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The Gotham City Police Department with the Bat-Signal. Cover of Gotham Central #1. Art by Michael Lark.
|First appearance||Detective Comics #60 (February 1942)|
|In story information|
|Element of stories featuring||Batman|
The Bat-Signal is a distress signal device appearing in the various interpretations of the Batman mythos. It is a specially modified Klieg searchlight with a stylized symbol of a bat attached to the light so that it projects a large Bat emblem on the sky or buildings of Gotham City. In the stories, the signal is used by the Gotham City Police Department as a method of contacting and summoning Batman to their assistance in the event of a serious crisis and as a weapon of psychological intimidation to the numerous villains of Gotham City.
The origin of the signal varies between timeline and media. It made its first appearance in Detective Comics #60, February 1942. In the 1989 Batman film, Batman gave the signal to the police as a gift enabling them to call him when the city is in danger; in 2005's Batman Begins, then-lieutenant James Gordon installs the Bat signal on the roof of the police department, which he obtained after an incident when Batman leaves the Bat signal at the docks with the mobster Carmine Falcone strapped on to it intending that the Gotham Police Department take possession of both.
In the comic's post-Crisis continuity, the signal has many different origins. It was either introduced after the Batman's first encounter with the Joker in Batman: The Man Who Laughs; or during the "Prey" storyline in Legends of the Dark Knight. In Batman and the Mad Monk, Gordon initially used a pager, but during a meeting with Batman he threw it away, saying that he could not sneak around in the shadows like Batman and wanted a more above-board means of contacting him.
On Batman: The Animated Series, it was introduced in the episode "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy", though a makeshift signal was used earlier in "Joker's Favor". On The Batman, Gordon invented it to summon Batman in "Night in the City". The signal had already been alluded to in an earlier episode.
Being used by others 
Others have used the Bat-Signal for their own purposes.
In the "Lovers and Madmen" story arc from Batman Confidential, which retells the origin of the Joker and his first encounter with Batman, Batman sees the Bat-Signal and assumes Gordon is calling him to ask for his help. When he reaches the rooftop, however, he finds the Joker instead, forcing Batman into their first confrontation (after The Batman had "killed" and "created" The Joker).
In Legends of the Dark Knight #6, a cadre of crime bosses projects the signal upside down in order to summon Batman to help them fight a killer they cannot defeat.
In the Halloween special comic series, Batman: Haunted Knight, Scarecrow alters the Bat-Signal to notify Batman that he has kidnapped then-Captain Jim Gordon. By adding an orange bulb and painting "eyes" on the signal, he turns the beam into a stylized Jack-o'-lantern image (with the bat symbol forming the mouth beneath two eyes).
In Batman: Dark Victory, the Hangman sneaks onto the roof of Police Headquarters and turns the Bat-Signal on to lure then-recently appointed Commissioner James Gordon to the roof and try to kill him, but is thwarted when Two-Face cuts Gordon down.
Near the beginning of the No Man's Land story arc, a junior officer creates an improvised Bat-Signal out of spare parts. Gordon smashes it to pieces as he is angry that Batman has not shown up. Oracle also builds a small Bat-Signal to summon Batman to talk to her after having seen Huntress wearing a Batgirl costume.
In the comic book series Gotham Central, the purpose of the Bat-Signal is further expanded upon; as Batman's existence is not officially recognized by the Gotham City authorities, the Bat-Signal is explained as a method of using the "urban legend" around Batman to terrify Gotham's criminal underworld. As official proven police interaction with the Bat-Signal and Batman himself can lead to cases against criminals arrested by Batman being dismissed, it is up to the civilian employees of the Gotham police department (including the Major Case Squad's civilian attache, Stacy) to operate the signal officially. Owing to the events in the "War Crimes" storyline, relations between Batman and the Gotham City Police Department under Commissioner Michael Akins are officially severed; the Bat-Signal is removed from the roof of Gotham Central. Needing Batman's help on an extraordinary case, Akins brings out a spare Bat-Signal for a single use. This signal is a more sophisticated laser which paints a green bat symbol in the clouds and is apparently more visible. This version of the signal is donated by Kord Industries (see the Blue Beetle). The laser signal is said to have been unused because the city council deems it an "inappropriate gift." (The characters are notably unimpressed by the more high tech version.)
