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Bat Signal

"The Bat-Signal is not a beeper."

A method of summoning a Superhero by shining their insignia into the sky. Usually, this involves using a searchlight to project the image against the clouds (it's normally not explained what they do on cloudless nights).

The best-known example is the Trope Namer, Batman, though it has been referenced, parodied, subverted, and otherwise used many times since. The Ur Example of this trope is Golden Bat.

The Bat Signal is a specific form of Regular Caller. A very specific form of Epic Hail.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime  
  • Golden Bat, the Ur Example of this trope, had his own anime adaptation in 1966 (see Theater section below for more details).
  • The card "Hero Signal" from Yu-Gi-Oh! is based on this idea.
    • As is the card "Destiny Signal". The "Neo Signal" has the same effect as the other two signals, but since it summons a team of animal heroes, the card depicts a smoke signal rather than a spotlight.
  • Cyborg Guy from GaoGaiGar had one of these built into his GaoBrace for summoning Galeon. More often, though, the two would simply be dispatched at the same time, foregoing the need for its use.

     Comic Books  
  • Batman has used many different forms of this over the years. In addition to its signaling function, it is sometimes used by Batman himself as part of the whole "strike terror in the hearts of criminals" program. Gordon gives a similar explanation in the comic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in response to the question of why use the Bat Signal instead of something else. The series Gotham Central delves into the legality and operation of the signal, and what it implies for the relationship between Batman and the police. Legally, no employee of City Hall or the police can operate the signal, since that would qualify as an official endorsement of Batman and make the city government responsible for whatever actions Batman takes. As such, only Stacy, the secretary of the Major Crimes Unit who is technically a temp and not a city employee at all, is allowed to turn on the signal. The signal itself is eventually dismantled following the events of the "War Games" crossover (A Bat Family Crossover from the mid-2000's) when the GCPD feels that Batman has broken the bonds of good faith between them.
    • Unfortunately, this article (specifically in the extensive comments section) explains why that arrangement still doesn't work.
    • In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns the Bat Signal is projected onto the side of a skyscraper, solving the problem of cloudless nights.
  • Sadly, the trope was averted in the case of Bat-Family character Stephanie Brown: there is no "Spoiler Alert." However, after she became Batgirl she would respond to the titular signal on numerous occasions, reasoning that it is the Bat-signal, not Batman-signal. In one situation, however, the signal was actually the bait for a trap the Gotham Police were laying, as she was suspected of murder at the time.
  • The Fantastic Four have a signal to summon each other. The Fantasti-Flare lights up the sky, then forms the giant 4 in the sky to let them know they're needed.
    • Human Torch doesn't need a Fantasti-Flare, as he can "draw" the giant 4 in the sky with his flames (usually using his own body/flight movements/fire trail as a pen/brush).
    • Certain prominent individuals, such as the Mayor of New York and the Chief of Police, also had their own transmitters. Presumably, individuals such as the New York State Governor, the President of the United States, and Nick Fury did not need to use such flamboyant methods... or could just order the above-mentioned individuals to use theirs.
  • Parodied in the comic Top 10, where a minor super-hero was arrested for using a flare-gun-type device to contact his partner, which is illegal (a "signal-device violation"). Considering that the setting of this comic is a city populated only by super-heroes, this is a reasonable legal restriction considering how many people might be flying overhead. (Not to mention redundant in the early 21st century, what with cell-phones being so cheap.)
    • Which also got used in The Batman And Robin Adventures #6, where a Robin-wannabe who believed a tabloid claim that the original Robin had been fired used a flare gun to signal Batman. The flare hit an illuminated street sign. Batman smacked the kid and told a passing police officer to book him for reckless endangerment.
  • There's a cartoon out there with an elderly woman using the Bat-Signal to get Batman to investigate the strange noise the dishwasher's making. The implication being of course that she's Batman's mother.
  • In Hitman, the title character creates the "Cat-Signal" to summon Catwoman, by throwing a dead cat on a searchlight.
  • Inverted in the early days of Spider-Man, the Web-Slinger used to use a Spider Signal to introduce himself.
    • Spidey still uses it from time to time, especially that it serves also as a lantern. In J. Michael Straczynski's run he used it to bring attention of a police officer, with this dialogue following:
      Spider-Man: You like it? I can rent it to you if you want.
      Detective: Really? It would be great, thanks. We would put it on the roof every time we would want you to show up. And then kick your butt.
      Spider-Man: Yeah, right, you and some god of Thunder.
    • In a crossover with Batman, he uses it to spot The Joker, who snaps at Spidey for stealing Batman's schtick.
    • Like the Catwoman example above, someone once slapped a spider on a spotlight to call Spidey. Spidey quips that someone's been reading too many comic books.
    • J. Jonah Jameson, as Mayor of New York City, put together a Spider-Signal for the Superior Spider-Man. Spider-Man promptly trashed it, noting how stupid it is to announce to the world where he is.
    • During Dan Slott's run on She-Hulk, the She-Hulk created a make-shift Spider-Signal with a hand-drawn spider on a spotlight, to attract Spider-Man's attention with an offer to sue J. Jonah Jameson for libel. Spider-Man's reaction, "I've seen better art under refrigerator magnets, Shulkie."
  • Every leader of the Section Omega in The Mighty have a special signal device infused directly into their hands that enables them to signal Alpha One or for Alpha One to signal them. Also, Alpha One could track them down whenever he wants to.
  • While Superman has no need for a "Super-Signal", in the opening chapters of The Death of Superman, a young kid bought fluorescent yellow paint and spray painted a crude S-shield in the hopes of Superman seeing it, as Lois had been kidnapped by Underworlders. He does.
  • Spoofed in Wilq the Superhero, where it is frequently used by Commissioner Gondor, using an actual, living turtle. Sometimes this doesn't end well for the turtle. Also employed by Entombed, who is much gentler with the poor creature.

