Not long ago, it was announced that the next Batman movie was going to be an animated version of the famous Batman alternate-history comic, Gotham by Gaslight. The basic conceit of this comic was to place Batman in 1889 London, where he’d be in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. As far as I can tell, there was no Batmobile designed for this Batman, in that world, and I think that was a grave error. So I’m going to try to fix that.
Batman movies need new Batmobiles. They just do; Batmobiles are a crucial part of the whole Batman mythos, and just because this one happens to take place in 1889 is no reason why this Victorian Batman should be denied his right to a sweet-ass Batmobile.
There were a decent number of automotive options available to convert into a Batmobile, even way back in 1889. Karl Benz’ patent-motorwagen was unveiled in 1886, and while it wasn’t produced in quantity, it was one of a number of gasoline-powered cars around then. Siegfried Marcus had quite an advanced gasoline-powered car in 1888 as well, making a ravenous 0.75 horsepower, but I don’t think our Victorian Bruce Wayne would have chosen any of those new gasoline-powered cars upon which to base his Batmobile.
If Bruce was smart, and most fictional sources seem to support that he was, he would have looked to the more mature steam-powered automobiles that had been in use (especially in England) since at least the 1830s.
The gasoline cars of the era were, frankly, too spindly, to anemic, and too slow to perform all the duties required of a Batmobile. A Batmobile needs to be fast and rugged, ideally an enclosed vehicle that can support Batman’s many and varied crimefighting needs as demanded, and that includes being chased, shot at, and worse.
Also, secrecy is important for Batman, and in an era where gasoline cars were rare, it would have been too easy for people to connect Bruce Wayne’s surprisingly frequent trips to the apothecary for petroleum spirits to that weird-looking Bat-like car running around.
There actually was an ideal platform for an 1880s Batmobile, and it comes from a French company that was actually building cars in series for sale as early as 1878: Bollée.
In 1881 Bollée built a car called La Rapide; the name, of course, means “The Rapid,” because that’s exactly what it was. La Rapide was the first car to be able to go over kilometer a minute, about 62 KPH, which comes to about 39 or 40 MPH.
For 1889, that’s fast as hell.
Also, La Rapide was Bollée’s first car (and one of the first steam cars, period) that was designed to be operated by one person alone; all the controls for the car’s steering, boiler, throttle, and so on were clustered with the bulk of the drivetrain up front. This is important since in this very pre-Robin era, Batman works alone.
It’s also worth noting that the design of La Rapide was fairly roomy, with a decent amount of room over the chassis to provide Batman with the equipment he’d need.
So, I think the best bet for a mid-to-late 1880s Batman would be to contact the Bollée company, order himself a nice new La Rapide with minimal bodywork, and then send the steam car to a coachbuilder to enclose the body, making a sort of van-like vehicle.
That gets delivered to the Victorian Batcave, where it’s fully outfitted, which I’m imagining would be something like this:
See, a Batmobile has to have some pretty cutting-edge technology, and I think the technology that would be most useful for Batman would be that which would help him solve his crimes and whatnot.
That’s why I think the 1889 Batmobile should be equipped with a retractable and extendable arm designed to tap into overhead telegraph lines. This would allow Batman to both eavesdrop on telegraph messages, and give him access to send and recieve messages of his own.
Mobile telegraph setups had been used since the Civil War, so there’s no reason why this would be beyond 1880s technology.
Taking this a step further, the Batmobile should go beyond mere Morse code messaging, and have the ability to recieve documents and images electrically. Essentially, a fax. Incredibly, proto-fax technology existed in this era, in the form of a machine called a Pantelegraph.
These pendulum-based machines were in regular use in France in the mid-1800s, with a pantelegraph line between Paris and Lyon in operation since at least 1865! Think about that—while the U.S. was fighting the Civil War, Frenchmen and women were faxing the crap out of each other!
The pantelegraph could be used by Batman to recieve maps and diagrams and other complex messages from Alfred, who would be transmitting from a pantelegraph in the Batcave. With Batman telegraphing his location to Alfred, hunched over an atlas and sending detailed maps to the Batmobile, this could almost be like a very slow, crude form of GPS!
This equipment, along with a roof-mounted carbon-arc searchlamp, would be powered by a cluster of wet-cell batteries mounted low in the cabin.
Let’s also give Batman a darkroom in there. I can imagine Batman having a lot of small cameras that could be hidden in various locations, with shutters triggered by clockwork timers, to attempt to gather information or place suspects at certain areas. Think of it as a really primitive form of CCTV surveillance. Batman could collect the cameras at his leisure and develop the plates right there in the Batmobile.
The Batmobile would, of course, be armored, since people seem to enjoy shooting at Batman, and La Rapide’s speed and robust construction should prove a match for nearly anything else Batman would be likely to find on the dark streets.
I’m pretty sure production of this new Batman movie is well along, but I’d implore the studio to stop all work immediately and figure out a way to incorporate this Bollée-Batmobile in there. No matter the cost. I’m comfortable with them spending whatever it takes from their investor’s money to make this happen, and I’m happy to put that in writing, if it helps.
Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
CORRECTION: The comic takes place in Gotham City, Fiction-America, not London. Oops.