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Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero Hardcover – Nov 7 2008
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As a kid, I wanted to be Batman but always ended up more like the Joker. I only wish I could have read Dr. Zehr's fascinating book then, so that I would know exactly what it took to become a real superhero. -- Bradford W. Wright, author of Comic Book Nation
If you really want to become Batman, having a billion dollars in start-up funds and a subterranean lair is just the beginning. Dr. Zehr's thoroughly researched and thoughtfully imagined exploration into the real-life rigors of costumed crime-fighting shows just how DC Comics' Dark Knight—the original self-made hero—could realistically transform a mere human body into something no less than superhuman. Consider it required reading for anyone seriously contemplating donning cape and cowl. -- Scott Beatty, author of The Batman Handbook
When I walk, every once in a while someone notices they can't hear my footsteps. Do you know why? Dr. E. Paul Zehr knows. I'm training to become Batman. Most of the population wouldn't understand this . . . but beneath and entwined in the soul of many men is a-hero-in-the-making. Training for that moment that will, thankfully, never come. The moment when he must be a hero. The moment he trained for. They'll never hear me coming. In this book Dr. Zehr knows exactly what our giddy souls are doing. Here he tells our secret. -- Neal Adams, Batman Illustrator
About the Author
E. Paul Zehr is a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, where he is also a biomedical research scholar. He holds black belts in both empty hand and armed martial arts. For more information about finding your inner superhero, visit www.becomingbatman.com.
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Really, it is too much, though. Admittedly, I haven't read it from cover to cover yet, but then again, I don't think I've ever read a text book from cover to cover. And that's what a lot of this is. Granted, the device of using the idea of "becoming Batman" is a great hook and one that I think can keep true fans (of Batman AND biology) on the line. And even though the focus of the book is on the effect of extensive training and the consequences of living the life of The Bat, Zehr does touch on TYPES of training Batman would most likely be realistically engaged in.
The book contains five Parts and a total of 16 Chapters. Since there is no "Look Inside" for this book yet, I've listed these below:
Part 1 - Bat-Building Blocks
Chapter 1 - The "Before" Batman: How Buff was Bruce?
Chapter 2 - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: Bruce's Twin Brother, and the Human Genome
Chapter 3 - The Stress of Life: Holy Hormones, Batman!
Part 2 - Basic Batbody Training
Chapter 4 - Gaining Strength and Power: Does the Bat That Flies the
Fastest or the Highest Get the Worm?
Chapter 5 - Building the Batbones: Brittle is Bad, But is Bigger Better?
Chapter 6 - Batmetabolism: What's for Dinner on the Dark Knight Diet?
Part 3 - Training the Batbrain
Chapter 7 - From Bruce Wayne to Bruce Lee: Mastering Martial Moves in the Batcave
Chapter 8 - Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: But What Was Batman Doing?
Chapter 9 - The Caped Crusader in Combat: Can You Kayo Without Killing?
Part 4 - Batman In Action
Chapter 10 - Batman Bashes and Is Bashed by Bad Boys (and Girls): What can he break without getting broken?
Chapter 11 - Hardening the Batbody: Can sticks and stones break his bones?
Chapter 12 - Gotham by Twilight: Working the Night Shift
Part 5 - A Mixed Bag
Chapter 13 - Injury and Recovery: How much Banging Until the Batback Goes Bonk?
Chapter 14 - Battle of the Bats: Could Batgirl Beat Batman?
Chapter 15 - The Aging Avenger: Could the Caped Crusader Become the Caped Codger?
Chapter 16 - The Reign of the Bat: Can You Really Become Batman and Remain Batman?
Now don't let these zippy and fun chapter titles fool you. If you get this book you're in for some serious science. There's a lot of molecular biology, chemistry and good ol' fashioned science text book jargon. I'm not sure if the average person who is interested in "Becoming Batman" needs, or even wants, to know how the Cortical bone is made up of Osteon which apparently has something to do with the Haversian canal, but it's all in figure 5.1 on page 68 if you DO need it. I get the feeling the scientist in Batman would love this book.
Or, you could just pop in your "The Dark Knight" dvd again and scarf down some popcorn.
Dr. Zehr comes to the topic with suitable expertise. Not only is he a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology, but he has multiple blackbelts and more than 25 years of experience in the martial arts. If you are interested in the details of science, you will like this book. If a chapter on how metabolism works isn't your thing, you should probably give this book a miss.
The initial chapters look at the building blocks, for example, what kind of genes would Bruce Wayne have needed to inherit to feasibly become Batman? From there it moves into the training. Would Batman be more interested in strength or power? and what kind of training would be suitable for each? What kind of martial arts should he study? How much training is necessary to become an expert?
The last part of the book looks at the realities of operating as Batman, specifically the impact or repeated stress and injury to the body. How long could Batman operate?
I expected the book to spend more time on the types of things Batman does (i.e. swinging from buildings) - but that is a topic that is well covered in James Kakalios' Physics of Superheroes.
Although I felt that the narrative needed more energy, I did enjoy this book. Dr. Zehr did his research. He knows the science and he knows the character. If you've ever been curious about the possibilities of being a superhero, give this book a try.
Interestingly, there was material in the book that is directly applicable to my job. I can't wait to use this title as a reference, when the subject comes up!
One of my earliest memories involving Batman occurred when I transformed into the Dark Knight for a kindergarten Halloween party. As I ran around in that "Adam West" style costume, one of the teachers remarked that my eyes were "perfect" for the mask. That level of authentication began a lifelong fascination with everything related to the Dark Knight.
Becoming Batman, however, requires more than simply donning the right type of suit.
