An Extensive And Exhaustive Examination Of The Most Important Question In Superhero Comics: How Long Should Batman’s Ears Be?
Comic book readers love details. For a certain kind of fan, that's what fascinates us, all the bits and pieces of minutiae that are floating around those world-shaking stories, and more often than not, we get hung up on those every bit as much as the big stuff, with debates over which way the curl in Superman's hair should be facing sometimes getting to the same fever pitch as whether or not superheroes should kill people. It's intense, but, well, that's what you get when you raise a generation of fans on Who's Whos and Official Handbooks.
The thing is, the most intense of those minor detail debates often come from one single element of superhero comics: Batman's costume. Yellow oval or black bat? Belt pouches or capsules? Blue and grey or all black? With as many variations as there have been on one of the most iconic looks in history, there's no shortage of things to argue about, and today, we're going to settle one of the most long-lasting debates: How long should Batman's ears be?
So first things first: If we're going to do this, we need to approach it scientifically, which is why I've come up with the Sprang-Jones Scale. Since normal measurements of distance don't apply --- and even using the standard cartooning measurements of "heads" gets a little fuzzy --- the only way to truly chart them is by measuring them relative to each other. So at one end of the scale, we have the work of classic Golden and Silver Age artist Dick Sprang, whose ears fall into the shortest acceptable length. We'll call that a "1."
On the other end of the scale, for our "10," we've got Kelley Jones, who famously drew a lengthy run on Batman in the '90s and on various stories since. He's still still strongly identified with the character today, mainly due to his approach to the ears and cape --- which I think we can go ahead and say is just a little bit over the top:
Those are our two extremes. Any smaller than Sprang, and you're in tiny kitty cat territory. Any larger than Jones, and you've basically just given that dude antlers. Surely, within those parameters, we can find a happy medium, right?
So let's start at the beginning. Before Sprang came along to tone things down a bit, Batman's ears were originally not just longer, but more angled, as seen in Bob Kane's artwork in Detective Comics #27:
The reasoning here is obvious --- actual bats, the things that Bruce Wayne is supposed to be dressed like, do not actually have two pointy devil horns sticking out from the top of their heads. Instead, as you may know, they have big ol' ears that stick out of their heads at an angle, something that the original cowl gets a little closer to with what we'll go ahead and call about a 4 on the Sprang-Jones Scale.
But as good as it is to be faithful to our inspirations from the animal kingdom, I think we can all agree that the more upright horns make for a better silhouette. It's something Kane and Bill Finger realize pretty quickly, too --- by Detective Comics #33, they're already changing the shape of the ears, and within the first year of publication, they're already shaping them into something that looks a lot more modern, clocking in at a solid Sprang-Jones 6:
Over the next few years, though, Batman's ears would be toned down a little, thanks to the influence of artists like Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff and, to a lesser extent, Jerry Robinson. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with the introduction of Robin --- if Batman's going to mix "cheerful dad" into the mix alongside "two-fisted vigilante," then you don't necessarily need him to look as much like Goth Satan as you did when you started.
So while Robinson's take kept him at a solid Sprang-Jones 4...
... It wasn't long before Sprang himself provided a pretty definitive take that lasted for the majority of the next thirty years. Witness, for instance, this panel by Mike Sekowsky from 1960's Brave and the Bold #28:
If that's not a 1 on the Sprang-Jones Scale, it might actually be a .5.
You can see that prevailing design reflected in the live-action Batman television show of the mid '60s, where Adam West's bat-ears are just a few small bits of shiny material that barely poke out above the top of the cowl. Once the show was over, though, things began to swing back in another direction.
You can see it starting as early as 1970, when Bob Brown nudges the ears back up to about a 2...
Adams, it should be noted, originally drew shorter ears in his first few stories (go back and read "Secret of the Waiting Graves" in 'Tec #395 and I think you'll agree that we're dealing with a Sprang-Jones 3 at best), but by the time he's doing the more definitive work of introducing Ra's al-Ghul in Batman #232, he's back up to the S-J 5 of the early days:
Aparo, on the other hand, pushed them just a little bit further in his twenty years drawing Batman, consistently clocking in at a Sprang-Jones 7:
For me, this is the ideal length for Batman's ears --- long enough to strike that dramatic silhouette, and in true superhero fashion, a little too long to be practical for anything other than adventuring on the comics page, but not so long that he's going to be getting them stuck in the ceiling every time he goes to see Commissioner Gordon.
Then again, that might be the reason that he drove a Batmobile without a roof for so much of Aparo's tenure.
With the exception of Jones, most Batman artists of the '90s, like Graham Nolan and Norm Breyfogle, stuck to the range established by Aparo and Adams, with Breyfogle occasionally pushing it to an 8, and Tim Sale --- almost as big a fan of lengthening the ears and cape for dramatic effect as Jones himself - getting close to a 9 every now and then. But as good as those artists are, it's arguable that the defining image of Batman in the '90s didn't originate on the comics page.
One of the interesting things about this particular design isn't just the length of the ears, but their positioning on Batman's cowl. Rather than having them in the middle of Batman's head --- emerging from Batman's actual ears --- Timm's design sweeps them to the back of the head, allowing for a more dramatic profile. They're a little shorter than the Aparo ears --- I'd put them right in the middle as a Sprang-Jones 5 - but with Timm's wider, square-jawed Batman, having slightly shorter ears works.
Both of these elements would later be adopted in the comics, specifically in Dave Johnson's 1999 redesign of the Batman costume, which gives him the shortest ears that we'd seen in 30 years, dropping them back to about a 2 on the S-J scale.
Of course, It's worth noting that over the course of the DC Animated Universe, Timm would redesign Batman a couple of times, and while the ears were more or less the same length in the New Batman Adventures version, Justice League saw them curved outwards into the devil-horn shape that hearkened back to the Golden Age, seen here from the cover of Batman Adventures (volume 2) #1:
As much as I like the show, that comic, and Timm's work in general, I don't think those ears work, for exactly the same reason that the slightly shorter ears on the original BTAS design do. Lengthening the ears (and bending them outwards) feels like it imbalances the design in a way that the sleeker version doesn't.
And that's about it --- the entire spectrum of Batman ear length, exhaustively catalogued. As I said above, I'm an Aparo man myself, but now, we can at least discuss this in concrete, scientific terms. Now you can tell us how long you think Batman's ears should be on the Sprang-Jones Scale.
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