Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight

By June 15, 2012

“I’ve read a book on the psychology of Batman.” No, you haven’t.

People have surprised me with how often they think they’ve already read a book on the psychology of Batman. Believe me, they have not. I wrote the first one (it comes out this month), and in the course of three years of planning, four months of writing, and eight months of editing and re-editing a book with about 900 references, I’d have discovered if anybody else had already written a book on the same topic. Certainly my colleagues, students, publisher, literary agent, editors, friends, enemies, passing acquaintances, or barber would have pointed it out by now. Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight is the very first on the psychology of any specific superhero. Here are some of the books those folks are usually misremembering:

  • Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, edited by Mark D. White and Robert Arp (2008). Philosophy is not psychology. Period.
  • Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon, by Will Brooker (2001). In arguably the best-known book of Batman scholarship, Brooker takes a look at culture, not psychology. The book examines fans, filmmakers, and many others but generally not the characters themselves.
  • The Many Lives of the Batman, edited by Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio (1991). This one also looks mainly at culture rather than psychology. It’s a collection of essays by various writers from assorted fields, along with a couple of interviews (Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller).
  • Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero, by E. Paul Zehr (2008). Contemplating what it would take for someone to become Batman physically, Zehr concludes that a person with the right genetic potential could become Batman; that person just wouldn’t be able to stay Batman for very long.
  • Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life, by Rabbi Cary Friedman. Friedman isn’t teaching psychology. He’s giving life tips by drawing examples from Batman stories. This thin little book with large font and plenty of pictures amazed me with its insight and fine writing.
  • Superman on the Couch, by Danny Fingeroth. The book isn’t specifically about Batman, Fingeroth’s not a psychologist, and he didn’t write about psychology per se except to note that mental health professionals had written next to nothing about comic books in the fifty years since psychiatrist Fredric Wertham rattled the comic book industry with his assertion that comic books caused juvenile delinquency.
  • Psychablog: Dr. Robin Rosenberg has plenty to say about the psychology of superheroes, especially our Caped Crusader, in her blog on the American Psychological Association’s website. Blog, not book.
  • The Psychology of Superheroes, edited by Dr. Robin Rosenberg (2008). While this book isn’t specifically about Batman either, it is the only psychology book on this list. One chapter, “Arkham Asylum” by Bradley J. Daniels, compares Arkham Asylum and its inmates to real world mental hospitals and the criminally insane.

Each book up there is worthwhile reading, and I heartily recommend every one. Pointing out that they’re either not about psychology or not specifically about Batman does not detract from any of the great things they have to say.

Shortly after I decided I was going to write a book on the psychology of Batman, the History Channel aired a special on exactly that topic. I didn’t let myself watch it for a long, long time because I wanted my own thoughts to coalesce rather than risk letting someone else think for me. Once I was far enough along in the process, I finally watched this program and got some great quotes from it. It only has time to cover select snippets of psychology, but nevertheless offers informative, interesting viewing. Despite the name, the documentary Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight has nothing to do with Will Brooker’s book, also called Batman Unmasked.

If you know of other works that belong on this list, more books those people might be misremembering, please let me know in a comment below and/or as a tweet to @Superherologist. If it belongs on this list, I’ve read it whether or not it’s crossing my mind at the moment. Other relevant books are coming out this year, but I’m talking about the ones people read some time ago, the ones that make them imagine they’ve already read some book on the psychology of Batman.

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GeekNation friend Travis Langley is the author of the best-selling book Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.