     Film  
  • In Batman: The Movie, the signal is used to lure criminals into thinking Batman and Robin would be off to police headquarters and would not be able to thwart their plans.
  • In Batman, the film ends with the gift of the signal to the city in order to symbolize Batman's help and serve as a public notice. This is just one additional thing to not like Batman & Robin with one of Robin's complaints being that he doesn't have a "Robin Signal"; in Batman Forever it was treated with a sense of trust and importance, here it was part of their "cred" and merchandise.
  • Batman Begins has Batman telling Gordon to "watch for [his] sign" in their first meeting; this sign turns out to be Falcone strung up to a spotlight, his cut coat resembling a bat. Gordon then turns this into the Bat-Signal at the end.
    • In The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon mentions that turning it on is more a reminder to Gotham, even if Batman himself does not show up to answer it "I like reminding everybody that he's out there." As part of the police officially disowning Batman and hunting him down they symbolically smash the signal. In The Dark Knight Rises the first sign that Batman wasn't killed ferrying the nuke to safe territory was Gordon finding the signal repaired.
  • Bumblebee in Transformers sneaks away to a junkyard and shines what looks like a spotlight into the sky. The following evening, Autobot reinforcements arrive. As it is expected to be seen from space, it is either made of very strong light or uses other components as well.
  • In Kick-Ass, Hit Girl jokes about having one of these.
    Kick Ass: How do I get a hold of you.
    Hit Girl: You just contact the mayor's office, he has a special signal he shines in the sky. It's in the shape of a giant cock.
  • Parodied in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when an image of the grail appears over the Castle Anthrax. Turns out it wasn't a sign from God, just the result of a "grail-shaped beacon" left lit to accidentally-on-purpose lure questing knights to the castle.

     Literature  
  • The humorous guidebook How To Be A Superhero has a section on this, including a joke about making sure you have symbol suited to this and commenting on how the Women's League for Decency got the Purple Helmet's signal banned (although he still sometimes mistakenly answers summons for Doc Hemisphere).
  • The "Dark Mark" in the Harry Potter books is an evil equivalent of this, although it serves to indicate an atrocity as well as to summon people.
  • Discussed in Legacy The Tale Of The American Eagle. During the story, communication with the police is done over encrypted communications, but one of American Eagle's allies explains that he used to use a hand-held version to spotlight criminals caught in the act, making them realise they were in deep trouble.
  • Phantom, a pulp-novel masked detective who debuted in 1933, was perhaps the second crime-fighter (after Golden Bat) to be signaled in this way by the police when they needed his help.

     Live Action Television  
  • The X-Files:
    • Mulder's Mysterious Informant Deep Throat was called by blue light coming from Mulder's apartment. This signal appeared only once on the show and was less iconic than the following one.
    • Mulder summons Mr. X by putting an X sign from masking tape on the window in his apartment and shining a lamp light through it.
  • Referenced in the Comedy Central Roast of Larry The Cable Guy, along with some Self-Deprecating Humor.
    Gary Busey: *pointing to his own chair* Why, it's Gary Busey! Somebody must have turned on the Bat shit Signal!
  • The Big Bang Theory: Leonard jokes that he got a government grant on a science project and that he used the equipment to build his own Bat Signal.

    Pinball 
  • In Stern Pinball's Batman, the bat-signal on the playfield lights up to indicate to the player when the Wizard Modes ("Bat Signal Challenge" and "Final Battle") are available.

    Theater 
  • Golden Bat: This is the Ur Example. A decade before Batman, the Japanese Kamishibai Proto Superhero, Golden Bat (debuted 1930), was using a similar cunning technique, using his costume and his reputation to scare the villains he fights. First a gold bat would appear, followed be a haunting laughter and the appearance of Ogon Bat`s ghostly golden skull. He was also feared because, unlike most heroes that would follow him (and some before), he didn't care if the villains died or not, so a meeting with the bat would most definitely end in death.

