With Batman, there are no shortcuts. There are no radioactive spiders to offer a sixth sense. No rage-induced Hulk volume. No magical powers from Krypton or meteorites from Wakanda.
“You have to rely on real-world technology and inventions to get out of tough situations and outwit enemies,” says Abhijeet Kini, comic book creator, independent comic editor and lifelong Batman fan.
It helps that Bruce Wayne is super rich. It means you can run a secret R&D division at Wayne Enterprises and afford inventions that even the US military finds too expensive. “My favorite has been the Shark Repellent spray from the 1960s television series,” says Kini. “There is a sequence where he sprays it on a shark, which falls off a ladder. What were they thinking? But overall, devices are what readers and viewers have come to love. ”
Take a closer look at some futuristic gadgets and inventions, drawn from the real world.
Jet boots: Sure, Iron Man used them, but Val Kilmer used them first in Batman Forever (1995). For years, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had a patent on boots that released a blast of propulsion, jet-style. In 2017, they released the patent to the public, so now you can create your own. The problem: The technology only works in low-gravity areas like space stations, not on Earth.
The bat suit: It’s more than a skintight costume. Nolan’s films show that the flexible fabric is blade and tear resistant, with an armor made of, as Lucius Fox says, Nomex and Kevlar bi-weave. It is not far from the truth. Nomex is a real fire retardant material used in suits for racing drivers, astronauts, firefighters and soldiers. They are also used to make kitchen gloves. Meanwhile, US weapons and defense company Lockheed Martin, the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley are experimenting with nanomaterials. Efforts are underway to create fabrics from carbon nanotubes and ceramic fibers. They expect the material to resist melting and heat. Add tungsten, and Batman might as well resist Superman’s laser vision.
That helmet: On screen, the mask’s distinctive bat ears have served as antennas for its radar and sonar technology, and its goggles allow it to see through walls. In the real world, the Daqri smart helmet offers up-close X-ray vision, link that with APX Labs’ Skylight for 360-degree augmented reality or a virtual map of your own Gotham City.
The smart layer: Batman Forever introduced a cape that could become a heat shield – something Nomex can do today. The Dark Knight Rises has a cape that can turn into a rigid bat-wing glider when a microcurrent passes through it. This is not real yet, but scientists have developed electroactive shape memory polymers and shape memory alloys so that they rely on heat and other stimuli to take a certain shape. There are no gliders yet.
Arkham games give the hood another job – it has a detective mode option that allows it to spot enemies in places it hasn’t explored. It is very similar to the real world PRISM 200C backpack radar. Hold it close to a wall to get a clear idea of who is on the other side. But at 5.7kg, it’s too bulky to run.
Cell phone ringing: The modified Nokia Tube 5800 in The Dark Knight can emit a high frequency pulse and record the response time to develop a blueprint of its surroundings, much like … a submarine, Mr. Wayne. Echolocation is a proven technology. Can it fit in your palm or apply to all mobile phones in the city without the knowledge of users to triangulate everyone’s location? Not yet, Mr. Wayne. Even if all phones had sonar technology, the pulse would be too weak to be useful.
The Grab Gun: The gun-like thing that shoots cables and lets you turn to safety has a bulkier cousin in real life. The US Navy has developed a shoulder-mounted cannon that can fire a long cable, with a hook on the end.
Napalm gel capsule: Our Knight uses it in Batman Returns, to dominate Catwoman when she is hanging from a building at her mercy. Napalm is real, okay. But its use on civilians was prohibited by the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in 1980.
Antidote pills: The Batman TV show had a pill on his belt that, when activated with water, exploded into a spare Batsuit, with his own tool belt. Less bizarre are his recovery pills. In the real world, Xstat, developed in the USA for military use, features a syringe-like applicator that injects small, rapidly expanding sponges into the cavity of a gunshot or shrapnel wound to treat injuries instantly .
The wheels: The Batmobile has had machine guns and dispensers, climbed up the walls and driven sideways. In the movies, he’s gone from a fancy ride to a battle tank to one with a built-in Batpod, a motorcycle for a faster ride. Our cars are still designed for comfort, not for combat. But British defense contractor Hisham Awad has taken notes of the Knight’s trip. His company BAE Systems is in the conceptual stage of developing The Raider, a very agile small vehicle designed to transport ammunition and launch attacks. A car as a weapon is bad news. The worst news: it is an unmanned vehicle.
Did Batman Invented Drones? In a story titled The 1001 Inventions of Batman, in the 1957 edition of the comic, a villain replicates one of our hero’s most treasured contraptions: a small flying object that transmits live video to the user. That Flying Eye looks a lot like today’s drone cameras, but it doesn’t offer direct inspiration. The Caped Crusader has been an early adopter of telecommunications. You’ve had a Batphone in your car and used a supercomputer long before they became commonplace.