In the 52 series, The Question alters the traditional Bat-Signal to project a spray-painted question mark. In the One Year Later series, however, with the re-installation of James Gordon as commissioner, relations with Batman appear to have thawed; upon Batman's return from one year of self-imposed exile, the Bat-Signal (restored to the roof of police headquarters) is activated once again. The familiar sight of the Bat symbol in the sky prompts cheers from most of the citizens of Gotham.
The Bat-Signal has been damaged or destroyed many times in the past, the most recent of which occurred early in the new Batman's tenure. In Blackest Night: Batman, Batman and Robin deal with resurrected zombies of their dead foes, some of which have attacked the GCPD Headquarters. When Black Lanterns attack the headquarters, the Bat-Signal shines in the sky, cracked and covered with two corpses surrounding the bat symbol. This prompts the Dynamic Duo to head over and help.
In other media 
1949 Columbia serial 
The Bat-Signal made its first on-screen appearance in the Batman and Robin serial by Columbia. In its first incarnation, it was simply a high powered projector that was actually kept in Commissioner Gordon's office. When needed, he would simply wheel the Bat-Signal over to his office window and shine it directly to the sky. Though small, it was powerful enough to cast an image of the Bat symbol against the clouds.
1960s TV series 
The Bat-Signal seldom appeared in the 1960s TV series, Commissioner Gordon generally contacting Batman using a dedicated phone line (the Batphone). However, the Bat-Signal was occasionally used (for instance, in the episode "The Sandman Cometh" when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are away on a camping trip), whenever Batman needed to be summoned from the field. Its first appearance was in episode 9, "Zelda The Great".
Live-action film 
Burton/Schumacher film series 
In Burton's 1992 sequel Batman Returns, Batman has mirrors stationed atop Wayne Manor that reflect the Bat-Signal through his window, alerting him to its presence in the night sky. The signal is used when Commissioner Gordon needs Batman's help when the Red Triangle Circus Gang attack Max Shreck during Christmas and appears again at the end of the film as a surviving Catwoman looks on.
In Joel Schumacher's 1995 sequel Batman Forever, the criminal psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian uses the Bat-Signal to call Batman, in order to seduce him. Batman is slightly peeved at her usage of the Bat-Signal as a mere "beeper". A music video for "Kiss from a Rose", also from the film, features singer Seal performing the song while standing near the Bat-Signal. Also in Batman Forever, the Riddler alters the Bat-Signal by projecting a question mark into the sky with the first symbol forming the dot at the base. Similarly, in Batman: Dark Victory, after brokering a tentative alliance with Batman, the Riddler changes the signal, projecting a question mark into the sky in order to let Batman know that he has an answer for him.
Nolan film series 
In Christopher Nolan's 2005 film Batman Begins,then-lieutenant James Gordon finds the mobster Carmine Falcone strapped on to a searchlight in the docks of Gotham City, for the Gotham Police force to arrest him, left by Batman. Lieutenant Gordon then notices, that Falcone's shadow is projected into the clouds of the night sky, similar to the silhouette of a bat. At the end of the film, the Bat-signal appears, as a searchlight that projects the shape of a bat, installed atop police headquarters as a means to contact Batman.
In the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight, as in Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Gordon uses the Bat-Signal to remind Gotham of Batman's presence. The signal proves to be very effective, with drug dealers and criminals becoming apprehensive at its very appearance. At the end of the film, after reluctantly agreeing to let Batman take the blame for the murders committed by Harvey Dent in order to preserve Dent's image as Gotham's hero, Gordon hesitantly destroys the signal using an axe in front of various members of the police force and the press.
In the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, the rusted remains of the destroyed Bat-Signal are still atop police headquarters. However, at the end of the film, with Batman declared dead, Gordon sees a restored Bat-Signal, providing hope that Batman has survived. (The signal itself is never used once in the film, however, making it the only live-action film about Batman where this occurs.)
