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Days of our knight

A new, chock-full-of-visuals history traces the Batman's steps.

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Published 12/8/1999

Batman: The Complete History
By Les Daniels
$29.95, 210 pp. Chronicle Books

I’m not sure if this is the best litmus test for whether or not you’ll dig this book, but it seems appropriate to the discussion: There are only seven pages dedicated to Batman as envisioned by director Joel Schumacher in the recent Hollywood flicks (with two photos of Keaton, one of Kilmer, one of Clooney).

The other 203 pages of this nearly coffee-table-sized tome are filled with Daniels’ thorough investigation of the Dark Knight as artful changeling, figure of popular imagination, metaphorical social commentator and, of course, consumable superhero extraordinaire.

There’s plenty contained within in which to sink your pop culture choppers, but Daniels’ opening chapter on the origins of the Batman character is the fascinating Rosetta stone to understanding Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. Batman’s acknowledged creator, Bob Kane, and co-creator / collaborator Bill Finger (who’s the lesser-acknowledged of the pair) coaxed Batman from the shadows of now long-forgotten pulp novels, radio programs and early horror-suspense flicks, and added bits and pieces of iconography, musculature, backstory and motivation like a pair of by-the-hour, workmanlike Frankensteins till Gotham City had its ultimate defender – and pop culture had its most enduring anti-hero. Daniels, with the essential aid of thousands of photos (of Batman outfits, toys, TV Batman Adam West, etc.), comic book frames and drawings, lays out the ensuing history with a style thoughtful, thorough and engaging. With an origin built so self-consciously upon the shoulders of both other icons and the spirit of the consumer moment, it’s no wonder the Caped Crusader has continued to morph his way into our hearts of darkness.

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