That Man, Batman
Chris Banner is a real man amongst mortals. He’d have to be. How else could he step into the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight from a home base that isn’t even close to looking like the Bat Cave? Furthermore, does a mere mortal climb into his own Batmobile for a jaunt around the neighborhood with a sidekick, or, more importantly, to grant the heroic thrill of a lifetime to a special needs Bat-mite via the Make-A-Wish Foundation?
Banner runs his own successful company in Ramona, California. But really, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest detective to figure out how he gets his kicks. It’s all about Batman! For instance, the Batmobile you see above is custom-made from a 1947 Ford Galaxy, with the engine and radiator rearranged to work better. This new Batmobile is more practical than Bruce Wayne’s (because it has to be driven around other places besides Gotham City, right?). Banner made sure he included a back-up camera, hideaway headlights, and a smoke machine.
Q: Besides dressing up as the Dark Knight, Chris, what is your main occupation?
A: I’ve had a whole lot of headings for what I’ve done in my life, but right now I do real estate and weed and brush control. Also, fire prevention work.
Q: How far will you travel away from Ramona to get to a gig?
A: I’ve been as far as Napa, Calif. Actually, as far as Sacramento. But I don’t go that far anymore because it’s too hard to haul the trailer and the Batmobile out there, try to do the gig, and then there’s no place to keep the car so you have to turn around to be home the next day.
Q: What got you into the whole “Batman thing?”
A: I always liked costumes and I like attention. When I was a kid I had a Robin suit. I ditched the Robin suit for Batman because everybody likes Batman a little more than Robin. Kids and adults both really like it and it’s a good time. And during the pandemic, it’s a good way to get out and have some fun.
Q: You own four suits. What can you tell us about them?
A: My first suite I found on eBay. That’s the main place I go for the suits. The first one I had was a cosplay suit, a muscle suit, but it was really sweaty. I remember going to the Del Mar Fair, to the races, and wearing that suit. And I remember my gloves were full of water, all the way to my wrists, and I had to lift them up and drain them out because it was so hot. It wasn’t realistic to wear. So the next one I ordered from New York. I actually had a guy make me one. It cost a couple of grand. That one I don’t wear that much, but it’s very comfortable. It doesn’t look like the movie character one, from the movie. It’s kind of this guy’s own take on Batman, but it’s pretty cool.
I have two Michael Keaton ones which are my favorites. I have a brand new one I made but I really don’t wear it that often. It’s not as comfortable as the main one that I wear right now, which is getting pretty worn out. That’s how I usually go through Batman suits – when they wear out and rip and I can’t put them together anymore. They’re made of wetsuits, which fall apart after you wear them for a couple of years. And they get sweaty and hot and I have to clean them out with the hose and water and then I have to let them hang dry.
Q: Approximately how much time do you spend on this hobby of yours?
A: I do about two events a month. Pre Covid it might have been a little more. I sometimes work with any outfit in Hollywood to be booked for Hollywood gigs and those are a lot of fun, too.
Q: I hear your friends help make various pieces of gear. What is the most ambitious item that you have made from scratch?
A: Absolutely! The most ambitious was the 1989 Michael Keaton Batmobile. It took a year and a half and 800 man-hours of work to finish. I took my friend Jim on and he helped me to finish it. It was fun – like building a house. You only do it once!
Another friend helped make the custom cosplay suit. He stitched it all by hand. He made the headpiece out of a mold. It looks so realistic. Actually, that suit is hanging in the closet and I don’t wear that one right now. Back in the day, when they did the Del Mar Fair for horse racing, I fashioned a lot of the hats people wore on Opening Day. I made four Grand Champion hats. I met this guy at the Del Mar Fair. Later he helped me make one of my hats – it was a porcupine hat. And later he helped me make a suit.
We stay away from any weaponry that Batman might wear, like the Batarangs and such. Even though people like them and they’re identified with Batman, I don’t want to include them because people might think they look too realistic and that could get me in trouble.
Q: What is the best thing that has happened while you’ve been in costume?
A: Watching people’s reactions and seeing how much they love the superheroes. I’ve done a couple of Make-A-Wish events and those are probably my most memorable moments. I have a skit all laid out. We do a superhero action-adventure with them and they ride with me in the car and go catch the villain. I really like what I do at those times. They really think it’s realistic, especially when I do the real Batman voice. That can be almost beyond frightening, so I have to be careful about it. At first, I have to take baby steps until I know what they’re going to like and what they aren’t.
Q: Likewise, has anything happened that you would rather not have happened when in costume?
A: Mainly my nightmares are when the Batmobile breaks down. Like when I’m going to a Batman party and it’s a hundred degrees outside and the air conditioning unit breaks in the Batmobile. Another time I ran out of gas going up the grade to Valley Center where I live. Do you want embarrassment? Hopping out of the car, standing in the fast lane – there’s Batman waving cars around, calling 911 and trying to explain who he is, and trying to get some help so he doesn’t get run over. Yeah. That’s embarrassing.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to follow your particular journey into costumed events?
A: It is amazing how many people have gotten into putting a superhero costume together. Some actually spend the time and effort to do it, and quite often people just talk about it but don’t. If you want to go the whole way and maybe make a car as I did, start saving up a little money and find a talented friend who can help you get over any hurdles that might pop up. His name had better be MacGyver, though. In my opinion, if you’ve got the talent and the time, then you’ll figure it out!