A passionate, precise documentation of Batman’s legacy and enduring popularity among “nerds and normals alike.”
With the same gusto that characterized his debut superhero portrait (Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, 2013), NPR panelist and pop-culture critic Weldon comprehensively charts the nearly 80-year history of Batman through facts, opinions, interviews, visits to Comic-Con, and the obsessions of fans who have helped make the character a household name. Sprawling in scope yet written with breezy flair, the narrative explores Batman’s early beginnings from his comic-book inauguration in 1939, “striking poses” with his billowing cape. A creative collaboration by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, the superhero was an instant hit on the comic circuit and was soon complemented by sidekick Robin, the Boy Wonder, in 1940, creating a male-male partnership Weldon waggishly interprets as “factory-installed with subtext both acknowledged and unspoken, subtext that audiences have always read and interpreted in a host of discrete ways.” Initial decades of successful comics, radio shows, and movie serials also brought unexpected criticism involving alleged misogyny and blatant homoeroticism, both briskly cloaked with the 1956 addition of Batwoman and a myriad of effectively distractive nemeses. As Batman’s popularity became more volatile, writes Weldon, image updates and rebirths attempted to both pacify fans and retain the brand’s appeal and longevity throughout evolutionary cycles in the 1980s, ’90s, and into the present. Details on franchise film production snafus and commentary on Batman’s campy gay appeal add further layers of relatability to the story. Interwoven through the narrative is Weldon’s exploration of how the superhero persona has so captivated the devoted nerd community and why this subculture has defensively and protectively venerated the Dark Knight as their own. Weldon, a thoughtful portraitist who introduces many subtexts to his discussion of superhero adoration, cleverly considers Batman “an inkblot; we see in him what we want to—even if we aren’t ready to admit it to ourselves.”
An enthusiastic, immersive, entertaining guide for both die-hard Batfans and curious onlookers.