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Book Review: The villains get analyzed by a real-life psychologist in "Batman and Psychology" (2012)

Preamble: While I will be discussing this book to the best of my abilities, I know that there's nothing quite like seeing a work that's being critiques yourself rather than just hearing the critic's description. As such, if you're interested in checking this book out for yourself, I have found three separate extensive previews of this book: two over at Google Books here and here, plus this preview over at Scribd.

Each of the previews even include some pages that the others omit, including some that are relevant to this review, so try checking them all out for your perusal. Plus, all previews include links to where you can purchase the book if you're interested to read the whole thing. If you'd like to just purchase the book directly from Amazon.com, here you go. Otherwise, let's press on!




While I've always had little use for those unauthorized books that try to examine Batman through the lens of philosophy or religion*, I was really intrigued by the prospect of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight by psychologist and Batman fan Travis Langley.



More than any other topic, this is the most fertile subject matter for Batman and every single character within his universe. Everything about Bruce Wayne, his allies, his friends, his villains, and everyone in between is entrenched in psychology, rooted everywhere from Crime Alley to Arkham Asylum. Even better, unlike the aforementioned two books and other related unauthorized superhero tie-ins, this one actually promised to examine the psychology of the villains! This was refreshing because none of the other books cared about discussing ANY of the villains other than the Joker!


"Man, the Joker gets all the attention."


This promised to be vastly superior to the philosophy/religion Batman books because this one had a direct impact on the characters themselves. Those first two topics can yield interesting ideas, but by their nature, they reduce these people (and they are people to me, which is something I hope I can say without sounding weird) to abstract concepts. Worse than that, when these essays aren't interesting, they tend to be wanky as hell.

Mental illness, on the other hand, is something that drives these characters--especially the villains--more than any others in all of superherodom. As such, I was excited at the prospect of reading what an actual psychologist would have to say about the Rogues, because astute psychological analysis could actually be very relevant to these characters, their stories, and the Bat-mythos in general.

But while I had high hopes for Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight, I also had realistic expectations. This was Batman's book, after all, and while the villains were going to get examined, they weren't going to be the focus. Even still, I couldn't help but be disappointed in most of Langley's psychological profiles on the villains.

My biggest problem with his handling of the villains ties into something that was raised in the introduction by Denny O'Neil. While those of you who remember O'Neil's own philosophical essay on how Harvey Dent grew up as a fanatical Calvinist may be wincing, don't worry, he actually makes a great point here! When discussing the evolution of Batman from his Golden Age roots through the Silver Age and onward, he writes:

"The range of stories appearing under the Batman logo went from farcical to macabre, while always being a Batman. Not the Batman--there is no the Batman--but a Batman, one appropriate to whatever was contemporary. The plasticity not only kept Batman commercially viable; it allowed different writers and artists to interpret him according to the dictates of their own experience--the world outside their windows. It also allowed him to be more than a mirror; he would be a receptacle, too. Writers could pour into him a lot that was happening in their consciousness and maybe even more that was happening in their subconscious: what they learned, what they knew, what they didn't know they knew."

Well said! This is an important observation when it comes to ANY discussion about these characters, since it applies to the villains just as much as it does to Batman. While the movies have gone a long way to homogenize the mainstream public's perception of Batman just as the 60's show had done for decades, the fact is that there is no single version of these characters. Now if only the legions of interchangeable Heath Ledger Joker cosplayers could get that message. Thank Grodd for cosplayers like this guy:


Behold: the brilliant living antidote to the hundreds of Ledger!Jokers I have seen over the past four years.


The characters in the comics have gone through countless iterations from era to era... no, more than that: from writer to writer, with wildly different interpretations of these characters and their psychological motivations appearing in separate stories that are released within months of each other! Admittedly, this creates a hell of a headache for anyone who hopes to parse out any thesis about these characters. How can you write about them when their histories are a rat's nest of contradictions, bad continuity, and often times, just plain shitty writing? (Henchgirl interjects, "Um. Research. Hi.")

Langley, to his credit, does understand this, at least as far as Batman himself is concerned. He devotes the whole second chapter, Which Batman?, to defining his parameters for analysis and giving an overview to all of the portrayals of Batman on the big and small screens alike before then examining the comics and their respective eras in very brief detail.

