Holy Onomatopoeia, What A Bat-collection!

Although its release is still almost two months away, anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises – the third act in Christopher Nolan’s re-imagination of the Batman mythos – is… errr… rising to a fever pitch. This is partly due to the incredible success of that other superhero blockbuster The Avengers which has been shattering all kinds of box office records (over 1 billion dollars!?). Nolan’s stylishly contemporary and edgy version may make us forget that Batman’s adventures on the screen started in a rather goofy way. The deliciously campy television series, in which the ludicrously straightlaced Caped Crusader battled evil in this parody of the comics, ran for three seasons from 1966 to 1968. Before going on the air, this show received the worst audience test scores in the history of ABC. It only went on the air because so much money had already been invested in it. Nonetheless this was one of the “in” shows to appear on if you were a big name in Hollywood during the 1960s, and many top names guested on the show, including many who didn’t do much TV otherwise. Those performers who weren’t cast as guest villains could frequently be seen popping their heads out of windows to exchange a few words with Batman and Robin when the latter would be climbing up a building wall. Eventually Batman went on to become a cult phenomenon.

One characteristic of Batman was the frequent use of onomatopoeias during the fight scenes. An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the sound associated with the object or the action it refers to, like buzz or murmur, customarily used in comic books and strips. The Batman television series went one step further, visualising them in lettering. In total 84 different word overlays were used during the fight scenes. In the first season they were overlaid on the image but due to the cost they were simply inserted in brightly coloured screens from the second season on. Today a tweet by Underware led me to an overview of the word overlays on Batmania, the fan website by Martín Zamorano & Walter Armada. The Onomatopeyas page neatly lists them alphabetically in all their eclectic splendour. The website even lists what word overlays were used in which episodes, both per word and per episode. Below I did a summary research on some of the lettering styles.

Most of the word overlays were executed in the typical “cartoony” freehand sans caps style. However a few stand out.

Gothic/blackletter inspired letters were rather atypical and unusual for comic book lettering.

Two different lettering styles –“Glipp!!!” in a Latin with triangular serifs, and “Urkkk!!” is a casual slab serif.

Why not add some stars or concentric circles in the counters to spruce up the design?

Speed lines can add dynamism in both vertical…

… and horizontal direction.

Water-related word overlays benefit from wavy letter forms and splashes.

What better way to evoke an explosion than by having the counter explode, or zig-zag character outlines for a jolt of electricity?

It can be taken even further by having the letter shapes visualise the action that is represented by the onomatopoeia, for example actually ripping in half the letters that spell out “Rip”, or cracked characters creating a “Krunch” sound. How meta can you get?

For me the funniest one is the counter of the “O” mimicking the mouth that produced the sound.

There’s more; discover them all on the Batmania website.

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