The Caped Crusade

Dodano: 4 May 2016

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BATMAN V NERDS: THE MANY FACES OF THE DARK KNIGHT AND HIS FANS

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The year 2016 marks the 77th anniversary since the debut of one of the most famous and most popular superheroes of all time in Detective Comics #27: Batman. Ever since that moment, the Dark Knight has been interpreted in many ways by different creators in all kinds of media. Glen Weldon’s book takes the readers on a fascinating journey through the history of Batman. It describes in a very detailed way the changing faces of Gotham’s defender and his creator’s motivations, as they try to adapt him to their times and visions. Weldon’s main thesis is the claim that Batman is “[an] inkblot, an endlessly interpretable figure who accepts the meanings projected onto him by authors and audience alike” (139). That is why the same character can be a pulp vigilante in the 1940s, a law-abiding citizen in the campy TV show starring Adam West, an obsessed, tortured man in Denny O’Neill’s comics, a lonely eccentric who is not that different from his enemies in the gothic Tim Burton movies, a realistic action hero in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and an arrogant self-parody in the animated film The LEGO Movie. At the same time, however, Weldon points out that from the very beginning there has been a group of people who could not accept the existence of that hero’s different interpretations. They believe that a dark, brutal vigilante in a realistically depicted world is the one “true” Batman. Those are, paradoxically, the Dark Knight’s biggest fans. While describing Batman’s history, Weldon simultaneously depicts the evolution of the nerd culture (which is not a pejorative term), mocking their narrowmindedness and harshly criticizing their sporadic aggressive tendencies, while also admiring their unmitigated passion. In the end, he is one of them.

 

One can notice that in the amazingly detailed way the book is written. Weldon chronologically depicts the following decades in Batman’s history, describing his changing image in the comics and other media. He also undermines many stereotypes which arose around the character: he proves, among other things, that the comics with the Dark Knight became more kid friendly already in the 1940s. The author’s analysis touches upon every aspect of the works he describes: the scripts, the drawings, film directing, DC Comics and Warner Bros.’ strategies, the marketing and the audiences’ reactions. Weldon notices the connections between them and observes that every new interpretation of the Dark Knight is a reaction to the previous one. He argues that the image of Batman as a brooding, brutal vigilante was created as a reaction to the campy TV show from the 1960s starring Adam West, of which the author is a great fan. By employing a light and witty discourse, Weldon mocks the nerds’ desperate attempts to repress that part of Batman’s history from their memory and criticizes their unwillingness to open up to other versions of the character. He points out that every interpretation of the Dark Knight is a reflection of its time and that there is no such thing as “the one true Batman.”

 

Although Weldon admits that the 1960s version is his favorite, he does not fall into the trap of assuming the position he criticizes. He is able to find positive elements in every interpretation, with no exceptions. He also admits that the nerd culture has evolved. Weldon describes their development as carefully as Batman’s history and his image in the media. The popularity of cosplays and fanfics proves that they have changed from passive consumers to active co-creators. Weldon also admires the close ties they form between one another and their unmitigated enthusiasm.

He refuses, however, to accept the aggression the nerds are sometimes capable of when defending their favorite fictional character. The most extreme examples are negative reactions towards the Adam West TV show and Joel Schumacher’s movies (he notices homophobic subtexts in them, which, as a homosexual, especially hurt him) and threatening those who gave Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises negative reviews.

 

The Caped Crusade is not merely an encyclopedia, dispassionately listing the milestones in Batman’s over seventy years of history. Glen Weldon is not afraid to express harsh judgements on the comic book community, both the creators and the audience. By making his readers aware of the multitudes of different interpretations of the Dark Knight, he is trying to convince them not to reject such a rich and fascinating legacy.

 

The author of this review is Jakub Michalik. MA in English philology at the Institute of English Studies, the University of Warsaw. The author of a thesis devoted to the features of Stephen King’s American Gothic fiction. Interests: classic works of literature (especially the American Renaissance, the Victorian period and modernism), sociology of popular culture, the superhero genre in comics and movies, literary translation, the history of film, film criticism. Batman fan.

Proofreading: Klementyna Dec.

 

Title: The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture

Author: Glen Weldon

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: March 22, 2016.

336 pages

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