Dr. Batman trades Gotham for Greenville
In today’s superhero-soaked society, the figure of Batman rings synonymous with Christopher Nolan’s massively successful big-screen trilogy and the continuing comic book series. But for Will Brooker, Batman’s reach extends far beyond his current cultural embodiment, following a path paved with ever-changing personas that have constructed the legend of the Dark Knight as one of iconic significance.
On Wednesday, Brooker, the director of Research in Film and Television at Kingston University in London, will visit ECU’s campus to speak on the topic of Batman and his role as “a very rich and complex mosaic cultural icon.”
Brooker’s admiration for the superhero is two-fold. “I genuinely think Batman is the most interesting superhero in terms of his longevity and the changes he’s been through during his career in popular culture. He seems to adapt and change more than any other similar figure, reflecting the issues of the time.”
But he also believes Batman gives everyday people the hope of being extraordinary themselves. “In character terms, I find Batman fascinating because he is a human being who walks, literally, with gods,” said Brooker. “He is a powerful example of what human beings can achieve through determination, intellect and force of will. I think the lasting appeal of Batman is, to a great extent, that we could all, almost, if we really tried hard, be Batman.”
If anyone could make such claims about Batman, it’s Brooker, who has literally written the book on the masked vigilante. In 2001, Brooker published “Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon,” which chronicles the history of the superhero from his start in 1939 to 1999.
In addition to researching newspapers, films and any other reference to Batman from every decade, he also spent two weeks deep inside the DC Comics archives in New York City. “I read every Batman and Batman-related comic book from 1939 until 1970—I stopped at my own birth date. Looking back, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be allowed to study in that archive of every DC comic book,” said Brooker.
This past July, just a day before the release of Nolan’s final Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises,” Brooker released his newest book, “Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman.” Picking up where “Batman Unmasked” ended, this book explores the Batman legend in the decade that reintroduced the world to the hero through Nolan’s films and the latest comics.
Throughout all of his research, Brooker has dug deep into every aspect of Batman’s representation in society. And while he focuses mainly on the film, television and comic book aspects, he also studies everything from newspaper strips to viral marketing to promotional ploys like Burger King’s Dark Whopper and Gotham-themed Domino’s Pizza.
Brooker’s interest in the Caped Crusader stems as far back as his childhood when he used to watch reruns of the 1960s television series. “I think that experience has actually informed my approach to Batman now,” said Brooker. “My love of Batman is pretty much all-embracing and I enjoy the diversity and inconsistency of his various incarnations. I see them all, whether campy or gritty, as part of the crazy, beautiful figure of Batman.”
But Batman isn’t the only popular culture staple he has tackled with the written word. Brooker has also published books on “Alice in Wonderland,” “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner.”
While in midst of researching and publishing the majority of his books, Brooker has worked at Kingston, where he currently teaches undergraduate classes and advises PhD students, many of whom are working on popular culture topics of their own, such as Superman and Green Lantern.
And he’s the first to admit that working on immersive books and being a faculty member is a tough, but rewarding balancing feat. “It is a challenge to balance these duties with writing books,” said Brooker. “I spent about 18 months researching “Hunting the Dark Knight,” [during which] my department generously relieved me of some teaching duties so I could focus more on the project, and [then I] applied for a sabbatical to write it.”
Beginning in January, his plate is going to get even more crowded when he takes over as editor of “Cinema Journal,” which publishes essays on a wide variety of fields including film, television and visual arts. He will be the first British editor in the journal’s 45-year history.
But regardless of the opportunities come down the pipeline, Brooker has a plan regarding his investment in the world of Batman. “I have a vague life plan of writing a book about Batman every 10 or 12 years until I die, just to keep track of the character’s progress and his relationship to surrounding social trends and changes.”
That kind of dedication to the Dark Knight has gained Brooker an extremely accurate and revered nickname: Dr. Batman. And he wears the nickname with pride, saying, “To quote Bruce Wayne in Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight Returns’: ‘There’s nothing better.’”
Brooker’s lecture, entitled “Tales of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mosaic, Myth and Folk Hero,” will be held at the Greenville Museum of Art on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m., and is sponsored by the English Department and the Film Studies Program.
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