Psychologist Takes a Deep Look Behind Batman's Mask in New Book
Ever wonder if Batman suffers from post traumatic stress disorder? Or why he doesn't he just kill Joker? It's not easy to find a pin-point answer, but a new book has shed light on some unanswered questions. "Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight," written by Travis Langley, a psychology professor who teaches a Batman class at Henderson State University, will be available on Amazon on June 19, a month before the "The Dark Knight Rises" hits theaters. But take his word for it. Langley, who this week will attend Wizard World Philadelphia to speak about the psychology of the Caped Crusader, had some time to answer a few questions about his new book.
G: What inspired you to write "Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight"?
TL: The summer "The Dark Knight" was in movie theaters, a lot of things converged for me: that movie, a summer class I taught, a book I read, my son going to Comic-Con. For my psychology in literature course, I had every student choose a fictional character and analyze it in different ways throughout the term. To show them how to do the assignments, I did them too, using Batman as the example every time. In Danny Fingeroth's book "Superman on the Couch," he commented on how little anyone working in mental health areas had ever written about comics. So here I was with Batman on the brain and that comment of Danny's when I went to Comic-Con to see a convention panel my son was on. I met other comics scholars, I noticed the shortage of psychologists among them, and I knew I needed to write on the psychology of superheroes, starting with Batman.
G: Why did you choose Batman, as opposed to other comic book characters?
TL: He's the superhero without superpowers. His personality and behavior define him more than anything else. Same goes for his enemies. Their personalities, their habits and quirks, define most of them, not superpowers.
Superman is worth analyzing, as are Wonder Woman, Captain America, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and every hero Stan Lee and his collaborators ever created, but the very first superhero to get his own psychology book had to be the most famous one with no superpowers and no fantastic origin. Admittedly, that's the explanation I came up after I'd already embarked on this path. The plain fact is that Batman was my childhood hero, and this is about bringing together all my life's greatest interests -- psychology and superheroes, education and entertainment, and my need to write.
G: Did you encounter any obstacles in writing your book?
TL: Not really. It's the right time for this book. My concept and credentials got me an agent fairly quickly. We lined up a publisher almost as quickly. Another company, a truly prestigious publishing house, wanted the book too, but Wiley & Sons better suited what we wanted to accomplish. My editor, Connie Santisteban, is the greatest. Everybody I've worked with at Wiley has been top-notch. We didn't hear back from Warner in time to include the movie and TV photos I wanted, but DC Comics is letting us include eleven comic book images and that's more important.
That said, though, I'd already invested three years in working toward that quick sale. If not for the timeliness of an upcoming Batman movie, I doubt it would have sold so quickly. I nearly waited longer than I should to get the book sold in time to write, edit, and get it out before "The Dark Knight Rises," but back when the idea first came to me, I didn't have any professional publications in comics studies. By the time I finally pitched the book, I'd built up some credentials, published relevant articles, and gotten to know comic book writers, filmmakers, and actors like Adam West.
G: I notice that you are a professor who teaches a Batman class -- evident in your Facebook and Twitter. Do your students know that you're writing a psychological book that examines the Caped Crusader? If they do, what do they tell you?
TL: I finished writing my first full draft in September, a few months before I taught the class, so they've known that all along. By the time I finished writing, I knew I could easily fill a semester using Batman, his supporting cast, and so many of his enemies to illustrate a wide variety of psychological concepts. I could have called the course something like "The Psychology of Nocturnal Vigilantism," but no, I called it just Batman. The only students in that class were people who wanted the word Batman on their transcripts.
Students say it's cool that I wrote this book. I'm sure plenty of others just think it's nutty, but they haven't looked their professor in the face and told me so. Most of the students who took that class found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of their academic careers. They didn't mind doing the readings -- which mixed comic book stories, scholarly articles, and copies of a couple of my chapters. In fact, one guy said he'd almost made it through four years of college without buying a single book for any of his classes, and yet he bought them for this class. A class like this creates an environment where students feel more free to be themselves. In other classrooms, they might hold back out of habit because they don't want to say the nerdy thing that comes to their minds. There's nothing too nerdy to say in a Batman class.
G: What do you hope to accomplish in writing this book?
TL: I hope it entertains people and makes them think. I hope it inspires others to find creative ways to pull together the things they love. If I'd merged my nerdier interests with psychology even earlier in life, I'd have had that many more years of sheerly enjoying it all. I'm having the time of my life. I feel like this is the truest I've ever been to myself.
Lately, while I've been talking about the book some at both fan conventions and psychology conferences, I've come to hope something else. I want people to see that you can use any topic that people enjoy to help you teach any academic subject. Remember when you were in school and you had to answer a math problem with an example about two trains approaching each other at different speeds? For a train fanatic, that's the perfect way to learn. Why not fill a course with train examples to teach all kinds of math to the people who love trains? Karma Waltonen teaches by using "The Simpsons" as examples. I've used Batman.