BOFís celebration of the 75th anniversary of Batman with another installment of ď10 Bat-Questions withÖ.Ē Below, youíll find my Q&A with Dr. Travis Langley.
BIO: Dr. Travis Langley is a tenured Professor of Psychology at Henderson State University. He received his bachelor of arts in psychology from Hendrix College, his Masterís and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Tulane University. He regularly makes presentations on the psychology of superheroes at conventions like San Diego Comic-Con International. Dr. Langley is the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight and was featured in the Batman documentary, LEGENDS OF THE KNIGHT. Visit Dr. Langley's official website HERE and follow him on Twitter @SUPERHEROLOGIST.
1) What is your first memory of The Batman?
TL: For me, thatís like asking when I first saw the sun. Batman has always been there. Adam West played Batman on TV, Olan Soule voiced him in Saturday morning cartoons, and my mom read comic books to me when I was little. The Neal Adams artwork motivated me to learn to read the stories for myself. My mom says that even before my first memories begin, I loved looking at comic books and Batman particularly piqued my interest. Last year, we discovered a wonderful photo of me at 9 months old, holding one of my mom's comic books and looking delighted by whatever I'd just seen in it.
2) Single issues and graphic novels included, what's your favorte Batman story from the comics?
TL: ďNight of the StalkerĒ is a particularly powerful story from 1974. Steve Englehart wrote the narrative, but itís really a story by the artist, Sal Amendola, and Salís wife Vin. Batman doesnít say a word through the entire story. Steveís narrative and dialogue are strong, and yet the story packs a punch even if you donít read a word of it. Batman witnesses a robber, while fleeing a bank robbery, gun down a boyís parents. The similarity to his own parentsí deaths makes him flash back for an instant and he doesnít get moving quickly enough. He then pursues the robbers across town and into the countryside and subdues them one by one. The story ends with him back at Wayne Manor, exhausted and weeping.
3) Which Batman on film was more mentally stable: Burton's from BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS, or Nolan's from "The Dark Knight Trilogy?"
TL: Burtonís Batman took unnecessary risks as Batman and was a weak man as Bruce Wayne. Thatís how Tim Burton, who was not a comic book reader, envisioned Batman. He couldnít imagine why a strong man would dress up like a bat. He could imagine a weaker man using it to transform himself into a strong hero. At the start of BATMAN RETURNS, Bruce Wayne isnít even pretending to socialize like he did back in the opening act of 1989ís BATMAN. Heís home at Wayne Manor, sitting in the dark, brooding until the Batsignal makes him spring to life. Nolanís Batman functions pretty well except for the not-insignificant issue of why, as both Bruce and Batman, he dropped out of public life for eight years. Thatís a long time to mope, a long time for him to sit at home and do nothing after devoting his life to the war on crime. However, we do learn that heíd physically wrecked himself during his original time as Batman, so he wouldnít have been able to stay Batman that whole time, and we donít know what he did with himself during the interim.
4) At the end of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, we learn that Bruce Wayne is alive and well and, apparently, going to live happily ever after with Selina Kyle. Did Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy" providing Bruce Wayne a happy ending jibe with your Batman sensibilities?
TL: Oh, we donít know that he lives happily ever after. We just know that he lives and is presently hanging out with Selina. I think of it like the ending of Frank Millerís graphic novel THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: He has faked his death, he has gone off with someone who helped him in his last great fight, and he will find a new way to fight the good fight while he leaves the legend he created behind to inspire others.
5) Which Batman villain is your favorite?
TL: The Riddler intrigues me. I like that cognitively oriented criminal as a character. The problem is that itís difficult to write a good Riddler story. Itís easy to write a good Joker story because the nature of the character lends itself to easy variety. Writing a great Joker story takes more talent, but a good Joker story isnít hard to spin. The Riddler has a narrower range, but he does have range. I liked him as the narcissistic ex-criminal trying to function as a detective. His interactions with other criminals are always interesting and help illuminate their personalities in ways we donít always see. Man, I wish we could have seen a Christopher Nolan Riddler!
