Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review of Batman Unmasked

Book #37: Batman Unmasked, by Will Brooker. Hardcover. 

This book was recommended by comic book podcaster and blogger Michael Bailey, as part of a conversation we were having about academic and semi-academic works on comic books. Bailey told the story of this book to me, and I loved the concept.

As a graduate student in Pop Culture in England, Brooker was able to convince his university to fund his study of Batman “as a cultural icon.” As part of the first wave of comic book academics, Brooker’s experiences (which are included in the narrative) are inspirational to someone like me.  The growing acceptance among academics of studies in pop culture in general, and comic books in particular, has made the field easier for subsequent academics following in his footsteps.

Brooker starts his analysis with Batman’s adventures in the Golden Age, the period before and during World War II. He makes a compelling case that Batman was one of the few comic book characters of the time whose stories did not embrace an obviously pro-American patriotism. His analysis of the 1950’s comic book crisis arising from Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent, was impressively nuanced. His discussion of Werthamhimself was surprising and fascinating.

He then discusses the pop/camp nature of the 1966 Adam West television show, as well as the 1970’s comic book trend towards darker and more socially relevant stories. The last quarter of the book takes a look at the movie franchise the began in 1989 with the Tim Burton film.

The book is 15 years old, and some of the analysis and conclusions are dated, especially in discussing the issue of gay overtones in the comics and the 1966 TV show. But the vast majority of the book’s findings are still relevant, and this is one of the most readable academic books on comics that I’ve come across.

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