BOF’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of Batman with another installment of “10 Bat-Questions with….” Below, you’ll find my Q&A with Prof. Will Brooker, author of BATMAN UNMASKED
and HUNTING THE DARK KNIGHT
ABOUT PROF. BROOKER: Will Brooker studied BA (Hons) Film and English at the University of East Anglia, then a postgraduate diploma in Communications, with a specialism in 16mm film making, at Goldsmiths College. While teaching part-time at FE colleges, he studied part-time on the Film and Television MA at Westminster, and then in 1996 gained a scholarship for PhD study at Cardiff University.
Brooker's doctoral thesis, a cultural history of Batman from 1939-1999, was published as the monograph Batman Unmasked, and attracted significant media attention.
He was employed at Richmond, The American International University in London, from 1999-2005, as an Associate Professor of Communication, and during that time published widely, including the monographs Using the Force and Alice's Adventures, and the edited collections The Audience Studies Reader and The Blade Runner Experience.
Brooker was appointed at Kingston in 2005 as Field Leader in Film. He subsequently took the broader role of Field Leader (later Director of Studies) of Film and Television, and was promoted to PL. In 2009 he was promoted to Reader and became the Director of Research for Film and Television, also publishing a BFI Film Classics volume on Star Wars that year.
Brooker's most recent monograph, Hunting The Dark Knight, was published in 2012. He was appointed as the first British editor of Cinema Journal in early 2013 and was promoted to Professor in May of that year.
Follow him on Twitter @WILLBROOKER.
1) I'll start with the standard question I ask everyone: What are your first memories of The Batman?
WILL BROOKER: My first concrete, conscious memories of Batman are of watching the Adam West TV show, then running outside into our back yard, in Charlton, South-East London, with my little brother and best friend, and just going crazy, half-dancing, half-fighting, mostly just running, with the theme tune playing from a little cassette recorder. The music drove me absolutely wild and filled me with energy. It was like a really junior version of a rave party.
I'm not sure if I was reading superhero comics at the time, as opposed to British humor comics like Beano, Krazy, Whizzer & Chips. Again, the first comic I know I definitely owned was Action Comics #467, from January 1977.
So while I know I was a fan of Batman in the comics by 1979, I used my own $10, which was a lot back then to buy The Super Dictionary. I think my first encounter with Batman was Adam West. And as I've often said, I didn't think the show was campy or comical at all. I thought it was an incredibly exciting adventure series!
2) Batman in comics...the character's original medium. What is your favorite comic book or story arc from the comics?
WB: That is very hard to say. I still enjoy Dark Knight Returns and Year One very much, for different reasons -- maybe partly because they brought me back to Batman, and comics, after I drifted away during my early teenage years, and they shocked me, as they did many people, with a sense of just how good -- how complex, how powerful and how visually beautiful -- comics could be. I still think those are great stories, with incredible illustrations and, with Dark Knight Returns in particular, lovely colors.
The things we like, value, treasure and remember are very much bound up with when we experienced them, I think, so those two comics by Frank Miller and his collaborators will probably always hold an important place for me -- I was aged around 16-17 and it was just the right time for me to have my eyes opened and senses startled by those two stories.
More recently though, and now I'm far older, with a different perspective, I really enjoy Grant Morrison's take on Batman in R.I.P.. It's witty, clever and fluid, and it embraces and conveys the idea that Batman is many things -- Batman is everything he's ever been since 1939, from the silly to the gritty, from the campy to the dark vigilante.
As well as conveying a generous and multi-faceted sense of Batman as an individual who's had an incredible, diverse life, Morrison told a gripping story that included one of the very best portrayals of The Joker I've ever read. I think his run on the Batman titles from around 2006 to 2010 is an incredible achievement and I feel lucky that I was around to experience it as it happened, as I was with Miller's comics at the start of the graphic novel boom and the mid-80s renaissance.
3) Staying with the comics, Batman has sported several different looks over the decades. What's your favorite version of the Bat-Suit?
WB: My favourite Bat-Suit is either Mike Mignola's from Gotham By Gaslight or Paul Pope's from Batman 100, for the simple reason that you could probably make them yourself, even if you aren't a billionaire with access to military R&D hardware. They're mostly just chunky big boots and a heavy overcoat, with a few branded Bat-items thrown in.
I think a key aspect of Batman is the idea that we could be Batman if we really tried. Those costumes help me to retain the secret belief that I could be a kind of Batman. During my PhD, when I was immersed in Batman's history to the extent that I wasn't 100% in touch with reality, I did try to be that kind of figure for a while, with that kind of costume!
4) I'm still not done with the comics! Do you have a favorite artist and writer?
WB: I don't enjoy Miller's work any more, but I think we have to recognize that he wrote an incredible Batman in The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. I don't really enjoy Alan Moore's work any more either, but I love and respect his Batman from Swamp Thing #53 from October of 1986.
