This week, millions of Batman fans will be lining up to see The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final instalment of the critically acclaimed films by director Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale as the titular billionaire crime-fighter.
Since artist Bob Kane created Batman (and his secret identity Bruce Wayne) in 1939, the brooding character has been reinterpreted many times over by numerous writers, illustrators, directors and actors. And Batman, whose parents' murders were the catalyst for his relentless pursuit of justice, has proven to be a rich psychological subject through which to explore the darker sides of human nature.
To mark the release of The Dark Knight Rises, we're highlighting four non-fiction books that offer unique examinations of the iconic hero.
Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero by E. Paul Zehr
Batman is a symbol of strength and justice. Bruce Wayne, however, is merely a man made of flesh and blood. He remains one of the world's greatest superheroes despite not having any super powers, and this is partly what makes him such a compelling figure. If he's just a mortal man, what does it take to become a crime-fighting vigilante? In this book, professor of kinesiology and neuroscience E. Paul Zehr looks at what specifically a human being would have to go through, from mixed martial arts training to strength and conditioning to dieting, in order to achieve physical and mental abilities on par with Batman. As Zehr, points out, it's not just the fancy gadgets that make Batman the effective crime fighter he is. He's an exceptional athlete with the agility of a champion gymnast and the fighting skills of Georges St-Pierre. Becoming Batman provides a science-based answer to a question many people have asked themselves after reading a comic book or coming out of a movie theatre: Could I do that?
Batman: The Complete History by Les Daniels
Since 1939, Batman has appeared in comic strips, comic books, both live and animated television shows, graphic novels, video games and major movies. Every version was different, from the campy Adam West TV show in the 1960s to Frank Miller's tough, gritty portrayal in the 1980s comics to film actors Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney assuming the mantle of the Bat from 1989 to 1997. In The Complete History, the late comic historian Les Daniels traces the origins of the hero back to the beginning, offering well-researched historical and cultural context behind the creation and evolution of the Dark Knight and his colourful adversaries. Comic fans will also appreciate the abundance of illustrations, artwork and movie stills in this volume. It's like an authoritative scrapbook for serious Batman fans.
Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight by Travis Langley
From the moment that Bruce Wayne's parents were killed in front of him and his hunger for vengeance began, Batman has consistently been one of the most fascinating superheroes from a psychological perspective. After all, what kind of person devotes their lives to fighting injustice on this scale at the sacrifice of their personal happiness and health? And what does it say about Batman's fans that they see him as a hero? Psychology professor Travis Langley aims to take off the mask and examine what motivates Bruce Wayne from a clinical point of view. He also tackles interesting questions about what it must mean to be Batman. Why does he refuse to kill the villains that seek to kill him? What must it be like for his most "romantic" relationships with women to be with femme fatales like Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Talia al Ghul? And could he ever come to terms with the death of his parents or must he remain Batman forever?
The Essential Batman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger
Lifelong comic fan Greenberger has put together a 400-page guide to all things Batman, from fascinating details about the famous utility belt to key incidents in the Batman mythology to biography entries about the Dark Knight's extensive rogue's gallery, including the Joker, Scarecrow and lesser known villains like the Eraser and The Bouncer. The book is a comprehensive A to Z that covers more than six decades of the caped crusader's history and includes many black-and-white illustrations and two 16-page, full-colour inserts.