The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Wheldon

Glen Wheldon, a member of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, goes through a chronological history of Batman from his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 and origin and its correlation to nerd culture. The premise of the book is that Batman like art goes through movements and reactions in a never ending cycle. This cycle parallels and is acted upon by nerd culture with its mantras “you’re doing it wrong” and “that’s not my Batman.” The book is a fascinating study of the iconic comic book character.

The author reads the audiobook and employs some humorous voices in the reading from a German psychologist to a typical nerd. It’s a fast moving and involved examination of the iconic superhero and his place in the popular culture. From dispelling myths about the characters gay origin (the author is gay so it’s not merely straight-washing his origin) to explaining the many different iterations about the “real” Batman, the hero emerges from a simple comic book character and becomes an archetype, an avatar for many different opinions.

When this book works well, the author is talking about Batman and his context. Where this book slumps, it’s the conversations about the “rise of nerd culture” which feels less integrated and almost tacked on to give the book some academic or literary merit. I estimate that only 10% of the book discusses nerd culture and is almost a foot note at different sections. Sure, the hardcore Batman nerds play a role in the character’s journey, as much as the Joker does, steering the character away from camp and Joel Schumacher and into the brooding badass Dark Knight, but the rise of nerd culture seems much richer and more interesting than discussed here. The book may be interesting focusing 90% on nerd culture with parallels to Batman, not the other way around.

Either way, I recommend the audio book because it is expertly performed and more interesting than many non-fiction books. If you like Batman, comics, superheroes or nerd culture, you will find something here that appeals to you.▪️

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