Fan Phenomena : Batman
Edited by Liam Burke
Bristol: Intellect, 2013
Paperback. 178 pages. ISBN 978-1783200177. £15.50
Reviewed by Allister Mactaggart
Fan Phenomenon : Batman is part of a new and rapidly increasing series of books, published by Intellect, aiming at both general fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of the chosen subjects. This book explores effectively and in some depth how and why the figure of Batman, in his various incarnations, has managed to maintain such a strong hold over the cultural imagination since his inception as a comic book figure in 1939.
The strikingly simple and stylish cover of this book (and others in the series) helps to set the scene for the contents within. The book is set out in four parts, exploring Batman and his legacy from various perspectives, which are interspersed with a series of “Fan Appreciation (Interviews)” from foremost Batman fans. It is well illustrated throughout and contains useful “Go Further” sections, which provide sources for readers to develop their knowledge and understanding beyond the book. In the “Foreword” Will Brooker appropriately points out that “Batman would not have been created without fandom – in our world, of course, but also in his” , as Bruce Wayne pestered his parents to take him to see The Mark of Zorro and they were killed by a mugger on that fateful night, a traumatic event which has structured his existence (and that of dedicated fans) ever since. The editor, Liam Burke, has two useful contributions, which provide a helpful overview of the range of approaches that are used in the book. In his “Introduction” Burke references Henry Jenkins’s term “‘aca-fan’ to describe the increasing number of media scholars that have emerged from fandom” , which is evidently the case with Batman, as this book clearly testifies.
“Part 1: Being Batman” offers some interesting analyses of the character from the perspective of online fandom and the figure’s cultural archetype (Jennifer Dondero), fan identification with Batman (Anna-Maria Covich), and the various games – from board games to computer platforms – related to Batman (Robert Dean). Dondero argues that Batman “is a cultural icon that fans and creators have turned into an archetypal hero who represents mortal justice and humanity” , and that since the 1980s “the mantle of a ‘hero’ is not who you are but who you choose to be” . Covich also suggests that “Batman’s lack of superpowers and his troubled emotional life make it easier for fans to identify with him” . The lack of superpowers, combined with his troubled past, reoccurs throughout the book as key factors in fans’ attraction and empathy with Batman. However, in “Fan Appreciation no. 7”, Kim Newman makes a valid point when he states that “Batman does have a superpower, he’s unimaginably wealthy” .
“Part 2: Embracing the Knight” offers productive analyses of how Warner Bros. used viral marketing and alterative reality gaming to bring fandom into the culture industry (Margaret Rossman), responses from digital fandom (Tim Posada), and the hetero-fictional fan impulse generated by Christopher Nolan’s / Ledger’s Joker (Leslie McMurtry). Rossman’s chapter adapts Adorno and Horkeimer’s Frankfurt School analyses of the “culture industry” to the viral practices of Warner Bros. to argue that, “With viral marketing, the resistant fan practices that refute the culture industry are likewise homogenized and standardized” . Allied to this, in discussing fanfiction, McMurtry, whilst acknowledging its democratic and (potentially) subversive nature, also points out that its authors crave reassurance from their readers and therefore invest heavily in a pre-existing community.
“Part 3: Representation of Fandom” offers perspectives by Joseph Darowski on “Beware the Gray Ghost”, the seventeenth episode of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) (dir. Boyd Kirkland) to highlight three different approaches to fandom: “the inspired fan, the obsessive fan and the nostalgic fan” . Tony W. Garland’s chapter, “Villainous Adoration: The Role of Foe as Fan in Batman Narratives”, argues that the relationship between Batman and his villains all contribute to an enduring relationship for fans to develop and extend their relationship with Batman as a heroic figure.
“Part 4: Being Batman” discusses the relationship between Batman, Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction fandom (Marc Napolitano), and fandom, hegemony and the rebirth of Batman on film in the Christopher Nolan directed trilogy (William Proctor). As Napolitana points out, the structural logic of the genre of detective fiction, from Holmes to Batman, is based on “giving fans a sense of comforting consistency in an inconsistent world” . Proctor’s chapter points out the importance of Christopher Nolan’s reinvigoration of Batman, and asks whether this response can be related directly to “the vocal and passionate Bat-fan, who demanded a Dark Knight rather than a Camp Crusader?” .
Interspersed throughout the four parts of the book are eight “Fan Appreciation (Interviews)” which offer a range of responses from a variety of perspectives. These include extremely dedicated fans who ensure that they are the first to consume new Batman materials (Josh Hook and Kendal Coombs), a father and son (Dennis and Elijah Vasquez) who were interviewed in costume at the Wonder-Con comic convention in Anaheim in 2012, and an artist and fan who organised his own Batman themed wedding in Las Vegas (Seamus Keane). In addition to these responses, we have a contribution from Paul Levitz who can be classed as a perfect example of a aca-fan, as he started out as a young comic book fan who went on to become a comic book professional, then President of DC Comics from 2002-2009, and is also a lecturer and writer. Another academic, E. Paul Zehr, a Professor of Kinesiology and Neuroscience has written two books using Batman as a metaphor to suggest “that technology only enhances your own ability; it doesn’t create something that doesn’t exist” . Similarly, Travis Langley, a professor of psychology at Henderson State University, has integrated his fandom in a recent book, Batman and Psychology : A Dark and Stormy Knight. The well-known British film critic, Kim Newman, who is also an award-winning novelist and short story writer, as well as being a lifelong Batman fan, discusses the enduring fascination fans have for this cultural figure as the shadow of the archetypical superhero, Superman. The final interview with Michael E. Uslan demonstrates the commitment of a single-minded fan, who was able, in his twenties, to buy the rights to Batman from DC Comics and who has been an executive producer of every big screen adaptation since Tim Burton’s film in 1989. Combined, these contributions show the importance of Batman for fans from many different backgrounds, and how their interest and obsession with the figure feeds into their whole lives.
The level of adoration and commitment to Batman as a character shines through this book. Even those fans that disliked Joel Schumacher’s films, or were not fully enamoured by the Camp Crusader of the 1960s television series, can argue that these aspects were not ultimately detrimental to the reputation of Batman; in fact, they helped to reinvigorate the character and the franchise via fan interventions. The editor, Liam Burke, has done a good job bringing these various fan communities together, to explore how and why Batman continues to maintain his power in the cultural domain and how it looks likely that he will continue to do so in the future.
Cercles © 2014
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