The Dark Knight Rises was fresh in my mind when I spoke to Dr. Travis Langley, author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Actually, the movie is the main reason I sought out an interview with the tenured Henderson State University (HSU) psychology professor.
“It’s a psychology professor that found a way to take his childhood heroes and make a profession of them,” he said, explaining the handle.
Langley’s favorite superhero? Batman, of course. So, it was a no-brainer, really, to take the Caped Crusader from a young boy’s infatuation to a grown man’s learned perspective to yield the book.
Adam West’s cartoonish portrayal on the 1960s television show Batman started it all.
“I didn’t know it was a joke,” he said of the show. But, as Langley matured and different shades of Batman were introduced to the public, the psychologist became interested in Bruce in a professional way. Why was Bruce Wayne so compelling? How had he maintained fans’ attention?
“The character himself is what interests people,” Langley said. “We want a sense of somebody being there to protect us from the darkness.”
So, Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight was born.
“It’s using Batman to analyze psychology and psychology to analyze Batman,” Langley said, describing his book.
Why would a psychologist choose a fictional character to analyze? Could the subject be taken seriously by professionals and fans alike?
“A fictional character doesn’t make people feel voyeuristic,” Langley explained. By using Bruce Wayne, Langley was able to poke into dark circumstances like Mr. and Mrs. Wayne’s murder and illuminate the teachable moments, exploring the psychological ramifications without intruding on the life of a real person.
People could learn without being repulsed by an actual situation, Langley said, adding that speculation is fair game with fictional characters. Not so much with Mr. or Mrs. Real Life.
The book’s premise was instantly compelling to me. I know Bruce Wayne! He’s crazy and has an obvious case of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), right?
Langley said Bruce Wayne is commonly misdiagnosed with PTSD due to the violent manner in which his parents were taken from him. But, unlike real sufferers of PTSD, Bruce was able to use the traumatic event to propel himself into a lasting change that created the Batman. Langley termed Wayne’s “condition” closer akin to Post-traumatic Growth.
Remember that Langley is a tenured professor? Yeah, he also teaches about Batman.
“After spending months writing the book, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem to fill a course,” Langley said.
His normal modus operandi at HSU is the psychology of crime, mental illness and social behavior. But each spring, Langley focuses on a media-related course. This past spring, it was all about Batman.
Langley’s Batman course (yes, the course was called “Batman”) boasted some of the best homework around, and prompted more learning than ever for some students. He said students approached him with positive feedback, stating they learned more about psychology in Batman than in any other course. One student confessed that he had never purchased a course textbook for any class he’d ever taken, but Batman made him pony up the cash.
Of course, that should come as no surprise for a class that included assignments from graphic novels and collections of short stories featuring Batman, the Joker and others. I’d buy those “textbooks,” too.
Langley attended his first San Diego ComicCon in 2007. He’s been going ever since, but not as a regular fanboy. The good Dr. has participated in official panels, educating the masses and indulging in his own superhero passion. He’s sat in the midst of Batman legends, including the original and indefatigable Adam West; Michael Uslan, producer of Christopher Nolan’s movie trilogy; and other impressive name-dropping opportunities.
He’s living his childhood dream, and frankly, I’m a bit jealous.
And what did he think about The Dark Knight Rises?
“Overall, it’s a good movie,” Langley said.
But, there were some issues, according to the Batmanist (Yes, I made that up. It seemed appropriate.) Langley said the decided lack of Alfred screen time gave the movie a less “amusing” feel, robbing Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne of opportunity to express his own sense of humor as had happened in previous movies.
I had to agree.
Langley also said, “I would like to see a movie with more Batman.”
Considering that The Dark Knight Rises featured more Bruce than Bats, I gotta agree on that one, too.
Langley’s book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s website. E-reader versions are also available. For more information on Langley, visit his website, follow @Superherologist on Twitter, and stalk him on Facebook.