The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture

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04A witty, intelligent cultural history from NPR book critic Glen Weldon explains Batman’s rises and falls through the entire ages—and what his story informs us about ourselves.

Since his creation, Batman continues to be many things: a two-fisted detective; a planet-hopping gadabout; a campy Pop-art sensation; a pointy-eared master spy; along with a grim and gritty ninja with the urban night. For more than seventy-five per cent of a century, he’s cycled coming from a figure of darkness to a single of lightness and to come back; he’s a bat-shaped Rorschach inkblot who assumes on the various meanings our changing culture projects onto him. How we perceive Batman’s character, whether he’s delivering dire threats in the raspy Christian Bale growl or trading blithely homoerotic double-entendres with partner Robin within the comics page, speaks to who we’re and how you want to be seen with the world. It’s this endlessly mutable quality containing made him so enduring.

And it’s Batman’s fundamental nerdiness—his gadgets, his obsession, his oath, even his insufficient superpowers—that uniquely resonates along with his fans who feel a fiercely protective passion for the character. Today, fueled with the internet, that type of passion for factors of popular culture is everywhere. Which is why are Batman the ideal lens whereby to understand geek culture, its current popularity, and social significance.

In The Caped Crusade, with humor and insight, Glen Weldon, book critic for NPR and author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, displays Batman’s seventy-eight-year cultural background and shows how they have helped make us who we have been today and why his legacy remains so strong.

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