After that, when faced with the question of "which Batman do we mean?" he answers "All of them," deeming each of these varying depictions to be valid in some form or another. He quotes Bruce Timm's view that "There's a certain validity to all of those versions. They don't cancel each other out," to which Langley himself adds, "It's like reading contradictory legends of Robin Hood. If he doesn't wield the bow and arrow and steal from the rich, he's not Robin Hood."


Speaking with an English accent, however, is apparently not required.


Fair enough. That's actually the way I think it should be done. Really, the only way to approach such a task is to examine all of the versions and find the universal thread that define the characters. At the same time, exceptions should be made for individual takes on the character that lend themselves to any particularly juicy insights. After all, the motivation of Heath Ledger's Joker is NOT universally comparable to every Joker from the comics or other movies, but it's still worth discussing in its own right.** Find the common threads, but look to specific examples for the details.

Langley largely succeeds with Batman himself, from what I've read. I haven't read the whole book through cover to cover because, frankly, we all know where my priorities lie: with the villains and with Two-Face. And this is where Langley stumbles more often than not, with nearly every one of his psychological villain profiles.

Here's the thing: this book includes a detailed bibliography of every single comic, movie, or episode cited, and it's an impressively long list of sources. Langley definitely isn't unfamiliar with the source material, and he cities dozens upon dozens of comics to back up his points. Unfortunately, he tends to focus only on the most famous and very recent works, especially the movies, while also snubbing some absolutely vital issues which would have entirely changed the dynamic of his psychological analyses.



His profile on Bane, for example, only cites Gotham Knights #46, Gail Simone's Secret Six, and a teeny bit of Knightfall, with nothing from Vengeance of Bane (or its sequel), or any of Chuck Dixon's work with the character in places like Bane of the Demon or Legacy. But that's not too bad, since he still manages to get a decent handle of Bane's deal regardless, and while it omits factors like what his relationships with Bruce, Ra's, and Talia say about him, it's nonetheless a solid interpretation of the character, focusing on Bane's need for power and need for achievement. If you're interested, then good news, everyone, Langley has published the whole thing on Psychology Today!



Langley's profile on the Mad Hatter is a bit more troublesome, but also not unacceptable. As with Bane, he focuses almost entirely on the character's problematic appearance in Simone's Secret Six with nods to Gotham Central, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Hatter Halloween special, and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. This means that his analysis on Jervis is entirely based around him a child molester (at least in the psychological sense even if he isn't an outright pedophile), not to mention a murderer of children, and of course, a hat-fucker.


Gail, I love you, but... no, girl. No.


I can't really fault Langley for this since poor Jervis has had so very few appearances over the years, with only a couple of them even hinting at origin and motivations. Hell, no one has even given him an ORIGIN yet, although that may be changing in the near future. Still, I do wish that Langley had instead focused on compiling a profile around the animated Hatter of B:TAS instead, as that is the far more interesting and complex version.


He's sympathetic, creepy, whimsical, stalkerish, dangerous, and heartbreaking all at the same time. So of course DC opted instead for the child-molesting hat-fucker version. Much better!


But then, I suppose the child molesting hat-fucker provides better fodder for juicy psychological analysis for the points Langley wants to discuss. In fact, Langley writes in the conclusion that he specifically chose to write about this "mere D-List villain" because of the issues that comes with the comics' Hatter. I can't fault Langley for wanting to get the most out of this book with a wide variety of conditions and concepts (specifically inferiority complex, paranoid schizophrenia, clanging, paraphilias, fetishism, animism, delusion of control, and pedophilia), but nonetheless, I'm not pleased to see that version of the character receive validation in this format. If you ask me, the Hatter being depicted this way in comics is the biggest reason why he's "D-List."



His analysis of Poison Ivy is even more problematic for similar reasons. For her profile, he only cites Gotham City Sirens #2 and 7, plus an issue of Hush. Oh, and he incorporates Paul Dini's abhorrent "Harvest" issue into the mix as well, where Dini debased Ivy throughout and turned her into an irredeemable monster. That's it. That's what he uses to build credence to his psychological profile of her.

