on 19 July 2012
Whilst Brooker's work inhabits the sometimes difficult boundary between academic and popular, you do not need the perceptive powers of the Dark Knight to enjoy and understand the ideas in this volume. Indeed, the strength of Brooker's work is his ability to distil decades of literary and cultural theory into digestible, and most importantly, fascinating analysis of a cultural icon.
The high academic level of Brooker's work is testament to the fact that pioneers often have to outstrip their peers in passion and ability in order to have their work taken seriously. This academic integrity should not intimidate or deter the `casual reader', however. Brooker has done all of the hard work for the reader, providing introductory segues for the non-academic (or indeed the academic from another field, such as myself) so that the occasional necessary theory never mystifies or stymies those of us without advanced degrees in cultural theory.
Brooker examines and interrogates the role of the author and reader with relation to concepts such as branding and hierarchy, identifying and exploring key concepts of value, legitimacy, truth and reality, none of which, as Brooker demonstrates, may be taken at face value. Whilst this work concentrates on the last decade of Batman, with particular reference to the post 9/11 works of Christopher Nolan, the book also continues the theme of its predecessor (though that work is not required reading to enjoy the text, as the author succinctly reiterates the core premise).
To risk over-simplification, Brooker's key concept, astutely established in 2000's Batman Unmasked, is that Batman is the sum of all he's ever been, and that his staying power and continued cultural relevance is the result of the character's ability to adapt in the face of change, to continue to reflect us and our interests.
Perhaps, most significantly, Brooker tackles notion of `fidelity', a problematic concept at best when applied to a character with as many competing histories and interpretations as Batman. He objectively examines the role of the author and reader (and author/reader) in the dissemination of the currently endorsed and largely dominant `DARK' interpretation of the `Batman' concept, additionally noting that fidelity may become a promotional device for the establishment of the rebooted franchise, a `relationship of sameness to a specific group of Batman texts and difference from another...' Separating the `new' and `Dark' (Nolan-growly-Bat) from the perceived-undesirable (Schumacher-nipple-Bat), interrogating these notions throughout.
Simply put, Brooker identifies key moments where specific versions of Batman become dominant, or conversely become repressed, scrutinises why this is the case, and, to a degree, who benefits from endorsing a particular interpretation at any given time, relating these themes to cultural hierarchies and interplay in the social matrix.
With deft, sometimes barely perceptible transitions in theoretical structure, moments in the book, such as in chapter 4's `Carnival on Infinite Earths', escape the boundaries of cultural commentary to become a form of anthropology/philosophy/psychology. Impressively, this is achieved without losing the cohesive integrity of the work. I was gratified to infer considerations of shamanism and theology used with reference to the symbolism of Batman and the Joker, and it is here that the depth of Brooker's analysis and enthusiasm really shines, opening the text to variant readings, a suitable symmetry to the Batman Urtexts.
In summary, Brooker's work highlights that contrary interpretations of Batman, Dark/Light-hearted, Realistic/Camp (even queer), so often portrayed in opposition, or even repressed, are in fact merely emblematic signposts on a `Batman spectrum' (or `rainbow'), a continuum of all potential `Batmen', all bearing their own potency, relevance and validity, threads pulled from the rich tapestry of the character's history. A history few know better than Will Brooker, it would seem.