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The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture Hardcover – March 22, 2016
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From School Library Journal
By studying Batman's fan base over the superhero's 80-year history, Weldon, a devotee himself, arrives at an interesting theory: the Batman brand exploded when marketers figured out how to appeal to both "nerds" and "normals." The key to Batman's survival has been his mutability. First appearing in 1939, he appealed to boys. A decade later, the censorship of comics pushed Batman underground, where he was picked up by rebellious teens; by the 1960s, pop culture, spearheaded by fan Andy Warhol, had transformed him into campy fare. These boys, teens, and men took from Batman's iconography their own definitions of what it meant to be male, and to be a hero, in distinctly changing times. (Female admirers are few, although Weldon does include them when he can.) Batman's competing identities threatened his future as a character and an industry. Over the last five decades, young artists from three media—print, TV, and film—achieved a synthesis of Batman iterations while reestablishing his core persona as a childhood survivor of violence who swears to avenge his parents' death by fighting crime. Comics began to reference the pointy ears and slick capes of the first comics, and nerd culture was born. Today Batman is grim but not nihilistic, obsessed but not crazy, and as a hero, he resonates. Weldon puts all this together in an analysis enhanced by beautiful color plates of Batman comics dating back to the hero's inaugural year. VERDICT A must for comics fans who will be first in line for a go at this dense but readable text.—Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY
"A roaring getaway car of guilty pleasures—film gossip, comic-book esoterica, hilarious tales of nerd rage. . . . Weldon writes with humor and Day-Glo élan." —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
"Smart, witty and engrossing." —The Wall Street Journal
"The Caped Crusade is a great read for those who are proud Gothamites, those less initiated, and those who flip the switch on the Bat-Signal in order to find themselves. . . .A sharp, deeply knowledgeable and often funny look at the cultural history of Batman and his fandom...both a page-turner and a Riddler Trophy." —Chicago Tribune
“Engaging. . . . What Weldon ultimately achieves here is a character and comic-franchise history that is itself flexible enough to become what the reader needs it to be. If you’re a Bat-neophyte, this is an accessible introduction; if you’re a dyed-in-the-Latex Bat-nerd, this is a colorfully rendered magical history tour redolent with nostalgia.” —The Washington Post
"For fans of Gotham’s Batman, this is the perfect book to pick up before you head to the movie. . . . Even casual fans will find themselves quickly turning pages to learn more about how our comic heroes affect and even shape our everyday lives." —Bookish
"[The Caped Crusade] accomplishes what so many supervillains, from The Joker to Bane, have long desired to do: pin down Batman and systematically dissect him. Weldon navigates Batman's history with an expert step...a winning mix of humor, and incisive social analysis. Even his footnotes are funny. Under that famous cowl, he sees ugliness, wonder, and the undercurrents of pop culture in all their conflicting glory." —NPR
"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 gun-blazing lunatics. Weldon successfully walks the tightrope, showing reverence for the character but keeping it fun." —Associated Press
"Excellent, insightful. . . .Weldon has crafted that rare jewel: a book of comics analysis that nerds and “normals” alike can enjoy." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Sprawling in scope, yet written with breezy flair. . .An enthusiastic, immersive, entertaining guide for both die-hard Batfans and curious onlookers." —Kirkus Reviews
“The Caped Crusade is breezy, insightful, and surprisingly moving. Glen Weldon is the illuminating, hilarious writer Batman deserves—and the one we need right now.” —DC Pierson, author of The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To and Crap Kingdom
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Like Weldon, I became a fan of Batman in syndicated reruns. I've read the comics sporadically but was always more of an X-Men girl. That said, Batman has always been a favorite precisely because of the lack of superpowers (except, yanno, money) and the intensity (insanity) that seemed inherent in his role. Weldon brings all of the appreciation of a fan but with an unsparing (and fun to read) critical view.
This is one of the few books I've read this year that I'm recommending to everyone I know.