I suppose that he didn't need to draw from anything else if those few could help make his point: as a "plant/human hybrid" (and really, just how canon is her mutation? How much does it go?), she achieves a biocentrist ("life-balanced") perspective whenever both sides are in balance, but she also lacks social skills and thus instead resorts/relishes controlling people instead.

Referencing something I don't recall and failing to include a citation, Langley writes, "Still not attuned to other people's feelings and never having learned outgoing social skills, she ponders why she doesn't move into a jungle and stay, she considers, 'Perhaps it's the power I exert over others that keeps driving me back. I like a challenge and I can't rest when I feel I haven't won.'"

What Langley doesn't mention is the fact that she, as a character, was employing control tactics and showing affinity for plants long before she became a "hybrid" to the extent that she is now. Hell, even after Neil Gaiman changed her origin in the late 80's so that she was actually mutated (he was the first to do that, right?), she never seemed to be a plant/human mutant until, what, The New Batman Adventures? No Man's Land? My point is, Langley bases his entire analysis on her being a "hybrid," when in fact she's displayed these behaviors LONG before that ever became a part of her character, so there has to be much deeper causes.



As such, Langley could have gotten much more psychological mileage out of Pam if he'd thought to incorporate Gaiman's story, the two Ivy stories by John Francis Moore (Hothouse and Batman: Poison Ivy****), not to mention anything from B:TAS, especially the episode House and Garden. Those could have helped him look past the modern version of the past ten years and have helped find the roots (hurr) of her problems. In fact, I forgot to mention that he DOES include a quote from Moore's Poison Ivy issue-- "I'm not insane. I've just been pushed too far."--but he just plunks it in at the end without any mention of how it's relevant to his analysis! Honestly, that quote just raises more interesting questions about Pam, as does the issue from which it originates.


The back cover of Batman: Poison Ivy (1997)


If you haven't read it, it's opens with Ivy living happily on an island paradise until it's firebombed by an evil company, thus destroying her happiness and setting her on a course of vengeance. Not only does this story not jive with Langley's entire point about Ivy not moving "into a jungle" because she enjoys exerting power over others more, but it--and that quote in particular--raise questions about what motivates Ivy. Is she a victim of outside forces who seek to undermine her happiness, or does she just have a persecution complex that she uses as justification to hurt others? That question deserves exploration if we're to get any real understanding of what makes Pamela Isley tick even before she became the "hybrid" Poison Ivy.

Instead, he devotes the other half of his Ivy profile to the nature of her powers themselves, and whether or not they are pheromonal in nature. For a profile about Pamela Isley herself, this is a waste of time, one that says more about the psychological effect she has on others rather than herself. Langley does the same thing with Jonathan Crane, devoting the Scarecrow's ENTIRE psychological profile on how his fear toxin would work on others with very little mention about Crane himself.



Even though he quotes a line from Robin in Scarecrow: Year One, Langley gives only the briefest mention about Crane's abusive grandmother and how that upbringing (and/or how he was bullied in Moench's origin, and/or even how he was looked down upon by his fellow professors back in his very first Golden Age appearance, NONE of which are brought up) might have caused him to grow up into the Master of Fear. How can one possibly begin to explore the psychology of Jonathan Crane without exploring how he might have been warped by his traumatic upbringing?

Which, sadly, brings me to the whole reason I wanted to review this in the first place. Unlike Crane, there's absolutely NO mention of childhood abuse for Harvey Dent, and thus, none of what makes Harvey's mental illness so fascinating and heartbreaking is even touched upon. No, not surprisingly, the only source material Langley uses is the following: his first appearance, Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, Nolan's The Dark Knight, Batman Forever (seriously)***, Batman: Face the Face, and Nightwing: The Great Leap. Holy shit, seriously. No Eye of the Beholder. No Two-Face: Crime and Punishment. And once again, NOTHING from Batman: The Animated Series. What does Langley have against B:TAS, anyway?


"Yeah, I don't see any psychological value in this take. Jeph Loeb, on the other hand, that's the good stuff!"


