Reading The Caped Crusade is like sitting down with an enthusiastic friend who is dying to introduce you to his favorite fandom. The book is Glen Weldon’s second book-length venture into the world of Superheroes and popular culture (He is a regular panelist on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, and a critic and writer in numerous other forums). In Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, Weldon explored the Kryptonite’s history in various forms of media, from comic books to movies and toys as well as his changing image in popular culture at large. Here, The Caped Crusader, he tackles the second of the Big Three, the Dark Knight himself. With clarity and good humor, he describes the hero’s swings from good citizen to dark, troubled vigilante and back again, always looking out for the hero’s core qualities, the elements that make Batman Batman, whether light or dark.
The Caped Crusade also gives a history of Batman’s creators, especially the irascible Bob Kane and his grand claims. As the subtitle, “Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture,” implies, fans, too, are examined, and the continued growth of a devoted following is charted, both as Batman fandom and the phenomenon of fandom in general. Weldon looks at the “hard core” fans and the “general public” and the way their interactions have shaped Batman in different medium. As others have also noted, relationships between the two types of fans are not always cordial, with some segments of nerd culture appointing themselves as gatekeepers and guards, often to the detriment of all involved. This does not mean Weldon decries nerd culture as such: He clearly has fun at conventions, for example, and anyone who takes the time to read and recount all of Batman’s history can only be described as a fan.
Weldon writes with charm and humor, making Caped Crusader, like Superman: The Unauthorized Biography an enjoyable as well as an informative read. There is plenty to think about, but also plenty to smile at.
The Caped Crusade is recommended to anyone who is at all interested in superheroes or fan culture. There is plenty to think about here, and plenty of material for those lovely, rambling conversations that make being a nerd so much fun.
The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture comes out on March 22, 2016 from Simon & Schuster. Look for it on Amazon.
Pairs well with Superman: The Unauthorized Biography (of course). More serious scholars will also enjoy is available now. Look for it A Golden Thread: An Unofficial Critical History of Wonder Woman.
A note on “pairs well”: I include only books that I have read and enjoyed and think share an audience. I’d love to see comments and suggestions from other readers!