In honor of Halloween’s approach, I thought I’d share this story.
When ever we have guests at the house they are inevitably shown into my studio for a look around. It’s full of fun and cool stuff, so there’s a lot to look at. The one object that gets their attention initially is always the same, however. No, it’s not the original Al Hirschfeld, nor the original Mort Drucker. It’s not the original Sebastian Krüger, either… not the Twins bobbleheads, or the shelves of old Batman toys, or even the Shakespeare bust with the flip-up head. It’s always:
“Where did you get that Batman statue?!”
“It’s not a statue” I always explain. “It’s a costume.”
An amazing costume, however. It’s a perfect replica of the Val Kilmer “Batman Forever” suit. Nicknamed the “Panther” batsuit by Batman geeks because of its sleek and organic look compared to the bulky Keaton suits, this was (and still is) my favorite of the movie suits (yes, even with the unfortunate “nipples”). I would call it ‘movie prop quality’ but the truth is it is actually much better than most of the movie costumes probably were. Actual props from movies don’t look that good up close. They are usually very hand made looking… film is very forgiving. In late 2002 I decided I needed a custom made, high quality batsuit. Why? You never know… Burnsville, Minnesota could suddenly be overrun with supervillains and there I’d be without a rubber suit to don and kick some Joker ass.
I wasn’t really sure if such a costume existed. Just for kicks I did some web searches to see what if any possibilities might be out there. What I found was a complete sub-culture of people who were obsessed with the making of replica movie props, costumes and other cool stuff. Really, that should not have surprised me. I think that in the internet-shrunken world of today there probably exists a society, club, group, association or cult devoted to any and every conceivable subject or activity known to man. Anyway, these guys (and gals) are serious. They are all highly creative and many of them are very talented sculptors, casters and artists. They are also completely obsessed with “screen accurate” replicas of everything from utility belts to Space 1999 laser guns. They scoff at people who do not know the difference between a “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” Luke Skywalker lightsaber and a “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker lightsaber (the horror!). Some of these guys have access to original props and many have full blown prop studios capable of casting latex and urethane prop replicas of astounding accuracy and quality. They trade their secrets, share their observations and occasionally feud on message boards throughout the internet. They get together at comic book conventions where some bring several different costumes and have been known to change costumes several times a day. That’s dedication.
Among these I found a forum dedicated to the making of replica Batman props and costuming. Obviously there are copyright infringement issues there, but in general as long as nobody is selling anything, the big boys leave them alone. Of course the reality is that everybody is selling this stuff, but it seems to be either ignored by the WB or they can’t get enough evidence to make a case… or maybe they don’t care. Either way fan made props abound and can be “traded for”, even if what you trade are pieces of paper with Jefferson and/or Franklin on them. I pieced my batsuit together from a variety of sources.
The Armor, Cowl, Cape and Belt
Most of the suit came courtesy of two prop makers from California that made some great Bat stuff. They cast their pieces using fiberglass molds that make seamless items with a very smooth finish. I got the cowl, armor, belt and cape from them. These are made from latex rubber, even the cape. They claim to have made them from casts of actual props from the film, and that might well be the case. The armor came in pieces, and I had to mount them on a bodysuit and paint them myself.
That proved to be a bit of a pain. It’s the best way to go as it guarantees the armor will fit your particular build and height, but it’s a tricky thing to do. First, I needed a bodysuit as a base. A lot of Batman costumes use a wetsuit as the base suit, as they did in the first film. However, wearing a wetsuit is like being in an oven. A heavyweight Lycra body suit (or “diveskin”) is much better and more comfortable. I got a black one from this website. In order to glue it on, I had to wrap myself in cellophane before putting on the suit as the adhesive used would give me chemical burns without a layer of protection. Then, I had to stand still why The Lovely Anna (who is an amazingly good sport) brushed DAP contact cement on both the suit and the underside of the armor and placed it on me. It took about 90 minutes to set, during which I stood still and watched TV while my skin burned from the places the cellophane didn’t quite cover all the way. Once dry, I wriggled out of the suit and placed in on a mannequin I had gotten off eBay. I then painted the entire thing with a rubberized paint called “Plasti-Dip”. Plasti-Dip is a staple among costumers. It created a more uniform look from the armor to the suit. I also painted the cowl with it. The suit is flexible but not us much as you’d think. The latex is very thick so it doesn’t warp or bend out of shape. Once in the suit it’s tough to move around freely.
