but I've been following the previews and the buzz pretty closely, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to this. I was a big fan of Tim Burton's Batman back in 1989, and I remember hoping against hope that the Schumacher films wouldn't suck as badly as they did. To be fair, I still enjoy Jim Carrey as The Riddler, but Batman and Robin was such utter excrement that I can barely watch Batman Forever without wincing in anticipation. I definitely prefer the Frank Miller dark-and-gritty Batman (which Burton used) to the bright-and-cheery Batman of the 1950s (which Schumacher abused).

Wow, I think I just outed myself as a bigger comic book geek than I usually let on around here. :)

Anyway, something's been bugging me for the last couple of movies. Batman shouldn't have pupils. In the comics and the cartoons, One of the hallmarks of Batman's costume is the plain white eyes. While I appreciate that eyes are the most expressive element on a character, and it's impossible to widen the eye holes on a real-life cowl the way they do in the comics, there's also a reason people wear sunglasses to avoid being recognized – the eyes are the most recognizable part of a person. You can't tell me Katie Holmes wouldn't recognize Christian Bale in that getup... At least not without blocking the eyes.

Also, the eye screens in the Batsuit would allow for certain heads-up display capabilities, something they get into in the comics and cartoons all the time. There's a great new article over at on how the Batsuit works, which shows that the new movie's costume designers put a lot of serious effort into figuring out how a real-life Bruce Wayne would build a custom suit of armor, and I have a hard time believing that he wouldn't want something that important in his arsenal, or the extra added protection of his identity.

To illustrate, I've done a quick Photoshop hack. Observe. First, the original:


And now my more "comic-accurate" version:

Batman, Edited

As is plainly evident here in Figure 2, Batman looks a little stranger with the triangular plain white eyes, but at the same time he looks more alien and less like a dork in an expensive Halloween costume. See? Batman shouldn't have pupils. Aside from Robin, of course.


We already know you are a comic Ubergeek, but you have illustrated the fact very well here. :) I actually agree with you that the eyes are truer to the comics in your "hacked image" but for the expressive purposes of a movie I think we need to see his eyes.

It's one thing to do something in Photoshop. It's quite another to do it in real life. In order for the eye slits to look like they do in the comics, Batman would have to basically be wearing white scleral shells -- i.e., contact lenses that cover the entire eye. They may look great, but they're terribly impractical. Sure, you could envision larger lenses built into the cowl, but they wouldn't look like the comics version anyway. So once you've made that leap, you might as well lose the lenses.

In fact, the movies make another cheat most folks don't notice. The eye holes are actually much larger than the actual eyes; the actor actually wears black makeup around his eyes to disguise that fact. It's most noticeable in Batman Returns, when Michael Keaton has to remove his mask -- notice that for one brief moment, the makeup is gone.

But from an artistic standpoint, the lenses would be death. Sure, other superheroes cover their eyes in the movies -- but it's a major drawback, and in almost every case, the covered lenses come off when the hero actually has to make any emotional connection. RoboCop? Helmet comes off once he has to be "human" again. Spider-Man? Mask comes off in both movies (as does the Green Goblin's helmet in the end). X-Men lost the masks entirely (and note that Cyclops -- whose eyes remain covered -- is the one character with the least emotional connection to the audience of the entire ensemble). A comic book artist can make all kinds of cheats to convey emotion, tone, etc., cheats that (as I mentioned above) don't work in the real world. But in real life, almost all an actor has are his eyes.

If you want a comic-book movie to go beyond the silly adolescent action genre, you can't eliminate the most significant tool in your actors' arsenal.

Oh, and Batman Forever sucked. I love Jim Carrey, but he was a camp villain in an absolute joke of a movie. Yes, Batman and Robin sucked far worse, but that's far from an endorsement of its predecessor.

Aw, c'mon. "Was that over the top? I never can tell!" was a hysterical line, especially when you consider it applied to the whole movie, Carrey's whole career...

Besides, Bill, you're missing my point. I've already conceded that the lenses "would be death" from an emotional standpoint, as you put it, but everything I've seen so far says that Batman Begins works very hard to make the story believeable – and I don't buy for a second that a real-life Batman wouldn't build lenses into the mask. I doubt that he'd go for scleral lenses – AFAIK, you can't build HUD displays into contact lenses (yet), and he'd also lose the eye protection.

Personally, I suspect that a real-life Batman's helmet wouldn't have the mouth hole either, and would be closer to the full-head mask worn by (deep breath as we dive into the deep end of geekiness here) Azrael when he stood in for Batman after Bane broke Bruce Wayne's spine back in the 'Knightfall' arc in the late 90s:

If I had a guy drop out of the sky wearing a Batman outfit where I could see his eyes and mouth, I'd be startled but I'd probably start snickering. If I couldn't see his eyes and mouth, thus removing his humanity and rendering him a complete alien "other", I'd probably be whimpering that same "Who are you?" from the 1989 version.

Fair enough. We'll go ahead and take the "geek gloves" off. They're clearly trying to walk the line between adherence to the historical depiction of the character and practicality. Of course, a lot of it's impractical anyway -- as "The Incredibles" demonstrated (as did "Watchmen" in the comic book world), capes will get you killed pretty damned fast.

Yeah, a full-face mask like Azrael's (or the one Batman wore in the surprisingly good "Batman vs. Predator" original crossover) would be more practical from both a protection and disguise standpoint, though it would probably lose some points in the sensory department. But there's only so far you can deviate from Bob Kane's original and still have audiences really enjoy it. Big ol' lenses would be too different from what audiences are expecting (kind of like the big silver "ice" suits Clooney and company wore at the end of "Batman Forever").

And sorry, but a funny line does not a decent movie make. "Batman and Robin" completely lost it for me within the first few minutes, before Carrey had a moment of screen time; the opening sequence was just played totally for camp value.

Oh, and the line was "What are you?"

I saw the movie last night and was completely bowled over by how fantastic it was -- it totally blows away all of its predecessors. Wow.

I certainly agree that Batman Forever wasn't a great movie -- and it was 1995's Batman Forever, not 1997's Batman and Robin, that had Jim Carrey in it -- but I can sit through it, which I can't do for Batman and Robin.

Actually, now I'm tempted to try... I haven't watched any of the original Batman movies in years (which explains my fumble on the "Who are you" versus "What are you" line -- sorry about that). :)

I completely agree with this article. I have always thought, since the first Burton movie, that Batman should have white eyes. What's the deal? Forget the emotional stuff. Did we ever see Spiderman's eyes (or any part of his face for that matter)? But they were still great movies. You're right about the the bat suit looking like a dorky halloween costume with just the pupils showing. Check out the short film "Batman: Dead End" on I think this is probably the truest adaptation of the dark knight to date (including Batman Begins). He has no prosthetic armor, no fake, rubbery muscles, oh....and he has white eyes and it looks awesome!

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