NPR pop culture reporter Glen Weldon argues in "The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture," a fast-paced, well-researched tour of Batman's journey from superhero to pop culture icon, that the versatility described above gives Batman staying power while other crimefighting vigilantes have faded from the public's collective memory. In Weldon's view, Batman endures because he is what the public needs him to be at any given time.
The glue which binds all those differing iterations of Batman, in Weldon's view, is the solemn oath young Bruce Wayne took after seeing his parents murdered before his eyes to wage relentless war on all criminals. That oath-to ensure no one else suffers the tragedy he endured-makes Batman, despite the darkness surrounding him, as much a symbol of hope as his smiling, far-sunnier superhero compatriot Superman.
Weldon explores in brisk yet unsparing detail how those variant Batmen arose from an ongoing tug-of-war between the "nerds"-experts in specialized interests such as comic books-and the "normals," those whose interest in, and knowledge of, Batman derives largely from his television and film incarnations, both live-action and animated. He describes how the "nerds" embraced Batman because of the oath and his lack of superpowers, then raged against depictions ranging from the Adam West TV series to director Joel Schumacher's films (starring Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Bat-nipples!) because they felt that the creators were not only laughing at Batman, and by extension at them-but also encouraging the "normals" of the general public to do likewise.
And not only creators felt their wrath: Weldon describes the profanity-laden, threatening messages some film critics received from Batfans after writing less-than-favorable reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises," director Christopher Nolan's concluding film of his Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale.
But the Batfans embraced Nolan's films, despite liberties he took with Batman to adapt the character to the needs of film storytelling, because he took Batman-and hence, them-seriously, giving them the acceptance they craved from the "normals."
The "nerds" also drove the transformation of Batman from 1960s TV buffoon to 1970s obsessed loner in the hands of writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams because they demanded the return of their ideal Batman-the grim vigilante of Gotham's night from the early, pre-Robin tales co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger crafted. That demand, Weldon argues, also led to the violent sociopath writer/artist Frank Miller portrayed in his 1986 limited series "The Dark Knight Returns" and later stories set in his Batman universe.
"The Caped Crusade" is no dry, sober history. Weldon tells Batman's story not only briskly, but also with a lacerating wit which spares no one: not Batman himself ("a crude, four-color slumgullion of borrowed ideas and stolen art"), not his archnemesis, the Joker (his clothes are "riverboat gambler couture"), and not even McDonald's spokesclown Ronald McDonald ("a whimsical chalk-faced avatar of arteriosclerosis").
That combination of wit, detail, and brisk storytelling make "The Caped Crusade" compelling reading for both "nerds" who are longtime, passionate Gothamites and "normals" who know of Batman but are less passionate about him.
Weldon’s device of nerds versus normals works well in treating this pop cultural phenomenon. He focuses on how these cultures defined the Batman idea over time. What might have been interesting would have been to have asked how Batman’s changing image reflected who we were as a people over time. What did the original Batman fighting those who bilked the rich say about an America coming out of the Depression, and what does the ultra-violent Batman of today say about our uneasy society?
This book is a romp through the decades of Batman from his first appearance in 1939 as a rich guy defending the rich right into this decade, in which Batman is, in print and on screen, more often than not the Dark Knight who fights shocking crimes against the city of Gotham, a superhero who revels in his “badassery.” After the camp Batman of the 1960s TV show, the nerds, who hated that unserious (or, rather, unseriously serious) depiction of the Caped Crusader, have gradually won the day as Batman embraces the nerds’ idea of him.
Weldon, an articulate and amusing podcast panelist, writes the way he talks, which means he uses sometimes precious and quirky expressions like “a bolus of gothy showbiz.” To read Weldon’s prose is to encounter this persona that Weldon projects on “Pop Culture.” You either like it or you don’t. It certainly seems appropriate in the context of superhero pop culture.
I found Weldon’s book a pleasure to read. The nerds versus normals thesis aside, Weldon provides a terrific summary of the Batman phenomenon. Those curious to learn more about the various aspects of Batman will certainly be grateful for and delight in Weldon’s annotated bibliography, which follows the book proper.