The cowl is a nice piece of work. Totally seamless, so it’s very smooth with a nice finish.
The belt is probably the best looking piece of the suit. The buckle and pods on the sides are a hard resin, and painted with a metallic paint that makes it look like black metal. Very sharp looking. The rest of the belt is a flexible urethane. It attaches in back with velcro.
This was from a separate source. The gentleman who made it specializes in resin pieces, and this is cast in three pieces… the outer ring, the inner oval and the bat. All three are painted and attached for a very clean and smooth 3D look. I had to cut a hole in the chest armor to recess the emblem, gluing it in with DAP.
I got these from a guy who has some deal with an overseas leather maker. Somehow he got a hold of the original patterns and made these beauties. Real leather, with the palm/wrist zipper and correct stitching (or so I was told). The “fins” I also got from this gentleman, and attached them myself. I got a second set from the emblem guy, but they were hard resin and very sharp… I might end up stabbing someone with them accidentally at a party. The current ones are soft rubber. These are real leather gloves and look great.
These were not cheap. I got them from a replica boot maker that makes all sorts of boots you’d recognize. Actually I got them from a middleman and discovered his “source” too late, soaking me for an extra $50.00. Still, these are very nice real leather boots. It’s often the footwear that gets the cheap treatment in a superhero costume.. mainly because it would be expensive or impossible to get something more real looking. It’s many a superhero suit that was worked hard on down to the calves, only to have the feet covered with tennis shoes and then a dyed pair of knee socks.
It’s a lot of work getting into this thing. I need at least one person’s help. First, I climb into the armor via a back zipper. Then the boots and belt go on… that’s the easy part. The next thing is the cape. Since it’s latex it is very heavy , and pads of velcro keep it in place over my shoulders. It velcros together at my throat. The top of the cape has velcro pads I added for the cowl to connect to.
Next comes the cowl. I apply eyeblack over my lids and around my eye sockets like in the movies. I now look like either Raccoon Man or Alice Cooper’s geeky big brother. Since the neck of the cowl is so narrow, it’s very hard to get over my head. I sometimes have to resort to KY Jelly to grease my head enough for it to slide over. A word of advice.. DO NOT USE VASELINE to grease your hair. KY washes out with soap and water… Vaseline has to be stripped out with acetone. Nevermind how I know that. Once the cowl is on, it needs to be positioned over the velcro and pushed down tight. Finally the gloves are put on, and I’m ready to punish the evil-doers!
Oh, except my 90 year old grandma could kick my ass when I wear this thing. I can’t turn my head. I can’t sit down. I walk up stairs like R2-D2. I can’t raise my arms higher than my chest. I can only drink a beer because I can bend my elbows so my hand can reach my mouth. It’s also unbelievably hot in that outfit. I can only handle about 3 hours in it before I melt. I don’t smell the best after I get out of it. Let’s just say if Batman really wore a suit like this, Catwoman wouldn’t get within 10 yards of him after a hard day of crime fighting.
Last Halloween I wore it to a big fundraiser party for a local theater. Knowing there was no way I’d survive for 5 hours in that suit, I had two costumes. I died my hair black, wore a tux and handed out business cards at the pre-party and the first part of the main bash that read “Bruce Wayne- Billionaire Playboy”. About 10:00, I went out to the SUV and changed into the batsuit. I didn’t win any prizes. However I was VERY popular at the party. It seems that fundraisers for theaters are attended heavily by male theater actors and patrons who are gay, and they REALLY like rubber suits with built in muscles, nipples and a codpiece. I got my picture taken a lot that night.
No Batsuit this year. I am giving it a year off. This year: Superman! At 40 I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep up a physique that is reasonably capable of being seen in public in spandex without inducing any vomiting. I’ll post some pics of the finished suit soon.
In the meantime… is that the Batsignal???
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