    Theme Parks 

     Videogames  
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman uses these to defeat the Scarecrow.
  • It also shows up in DC Universe Online, in the Gotham portion of the world of course. You even get an feat/achievement for finding the spotlight on one of the rooftops.
  • When there is a new quest available in Kingdom of Loathing, the Council of Loathing lights the Adventurer Signal. Said signal is projected onto a sheet held up by some birds.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic apparently has a Nostalgia Signal, which alerted Linkara when the Critic was mocking the Alone in the Dark (2005) film. The Critic isn't even sure why he installed the thing.
    • For a crossover with JesuOtaku, he used the JO signal. The first night there are no clouds, so nobody can see it. The second night it works, but Angry Joe thinks it's summoning him. The third night it works fine, but JO doesn't answer. So he has to call her on the phone.
  • LoadingReadyRun did a video featuring four different superheroes showing up to the same ("M"-shaped) signal. One who was actually called, and three thinking the caller just got the orientation wrong (for E, W, and 3) and it was for them.
  • In the College Humor animation "The Dark Knight Meets Superman", Superman gets one of his own, but because of his much more super powers, there is a slight difference in the way it functions in practice.
    Batman: "What the hell is this?"
    Commissioner Gordon: "Oh, this thing is great. I just turn it on, and he shows up with the bad guys!"

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman Beyond, Paxton Powers uses a makeshift one to summon Batman. He answers but breaks the signal light and tells him facetiously to use email next time.
  • Played with in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Legends of the Dark Knight". Three kids, who have been telling stories up to now about how they think Batman is, stumble on Firefly as he's about to torch a place. One of the kids has a homemade Bat Signal flashlight, and shines it through a hole in the ceiling... for a few seconds, before the batteries die. Batman arrives a few minutes later anyway, and the kid excitedly thinks Bats saw his signal. A moment later, Batman tells Firefly that he was tracking him and figured out his pattern.
    • In Joker's Favor, the man who had been blackmailed into being Joker's patsy created a bat-shaped object and moved it back and forth in front of a large window in the hopes of getting Batman to save him. Fortunately, Bruce Wayne was driving by the building at the time.
    • THE Bat Signal was introduced in the episode "the Cape and Cowl Conspiracy".
    • More from DCAU: In one episode of Static Shock, Batman and Robin team up with Static. Batman gives Static a bat-shaped communicator, but Static loses it. Then, when he needs to contact Batman, he uses his electromagnetic powers to project a (custom-designed) Bat Signal. It can be seen here.
  • Used several times in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Also Robin gets his own Robin-signal, after he's moved to a different city, and Green Arrow is shown having his own signal in "Aquaman's Outrageous Adventure".
  • The Powerpuff Girls had their own hotline, but one episode had the Mayor sending a flashing heart signal into the sky. There was even a catchy song about it, "Signal in the Sky" by Apples in Stereo.
    • It's The Artifact: They had it in the original short, before the hotline was invented.
  • The Huntsman, a character in Freakazoid!, is signaled by "The Horn of Urgency", a giant horn on the police station's roof. Unfortunately, it was a false alarm every time.
  • Inverted in The Spectacular Spider-Man, as Spider-Man uses the belt-mounted Spider-Signal to announce his arrival, as above.
  • Parodied in the cartoon version of The Tick: The Mayor has several superhero signals, and doesn't think much of their effectiveness (especially when he has the Tick's phone number).
    Mayor Blank: "Every time we flash the Die Fledermaus signal, he disconnects his phone and leaves town for a week."
  • Played with in Family Guy, when Bill Gates shines a Windows logo into the sky to summon a helicopter to pick him up. Yeah.
    • At another point, they're watching clouds go by and a dog symbol appears. Brian leaps up and runs to go take care of it, presumably.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons, when Homer stands in front of a lighthouse. note 
    Bart: Hey look! Is that Dad?
  • Parodied on Futurama, when the Professor used a giant Planet Express symbol projected on the clouds to draw all his employees together... to try out his new soda machine.
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants once won Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy's Conch Signal in a contest and used it to summon them whenever he needed, say, a mayonnaise jar opened, or just to hang out.
  • On VeggieTales, Larry Boy had one of these.
  • In ThunderCats one of the Sword of Omens' powers is to beam the ThunderCats logo into the sky, to tell the other ThunderCats that Lion-O is in trouble and summon them all for today's big showdown.
  • In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "Song of the Petalars", this appears to be a function of the sword as an Empathic Weapon, since it occurs when Lion-O is charging into a battle he is unaware will become a Last Stand. Summoned by the signal, a Deus ex Machina saves him and his ThunderCats just as they're assuring each other that It Has Been an Honor.
  • One episode of WordGirl was about Becky "WordGirl" Botsford's younger adoptive brother TJ thinking that he is a baseball-themed superhero and starts to gain more popularity than his sister. At one point he wants people to use a "Bat Signal" to summon him (in his case, it's a baseball bat), and Becky/WordGirl responds by making a reference to Batman.

    Real Life 
  • Old-fashioned flare guns that shot a bright light into the sky.
  • Before pagers became sufficiently cheap and reliable, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and some volunteer firefighting organizations would use a signal rocket to summon their personnel from their day jobs in the event of an emergency call.
  • Rotating spotlights are sometimes used to attract customers to grand openings of superstores or movie premieres.
  • Despite the reliance on cell phones and beepers, some small towns that utilize volunteer fire departments use old fashioned air raid sirens to alert members to a fire. Many times these are tested on a Saturday, which can cause some confusion and even panic amongst tourists when it sounds like the bombers are incoming.

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