Review: The Caped Crusade

Title: The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture
Author: Glen Weldon
Pages: 336
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Summary: A definitive cultural history of Batman–from his comic book beginnings in 1939, to his 1960s television campiness, through his cinematic endeavors, and now to his present day existence as a pop culture icon for both nerds and non-nerds alike.

Review: Despite my self-identification as a Batman fan, there are a considerable number of holes to fill, mainly comic book related, when it comes to my knowledge of the history of the man behind the cowl. Luckily, Weldon does a beautiful job guiding the reader through each iteration of Batman in every medium imaginable, starting with the comics.

The general conceit of the book is that Batman takes a tremendous amount of heat from his own fans, who bemoan that each subsequent iteration of Batman does not represent their mental vision of how Batman should be. He’s either too campy, not campy enough, too brooding, not brooding enough, and so on. With so many versions of Batman to choose from, it makes sense why allegiances and opinions vary so much across the board. Without the aid of inlaid comic frames or examples, it was difficult, at times, to understand the full nature of Batman’s comic transitions. Hearing about line work that is “more confident,” “spare,” “jittery,” or “decidedly unpretty” does not always paint the clearest picture for the non-comic book fan in me.

Personally, I was much more enthralled when Batman’s cinematic history was outlined in detail, from Tim Burton to Joel Schumacher to Christopher Nolan–all Batman movies in name, but vastly different takes and styles in practice. Weldon’s ability to work the business side of Batman into this book grounded these fictions into reality by showing how each choice made in the fictional universe impacted sales and popularity (i.e., a Batman Returns-McDonald’s tie-in left the fast food giant upset with the dark, gross-out tone of the film and may have caused Warner Bros. to leave Burton behind and hand the reins over to director Joel Schumacher, who lightened everything up, albeit with too much nipple, in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin). Weldon also simplifies the business side of the comic book game, spelling out how many issues were sold of which comic, how that compared to other series at the time, and how the industry trended, in general.

Weldon has deftly written about an icon who fans take very seriously (a man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime) with enough “why so serious?” humor to give the reader an outside, objective look at the history of the character and helps them understand why Batman has engendered such deeply passionate debate and fanhood over the past 75+ years.

★★★★ out of 5

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