Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Batman & Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Night" Review

This book was brought to my attention earlier this year at comic con. I went to a panel for Dean Cain (of Superman fame) and it was moderated by Dr. Travis Langley. As we waited for Dean to arrive he discussed a little about the psychology of Batman as well as Superman (as this was a Dean Cain panel after all). He also mentioned he was hosting a panel on the topic of Batman and psychology later that day.

As a writer and role player I'm always trying to get inside a character's head. Hell, I have written Kara Kent and Stephanie Brown so much sometimes I don't know where they end and I begin. But Bruce...he is one of my character I really have to think to play properly. What better way than to listen to a real expert decode him for me?

So I went to said panel and was impressed with Dr. Langlet for a myriad of reasons. 1) He was a doctor but more importantly as a comic fan. 2) He accepts Stephanie as a Robin and doesn't discount her importance as a member of the Bat Family. 3) There was little mention of Barbara. It was nice to see Steph and Dick discussed in relation to Bruce without having Barbara crammed down my throat in the process!

The panel was very informative and interesting, but left me wanting more, which I guess is the idea when trying to sell a book.

I wavered about buying Dr. Langley's book for a couple of weeks. Mostly because, as I've said many times before, I'm a writer, not a reader. Although, that said, I do try to read at least one book per year and to my recollection I haven't met that goal this year. I finally got on Amazon and read the free sample. I couldn't put it down! I bought the Kindle version straight away and when I realized I didn't like reading that way I shelled out more money for a second copy in paper back (which is so getting autographed someday). I'm glad I did. It was well worth the read (and this coming from me!)

Beyond this point I will be discussing the book so if you don't want "spoilers" then read no further (although I'm sure sure spoilers exist in this type of book).

There is an introduction by comic writer Dennis O' Neil. Remind me not to ever read a book by him. His constant reminding that Batman isn't real felt as if he was talking down to the reader. I believe if you have picked up a book on the psychology of Batman and are intelligent enough to understand it then you're well aware that the Dark Knight is a work of fiction. I didn't pick up this book for a constant reminder. I picked it up to get lost in the mind of the Bat. To PRETEND he exists and explore his psyche. Had the whole book been written this way I never would have made it more than 50 pages. Thankfully Dr. Langley treats his readers much more intelligently than Mr. O' Neil.

From here Dr. Langley asks a question we spend the rest of the book analyzing: "Is Batman sane? Is Bruce Wayne crazy?" It's not a new question. It's been addressed in the comics, movies, animated series, and any other media Bruce is seen in. It's never been analyzed so thoughtfully and medically. Dr. Langley uses Batman's rogue gallery, family, and associates to get to the deepest part of who Bruce is...who Batman is The analytical way he does this, explaining his thought process along the way, makes it easy to follow even if you've never taken a psych class (although for the record I've taken 3). It feels like Dr. Langley is taking you on a journey with him. My only complaint is that the explanations of the mental illnesses discussed seemed long winded and text bookish at times, but because I've studied mental illness on my own for so long that could simply me me. Perhaps a reader with no knowledge would benefit from these explanations.

The book discusses all aspects of Bruce's life: his parents' murder, his father/son relationship with Alfred, becoming a father to his own sons, and even his romantic attachments. Bruce gives up so many aspects of a "normal" life in order to be productive as Batman. He uses "Bruce Wayne" as a cover and doesn't allow the outside world to ever see his true self. He fights a colorful array of foes that each have their own defects.

The the real world it would be next to impossible for a rich heir to have a duel identity (can you imagine Paris Hilton as Batgirl?). But it would also be impossible for Joker to be unknown in his true identity (a lesson James Holmes taught us). In the DCU almost everyone is two people. The question is why. Why didn't Bruce become a cop? Why work outside the law to uphold the law? Why the Bat? Why allow kids to risk their lives as sidekicks? All of these questions are answered by Dr. Langley. I never have read anything so well thought out in regards to a superhero.

I highly recommend this book to any fan looking to explore Bruce on a deeper level.

The only thing in this book I found myself disagreeing with was the idea that Bruce can't be married and be Batman. While I agree he couldn't marry a human, pre-New 52 DC showed some attraction between Karen Starr and Bruce. Karen, being Kryptonian, would have little to fear from Batman's foes and she, unlike, Clark and Kara, is very imperfect and is "broken" in her own right (I don't think either Bruce or Karen are truly broken but it isn't hard to see where they could be). Had it been explored further I truly feel Bruce and Karen could have had a very fulfilling marriage while continuing as Batman and Power Girl, but that's just me.

By the end of the book I felt much more comfortably RPing as Bruce. I feel I understand Bruce more as a hero, a father, a husband, and as a person. I'll never get inside Bruce's head the way I can with Steph and Kara because I simply don't relate to him on that level. I do feel I can understand him now and write him in a way that does him justice.

For his next book I'd like to see the psychology of Jason Todd. He was addressed in this book but he is so complex that I was simply left wanting more. Or maybe the psychology of Hal Jordan...that would be fun. And if that next book every comes count me as the first in line. Even if I've already read my book for the year.