An Academic ‘Hunting For The Dark Knight,’ Batman

Ian Fox

Ian Fox

One warm summer’s night browsing the Internet for no good reason, I stumbled across some book called ‘Batman and Philosophy.’ I had just written a paper on the film ‘The Dark Knight’ but I did not consider actually investing any time or funds in the topic of Batman. Just for the novelty, though, I ordered it. But after reading it I did another basic Google search; I found another Batman book. And then another, and another.

But let us go back to the beginning.

In 2008, and like millions of others, I wandered into a dark room with my father and sister to see ‘The Dark Knight.’

The sixteen-year-old teenager in me thought it was outstanding, but thought little more about it until one day when I stumbled upon a blog post by a screenwriter in North Carolina analysing the film.

I even remember the last line to this day; “Batman tried to make Gotham a better place, and failed, in every conceivable way. The Joker wins at the end of ‘The Dark Knight’ and now it is Commissioner James Gordon’s dogs who chase him.” Once I read that last line, I was hooked.

Fast forward three years to my Law and Society class at University. On the first day, once I found out that we would be asked to analyse a piece of media for its portrayal of law, I knew that my paper would be on ‘The Dark Knight.’ For five months, I read the political theory and cultural analysis through the lens of this one film; a film that drove me with an inexplicably burning passion. Just after I submitted a hastily compiled and unsatisfactory thirteen-page paper (fashioned from nearly fifty pages of notes), I felt like I had failed the Batman. So two weeks later, when I found ‘Batman and Philosophy,’ I was looking for redemption. And so it began.

I describe my comic book collection not as a compilation but as a journey; my journey, which the Batman facilitates, to an unknown end of knowledge. To me the Batman serves the same function as all good literature; it is an exercise in the functionalism of a theory (in this case, my attempts to understand the political theory and, to some extent, ethics) and as a mechanism to understanding any given field. I have grown spiritually, intellectually, and personally on this journey. I have found communities and areas of academia that were previously unknown. And perhaps most apparent, I have found a renewed admiration of comic books as an art form. Whether it is a comic book found in an Oreo cookie box, a hardcover classic with its original dust jacket, or a paperback book by a small publishing house, knowledge is knowledge but comic books are an art.

Because of its content, my collection is both relatively new and purely the United States of America driven. Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman has only existed since May of 1939, and serious analysis of both the comic book form and the character itself did not begin seriously until the 1980s. At each point along the way, I purchased the first editions of each comic book in the best condition possible (although, to be quite honest, I really enjoy when a comic book feels like it has been loved and worn). Nearly all of my comic books are first editions, and while I bought hardcover copies when available, many of my texts are from small academic publishing houses and, as such, were printed only in paperback.

To find my comic books I spent days in comic stores (previously uncharted territory for me), hours upon hours digging through blogs and bibliographies for new additions, and countless afternoons in used comic book stores. As such, this collection has truly spanned the gamut of modern book collecting.

Many of the comic books, since they are published by small publishing houses on obscure topics, are available exclusively online.

That being said, I still bought my comic books mainly “traditionally.” I scoured everywhere from my frequented used and rare bookstores, both in Tacoma and Minneapolis, Saint Paul, to the pinnacle of higher-ed overstimulation: the campus bookstore. Not to mention, of course, the comic book that I made — which, I suppose, is not entirely “traditional.”

In the beginning of my collection, I intended on gathering only analysis-driven comic books. However, I soon found that doing so, I merely limited myself, separating me from topics like comic theory, comics history, Batman history, and even texts that influenced Batman. Knowledge and understanding can be found in the most unexpected places, whether seemingly relevant or not. At some point on my journey, though, my intent became clear; to own one of the most conclusive collections of Batman texts in the world. And while I have no idea if I have succeeded, I do think I have made a pretty good effort.

The crux of my collection, at least for me, is a comic book called ‘Hunting the Dark Knight,’ which both helped me scholastically and in my understanding of the Batman. Not only does it include close readings of Batman texts, it incorporated the cultural and literary theory by which I had always been fascinated. This comic book was revolutionary for me so I did something I never thought I would do; I contacted the author, Will Brooker. He graciously responded to me, a random University student 4,800 miles away, and thus the second phase of my collection was born; those that I purchased pre-Will Brooker and post-Will Brooker. He gave me a detailed and annotated list of references and comic books to explore, and with that, he also gave something unprompted; affirmation.

In him I saw the manifestation of what I had only been previously told; do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Knowledge, I now realise, is not the end; knowledge is a means in the relentless hunt for fulfilment. This is a theme that resonated throughout my collection.

Whether it is Michael Uslan and his unrelenting desire to make a “dark and serious Batman movie” or the Batman and his unrelenting fervour for saving Gotham, the binding factor is passion.

I live and breathe my comic book collection, and it has revitalised my passion for academia, shaping my academic pursuits — both in my class schedule and in my free time — and it has shaped my understanding of myself. It has literally permeated every page of my life, with little bat-symbols littered throughout my textbooks and notebooks near to Bat-relevant ideas and themes.

Comic book collecting never leaves my mind; I cherish my comic book collection and am very proud of the work and care I put into it. I hope that the annotations included below indicate my passion and my knowledge of the subject.

When I talk about my collection (which is often), I am inevitably asked: “Why Batman?” I have never been able to give an answer as to why I am specifically passionate about the Batman, but I do know one thing; Batman has changed me for better or for worse. As the Joker put it; “I know the truth: there is no going back. You have changed things. Forever.” Batman enriches my life, both in terms of knowledge and feeling fulfilled. And after all, is not finding fulfilment what life is all about? For a while when people would ask, “Why Batman?” I would try to answer, but at some point, I learned better. Now I just grin and ask, “Why not Batman?”

I did assemble my collection very deliberately and, as such, have determined three varieties of books within it: Batman-Specific Analysis, Non-Batman Specific Analysis, and Others.

My annotations, of course, will demonstrate each book’s relevance to the Batman in further articles.

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