6) Which member of the Batman Family, outside of Batman, is your favorite?
TL: Stephanie Brown. I like her spunk. She became a crime-fighter not because of a lab accident or some great personal tragedy. No, she became a crime-fighter as her form of adolescent rebellion against her criminal father. It was, initially, her form of acting out. That evolved over time into more heroic motivation as she grew up. Her heroic interest matured as she did, as she became a young woman. When she became Batgirl, it was her graduation from both high school and her Spoiler identity. For two years, Bryan Q. Millerís BATGIRL was the comic book I most looked forward to reading every month.
7) What is your single favorite image of Batman from the comics?
TL: Too many images spring to mind. Thereís a classic Neal Adams pose that weíve all seen repeated many times, with Batman racing forward, practically running out from the printed page. It originates from a story where he fought The Joker. Thatís Batman. Batman in his more recent armor-like outfit lacks that grace. I donít know about calling that my single favorite, though. Iíve come to decide we donít have to pin down a favorite of anything. We donít have to make those choices. I donít have to decide which of my sons is my favorite. Notice that when I answered your question about my favorite villain, I didnít actually call The Riddler my favorite! Iím just more curious about him. The Joker defies curiosity. The less we know about him, his background, and what goes on inside his head, the better.
8) Do you have a favorite episode of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES?
TL: ďHeart of IceĒ and ďMad LoveĒ are some of the best stories to appear on television in any program of any type, animated or live action, ever. ďMad LoveĒ actually appeared in comic book form before it aired on TV, so that would seem to leave ďHeart of IceĒ as the winner by default. ďHeart of IceĒ took a previously two-dimensional villain, Mr. Freeze, whoíd been nothing more than low-body-temperature-guy-with-ice-gun, and transformed him into perhaps the most poignant villain of them all. Write Paul Dini gave this cold-hearted man a love interest, Nora, who'd warmed up to him and warmed up his life before she became terminally ill. He froze her, took the warmth out of her, to preserve her, and his quest to save her life or avenge her became the driving force in his life.
9) What's the best live-action Batman film to date?
TL: BATMAN BEGINS. While THE DARK KNIGHT has more layers to its story and such fascinating villains, Batman Begins was the first movie to portray Bruce Wayne as a meaningful character. It was the origin. The Burton movies are mostly about other people: We get Vicky Valeís viewpoint and we get Selinaís; we donít really get inside Bruce because, as Bruce, heís hollow. Batman is a rich, complex character, and Nolan took us into his head. BATMAN BEGINS explores Batman's humanity in a way no other live action movie ever has, before or since.
1) Arguably, Batman is the most popular comic book superhero among both comic book readers and the "mainstream." In your opinion, why?
TL: Heís the superhero without superpowers. Heís the one who takes his childhood fears and owns them. Instead of letting them hold him back, he uses them, and that sends a message to us that we can master our fears as well. We donít have his resources, but we can find inspiration in his drive. Batman doesnít give up. He takes the darkness in his city and in himself, and he uses that darkness to do something good. Superman shines bright, but he doesnít show us that we can feel safe in the dark. We wish for the ability to stand up and do whatís right. Sometimes we just canít make the right thing happen, though. Sometimes we lack the skill or the strength to see it through, but we can still hope that if we stick with it, somebody might come along who can help us get there. Batmanís not real. When you really break down the implausibility of one man having hundreds of adventures that require a fortune in toys to back him up, you know heís not real, and yet he feels right. While Superman is bright and impossible, Batman feels dark and improbably possible. We're okay with improbable. In fact, we welcome it. We hope for some great and improbable things.
Thanks again to Dr. Langley for being a part of BOF's celebration of 75 years of Batman! If you have any suggestions for B75 guests or B75 questions, send them to me via JETT@BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM.