Caped Crusades Exclusive with Dr. Travis Langley


My last interview at Wizard World St. Louis was with Dr. Travis Langley, author of Batman and Psychology a Dark and Stormy Knight. After seeing Dr. Langley at several of the Batman related panels I was very excited to interview him. I now have an autographed copy of his book Batman and Psychology, and I’m anticipating the tribute film to Bill Finger that he is a part of. I was better prepared for my interview with Dr. Langley. I didn’t loose my questions this time and I wasn’t nervous at all, which I attribute to how approachable Dr. Langley is.

From a psychology standpoint which Batman villain is the most fascinating?

Oh Gosh they’re rich in so many different ways. It also depends on what you mean by fascinating, the Riddler is interesting in different ways than the Joker. The Joker is fascinating. You can think on and on and on about him and never have definite answers because we do not know what goes on inside his head, and it’s best that way. I even note in my book the Joker defies diagnosis because we don’t know what’s going inside his head, we don’t really know, it’s like does he really get what he’s doing or not?

In Batman Arkham Asylum it is said in a interview tape that Joker has been diagnosed with everything from schizophrenia, to multiple personality disorder, to being completely sane.

And see some of that is he’s messing with the therapist, cause you know he’s messing with the therapist, and therapists are supposed to base diagnoses on presenting symptoms, and information, and make judgements accordingly. He’s better at playing some games than others, and so you don’t know. He’s intriguing and he needs to stay a mystery. When you see versions of his background, when you see stories about here’s how he grew up, you don’t want to know that. It’s like “did I ever tell you how I got these scars?” don’t tell us about his childhood! And then the next version is completely different and it’s like okay that works. We don’t know if he has it straight in his head or he’s telling us a lie. That movie it seems to be he’s telling lies, and the third time we pull for Batman for not putting up with it, not even bothering, and then that last line, “no but I know how you got these”. But part of us kind of wanted to hear that third line, what was it, we were curious. In the graphic novel The Killing Joke he makes the comment, “sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes I remember it another. If I have to have a past I’d rather it be multiple choice”. And that works for that character. The other characters have different qualities that are interesting. I find the Riddler intriguing but it’s very difficult to tell a strong Riddler story, it takes a lot of craft. It’s easy to tell a good Joker story, the character is so strong you can easily tell a good Joker story. Now a great Joker story takes something extra, but even just a good Riddler story is a trick for the writer to get it right and not just be okay he’s got his puzzles. He’s got his OCD qualities, he’s got his extreme narcissism, he’s fascinating  when he’s a former criminal who’s trying to be a detective. There are a lot of different ways to play him. Then you can go through the whole galaxy of a rogues gallery, rogues galaxy, Batman’s rogues galaxy of villains, and there are so many different things you can play with.

Which Batman comic is your favorite?

Which Batman comic is my favorite? Some of that depends on mood, and when it gets down to it, the origin itself is such a powerful story, in a mere page and a half, incredibly powerful story you get very quickly why this character is doing it, its quick its to the point and you understand him in a way that resonates with everybody. We all understand the fears, we all know our parents can and will die.

What was it about Batman that drew you to study him as a psychologist?

Well if you’re going to write about the psychology of one specific superhero and his enemies, it has to be Batman. He’s the one who is a superhero because of his psychology. Superman and Spiderman they’re heroes because of their psychology but they are super for other reasons. Batman is the one who decided “I shall become a bat!” He’s the one who made himself super, he turned himself into an urban legend, a mystery, he made himself, just based on his psychology. With Superman when you need to come up with new villains, okay what’s a challenge for him with his powers; we’ve got one really smart rich guy scientist, and anything else is going to tend to be based on what will challenge his powers. Toyman’s a different kind of thing but for the most part that’s how it is. With Batman the villains are challenging him as a character, and so different aspects of his psychology are going to get challenged, and you end up with all these villains to fight and distort aspects of Batman himself. With the Joker, to challenge the grim hero who looks like a monster, you have the bright laughing monster who looks like a clown. The Penguin is a distortion of the high society aspect of Bruce Wayne. Riddler is the intellectual challenge, Two Face is both sides Batman and Bruce Wayne split down the middle.

Can you tell me a little about the Bill Finger film project?

Well it just started with wanting to use the fact that its Batman’s 75th anniversary this year and the 100th anniversary of Bill Finger’s birth, to talk about him and bring some attention to this individual who created most of what you really think of as Batman. Bob Kane had the name, and Bob wanted a superhero without superpowers, because it had to be a contrast to Superman. But then you get into the specifics of what Batman means, even the costume, Bill’s the writer, but he was a very visually oriented writer. And so details of the costume actually came from Bill, he said “instead of red let’s go with gray. Instead of these big unwieldy bat wings on your back let’s just give him a cape that looks like wings. Instead of that domino mask let’s have the cowl and make it look like a bat’s head.” You go through every defining quality of the costume and even that came from him, before Bob signed his first contract for those stories. After that he wrote the majority of the stories from 1939 to 1965. So many things of this character, who is known to majority of people on the planet, come from this one guy who died broke and largely unknown. I think that’s a shame; when we love Batman, we love the character and how the character inspires people, we are loving things that Bill Finger gave us without even knowing.

Why do you think Batman has endured for 75 years?

A big part of it is because he’s a superhero without superpowers. There are other superheroes without superpowers, The Clock didn’t have superpowers, he was around before Batman, not many people have heard of The Clock except the different Clock who turns into Clock King later. There’s this hero The Clock he’s a district attorney who wears a mask and a suit, and he’s fighting crime; a little Green Hornet kind of thing going on. Batman is really the one who creates the superhero genre. Superman creates the comic book superhero, but its not a genre until you get repetition, imitation, and change. That’s where Batman comes in. Some other characters are cropping up but Batman’s the one that really brings it to life, he’s the other side of that coin. Superman’s the sun, Batman’s the moon, Superman is powered by the daylight, Batman’s powered by night, by shadow. And Superman inspires hope Batman inspires fear, Batman inspires hope too, they work together, he’s got all these qualities going on. He’s an intriguing character, with his secret identity and his hero identity, both are wish fulfillment fantasies. He resonates in a lot of different ways, because he is this hero based on his psychology. That’s what’s made him hold up all these years. Green Arrow was an early popular hero without superpowers, imitating Batman in a whole lot of ways. He had an Arrow car, an Arrow cave, and then he gets the sidekick. Later on Denny O’Neil played a very critical role in turning Green Arrow into a more complex character than he had been. Green Arrow fared pretty well, there was a point in the early ’50s when only six superheroes still had comic books, the big three, (Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman) Green Arrow, Plastic Man, and Captain Marvel.  And then Captain Marvel gets crushed by a lawsuit, Plastic Man’s company folds, and Green Arrow just gets canceled; the big three were the only ones who made it consistently through the ’50s.

Do you think Batman will endure for another 75 years?

Yes. Yes very much so. Batman could become public domain, and legends last, we still talk about Robin Hood, we still talk about heroes from the golden age of mythology. Batman will stay with us, and now he is known by the majority of the billions of people on this planet. Batman will last.

You can follow Dr. Langley on Twitter @superherologist, and get a copy of Batman and Psychology a Dark and Stormy Knight from book retailers like Check out this website to find out more about the Bill Finger tribute film project (tentatively named The Cape Creator, a Tribute to Bill Finger, the Uncredited Co-Creator of Batman)

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