Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
We all know the popular variation of the holiday standard but in our annual rush to mock the Caped Crusader at Christmas time we rarely consider the central issue that it raises. Does Batman smell? And if so, how badly?
Many elements of the comic tune have certain veracity to them. It is entirely possible for the Batmobile to lose a wheel, although one would assume that some kind of sophisticated WayneTech device would quickly replace the missing tire. And of course the Joker can get away. In fact, he’s ridiculously good at getting away. That is one of many qualities that makes the wily trickster so frustrating.
Other song elements are clearly built upon playful language use and are not meant to be taken literally. As the popular sidekick is not a bird, Robin cannot lay an egg. However, he can make a mistake. Thus the statement “Batman smells!” could be simply an insult, the kind of taunt that the Joker might toss during one of his protracted conflicts with the Dynamic Duo.
Still it’s worth considering if the Clown Prince of Crime is right on the nose here.
Years ago, a Nerd Factor column explored the challenges inherent in superhero costumes. There are many different varieties of costumes. Some heroes are fortunate to have access to magic or science or scientific magical magic science that allows them to instantly change costumes. Others, however, are forced to wear their costumes under their ordinary clothes. Unless these do-gooders operate in cooler weather, they are going to get hot and perspire. That bunch is going to stink.
Batman is rather distinctive amongst his fellow crime-fighters in that he rarely does either. It’s probably the huge cowl and cape, but there is no easy way for Bruce Wayne to hide his iconic garb. He must either wear the costume when he leaves the Batcave or retrieve it from whatever handy place his trusty butler Alfred has left the bat-duds for him.
Thus, we can theorize that at the beginning of any adventure, Batman probably does not smell bad. On the contrary, Bruce Wayne is one of the richest people on the planet and it is safe to assume that he has access to all the best kinds of grooming aids and deodorants that money can buy.
Now Batman is a physical guy. His lifelong physical training regimen has given him Olympic-level athletic skills. He also prefers hand to hand combat. All of this activity guarantees Batman will work up a sweat. Body odor smells come from bacterial interaction with sweat.
But could any smell be detected? Batman tends to wear full bodysuits of synthetic textiles. Only his eyes and lower face are typically exposed. As long as Batman skips meals with garlic, he’s not likely to stink, even up close.
Batman’s return to the Batcave after a night of vigilantism on the streets of Gotham City is a different matter though. When Bruce Wayne peels himself out of his costume, he almost certainly reeks. And his costume almost certainly does too.
That poor butler is the guy that has to clean that funk out of the Batsuit. Alfred Pennyworth is the true hero Gotham deserves.