DC animated universe 
In Batman: The Animated Series, the signal was built by Commissioner Gordon in "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy". Barbara Gordon uses it in one episode to contact Batman in "Heart of Steel" when she believes that an impostor has replaced her father. At this meeting, the signal is partially destroyed when Batman is attacked by a Harvey Bullock duplicate, and Barbara uses Batman's grapple gun to pull the robot into the signal, electrocuting it. Likewise, the real Harvey Bullock uses the signal for the first time when reluctantly asking for Batman's help in discovering who is trying to kill him in "A Bullet for Bullock". In the same series, a man who is being blackmailed by the Joker uses an improvised Bat-Signal to call Batman for help.
In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman is being hunted by the police as a suspect in the recent murder of several gang lords (a crime actually committed by the Phantasm), and Bullock, under orders from Councilman Arthur Reeves, tries to use the Bat-Signal to lure him in. Batman, knowing that it is a trap, does not respond. It is also used at the end of the film to call Batman to action once again (after Batman was cleared of the murder charges).
The Bat-Signal is not used in Batman Beyond, save for one appearance, as Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon both has a direct line to the Batcave and is not as cooperative with Batman as her father was. The one appearance of the signal is in "Ascension", where Paxton Powers, the son of Derek Powers (Blight), has a small replica of it built to summon the new Batman, Terry McGinnis. Terry destroys it upon arrival, advising Paxton to "try e-mail."
In the web-series Gotham Girls, Batgirl appears to push her father Commissioner Gordon onto the Bat-Signal, crushing it. It is revealed that he is merely a robotic replacement.
The Batman 
In the episode "The Cat, the Bat, and the Ugly" of the animated TV series The Batman, Batman has just foiled a plot that The Penguin tried to pull on top of a lighthouse. After talking to Detective Yin, Batman is standing in front of the lighthouse light when the Bat-Signal appears in the sky. In the second season finale, "Night in the City" after newly-inducted Commissioner Gordon finally agrees to form an alliance with Batman; he begins using the Bat-Signal. After that his "Batwave" alarm was rarely used.
Video games 
The Bat-Signal is seen in Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) in the sky of Gotham City. During Batman's Scarecrow-induced nightmares, Batman must sneak through the remains of Arkham and defeat a gigantic Scarecrow by aiming the Bat-Signal at him. The Bat-Signal is also used in Batman: Arkham City (2011) as a waypoint in the sky that hovers high above the location of your objective, and the original signal is located at the now-abandoned GCPD building. The Bat-Signal is also seen in DC Universe Online (2010), on top of the GCPD 9th station in the East End of Gotham. It is the focus of the feat to see places related to major DC Universe figures.
- In The Simpsons episode "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)", Homer walks right in front of a searchlight jokingly producing a fat silhouette version of the Bat-Signal, to which Bart asks, "Hey look, is that dad?" and is replied by Lisa, "either that, or Batman's really let himself go."
- The Bat-Signal is referenced in Eminem's song, "Crack a Bottle".
- In an episode of Full House, Danny Tanner freaks out over finding his daughter D.J. asleep on the couch with her boyfriend, to which she responds that he is blowing things way out of proportion. Danny says, "Way out of proportion?! Do you see a S.W.A.T team behind me?! Do you see helicopters circling the building?! Do you see the Bat-Signal out there?!"
- In DreamWorks Animation's Megamind: The Button of Doom, the short film ends of with a signal replacing the logo of a bat with a letter M.
- In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, we learn that Leonard has a Bat-Signal in his room.
- Internet freedom organization Internet Defense League used cat signal, parodying both the Bat-Signal and the lolcat meme.
- In the comic book Hitman by Garth Ennis, the protagonist Tommy Monaghan creates a "Cat Signal" in order to summon Catwoman by propping up a dead cat on a Klieg light.
- In the show "Spongebob Squarepants", Mermaidman is seen having a "Mermaid Signal" in the episode Night Light.
See also 
- Brodkin, Jon (2012-07-19). "Internet Defense League creates "cat signal" to save Web from next SOPA". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2012-08-26.