As The Dark Knight Rises arrives in theaters, Batman fans who want to know what makes the caped crusader tick ought to give a read to Dr. Travis Langley's recently released book Batman and Psychology, in which Dr. Langley merges his professional knowledge with a passion for all things Bat-related to provoke some interesting thoughts about one of our most iconic superheroes.
I spoke with Dr. Langley at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this month to find out just what goes into analyzing a superhero with such a rich history across comic books, television series, and film.
"I had three years to think about it. I actually had three and a half months to get it written. I lived and breathed it all day long and drove my wife crazy," he said. It wasn't Langley's first foray into the field; he's been a presence on convention panels about Batman for the last four years, alongside prominent writers like Len Wein and Denny O'Neil. One of the book's greatest strengths is that he's not simply an academic choosing to write about pop culture; he's as much a fan of his subject as the people who are likely to be reading his work.
As a result, the book is much less dry and much more entertaining than many of the others which populate the ever-growing field of texts about pop culture and the sciences. Rather than just telling us what we should know or think about Batman, the book supplements our own interest in the hero, and provokes us to think more about what's going on in his head.
What drew Langley to Batman? "He's the hero that's defined by his psychology more than any of the others," he explained. "The other superheroes, they're all heroes because of something that goes on with their character, but the super part comes from powers, generally things they did not choose themselves. Batman chose to be some fantastic creature that looks like a bat. The closest thing he has to a superpower is his sheer will and self-control to make himself into the person who could go wage a war on all criminals."
And with numerous incarnations of Batman in play, from the comic books to the films and other media such as the groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series, "It gives me an opportunity to go through the history," he explained. "When I go to the old 40's movie serials, I'll talk about racism and the fear of the alien. [And] different issues in different movies along the way. I do tell the reader, when in doubt, assume I mean the modern character, but there is a thread of what's common to Batman all throughout."
Some of the subjects Langley tackles over the course of the book include how Batman goes from a "brooding loner" in the first Tim Burton film to being willing to welcome a psuedo-family by the time we get to Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin, as well as Bruce Wayne's father issues, and why his love life seems to always be with the wrong type of woman. Batman and Psychology is very thorough, covering both the obvious topics and those that probably escaped the consideration of even the most devoted Bat-fan.
"I got to tell all the things I wanted to," Langley said. "I would [have] liked to have done case files on some of the other villains but I didn't have stories I wanted to tell on them that I hadn't told somewhere else. The Ventriloquist is a character worth exploring; Man-Bat is a character worth exploring. By the time I get to do a second edition on this I'll have some of those other thoughts."
If all this has you a little intimidated, he stresses that fans don't need to have their own psychology degree to pick up the book. "They don't need to know psychology," he added. "I go on the approach of, you don't know anything. Give them credit for being intelligent human beings, treat them with respect, but also don't assume they know these things. You don't have to know Batman, although apparently it matters more how much Batman you already know than the psychology," he added with a laugh. "The fans never say they feel lost for not knowing the psychology."
But now, with the arrival of Batman and Psychology, fans of the caped crusader will know the psychology of their favorite hero much better than they did before.
You can order your own copy of Batman and Psychology by using this link.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.