Many people are Batman Fans, and some are Batman fanatics. Will Brooker firmly places himself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum with Unmasked. It is a look at the development throughout the generations of the mythos of Batman and what he means.
The book discusses social and political parables, sexual innuendo, satire and comedy, war propaganda in the forties and even the varying art styles. It is by no means a ‘comprehensive’ look at The Dark Knight, but it is an interesting and illuminating read at a complex and often misinterpreted multi-facet hero.
Will Brooker is an academic. At the time of writing He was Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University. Currently he is Director of Research of Kingston’s Film and Television Department. Though he has has published several books on cultural studies, Batman Unmasked (2001) is his first. As an expansion of his PhD thesis, it is essentially a series of essays on different aspects of the Batman.
The book starts off with a lengthy introduction which comes off as self-indulgent and more of a defensive statement against those who disregard his research than of surmising or hyping up the following texts contained within. But once you have waded through these arrogant first pages and he stops talking about himself and starts talking about Batman, then the book becomes truly interesting.
The book is broken down into five major sections: Origins and Wartime (1939-1945), 1954 Censorship and queer Readings, Pop and Camp (1961-1969), Fandom and Authorship (1986-1997), Conclusion (1999).
The first section is the backstory of Batman. We explore his creation and the dynamics between his creators, watch as his mythos was developed and experimented with and we see how the writers, in the spirit of Batman, resisted pressures to fill the comics with war propaganda. Interestingly, they managed to keep Batman in America fighting crime, while most other superheroes were drafted by government or industry as spokespersons for war bonds or other propaganda.
Censorship and Queer Readings is a topic which thematically runs through each other section from this point. It is an interesting look at the duality of Batman and Robins relationship, the duality of their personalities, and even of the duality of the villains and the very city of Gotham itself. Ultimately, the genius of Batman, is that in these dualities, rather than being blatant around sexuality or creed, it is left ambiguous (and to the storylines, irrelevant) so that anybody, irrespective of their own personal lifestyle or beliefs, can relate to the character and his struggles.
Rather than isolating or excluding minorities, Batman welcomes them to join him in an open-world approach to story telling. This is an integral part of his mythos, and is reiterated in many films and stories: Batman is a just a mask; Batman is just a symbol; Batman could be any body, and of course within the comics has had half a dozen different people take his place when he has become incapacitated, further reinforcing that ideal of symbolism: Batman is not a man, he is an idea.
Pop and Camp explores the sixties. No analysis of Batman would be complete without bringing up the Adam West era. In this section Brooker is, remarkably like Batman, able to walk the line of duality: it’s hard to say where disapproval becomes adulation as it is a subject as multi-faceted as Batman himself. There are some interesting revelations in this chapter about the Dynamic Duo and even the opinions of the actors themselves.
Fandom and Authorship explores the growing relationship between authors and fans and studios: an interesting discussion on the way the writers create fans, the fans make celebrities out of the writers, the writers embrace the mainstream and forsake their celebrity status and reputation, which makes celebrities out of the studios and their actors, and viciously makes the fans antagonists to their own franchise. It is a fascinating and bipartisan view of the ownership fans take on source material, and the way society creates cultures and fandom.
For any fan of Batman or of comic books, or anyone who is interested in cultural studies, this book gets a very high recommendation. Informative and interesting.
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