In the superhero world, there are levels of how effective various alter-ego and costume disguises really are. For example, we have to suspend our sense of disbelief fairly majorly to believe that no one at the Daily Planet has ever figured out Clark Kent - the mild mannered, bespectacled journalist - is actually Superman. Meanwhile, several superheroes seem to get by with nothing but a bit of black eyeliner.
Batman for example, is another hero who is frequently lampooned for his not entirely convincing disguise. Sure, he's covered the top part of his face and changed his voice, but there's still quite a bit on show. Throw in the fact he's a famous billionaire playboy, who presumably has featured on magazine covers everywhere, then it seems like a stretch to imagine no one was figured of Bruce Wayne's secret. But maybe it's not so ridiculous?
A user over at io9 recently provided an anecdote which suggests Batman's costume would be quite effective at hiding his identity. Check it out below:
It bears mentioning as to the long-standing question of whether or not Bruce Wayne's close friends (those he has) would recognize him as Batman based on his voice, the lower half of his face, and general body language.
I recently attended a local anime convention where I live, and spent the day enjoying the exciting array of cosplayers who were there. One of the more impressive costumes I saw there was a really well-made Batman costume which I noticed once across a crowd, and later from a little closer up (though not face-to-face). This was the only person I saw in a Batman costume.
A few days later, I was meeting with a friend, and told him I had gone to the convention. "Did you see [a close mutual friend, whom I've known for close to two decades]?" he asked me. "He was dressed as Batman." He then directed me to our friend's facebook page, where he had posted pics of himself in a well-made Batsuit costume.
The very same Batsuit costume.
So, would Bruce Wayne's close friends recognize him as Batman?
I sure didn't.
Of course, there is an important distinction to be made here. We recognize Batman because we know he's Bruce Wayne/Christian Bale/whoever. So for us it's easy to make out his face's defining characteristics, even when obscured with the cowl. Although that doesn't work for everyone... Take, for example, this rather humorous skit involving Val Kilmer in Ricky Gervais' Life's Too Short:
However, research suggests that if we had no prior knowledge of who Batman was, we would find it difficult to recognize and remember his face.
The Journal of Vision published a paper which explains that human facial recognition is all based in your temporal lobe. It remembers and recognizes faces not based on their overall appearance, but by analyzing the individual parts of a face and then constructing them into some kind of 'natural barcode'. This means when you see the face again, you can quickly scan it and figure out if you know the person.
The temporal lobe, however, does this in a sequence. First it reads the eyebrows, eyes and lips as horizontal lines. Then the brain takes into account areas of light and dark, in particular the forehead and the hollows of the eyes and cheeks. All of this then combined to make the 'barcode'.
So, logically, Batman's cowl is actually quite effective at masking several key facial areas needed for recognition. The brows in particular are hidden, while the hollows of the eyes are darkened and the cheeks obscured. Therefore, someone looking at Batman would not form the same 'barcode' as someone looking at Bruce Wayne, meaning they wouldn't immediately recognize the two faces as one and the same. Nice job Batman.
To experiment with this idea, here are five famous faces wearing Batman's mask. See if you can figure out who it is. Hit the spoiler tag below each image to get the answer.
Joseph Gordon Levitt
How many of the above hidden celebrities did you get right? Be honest now!