So what does Langley have to say about Harvey if he's going to ignore all that? The quote the author himself from this interview: "What I focused on with him is locus of control, our tendency to attribute causality, to take internal responsibility or external responsibility for our actions. The main thing with him is I really think he’s somebody with an internal locus of control. He does, at heart, take personal responsibility but after this horrible thing happens to him and he wants to do these bad things, he doesn’t want to accept that responsibility that at heart he feels is his.

There is some interesting legitimacy to that idea, and it cuts to the heart of the most uncomfortable, troubling questions when it comes to Harvey: is he just using the coin to justify his actions to himself? Thankfully, he doesn't paint Harvey as a religious fanatic type who uses his faith to justify his actions, because his reading is that Harvey seeks not justification, but excuses. According to Langley, he's looking for an excuse to hurt people and commit crimes, adding "He generally does not care which evil things he does as long as he gets to do some."

Well, that's kind of dubious right there, especially since Langley does nothing to back up how he came to that conclusion. There are many different takes on Harvey, but none that I can recall which explicitly depict him as wanting to cause indiscriminate pain and suffering. Whenevever they've even gotten close to that territory, the explanation usually falls back more on the idea that Harvey has an evil Hyde-like side, but Langley even casts aspersions on that notion.

Correctly asserting that "depictions of him rarely meet any diagnostic criteria for what is now called dissociative identity disorder (DID)" (while granting exceptions to Face the Face and The Great Leap), Langley says that it's "hard to say" whether or not Harvey's dual nature could have developed into DID because "After all these years, we barely understand multiple personality. Dissociative experience is so subjective that professionals cannot even agree on whether or not it exists."


From Nightwing: The Great Leap


Langley then brings up the Jungian concept of Persona, which he brought up a few pages before he started talking about Two-Face as he was applying the Persona and the Shadow to Batman. Considering that Langley himself likened the Persona and the Shadow to having a "Jekyll and Hyde" dynamic and that Batman and Harvey have a history of actually being mirror reflections of one another, you would think that Langley would naturally have fodder to build an analysis of Harvey based on these Jungian ideas as a reflection of the ones he raised for Batman. Personally, I would have thought this a perfect opportunity for Harvey, seeing as how he and Bruce have explicitly been described as reflections of one another.



Instead, Langley brings up the Persona to describe his personal experience with patients who, under no hypnosis nor medication, will voluntarily take on the persona of their "angry" or "child" selves given simple prompting by an authority figure. "When I ask for the angry or child self's real name, half the volunteers will offer a new name. Now imagine doing this in a therapeutic situation, especially while hypnotized. If Dent deals with Arkham Asylum therapists who believe he has DID, their theraputic techniques may train him to emphasize division between his halves. When therapy causes or exacerbates mental illness, we refer to that process as iatrogenesis."



Now, this would have been a perfect time for Langley to have referenced B:TAS, since the first we heard about "Big Bad Harv" in that scene was through the scene at his psychiatrist's office in Two-Face Part I. Honestly, I'm now very intrigued by the idea that Harvey's mental illness was exacerbated by his therapy sessions there! But once again, Langley did not see fit to reference the font of source material that is B:TAS, not even to add credence to his own points. Instead, Langley builds up to his grand conclusion, ending on a thought that could potentially upend everything we know about Two-Face.

"Harvey Dent seeks excuses. Attributing his misdoings to another self could absolve good Harvey even further than leaving decisions to his deliberate coin toss. After all these years, Harvey may be trying to convince himself that he has multiple personality."

(Note: Henchgirl adds, "OR, maybe writers just don't do research! And/or are shitty!")

Langley's theory is an idea which I've seen raised twice now over the past couple of years, and both times, they were in short stories by newbie comics writers: Brad Desnoyer in Inside the Walls of Dis from Batman 80-Page Giant #1 (2010) and, most recently, Jonathan Larsen in Together (2012) (or more specifically, in the comments of my review of Together), and to see it raised by an actual psychologist is a sobering thought to consider as a Two-Face fan.



