Beyond Heroes and Villains

Investigating the nature of good guys and bad guys in fiction and real life

Brain and Body by Batman: Art and Science of the Dark Knight

Panelists examine the physiology and psychology of nocturnal vigilantism.


Panel description: What motivations sustain Bruce Wayne? What was needed to prepare him for his career as Batman? What has this career done to his psyche, his brain, his body? Psychology professor and superherologist Dr. Travis Langley (Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight), neuroscience and kinesiology professor Dr. E. Paul Zehr (Becoming Batman), health and exercise science expert Eric Bruce (Western Oregon University), and Comic-Con special guest Dennis O'Neil (Batman) discuss, dissect, and demystify the Dark Knight on his 75th diamond jubilee anniversary, providing an evaluation of the psychology, kinesiology, and neuroscience of Batman and discussing the physical and psychological realities of becoming and then having a career as Gotham's Dark Knight avenger.

Left to right: Paul Zehr, Travis Langley, Denny O'Neil, Eric Bruce.

The Comics Arts Conference, a scholarly conference-within-the-convention held in conjunction with WonderCon each spring and San Diego Comic-Con every summer, usually includes a number of panels that anyone intrigued by psychological topics might find attractive. Dr. E. Paul Zehr, author of books such as Becoming Batman and Project Superhero, led one such San Diego panel this summer, "Brain and Body by Batman: The Art and Science of the Dark Knight."

His body ravaged by his time as Batman, Bruce Wayne walks with a cane in The Dark Knight Rises.

Paul, Denny, and I had once touched on related issues in a 2011 New York Comic Con panel that we did together with two other psychologists and retired NYPD sergeant Mike Bruen ("Batman vs. Iron Man: Can a Person Truly Become Either?"). I won't detail everything that came up during this year's panel because I ought to leave that up to Paul Zehr (whose "Black Belt Brain" blog also runs here at Psychology Today) should he choose to write it up. One of my own key points during this latest panel discussion in San Diego was that Batman has endured for 75 years largely because he seems physically and psychologically more real to us than other superheroes.

Currently, he even enjoys greater popularity than others as a video game character, probably in part because his games allow players a greater vicarious experience. Flying around while playing Superman should be fun, too, but fully grasping that such an ability is not real can make it harder to immerse oneself in it. Making incredible combo moves while tossing thugs around as Batman might pull the player in as something that feels more real and, therefore, potentially more easily engrossing and immersive.

Lawrence Brenner has posted the entire panel on YouTube, so please feel free to check that out if you'd like to learn more about what we all had to say on the physiology and psychology of nocturnal vigilantism.

Related posts:

* The Enduring Inspiration of Bruce Lee and Batman

* Batman at 75: The Psychology of Why the Dark Knight Endures

* Legends of the Knight Documentary Explores the Power of Stories

* Why Does Batman Matter?

* The Bat of the Shadow: Batman's Role Models

* A Dark and Stormy Knight: Why Batman?


Tom Lennon as Bruce Wayne's doctor in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

External coverage:

* Outer Places: Science Says Bruce Wayne's Body Could Only Handle 2-3 Years of Being Batman  (about the panel and this article) 

You can follow me on Twitter as @Superherologist or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BatmanBelfry. I'd love to hear from you!

Travis Langley, Ph.D. is the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.

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