Fandom Heresies: Batman Should Be Unarmoured, Part 1: How Armour Works In The Real World

Hello all you happy people! Josh Stoodley here with another Fandom Heresies post. This week, we’re talking about Batman. Specifically, whether or not Batman should wear armour.

This will be a multi-part series, starting with the real world limitations and strengths of armour. Then next week, we’re going to discuss Batman himself. How he fights, how he would operate in the real world and how I think he should fight, and the inspirations behind his character. Both originally and the many revamps afterwards. Then in the third and final post we will summarize and analyze our findings so far and discuss why turning Batman into a poor man’s Tony Stark is a bad idea.

But first, there is some housekeeping to deal with. First, the next chapter of The Amazing Spider-Man has been released and is up on AO3. Second, the next chapter of Pokémon: Red Version will be up this week. I also hope to have the next chapter of Batman up this week but we’ll see.

Also remember that if you enjoy my work, you can support me on Patreon or buy me a hot chocolate.

On to the heresy!

The Set-Up

So, why are we talking about Batman and his costume at all? I mean, he’s a drawing, right? Just a comic book character. So why do we care what he wears?

The problem is consistency. Consistency with the original character concept (Batman is, fundamentally, a rich but otherwise normal human being with no powers), consistency with the core concept (Batman is a detective and a ninja, both concepts associated with fighting smart rather than brute force) and consistency with his role in the wider universe (Batman’s the smart guy, dodging or tanking bullets is Superman and the Flash’s schtick, respectively. Not Batman’s!).

In this series, I will argue that making Batman armoured, especially with Tony Stark-style power armour, is a violation of all the aforementioned forms of character consistency. It violates the original concept, it violates the core concept and it breaks his role in the wider DC universe.

First, we’ll look at how armour functions in the real world and why that doesn’t work for Batman.

Can’t Armor My Head

Frank Miller, you are a fucking moron.

Right off the bat, this is the single dumbest explanation for the chest insignia ever. Helmets are, if not the oldest form of armour, damned close. Nearly every culture on Earth has used a helmet of some sort.

And there’s a good reason for that! Blows to the head are some of the most dangerous injuries a human being can sustain. Furthermore, the head is easy to armour; one of the easiest parts of the body to armour, in fact.

Why? Because biology has already done much of the work for us! That’s right kiddos, your skull acts as a form of biological armour for the important bits i.e. your freaking brain. And it’s a good thing too, because the brain is probably the most vital organ your body has.

But the cool thing about the skull is that it is incredibly easy to reinforce. Because the skull is rigid with few moving parts (as opposed to, say, your limbs) you can more or less just plop a steel bowl over it and call it a day. Nothing fancy, just some added cushion to deal with the blunt force trauma (steel smacking into your head will give you a concussion) and, for modern weapons, swap the steel for Kevlar. The natural armour of the skull already does a lot of the job protecting your head; all you’re really doing is adding another layer of armour on top of it.

Okay, so helmets are more sophisticated than steel or kevlar bowls plopped on somebody’s head. But you get what I mean. Helmets are some of the most cost-effective forms of armour you can get your hands on. There is a reason why pretty much everybody in both pre-modern and modern warfare reaches for a helmet first and body armour later. For further reading on the importance of helmets and their role in warfare, I suggest you check out Professor Devereaux’s blog, A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. Scholagladiatoria on YouTube is another good resource.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Okay, so Batman should really be wearing a helmet. But what about face protection? He could be shot in the face! And the short answer to that is: most combat helmets have little to no face protection. This is true of both pre-modern combat helmets and modern ones.

And the reasoning seems to be that the face is relatively hard to armour, compared to the rest of the head. Visors restrict both your vision and breathing, make the already uncomfortable helmet even hotter and more uncomfortable (ancient and medieval art is replete with examples of soldiers wearing their helmets pushed back so they can breathe) and just generally seems to be reserved for instances where seeing where your target is just isn’t that important.

Which brings us to another problem with helmets, and why the agile and mobile Batman doesn’t use one (typically): helmets are heavy, hot and uncomfortable. Per Wikipedia, the US Army’s newest helmet (the Integrated Head Protection System) weighs around 1.36 kilograms or 3 lbs. Which is pretty good for a combat helmet! Until, you know, you have to wear it for extended periods of time.

