Batmobile: The Complete History and The Dark Knight Manual: Tools, Weapons, Vehicles & Documents from the Batcave

  • Mark Cotta Vaz and Brandon T. Snider
  • Insight Editions
  • 142 and 112 pp.

While Batman’s physical world changes with the times, his story never gets old. Two new titles show us why.

Reviewed by Michael Causey

My fervent hope is that archeologists 10,000 years hence will develop their interpretation of the ruins of 20th century American culture only after finding both of these books intact. In slightly different ways, each explains America and Americans since the late 1930s with more honesty and insight than some histories and all self-serving political memoirs.

Batman as a symbol, both good and bad, is not to be underestimated. For every 100,000 kids wearing his t-shirt or dressing up as him for Halloween, we have crazed “copycats” like the suspect in the Aurora, Colo. shootings, who allegedly believed that he was acting like Batman nemesis The Joker when he went on a killing rampage at a showing of the most recent Batman movie.

This is not the place to debate what responsibility, if any, Batman creators have for how their creation is interpreted by others, but it bears repeating that mythological characters throughout history can and do influence our behavior in inspirationally positive and chillingly negative ways.

“From the start, Batman did what enduring fictional figures do — reflect the times,” notes Mark Cotta Vaz, author of Batmobile: The Complete History. He also shows how the Batmobile, in its many incarnations, remains a key character in its driver’s saga.

Chris Nolan, director of the last three dark and well-received Batman movies, recalls first encountering the Batmobile as a child watching the campy classic 1960s TV show. It was “a massively important part of Batman’s appeal.” Nolan appreciated the way that Batman and Robin used the Batmobile as a kind of safety pod to protect themselves even as they were fighting crime.

He’s not alone, and it’s not just car aficionados who revere and analyze the Batmobile.

“You don’t have to be a comics or Batman fan to have a reaction to the Batmobile,” says “Dark Knight Rises” Producer Tara Tremaine. “There is an enigma … the paradox is, the Batmobile represents hope, the idea that someone is out there, fighting for you; it also represents fear, that someone out there can do damage to the bad guys.”

These books are clearly meant for fans and are tie-ins to the new film. To the non-fan, all of this thoroughly serious and insightful philosophical analysis of Batman and his wheels might sound silly, yet it is at heart not that much different from The Odyssey, The Iliad, the tales of King Arthur, The Thousand and One Nights or Gilgamesh. They are all ripping yarns that arguably tell us more about ourselves than the characters they portray.

Batman was launched in 1939 during the Great Depression. While Batman was a grittier figure at the outset, his first car was a sporty red roadster more suited to a rich playboy than a serious crime fighter.

The 60s TV show features a sleek but sometimes silly car that seemed more fun than dangerous, befitting the rising groovy pop culture of the times. By the 80s, the Batmobile was sleeker and more sinister, reflecting the cool greed of the decade.

The current Batmobile is supposed to be an outgrowth of a military vehicle clearly designed to deal with the threats America faces in a post-9/11 world.

“Every single Batmobile signifies … the technology of the times,” Dark Knight Production Manager Nathan Crowley adds. “I guess our (latest) vehicle is based on the times we live in, one that has to cope with terrorism and has these incredibly sophisticated war machines.”

Cotta Vaz, who has written this type of book before for TV’s “Lost” and the “Twilight” films, isn’t exactly a stern critic. He quickly glosses over Batman movie missteps like Val Kilmer’s and George Clooney’s turns as The Caped Crusader. But hard-nosed critics aren’t his intended audience, and he serves the unabashed fan well in this richly detailed history of one of the most famous cars in history.

Likewise, Brandon T. Snider’s The Dark Knight Manual is a fan’s dream, featuring pullout maps, photos, stickers and more that represent a Batman purist’s treasure trove.

My 15-year-old self would have spent hours and days poring over the detailed specs for Batman’s weapons, gadgets, and Batcave, and in-depth psychological profiles of allies like Police Commissioner Gordon, arch-villains like The Joker, and grayer moral figures like Catwoman.

This is not to say that at age 49 I didn’t spend a fair amount of time doing the exact same thing. I learned, for example, that Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, is a “mixture of contradictions: cunning, and intelligent, she often resorts to simple acts of theft. Despite these traits, she sees potential in others and wishes to give back, an interesting element to note in a thief.”

She also knows how to wear a tight black leather outfit.

With its $40 list price, The Dark Knight Manual would have taken a big chunk out of my allowance, but it would have been worth every penny. Then and now.

Michael Causey has written about cars and auto dealerships for many years. An obsessive fan as a child, he continues to find the TV Batman Adam West the first, truest interpreter of The Caped Crusader.

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