But again, he does not address Harvey's abuse, and thus this analysis is severely lacking because the results of that trauma would almost certainly alter the nature of Harvey's mental illness, regardless of whether or not he truly has DID. Personally, I don't think he does, nor do I believe he can be easily diagnosed according to any real-life psychiatric criteria, but I firmly believe that if there's any criteria than should be examined for Harvey, it's for children of abuse, not to mention children or partners of alcoholics and other substance abusers who undergo personality changes when not sober. Such an upbringing can affect those children in powerful ways.



As with Ivy and Scarecrow, Langley completely ignores how upbringing and trauma could affect a person, which leads me to wonder if perhaps he (and by extension, other psychologists) is of the opinion that past traumas don't matter when dealing with the way a mentally ill person is now. That seems like a likely explanation... except that Langley devoted the entire fourth chapter to Bruce Wayne's own trauma, with detailed explanations about how that shaped him!

So why not give the same treatment to the villains? Presumably because, again, they're not the focus, and with the priorities on Batman himself, there probably wouldn't have been enough space to properly analyze the villains. Besides, he does say near the end that this book "could have covered many more topics," and since he wanted to use just the relatively big-name villains who could allow him to discuss a wide range of specific topics, I can't fault him for handling it how he did.

Nonetheless, I am disappointed that I did not get to see how an actual psychologist would have analyzed the Post-Crisis Harvey Dent of Eye of the Beholder and Crime and Punishment. But hey, at least he doesn't reference Batman: Jekyll and Hyde and build his thesis around "Murray." That's more than I can say of some books. So, silver lining!

The rest of the villain profiles are also interesting in their own ways, and since I'm already going on way more than I'd intended, I'll just hit you with the highlights, what I thought, and the concepts that Langley uses for each.

--King Tut: Yes, as in the villain from the Adam West show. That's actually the first one Langley writes! A bizarre choice, but it allows the author to talk about concepts such as amnesia, dissociative disorders, and delusional disorders. No mention is made of the recent attempt to modernize King Tut, but then, the only good parts of that story are the Riddler and the great art by José Luis García-López.

--Mr. Freeze: This and Harley Quinn's profiles are the *only* ones to delve into B:TAS, and thank goodness for that, because I'd hate to see what stories Langley would have otherwise used to create a psychological profile. That said, his reason on Victor ends with the Sub-Zero movie, and thus he misses a major opportunity to explain the considerably-worse mental state of head-in-a-jar Freeze. Concepts raised for Freeze include objectification and dehumanization, as well as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief.

--Hugo Strange: Naturally, Langley focuses expressly on the insane psychologist Post-Crisis Hugo Strange from Prey-onward, although the majority of it is used to explain how criminal profiles work rather than exploring how Hugo himself ticks. The only concept used for Hugo is belief perseverance. Langley briefly describes Pre-Crisis Hugo as well, going so far as to describe him as "the first candidate to become a Moriarty to Batman's Holmes." As far as I know, I was the first person to draw the Moriarty connection to Hugo. It's probably a coincidence, but an odd one nonetheless, as is the fact that Langley also remarks on how he used Fear Dust before the Scarecrow ever used Fear Toxin, something else that I'd never seen anybody else mention. Hrm.

--The Riddler: This one seems pretty astute, and of all the analyses in this book, this one in some ways feels the most grounded in reality while also being faithful to the character in his better iterations. This is the only one I would recommend for people who want to write the character, just because Eddie's so misunderstood. Solid stuff, despite the fact that he cites Tony Daniel's work and the dismal Joker's Asylum: Riddler issue. Concepts include obsessive-compulsive disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and malignant narcissism (the Riddler, he points out, does not generally show signs of the last two).

--The Penguin: Like the Riddler, this one also benefits from the dual perks of being an astute understanding of a character who is too often misunderstood. He really makes a great case for what makes Oswald so sympathetic while also being so dangerous, namely that he craves respect and legitimacy but his own insecurities prove to be his undoing, as well as the undoing of everyone around him. Concepts include Napoleon complex, plus a couple concepts by Alfred Adler: superiority complex and striving for superiority.

--Harley Quinn: Harley gets one of the longer analyses in the book, and while that makes sense considering the richness that her character presents, I'm not quite sure why other villains don't warrant the same extensive treatment. As I don't care much about Harley or her relationships with Joker and Ivy outside of the DCAU, I'll leave other, better qualified people to critique this one if they see fit. Concepts include dependent personality disorder, shared psychotic disorder, and coping strategies such as suppression and rationalization.

