CBR | One Fan's Opinion by Erik LarsenFrom 1939 to 1964, Bruce Wayne did have an iconic, recognizable face. Of course, it was swiped from Chester Gould, but if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. From 1964 to the mid-seventies, he had a different face, but it was still recognizable, even when he appeared in somebody else's book (say, Justice League, or World's Finest).
If I was asked to draw, say, President Bush, there are certain parameters I'd have to stick to or you wouldn't get who it was that I was drawing. If I was drawing Charlie Brown I couldn't stray far off model before he looked like some young cancer patient. Try drawing Dick Tracy without painfully copying his face line for line from a Chester Gould drawing-- he won't look much like the guy. Ditto with Archie Andrews (although the Chester Gould reference isn't the way to go with him).
The point I'm getting at is that these are people and characters with very specific visuals. If you interpret-- if you deviate-- you're lost.
Now try Bruce Wayne.
...In a crowd scene you can pick out Commissioner Gordon, but not Bruce Wayne, and that's messed up! There are times when Mary Jane Watson appears in a panel or two without being identified and she's indistinguishable from any other female in the book. Hell, there are times that the colorists don't know it's her because the lettering is added later, done on computer, and the artist hasn't drawn her "on model" enough to make MJ look like MJ to them, the guys working on the book!
As Larsen points out, there used to be someone at each of the Big Two whose job it was to ensure that their characters were drawn on-model, whether they had to send it back to the artist or touch it up themselves. Ah, for the days when MJ could try out a dramatically-new hair-do, a short curly perm, and still be recognizably MJ.
I've previously noted that when Gwen Stacy's daughter was introduced recently, the artist drew her wearing the same black headband Gwen wore thirty years ago, and it still confused us readers.
And the message forums for the month after this cover was revealed were full of, not shock, not surprise, but... confusion. "Is that meant to look like..."