The Caped Crusade: Batman And The Rise Of Nerd Culture

In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?

Laura Adamczyk


I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Jay McInerney until I saw him on an episode of Gossip Girl in which Lonely Boy Dan Humphrey is… doing something literary? Trying to be a writer? Brooding/whining? The association is apt, as, like Gossip Girl, the milieu of Bright Lights, Big City is young white folks doing it up in a New York City of hedonistic excess. McInerney’s 1984 debut novel tracks the misadventures of its 24-year-old protagonist who works in the dystopian-sounding Department Of Factual Verification of an unnamed New Yorker-type magazine. Much of the book is picaresque, with each discrete adventure resembling the one that came before: Heartbroken from his model wife having left him, the protagonist stays out all night drinking and snorting blow in club bathrooms with his friend and foil Tad Allagash, who serves as the devil on his shoulder, convincing him that sex, drugs, and techno are all he needs to forget his problems. In the mornings, the protagonist stumbles into work late (and later and later as the novel goes on), trying to avoid the hawk eye of his unsympathetic boss.

While not entirely noble, the second-person narrator is charming and self-deprecating in his cringeworthy failures: “You know there is a special purgatory waiting for you out there in the dawn’s surly light, a desperate half sleep which is like a grease fire in the brainpain.” Eventually some of the novel’s tensions bubble to the surface (and an unexpected one emerges), and events more significant than a hangover occur, but all that seems beside the point. For me, the novel’s real allure is its voice and humor. The narrator is witty and incisive, the prose snappy and tight, which makes the book a fun (and fast) read.

Erik Adams


Simon & Schuster was savvy to peg the release of The Caped Crusade: Batman And The Rise Of Nerd Culture to the theatrical run of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. But the publisher couldn’t have known how savvy: The critical response to Batman V Superman and the ensuing fan outcry feel readymade for an expanded edition of The Caped Crusade, mirroring a cycle of anticipation and outrage chronicled in Glen Weldon’s breezy history of the Dark Knight. Tracing a chronology of the character that winds through landmarks, deep cuts, and temporary setbacks, Weldon successfully argues that there is no one “true” Batman—there are many Batmen, shaped by the culture that raised them, the people at the creative reins, or the guy who papered over the contributions of more talented artists and writers and profited off it for years. (The early chapters of The Caped Crusade should permanently put to bed the myth that Batman was the sole creation of Bob Kane.) With enthusiasm, authority, and a knack for pithy asides, Weldon wrests the Gotham canon from the overzealous goons who—having seen their jaw-clenched, tortured-loner vision of Batman become the most prevalent depiction in pop culture—forget that people seek out superheroes to escape bullies. Frankly, that type of fandom nearly ground the Bat-affection out of me before I picked up The Caped Crusade. Reading the book didn’t just renew my appreciation for the character’s many faces—it left me with a reading list with which I could further explore those faces. From the Adam West-inspired Batman ’66 comics to Grant Morrison’s ambitious attempt to reconcile decades of gnarled, incompatible continuity in the mid-’00s, I’m now looking forward to a caped crusade of my own.

Caitlin PenzeyMoog


When our resident comics ace Oliver Sava had a comics sale last summer, I picked up several collections that I’ve been slowly making my way through. KaBoom! Studios’ Adventure Time comics might be the best adaptation ever: Each issue is the same feel and spirit of an episode of the show, perfectly retaining the characters’ traits and how they adventure (or lie around) the land of Ooo. There’s even two stories per issue.

Writer Ryan North adds a meta flair to the adaptation of a meta show, writing notes to the reader in the bottom margin. Sometimes these notes are a distraction from the story the issue is telling, but they’re mostly charming interludes that expand on what Finn and Jake’s motivations might be, or point out subtext and hidden pictures in the panels. Artists change from issue to issue, keeping in tact the show’s tradition of inviting artists with drastically different styles to contribute in their own signature way. I’m on issue #15 and the art has so far been uniformly strong.