With a name like ‘Soul Of The Dark Knight’, you would think that Alex M. Wainer’s book was a graphic novel. However, its sub-title ‘Batman As Mythic Figure In Comics And Film’ should point you in a different direction, an analysis of the cowled one as a legend.
For us long-term comicbook readers, we’ve always noted that the likes of Superman and other DC heroes use aspects of classical mythology. Rather oddly, Wainer refers to both versions of the Flash being a Hermes substitute but not Wonder Woman, who is still part of the Amazon clique as…well…still part of the old guard. Despite not having super-powers, the Batman seems to be the odd one in the pack although Wainer points out similarities to Dionysus.
Wainer’s knowledge seems to go off occasionally. I mean Bob Kane was hardly fair to any of the other contributors who created Batman or Bill Finger as writer would have a co-credit. Wainer does point out Finger’s contribution to the Batman design for going with a cowl than a domino mask amongst other things, including creating the Joker. It was also a couple years in before Kane relied on ghost artists because of the amount of material that had to be produced monthly. Even so, this was never publicly acknowledged until much later with everything under the ‘by Bob Kane’ banner.
Pointing out that other DC lead characters have been replaced by other people, I expected him to explore this with Batman and although finally mentioned, Jean Paul Valley isn’t actually named or the circumstance of his replacement. Nor for that matter the three main other Robins since Dick Grayson stood down showing that it is the role rather than who’s in the costume that has much to do with being legendary. Considering that Wainer is supposed to be covering the mythical image this is a serious omission.
The first half of the book deals strictly with the comicbook version and several repetitions which could have been reduced although no doubt more useful to the browser than people like me who read the book all the way through. A lot of it is comparing what others have to say than Wainer expressing his own opinions. There were a couple things I didn’t know. The 1930 film ‘The Bat Whisperer’ had some influence in the original Batman design and that Gotham City was Hell. That film is available on DVD, by the way, and is now on my list to have a look at some time.
The second half of the book looks at all the other media interpretations of the Batman, from the 1940s movie serials to the 1966 TV version, animation and films. However, in the warm-up to this, Wainer spends an extending diatribe on Tolkien’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ and CS Lewis and I’m still baffled what this has to do with a super-hero and tended to alert me more to padding, as indeed spending a few pages on the Marvel film product. Indeed, much of what he says about all these other Batman products is quoting other people. As a round-up, that’s probably OK, but if you’re looking for Wainer’s own opinions and assertions that he is right about his assertion of the Batman’s mythical status, then you’ll have a tough time finding it. On the back cover, Wainer is noted as an associate professor of communication and media studies. Surely that means he must have opinions of his own to express?
Again, there are the occasional errors which makes me wonder if he’s investigated thoroughly enough. He points out that the ‘Watchmen’ film doesn’t have ‘Tales Of The Black Freighter’ included when all he needs to do is watch the uncut version to see it there in all its glory.
If you read this book as a brief history of the Batman across the media, you’ll have caught the essence of what is covered here. But if you want in-depth analysis of Batman’s legendary status purely by the author himself, then it is less than effective. You could give a history of anything of a few years old and call it ‘legendary status’. I almost get the feeling that Wainer is afraid to go in opinionating unless he gets slagged off. Fans of our genre would rather have strong opinions to argue against than nothing at all. If Wainer had stated his case better, he might well have had people agreeing with something.
(pub: McFarland. 198 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £32.50 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78647-128-7)