Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) discusses psychology with Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) in Batman Forever.
"I've read a book on the psychology of Batman." No, you haven't. Not before this summer anyway.
Many people have surprised and fascinated me with how often they say, upon hearing that I've written Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight, that they've already read a book on the psychology of Batman before. They're always wrong. Until this May, no such book existed. Over the course of three years planning, four months writing, and more months revising 14 chapters with some 900 references, either I'd have stumbled across the imaginary book or someone would have brought it to my attention.
Memory is a funny, unreliable thing, though, and I get curious about why people express such certainty about things they've misremembered. Several books of Batman scholarship came out this summer, but people were saying this to me before summer. Here are some pre-2012 books they may have mangled in memory:
- Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, edited by Mark D. White and Robert Arp (Wiley, 2008). Philosophy is not psychology. Period.
- Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon, by Will Brooker (Continuum, 2001). Brooker takes a look at culture, not psychology. Arguably the best known work of Dark Knight scholarship, this examines fans, filmmakers, and others but generally not the characters themselves.
- The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media, edited by Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio (BFI, 1991). This one also looks mainly at culture rather than psychology. It’s a collection of essays by various writers from assorted fields, along with a couple of interviews (Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller).
- Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero, by E. Paul Zehr (Johns Hopkins, 2008). Contemplating what it would take for someone to become Batman physically, Zehr concludes that a person with the right genetic potential could become Batman; that person just wouldn’t be able to stay Batman for very long.
- Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life, by Rabbi Cary Friedman (Compass, 2006). Friedman isn’t teaching psychology. He’s giving life tips by drawing examples from Batman stories. This thin little book with large font and plenty of pictures amazed me with its insightful, well written content.
- Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society, by Danny Fingeroth (Continuum, 2004). The book isn’t specifically about Batman, Fingeroth’s not a psychologist, and he didn’t write about psychology per se. He noted that mental health professionals had written next to nothing about comic books in the fifty years since psychiatrist Fredric Wertham rattled the comic book industry with his assertion that comic books caused juvenile delinquency.
- Batman Unauthorized: Vigilantes, Jokers, and Heroes in Gotham City, edited by Dennis O'Neil (Smart Pop, 2008). Chapters touching on psychological issues include "The Madness of Arkham Asylum," "Robin: Innocent Bystander," and "What's Wrong with Bruce Wayne?"
- The Psychology of Superheroes, edited by Robin Rosenberg (BenBella, 2008). While this book isn’t specifically about Batman either, it is the only pre-2012 psychology book on the list. One chapter, “Arkham Asylum” by Bradley J. Daniels, compares Arkham Asylum and its inmates to real world mental hospitals and the criminally insane.
Each book mentioned above is worth reading. I heartily recommend every one, although I would note that chapters within the edited anthologies vary in their value. Pointing out that they’re either not about psychology or not specifically about Batman does not detract from any of the great things they have to say.