--The Joker: Right away, Langley writes "The Joker defies diagnoses," which immediately made me wonder, "Then why are you bothering to try anyway?" In lieu of any substantive concepts, he breaks the Joker down into four distinct modes that he's taken over the years: sane killer (Golden Age), kooky crook (Silver), insane killer (Bronze), and personal killer (from Killing Joke onward), all of which he cycles through depending on the writer. He ends his non-profile profile by quoting the "Madness is like gravity: all it needs is a little push" line from TDK, which annoys me deeply because I would have expected a psychologist to know that mental illness does not work that way.

--Red Hood: Meh, Jason. Concepts include conduct disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Man, either Jason has way more issues than most of the villains, or he simply just interests Langley more.

--Dr. Fredric Wertham: Heh heh, cute. But no, while Langley doesn't examine Wertham himself (interesting as that would have been), he does pretty much tear apart Wertham's now-meme-like suggestion that Batman and Robin are gay. On why all of Bruce's relationships fall apart, Langley says, "It's not because he's gay, but because he's borderline pathological, he's obsessive. He'd be much healthier if he were gay." He goes on at length from there, but that's the key quote as far as I'm concerned. I also likes that Langley admits that he can't entirely dismiss Wertham's views on Wonder Woman, considering that William Moulton Marston was... well, William Moulton Marston. And speaking of bondage:

--Catwoman: While it's great to see that Langley does not shy away from discussing Selina's Batman: Year One sex worker origin, the way he does it is not without its problems. First off, he makes the very common mistake of thinking that, a few years after B:YO, "DC took the position that Catwoman was never a prostitute, that she hung out among prostitutes while hiding from authorities and sometimes posed as one to rob would-be customers." While a lot of people believe this, dr_von_fangirl has proven that it's actually NOT the case. Langley also gives a quick introduction to what BDSM entails, and how it alone doesn't qualify Selina (or her customers) for having any sexual disorders. Beyond that, Langley explores Selina's thievery and fierce independence through concepts such as adult antisocial behavior while discrediting the idea that she's a kleptomaniac.

--Ra's al Ghul: For a guy who's lived so long, Ra's psychological profile is pitifully tiny, and it can be read in its entirely here at Psychology Today. Concepts include John Erikson's >Integrity vs. Despair and Immortality vs. Extinction.

That concludes the individual psychological villain profiles before Langley works to bring the book to a close for Batman himself. Near the end, he anticipates the fans like me who wonder why more/other villains weren't included: "Why doesn't this book analyze Man-Bat? Where's Amygdala? Where's Ventriloquist Albert (sic****) Wesker or that gal who took his place? Not only are they less famous than most of the Case Files' featured foes, they gave me nothing new I wanted to say that I hadn't covered elsewhere." Still, I would argue that expanded profiles on each of the villains could have allowed for more individualized issues, and even if they didn't, I imagine it would be interesting and even helpful to see which characters share similar traits.

But then, I'm obviously no psychologist myself. Hell, I'm sure that people who are more knowledgeable about mental illness have been wincing all throughout this post as I've mangled my way through all the misused jargon. Perhaps I simply put too much stock in these characters' lives before they became costumed villains rather than taking them at face value now, and that I'm merely perpetuating bad habits that Hollywood has taught me about psychoanalysis.

But speaking for myself, as the child of abuse who sees myself in some of these characters, I strongly believe that events in their lives and the traumas they've endured have actively shaped the way they are now. There I go again, talking about them as if they were real people, which is especially silly because of how inconsistently they're written. Regardless, they *do* represent real-life issues, as even Langley himself understands, seemingly more so than the author of the book's foreword: Michael Uslan, producer of the Batman movies from Burton onward and all-around Batman superfan.


Uslan's even got the book to prove it!