Okay, so we can all agree that Miller’s explanation is dumb. Batman can absolutely armour his head. Indeed, when given the choice between helmets and body armour, most soldiers in history took the helmet first. Does that mean Batman should be wearing a helmet?

Realistically, yes and no. A helmet is, historically and biologically speaking, the most vital piece of armour. Only chest pieces come close, and those can be skipped in a pinch. A helmet very much cannot. Fighting without a helmet tends to end badly. So if we’re going to armour Batman, a helmet should be the first thing we put on him.

However, there are good reasons for Batman to not wear a helmet, based on his fighting style. Helmets are heavy, uncomfortable, and frequently restrict vision even without a visor or other face protection. Batman is a fairly agile, sneaky character. Limited vision would be lethal, as would an uncomfortable or heavy piece of armour. Batman’s primary defence lies in misdirection, mind games and trickery. A helmet would interfere with that style of fighting.

Painting A Target On Your Chest Is A Bad Idea, Bruce

Let’s be straight about one thing, here: nobody, but fucking nobody, paints a giant target on their armoured chest in the real world.

Why? Because your chest is easily the second-most vital part of your body to protect seeing as it contains every other major organ in your body besides your brain. Inviting somebody to shoot your chest is asking for trouble.

Seriously, people. There’s a reason why the order in armour is nigh-universally this:

  1. Helmet
  2. Chest (sometimes the belly gets included here, too)
  3. Everything else

Even nature follows this order! What are the only two parts of the body that are armoured? Your skull and ribcage! As the most vital parts of your body, there is good reason why these are the only naturally armoured parts of humans.

Look, I know a lot of writers like to portray Batman as suicidal. But that’s a bad take, and wearing a giant freaking target on his chest to draw in bullets is a suicidal move.

Okay, so that’s the problem with Miller’s explanation behind the Bat-symbol. What about the armour itself? Is concealing armour behind spandex plausible?

And the answer is: yeah, totally. People have been layering cloth over armour for a long time, since at least the Middle Ages. Twelfth and thirteenth century knights wore surcoats over their armour (the idea here seems to have been either to reflect heat or help keep the mail clean along with identifying your soldiers on the battlefield), Late Medieval and Renaissance soldiers wore things like coats of plates, brigandines and jack of plates. Many of these examples are basically metal plates sown into cloth jackets, though they could and were worn over metal armour.

Even today, that’s how military body armour works. Military body armour is, for the most part, layers and layers of heavy duty Kevlar (cloth. Or at least fabric). Then steel or ceramic plates are inserted between these layers to protect against rifle bullets, because no amount of fabric is going to do that. And even the lighter, good-only-against-pistol-bullets vests worn by VIPs and the like are easily concealable under suits and shirts. They won’t protect you against rifles or heavy explosions, but the concept of concealing armour is well-established. No problems there.

No, the problem is weight. Armour, as it turns out, is pretty damned heavy.

The Modular Scalable Vest, the US military’s newest bit of body armour weighs around 11 kilograms or 25 lbs fully loaded. Now that’s not bad for body armour! 9-11 kilos seems to be the average weight for fully loaded body armour, fully loaded meaning it has all of its ballistic plates in it. For comparison, a late Medieval set of half-plate weighed around 13-16 kg. So, you know, we’re doing pretty good here.

But I’m sure you can already see the problem. Armour is heavy. While a suit of armour is much more mobile than Mark Twain thought (there’s a great video here that shows just how mobile a guy in armour can be), it still limits you in a lot of ways. The guy in the video I linked to clearly struggles with some displays of agility and dexterity, despite being impressively mobile. It’s also not very stealthy (listen to that maille clink!) and doing all those acrobatics in armour is more tiring than doing them in, say, yoga pants.

And that’s a problem for Batman because he is, by and large, an acrobatic, stealthy fighter. True, he’s not nearly the acrobat Dick Grayson or Barbara Gordon is, and is generally more of the tank of the Bat-family. I won’t dispute that. However, that doesn’t change the fact that heavy armour seriously contradicts his fighting style. It is less agile (relatively speaking), less stealthy and more taxing.

Now, this isn’t because armour is bad. Armour, heavy armour especially, isn’t designed for that agile, stealthy kind of combat style for lots of good reasons. Most of which involve physics.

But it is, in my opinion, bad for Batman.

That’s it for this week folks. Next week, we’ll talk about Batman himself, the way he fights and what his core character concept is.

Until then!