Zehr, whose academic credentials trace from an undergraduate emphasis in kinesiology through a PhD in Neuroscience, brilliantly discusses the potential for someone to actually become a superhero. His writing is witty and informative, striking an appropriate balance between a pure scientific discourse and ample explanations to keep lesser trained readers intrigued. In addition to the neuroscientific development, Zehr infuses the text with historical reference to Batman by comic book and year. Such references are sure to satiate any collector of Batman memorabilia.
The narrative includes salient points about the requisite genetics, training, and realities which would accompany the life of one aspiring to be Batman. Zehr's development of the appropriateness of martial arts training stems from his own lifelong fascination with the martial arts and is a compelling analysis of the rigors which Bruce Wayne would have necessarily been exposed to perform as the Batman. A glance at the author's webpage reveals that his research interests revolve around how the nervous system controls movement - a fact that makes his analysis of the probability of becoming Batman seem plausible.
We see ourselves in the characterization of Batman because he is human, not an alien from another planet or someone who received his prowess by the bite of a radioactive insect. When Batman dons the bat suit the archetypal conquest of good over evil becomes possible. Maybe, such an aspiration is possible for any one of us.
Is there hope for those of us who have donned a costume to actually become Batman? The answer might surprise you - if you have the proper genetics; passionately seek your goal; and have enough time and money.
See more about Dr. E. Paul Zehr at [...]
Next summer an eagerly awaited movie entitled <i>Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice</i> hits theaters. Who knows how much screen time will involve the fight between the titular characters, but the same battle has played out a number of times in the comics, and its appeal is clear. What are the limits of human capability given training, technology, and sufficient smarts? Can a man really defeat an alien that’s faster than a bullet and more powerful than a locomotive? A popular fanboy mantra is, “I like Batman, because I could be Batman. Batman has no superpowers.” So, yes, if you were a billionaire, genius, with the physique of a Greek god, and knew 127 martial arts, you too could be Batman. Or could you? That question is at the heart of Zehr’s book.
<i>Becoming Batman</i> is arranged into sixteen chapters divided among five parts. It begins logically with the question of whether Bruce Wayne needs to begin at any particular point to achieve success in transforming himself into Batman? (At the extreme, one probably can’t imagine Bruce Wayne becoming Batman if he was born with one leg a foot longer than the other and with a Quasimodo hump, but given a Bruce who is starting out “average,” what are his limitations.) In other words, how much does genetics come into play. In the first part, Zehr introduces a character, Bob Wayne, who doesn’t appear in the comics. Bob is Bruce’s twin, and is used throughout the book for comparison purposes, i.e. to convey what Bruce Wayne would look like if he didn’t train fanatically to be Batman. The question of how much of Batman is innate and how much is painstaking built by exercise and training is critical to determining how many of those fanboys really could be Batman.
There a series of chapters explaining the mechanism by which stressors result in a stronger, faster, more powerful, and more resilient Batman. The idea is that Mother Nature doesn’t over-engineer. The only way one gets stronger muscles is by overloading them, which triggers a process of rebuilding them bigger and better than before. Wolff’s Law defines the same concept for bones, i.e. bone density increases in response to increased loading. (Incidentally, the same is true of the mind. A more agile mind is achieved only by working it, and zoning out in front of the television results in a dumbening.)
The next section shifts from generic exercise science to questions of Batman’s martial arts training. What kind of martial arts (or arts) would Batman practice? There is an often quoted statement in the comics to the effect that Batman had mastered 127 martial arts. (This is ridiculous, but it does spur the intriguing question of how many systems does Batman need to learn to have a well-rounded skill-base without being a dabbler? Many will say one art—the right one--is enough, others will say that--given the varied cast of villains he must defeat--Batman needs a broader skill-set than any existing art provides.) More to the point, how many hours does one need to practice a technique to engrain the movements into one (e.g. neurologically it takes repetition to optimize efficiency.) This is among the questions discussed in this book.
The fourth section deals with the ravages of being Batman, and how much any human could be expected to endure. In this section, one will learn about the cumulative toll of concussions, the likelihood of Batman avoiding broken bones and other injuries that would necessarily sideline his crime fighting, and the effect that working the night shift would have. (The latter might seem trivial in comparison to the former two topics, but—in fact—it’s not. It’s well established that night workers have higher incidence of some cancers and other ailments. Furthermore, as Bruce Wayne has to keep appearances up, it means not only fighting circadian rhythm issues, but also frequent sleep deprivation—the hazards of which are even clearer and occur in short order.)
There are a number of interesting topic that aren’t don’t pertain to the core question per se, but which are interesting for fans of the Batman canon and the character’s mythos. Famously, Batman doesn’t use guns or lethal force. This raises the question of how realistic it is to regularly fight hardened knaves and miscreants without killing them. One can only knock out so many of Gotham’s baddies before one doesn’t get up.
There’s a chapter about what a fight between Batman and Batgirl would be like. While strength would definitely be to Batman’s advantage, there are advantages that an equally skilled female fighter might bring to the fight? How would Batgirl (or Catwoman) need to fight to put those advantages to use? Finally, for those of us who are no longer spring chicks, there are chapters about how Batman could expect to age, and how long he could keep performing at a level at which he could defeat his enemies.
I enjoyed this book and found it both educational and interesting. It should be clear that Batman is just a teaching tool used to explore the limitations of the human body and its ability to endure a life of fighting. That said, references to the Batman comic books and movies makes for a readable text. Perhaps what I like most about this book is that most of the books that address these subjects are textbooks that are sold on the textbook pricing model (i.e. we have a limited but captive audience so let’s make them pay top dollar.) This is one of the few books that takes on these topics at the readability and pricing model of a popular science book.
I recommend it for those interested in the science of performance, martial arts, and injury.
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