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In the Batman stories, we have several characters in costume, such as Batman himself, as well as the Joker, the Riddler and the Scarecrow, just to name a few.

Who put on costumes first? Are the Joker and company copying Batman, or did Batman choose to put on a costume in order to match the villains?

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    Depending on the canon, most of Joker isnt costume but a side effect of the chemical misfortune he endured. – Virusboy Feb 3 '15 at 2:40
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    Don't forget the Joker's Redhood days, prior to becoming the joker. – user16696 Feb 3 '15 at 3:23
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    @cde Assuming that was the Joker... – KSmarts Feb 3 '15 at 14:58
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    @ksmarts considering we see it from bats point of view, it's not even disputable. The majority of back stories have the Joker dressed as the original red hood when he fell into the vat. Not all canon, but many. – user16696 Feb 3 '15 at 15:07
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    This very largely depends on canon, and you should specify which canon you're looking for. – Zibbobz Feb 3 '15 at 18:12
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The answer is "both."

It just depends on what continuity you're talking about.

Begun by Batman

For example, in the Nolan movies, they make it quite clear that Batman's presence is what caused the "escalation" of the villains.

Jim Gordon: What about escalation?

Batman: Escalation?

Jim Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.

Batman: And?

Jim Gordon: And, you're wearing a mask. Jumping off rooftops.

Now, one could make the argument that at least a few costumes pre-date Batman's appearance (such as Scarecrow, who was in operation before Bruce returned to Gotham), but those are not fully-costumed and they didn't seem to inspire anyone else to start. It's clearly Batman who made costumes a thing in that universe.

Begun by Others

Then again, in some continuities, costumed villains (and even other heroes) pre-date Batman significantly, sometimes by generations.

For example, the recent Court of Owls storyline revealed a secret society that had been operating in Gotham since its creation, and whose members wore masks and employed costumed assassins.

Court of Owls

There's also a current arc in the Batman comics which seems to be hinting that...

the Joker may have existed for over a century

...which would again predate Batman by quite some margin.

Maybe always?

And really, depending on how you define "costume," there might always have been people in costume. For example, would you consider a man in ceremonial robes who surrounds himself with ninjas in the 20th century to be "in costume"?

League of Assassins

Certainly it's a unique and theatrical set of clothes, worn to be iconic and memorable, which would seem to fit the definition.

And at what point does a black mask and a business suit become a "costume" for the Black Mask?

Black Mask

So really,

as with most "which way did this happen" questions in comics, it just depends on what continuity you're talking about, and how you define the parameters. It probably happened every possible way at some point in some universe, because these are legends that are constantly being re-imagined by new storytellers, and everybody loves a new take on a familiar myth.

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    "and everybody loves a new take on a familiar myth." ...except when it's Spider-Man... – PartyKingThrandeezy Feb 3 '15 at 18:26
  • @PartyKingThrandeezy Correction - except when it's musical Spider-Man. And even then, everyone can agree that Spider-Pig is a fantastic take on Spider-Man. – Zibbobz Feb 3 '15 at 19:16
  • I'm no expert on Batman -- are your last two images from Batman's universe? I don't recognize them at all. – Shokhet Feb 3 '15 at 20:37
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    @Shokhet The last image is from the video game "Batman: Arkham Origins." The one of Ra's Al Ghul, I'm not actually sure where it's from. I just googled "league of assassins" because I knew the point I was trying to make would be supported by an image of Ra's. – Nerrolken Feb 3 '15 at 20:38
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    The mask of the Owls is very cute. Looks like a smiley. – Taladris Feb 4 '15 at 1:19
7

Based on the very earliest Batman comics we can identify that Batman's costume did indeed pre-date those of his enemies.

In Batman's 13th ever appearance (in Detective Stories #40 : 1939) he faces an enemy known as Clayface, an actor who has intentionally obscured his appearance by putting mud on himself.

enter image description here

Prior to that he did face other two other costumed villains (the Mad Monk and the Duc) but since both were arguably wearing clothing that was period relevant, it's not certain whether they meet your criteria.

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