Thursday, August 9, 2012

Will Brooker

Will Brooker is Reader and Director of Research in Film and Television at Kingston University, London. He is a leading expert on the Dark Knight, and author of the cultural history of Batman, Batman Unmasked. His other books include Using the Force and Alice’s Adventures. He edited the Audience Studies Reader and The Blade Runner Experience, and wrote the BFI Film Classics volume on Star Wars.

Brooker's latest book is Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The truth is that for relaxation, I mainly grab my iPad these days, and browse blogs, Reddit and Twitter links – I have a shelf of beautiful hardback books which are waiting for some point in the future when I hope I’ll be able to enjoy them properly. Immersing yourself in a proper book and giving it the attention it deserves – sinking into its language and its world – takes time, space and energy, and too often this year, I’m too wiped out by work to do much more than check out bite-size articles and post 140 character comments in return.

I have reached a point where I can read Batman comics almost entirely for pleasure again, after eighteen months (during the preparation of my book) where they were more like research and analysis. I enjoyed Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s The Court of Owls story-arc in hardback; the first Batman narrative of DC Comics’ ‘New 52’ reboot, which was announced – I’m not sure if this was horribly inconvenient or quite fitting – the day I finished writing the conclusion to Hunting the Dark Knight. The New 52 changes all the internal history and back-story of the DC Universe, so Snyder is making a fresh start after Grant Morrison dominated the Batman titles from 2006 to 2011. It feels appropriately different. Batman has a new voice: educated, self-taught and almost pedantically informed about the history of Gotham, its founding families and its architecture. Snyder recognises that Batman is the city, on one level, which is why the underlying twist of his story is so unsettling; we learn, as Batman does, that a hidden cabal of privileged citizens, the Court of Owls, has been roosting in Gotham (on the thirteenth floor of key landmarks, in a literally hidden storey) for over a century. You don’t mess with Batman by bringing muscle and weapons against him; you mess with him by revealing that he doesn’t know who he is, and who Robin is, and who his parents were, and who’s really been running his city for 150 years.

As it became clear to me from the viral marketing and trailers that Nolan’s new movie The Dark Knight Rises was going to essentially be ‘about’ Occupy, the Arab Spring, Twitter, Anonymous, the hivemind and the collective – in the same way that his previous installment, The Dark Knight, was ‘about’ 9/11 and terrorism; that is, not officially, but inherently – I turned to Gustav Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. Some of Le Bon’s pronouncements now seem absurdly offensive – he refers to the incapacity to reason evident in ‘inferior forms of evolution – in women, savages and children, for instance’ – but most of his ideas are eerily prescient. ‘An isolated individual knows well enough that alone he cannot set fire to a place or loot a shop... making part of a crowd, he is conscious of the power given him by number, and... an unexpected obstacle will be destroyed with frenzied rage.’ As Le Bon notes, a crowd can be heroic, or destructive: it can overturn governments, or, as it did in London during the summer of 2011, it can take out its anger on personal property, and burn out small businesses.

I always make time for a new addition to Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and the latest episode, Century 2009, was published recently. Moore’s epic story has run into unusual territory here; it started as a world where all literary characters co-existed, focusing first on late Victorian heroes and villains, but as it entered the 20th century, it ran increasingly into copyright and was obliged to use analogues for characters like James Bond, Emma Peel and, in this book, Harry Potter. The strangeness is compounded by the fact that this isn’t any 2009 we would recognise – of course, it’s a fictional alternate universe, but Moore clearly takes no enthusiastic interest in contemporary society, and his ‘present day’ is an odd mixture of TV satire, half-understood street culture and out-of-date fashions. Not as immediately satisfying as earlier instalments, it may ultimately be more haunting.
Learn more about Will Brooker's Hunting the Dark Knight at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Hunting the Dark Knight.

--Marshal Zeringue