The best known superhero headquarters is the Batcave. However, in the early days of his career Batman had his superhero apparatus spread all over the place. He kept his costume in a trunk in his study (Detective Comics # 29, 1939), his Batgyro in “a secret hanger known only to himself” (Detective Comics # 31, 1939), and file cabinets and beakers in a “secret laboratory” somewhere in the Wayne mansion (Detective Comics # 39, 1939). And how did Batman, in full costume, return to his home without giving away his identity? He entered “what seems to be a deserted barn on a barren field” and a long underground tunnel lead to a secret entrance into his mansion, referred to as “the Lair of the Batman!” (Detective Comics # 47, 1941). The next issue showed the bright red Batmobile in that “seemingly old deserted barn.”
The first appearance of a cave as the hero’s headquarters occurred in Batman, the 1943 movie serial. The Bat’s Cave, as it was called, was simply a cave with a table, chairs, and a bat logo on the wall.
Batman # 12 (1942) introduced Batman’s hall of trophies. This seemed to be a room somewhere in the mansion because there is a large window and Batman says “another few cases and we’ll have to add a new wing to the place.” The issue also provided more details about that secret hanger. A cross-section view showed a hanger, a garage, and a workshop underground between the Wayne mansion and the old barn. A winch was used to lift vehicles up to the old barn. The secret laboratory was still upstairs in the house. The underground area did not have a name and it was not even clear if the complex was in a natural cave or was all manmade.
A more elaborate version, now called the Bat Cave, appeared in the Batman and Robin newspaper comic strip on October 29, 1943. The cross-section view of the Bat Cave was a recreation of the drawing in Batman # 12 with a few chambers added to be consistent with scenes in the movie. The laboratory had been moved down into the cave. The only element still missing was the trophy room.
Detective Comics # 83 (1944) was the first comic book in which Batman’s headquarters was referred to as the Bat Cave. The space is described as “the Bat Cave, subterranean shelter for the Batmobile and the Batplane, a criminological laboratory, and other crime-fighting tools of the Batman.” Not mentioned is the gym, but that’s where Bruce and Dick corner an “intruder” who turns out to be their butler Alfred.
The objects shown in the Batcave’s trophy area over the years have generally been linked to specific Batman adventures. For instance, the mechanical tyrannosaurus rex comes from an adventure on “Dinosaur Island” (Batman #35, 1946) and the giant penny was a trophy from Batman’s encounter with The Penny Plunderer (World’s Finest # 30, 1947).
When Dick Grayson moved away to go to college, Bruce Wayne must have experienced empty nest syndrome. He moved from Wayne Manor to a penthouse atop the Wayne Foundation Building. He sealed up the original Batcave and built Batcave II beneath the Wayne Foundation Building. Nothing about that felt right, and it wasn’t long before the Caped Crusader was back at the mansion and reopened the real Batcave.The Batcave has grown in size and complexity over the years. Various comic book artists and motion picture art directors have made their own, sometimes subtle and sometimes radical, modifications to the design. Yet, there are certain elements – computers, vehicles, and trophies – that have become essential components of the Batcave.
While the giant penny might be too goofy for the gritty Batman movies, it will always have a place in the hearts of Batman’s comic book fans. No one has captured the wackiness and wonderment of the Batcave quite like Dick Sprang. In 1995, the Golden Age Batman artist created an impressive lithograph titled “Secrets of the Batcave.” Explanations of each area of Sprang’s version of the Batcave can be found from this Comics Alliance feature.
In addition, a pretty good video history of the Batcave is available from NerdSync Productions.