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Clothes and the Batman: Analysing the Outfits in Dark Knight Rises

Posted: 11/05/2012 13:18

A few weeks ago, I got catty about Anne Hathaway's outfit for The Dark Knight Rises. But outfits are important in the Batman universe. When the police catch Joker, they discover his 'clothing is custom, no labels.' Joker's duds perfectly suit his role as the 'Anonymous' of Gotham City, doing it for the lulz; and they both complement and contrast with Batman's sartorial approach. Like Joker, Wayne has his own custom-made Armani suits, but his Bat-wear is ordered in bulk from multiple East Asian suppliers. Joker satirises both Wayne's exclusivity and Batman's anonymity.

Batman's villains all echo, distort and mock aspects of the hero, like reflections in a hall of mirrors. Batman is a One-Percenter, a bourgeois individualist, a capitalist in tuxedos; this side is parodied by Edward Cobblepot - even the name suggests ridiculous privilege - the squawking, waddling Penguin, never out of his black tie and tails. Batman is a money-man, a businessman. Even his butler is called Alfred Pennyworth; the largest objects in the Bat-cave are a gigantic penny and a dinosaur, unwitting symbols of his own old-money identity. Harvey 'Two-Face' Dent, a blue-collar Gotham boy made good, exaggerates and mocks Batman's double personality through his own split, sewn-together suits and obsession with duality, but the silver dollar he constantly flips also pokes fun at Wayne's dependence on money, and, of course, trumps that giant penny. Riddler's pointless puzzles frustrate Batman's belief that the world is inherently logical, solved through rational detection. Catwoman's playful pattern of feline crime gently taunts Wayne for his rich-boy Bat-fetish and his silly attachment to a totem animal. Scarecrow takes Batman's modus operandi - to strike fear - and shows it as monstrous. Joker amplifies that into terrorism.

As a relatively new character in the Batman universe, Bane doesn't carry the history of the other rogues. Batman and Joker are both multiple personalities, having gone through many changes in the last 70 years. They could both declare, like the possessed man in the Bible, 'My name is Legion...for we are many.'

But Bane is also 'legion'. His multiplicity comes not from history, but from the masses, the mob. His first move, in the 1993 comic-book epic Knightfall, is to free all the criminals from Arkham Asylum. 'Chaos,' muses Batman, 'perfectly orchestrated with a single master stroke. Free the madmen... free the monsters... and let them run wild.'

Bane, as Dark Knight Rises costume designer Lindy Hemming confirms, is 'a cross between a dictator and a revolutionary.' His name combines brains and brawn, but his real skill is managing a crowd. His motivation is not anarchy, but to own Gotham. So Hemming dressed him in a cross between a sheepskin army jacket and a frock coat, making him a rebel leader. His mask is a megaphone, distorting his voice into the rasping shout of the 'mic check', the mass movement. But it also serves as a parody of Batman's barely-disguised sexual fetishism. Superhero costumes are always only a step away from S&M outfits, and Bane's bondage mouthpiece puts that aspect blatantly on display: the design of fingers holding an orifice open recalls the internet shock image, goatse.cx. (Link is safe for work - but don't google it).

That echo may well be unconscious, but it joins a network of connections. Gotham is a menagerie of animals and birds - Robin, Penguin, Cat and Bat. As Joker explains in the recent graphic novel Black Mirror, 'Do you even know what Gotham means? It means a safe place for goats! And do you know what preys on goats? Bats... the bat makes the goat sick.' Batman's role is to drive Joker repeatedly out of the city - like the diseased 'scapegoat' of Ancient Greek culture, a criminal figure who was blamed for the people's collective troubles and sacrificed for the greater good.

In the Bible, the possessed man was exorcised by casting his demons into a herd of animals, a crazed collective. Bane, saner than Joker or Batman/Wayne, projects his energies into a mob of madmen rather than containing those different sides within himself.

And Bane's coat? One of his victims in Knightfall proposes they team up and work together, rather than 'all of us going down...like stupid cows or sheep.' Sheep (or 'sheeple') are the deluded masses, the crowds following a leader. Bane is a wolf - those sexed-up metal jaws - in sheepskin clothing.

But in the Batman mythos, the pieces are never simply black and white, the oppositions are never clearly binary, and patterns on one side are echoed across the board. In Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Batman also identifies with a wolf - when it howls, he muses 'I know how he feels'. Batman/Wayne, armed and armoured beneath in his wool Armani suits, is, as always, not so different from the man he's fighting.

 

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