On the other hand, I don't much admire Grant Morrison's Batman: Arkham Asylum, but I very much enjoy his more recent work on Batman R.I.P..
So I think it would be difficult to choose a single writer in terms of their entire career. Several writers have given us great versions of Batman at specific moments of their career. If I was forced to choose one, I might have to go for Denny O'Neil, who to my mind has always been more of a great craftsman, a professional doing a job, rather than a visionary, but who has probably done more for the character than anyone else since Kane and Finger.
It's equally hard to pick a favorite artist. I love Miller's brick-outhouse of an older Batman, but that is a specific Batman from a specific possible future. I genuinely feel Batman is a combination of different styles, a compendium of costumes, cowls and capes, and so it's very difficult to choose a single 'look' from those 75 years. Alan Davis draws a lovely, elegant Batman, in Year Two and The Nail; I enjoy Simon Bisley's ludicrous heavy metal style Batman, who duels Judge Dredd, and the equally exaggerated long-eared vampire Kelley Jones gives us in Red Rain; I like the shadowy figure McKean paints when Batman cameos in Black Orchid. The square-jawed, scoutmaster Caped Crusader from the Silver Age also entertains and amuses me. These very different versions are all integral to Batman's history.
5) One last Batman in comics question: Do you have a favorite comic book cover or image of Batman from the comics? Something you'd want to frame and hang in your office...maybe it's already there!
WB: I had Batman #244 on my office wall for a while, because it was published the month I was born. It's a classic Adams cover, but not especially pretty.
Right now I would choose the Alex Garner cover to the New 52 Batgirl #31 as I'm writing about Barbara Gordon, and it's a gorgeous painting.
6) OK, turning to a particular Bat-passion of mine, Batman on film. What is your favorite Batman live-action movie?
WB: Christppher Nolan's The Dark Knight is, to my mind, without doubt not only the best Batman film but the best superhero film we have seen so far. It's the only superhero film that transcends its genre and feels like a political thriller that just happens to feature a man in costume. I found it quite unnerving at times, impossible to turn away from, and I feel it raises genuinely compelling ethical questions that resonate years later. At best, other superhero films, such as The Avengers, are just fun entertainment as far as I'm concerned.
7) Who is your favorite cinematic Batman to date?
WB: I would probably pick Christian Bale. His performance is comical and ludicrous in some ways -- his over-the-top, adenoidal growl, and his bad-ass attitude -- but I think that's appropriate. Even in a serious, gritty, political Batman movie, I think it's fine, valid, even important for there to be something ridiculous about Batman. He is not a normal guy. There is something absurd about the very idea of him. He's theatrical, just as The Joker is theatrical. Batman is a performance put on by Bruce Wayne, and I think it's right that there should always remain something weird and crazy about a man in a costume fighting crime, even though most of the time, he carries it off, looks cool and convinces us.
8) I believe there have been three true periods of "Bat-Mania" over the course of Batman's 75 years: During the 1960's TV series, in 1989 when BATMAN was released in theaters, and in 2008 with THE DARK KNIGHT. Which one do you think, historically, had the biggest impact in pop culture?
WB: Those are hard to compare, I think. You would probably have the same trouble comparing Beatlemania with New Kids on the Block and One Direction fandom. How would you measure them -- in terms of sales? By interviewing fans? By counting how much merchandise was produced around each different historical moment? The 1960s were very different, culturally, from 1989 and 2007.
As Batmania in 1966 was apparently the most extreme fad since Davy Crockett, ten years earlier, I'd probably choose that, in historical terms. There were several huge fandoms around in 1989 and 2008, and I don't think Batman was such a big deal in context.
9) In my opinion, Batman is the most popular comic book character amongst the mainstream. What accounts for his immense popularity for 75 years (and counting!)?
WB: I think there are several reasons. Batman allows us to aspire to something, in a way that The Flash, Superman and Green Lantern don't. Batman embodies a concept of peak human fitness, peak human intelligence, peak human commitment and dedication.
Another key point about Batman is that sense of diversity, difference, change and variation. Personally, I am happy with an idea of Batman that encompasses all the strange, sometimes silly, things he's been in his 75 year career. Some people like to pretend there is a 'pure' form, a solitary and tortured vigilante, but I don't buy that. I enjoy and embrace all of Batman's history, and I think it's part of his appeal that he's had so many forms and faces.
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE!
10) And finally, and this is one of my favorite questions to ask folks, what is the most significant "Batman Moment" in your life?
WB: I suppose there can be little to compare to getting the first PhD about Batman, for my doctoral thesis 'One Life, Many Faces', published in 2000 as Batman Unmasked.
Thanks again to Will 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.