Delve into the Batman that could have been with this well-researched book.
In the past week I have learned that there is an alternate reality in which the 1989 Batman film starred Harrison Ford as Batman and David Bowie as the Joker. There is also a reality where the later 90’s sequels were not helmed by Joel Schumacher but by Sam Raimi with on screen Sonic Suit Batman straight from the action figure aisle.
These alternate castings that almost happened are but one of the many nuggets of trivia that can be found in The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. Weldon is hardly a fair weather nerd cashing in on the timing of a Batman book released alongside a cinematic appearance since this book in some ways acts as a sequel to his prior work Superman: the Unauthorized Biography. Regularly the writer can be found writing about comic books for the NPR website and discussing the same on the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour including the occasional quiz for his co-hosts in which they fail to answer what comic trivia.
Whereas Weldon’s Superman opus focused on the growth and change of the character from an “in continuity” point of view, Crusade spends some of it’s time on the minutia of the storylines but has just as much focus on the behind the scenes comic creators and even more time on the popular culture reaction to Dark Knight. In some ways, the book more closely resembles Jill Lepore’s The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman in both its extensive consideration of the original creators as well as the cultural effect of the character.
For the reader emerging from the camp of what Weldon would refer to as “Normals” will find a charming mix of comic book trivia, pop culture history, and Hollywood gossip. After reading this book the Normal will be familiar with the impact of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and the existence of the website “Bring Me the Head of Joel Schumacher”. For anyone confused by the attribution to Bill Finger at the beginning of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and who would like to know more about the history of Batman and his fans I can affirmatively say that this is the book for you.
But what of the other side of society that Weldon refers to and pledges his own membership: Nerds? If you know about the phone campaign to decide the fate of Jason Todd should you bother with this book?
I can say that for me, this book was absolutely worth reading. While I consider myself a comic book fan and having read all of the Batman comics that would show up on any list of “Top Ten Batman Stories” there was a great deal that I learned from this book regarding both the history of the creators as well as the history of the fans.
For some fans, the question of whether read a long discourse about Batman will be determined by the question of “who is your definitive Batman?” I’ve often been asked this question in comic book stores before people are willing to allow me to join a conversation on who is a bigger threat, Mr. Freeze or the Scarecrow. Does Weldon hew towards the light and colorful light of the 1966 Batman TV show or does he feel that the caped crusader patrols in the Arkham City game? Weldon will be the first to tell you, and does explain at great length, is that both the dark and the light Batman are part of the composite idea that is Batman and that for each person there exists a Batman in their head that is bricolage of all the pieces of Bat-media that they have consumed.
If you are committed to the idea of “Batman as badass” and will accept no humor or warmth from Bruce Wayne then you will find yourself often to be the subject of ridicule and in the audio book such sentiments are done in audio book by Weldon in the voice of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons and I would advise you to skip out if you are the sort of fan who is prone to easily provoked nerd rage then I would suggest therapy before reading this book. After all, as Weldon observes, the pendulum of Gotham swings between the light hearted and the dark sensibilities and the cycle will continue ad infinitum. As of the writing of this article we are but weeks after the release of a film that is controversially dark for Batman to brand his foes while at the same time there are two teaser trailers for a movie animated by Lego bricks and starring the Dark Knight.
If there is a limitation to the scope of what one should expect based on the title it is in the scope of the review of Nerd Culture. While occasionally Weldon will use the lens of Batman to peek into the specifics of something like fan fiction or conventions, the focus throughout the book remains squarely focused on the segment of the population who fixate upon Batman specifically and their interaction with the official creators of the material. Julius Schwartz makes an appearance as a decade long editor of Batman comics but despite a throwaway reference to the fact that Schwartz had, at the age of seventeen, founded the first fanzine in America we do not get to peek into the lives of fantasy fans or their parallel growth in nerd culture as we must return to the guiding light of the Bat signal.
Necessities of writing and editing such a book means that the author’s reflections end in 2013 with the early days of the New 52 and before the story arc of the Joker but with some epigrammatic references dated somewhat thereafter. If the recent Zach Snyder opus first on film reference to Bill Finger has you intrigued or if you just generally wish to know more lore regarding Batman and those who love him, I give this book a value of a holy priceless collection of rare Etruscan snoods.