I know it's weird to start wrapping up a book's review by talking about its foreword, but Uslan raised an interesting point even though it was only to disagree with it. He opens his foreword by bringing up a New York Times article that took Batman comics to task for their depiction of mental illness, and how they supposedly perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Dismissing the article as "sensationalist," he thus holds up Langley's "scholarly and insightful" Batman and Psychology as the "bipolar opposite" of the article's "trumped-up charges against the Caped Crusader."

Uslan lists (but notably, does not address) the NYT article's criticisms point by point with an overtone that sounded somewhat condescending. He repeatedly used the words "no longer politically correct" to characterize the authors' complaints, as in the fact that they dislike Arkham Asylum due to "the word 'asylum' no longer being a politically correct term of art)." Around the fifth refrain of "no longer politically correct," I was starting to embody that Philip J. Fry "Not sure if..." meme.

Troublingly, Uslan never even entertains the idea that maybe, just maybe, perpetuating stereotypes about mental illness via the Batman villains could actually be hurtful, especially considering the stigmas against mental illness and the fact that the very concept of Arkham Asylum dramatically reenforces the idea of "house full of insane people = utter hellhole on earth." Once again, let's not forget this ad:


Remember, kids: mental illness is more evil than evil!


As such, while I like and greatly respect Uslan for everything he's done for Batman, I find his response to the NYT article to be defensive and dismissive, not unlike too many comic fans who refuse to hear any criticism about their properties lest they feel like someone's trying to take their toys. This doesn't help anything.

Look. Much as I love these characters, I cannot deny that they DO deal with outdated ideas, harmful stereotypes, and potentially dangerous pseudo-psychology in a world filled with horribly inaccurate portrayals of mental illness. We honestly SHOULD be heeding that article and be working to address it within these stories. Especially now that Arkham has been elevated in pop culture to the status of being the superhero equivalent of being a nightmarish gauntlet.


Coming next year: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Extreme Deathmatch Edition! Now with three new brutal group therapy missions!


I'm not saying that the villains can't still be villains, but there's no good reason why the characters shouldn't be examined more realistically in terms of their psychology. Everything else about them can fall into suspension of disbelief--plant/human hybrids, frozen men in freeze suits, shape-shifting clay monsters and all--just so long as they are written realistically as people. This is true for all fiction, but within the superhero genre itself, it's especially important for all things Batman: villain, hero, and civilian alike.


That's a lot of issues for just one comic. Hurr, I are clever.


Rather than being the article's "bipolar opposite" (a choice of word that seems in bad taste--if not outright ableist--in light of Uslan's dismissiveness), Langley's Batman and Psychology should instead be seen as a good step in the right direction, one that might lead to new light being shed on these characters in ways that will give them more relevance across all eras and media.

As such, I hope that others--Langley included--will be inspired by this book to continue looking at these villains as more than just maniacal freaks in wacky costumes. Superheroes are metaphors on a grandly operatic (yet still pulpy) scale, and the characters at their best embody the same hopes, dreams, and fears as the rest of humanity, no matter how outlandish they may appear. They're only as shallow as a writer's imagination.

Langley understood this with Batman, and thus did justice to a character who's done so much of his own wait that's obnoxious the Caped Crusader, proving how one fictional character's psychological profile can be relevant to the lives of everyday people, and in doing so, he has enriched the importance of Batman's continued existence. Hopefully, he or somebody else will do the same for Batman's rogues gallery.

Not only do the characters need it if they're to be anything other than grotesque cartoons, but realism and understanding could actually do a great deal of good here in the real world. With such a book, even villains might be capable of doing good. What a concept that would be!

What do you think, folks? If you've read the book or even just a few excerpts online (see Preamble), do you agree or disagree with Langley's analyses? How would you diagnose any of the Rogues? Let me know in the comments!

Also, if anyone thinks that the links I used for psychological terminology are inaccurate or outdated, please send me along links to better articles and I shall edit accordingly!



Note: *Footnotes are now found in the comments! The second one became a long rant about Nolan's The Dark Knight that I needed to get off my chest. Think of it as a bonus tirade!
Tags: bane, catwoman, harley quinn, henchgirl, hugo strange, jason todd, joker, mad hatter, mister freeze, nonfiction and essay publications, penguin, poison ivy, psychology, ra's and/or talia al ghul, riddler, scarecrow
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