It’s the job of any good superhero origin story to explain not only the hero’s powers, but his or her motivation for fighting crime. Spider-man gets his powers from a radioactive spider, and draws his desire to fight injustice from knowing he could have prevented the death of his uncle. Friendly alien Superman’s strong due to radiation from the Earth’s sun, but wants to do right because of the Midwestern values instilled in him by his foster parents. In fighting evil, these heroes will face many strange foes that border on the psychotic. What does that do to the one fighting them? Are the heroes crazy for even trying, knowing what madness awaits them on each new, harrowing adventure? Criminals may be superstitious and cowardly, but is someone who dresses up like a bat to scare them just as crazy? That’s the question explored by Travis Langley in his entertaining book Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.
The book’s cover warns, “This book has not been approved, licensed, or sponsored by any entity or person involved in creating or producing Batman, the comics, the films, or the TV series.” But just above that admonition, fans will note the foreword is written by Michael Uslan, who has ushered Batman through his many film iterations. The introduction is by Dennis O’Neil, a veteran writer in the comics field who shepherded Batman past his “Holy exclamation point, Batman!’ phase of the 60’s camp TV show. O’Neil returned Batman to his dark detective roots in the 70’s, creating memorable stories and villains that stand as some of the best ever created in the Batman mythos. These are two very important figures in Batman’s history; that they would agree to write a foreword and introduction speaks well of the author’s efforts in these pages.
By starting with Batman’s cinematic history and following onward through his fictional birth, traumatic hero origin, training, and subsequent adventures, Langley considers not only the character, but the villains he faces. “Case Files” accent the chapters, providing psychological profiles of the foes as if they were really alive. The author blends humor with medical jargon well, keeping the analysis accessible by putting it into a modern-day context for the reader. How would these characters be classified in the view of a psychiatrist or psychologist today? Would the Riddler go to an insane asylum, or be tried as sane? Would the Penguin? Would the Joker’s reign of terror end with criminal execution, or extensive medication? Langely offers the answers in an easy to read but professional fashion, which nonetheless betrays his fan-boy stature.
Though published back in 2012, this book deserves the attention of both first time viewers, and long time Bat-fans who may have perused it in its initial offering. In this 75th anniversary year of the Batman character’s birth, comic fans can enjoy a thought provoking analysis of one of the most enduring superheroes in history. If there is any criticism to be levied on Langely’s work, it’s that he occasionally assumes the reader has as much familiarity with that history as he. Fortunately, comprehensive reference notes from both psychology and comics line the pages, suggesting further reading for the interested enthusiast. There are enough thought-provoking angles to trace that casual fans and die-hards alike can enjoy this highly recommended tome.