Re­view: Bat­man’s life as a night stalker, danc­ing ma­chine

Non-fic­tion by Glen Wel­don

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Contents - (MICHAEL HILL/As­so­ci­ated Press)

BAT­MAN is a brood­ing night stalker, grim and re­morse­less. Also, he’s a guy who might break out into “Ba­tusi” on the dance floor.

While Su­per­man has barely veered off his flight path over the decades, Bat­man’s im­age has swung back and forth like a pen­du­lum since the su­per­hero’s cre­ation in 1939. The night de­tec­tive of early comics was soon bright­ened up with the ad­di­tion of a young side­kick, Robin. By the 1960s, Bat­man be­came a camp icon thanks to a hit TV show where he got to show off his dance moves and gravely in­tone ridicu­lous lines like: “Well, well. We’ve come a long way from the prime min­is­ter’s ex­plod­ing cake. ... Or have we?”

The TV show in­spired a re­turn in the comics to a darker Bat­man, one familiar to a new gen­er­a­tion of fans weaned on Christo­pher Nolan’s block­buster movie tril­ogy. Even then, there have been fluc­tu­a­tions along the way. In 1986, writer and artist Frank Miller por­trayed Bat­man as an ill-tem­pered mid­dle-aged man. In 1997, Ge­orge Clooney put on the cowl in a widely panned movie re­mem­bered mostly for a Bat­suit with nip­ples.

Wel­don tracks Bat­man’s evo­lu­tion and how the changes played among his hard-core fans. The “nerds” went from be­ing a sub­cul­ture with hand­copied fanzines to In­ter­net-era king­mak­ers with in­flu­en­tial web­sites and comic-cons that at­tract top sci-fi stars.

Bat­man pro­vides the bet­ter story. He could have been a for­get­table knock­off char­ac­ter in­spired by The Shadow. But his cre­ators de­vel­oped a comic­noir style and a com­pelling ori­gin story with a young Bruce Wayne vow­ing to fight crim­i­nals af­ter one guns down his par­ents. And he’s vul­ner­a­ble in a way that su­per-pow­ered heroes like Su­per­man are not.

Writ­ing a book about Bat­man is tricky. He is a cul­tural icon deeply mean­ing­ful to many be­cause his story touches on themes of loss, ad­ver­sity and per­se­ver­ance. Also, he is an im­plau­si­ble char­ac­ter who de­fies laws of physics and com­mon sense ev­ery time he swoops on gun­blaz­ing lu­natics. Wel­don suc­cess­fully walks the tightrope, show­ing rev­er­ence for the char­ac­ter but keep­ing it fun. Plus, he loves Bat­man, and the nerds that love him.

There is a cer­tain type of nerd who thinks any­thing less than a dark Bat­man is a trav­esty. Wel­don is not that nerd. He cops to wait­ing on line for a Bat­mo­bile model and gives an elo­quent ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Adam West’s faux-weighty por­trayal of the hero in the ‘60s TV show.

Bat­man is 77 years old and ubiq­ui­tous as ever, about to star in yet an­other big-bud­get movie, this time with Su­per­man. Trail­ers show Ben Af­fleck play­ing Bat­man as an ill-tem­pered mid­dleaged man, prov­ing we’ve fi­nally left be­hind the danc­ing Bat­man of ex­plod­ing cakes ... Or have we?

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