Academic journal article CineAction

Convergence Culture and the Caped Crusader: Batman and the Environment of New Media

Academic journal article CineAction

Convergence Culture and the Caped Crusader: Batman and the Environment of New Media

Article excerpt

Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2006) has already cast a wide-ranging shadow of influence over New Media studies, prompting many critics to identify certain texts as harbingers of our current state of media convergence. Such projects, in legitimizing Jenkins' conclusions by positioning convergence as an inevitable and universally accepted result of increased media synergy and hybridization, ignore some of the ways in which corporate interests, marketing strategies and fan communities have traditionally resisted convergence culture. Warner Bros.'s Batman (1989), a film released just before Warner Communications Incorporated (WCI) and Time Incorporated merged into a media conglomerate of unprecedented breadth (Time-Warner), is an exemplary product of the new era of media concentration. Since Jenkins locates convergence at the intersection between old media forms (such as films, television, comic books) and new participatory media (such as the Internet, video games, reality television), Batman barely qualifies as a convergence text. As a cinematic version of a comic book story, the trajectory of its adaptation never leaves the realm of so-called "old media." However, the film spawned a wealth of commercial intertexts, many of which could qualify as convergence texts insofar as they straddle the line between active participation and passive consumption (1). By looking at some of these intertexts, the way the film was produced and marketed more generally, and the cult of Batman fandom, we can see how Batman resists convergence on the levels of production, promotion, and reception. Ultimately, I intend to use Batman as an exemplar of a corporate strategy--a strategy that continues to this day in Warner Bros/s adaptations of DC Comics properties--that successfully resists convergence as defined by Jenkins, that holds on to an increasingly antiquated old media paradigm in an era that is becoming more and more hostile to such narratives, and that does so (perhaps surprisingly) to its own economic advantage.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"His identity remains unknown": (Re-)Producing a Hero

The release of Warner Bros.'s Batman on June 23, 1989 was timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the character, who had made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in May of 1939. In that issue, Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creation, then known as "The Bat-Man," is described as "a mysterious and adventurous figure fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his lone battle against the evil forces of society ... His identity remains unknown". (2) By the end of The Bat-Man's first published adventure, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," he has vanquished the "wrong doers" that plague the city that would later become known as Gotham, and his unlikely double-identity as socialite Bruce Wayne has been revealed to the reader. A mere eleven issues later, Robin "the Boy Wonder" is introduced as Batman's (3) "ally in his relentless fight against crime"; (4) and in the spring of 1940, Batman's own comic title debuted. Batman #1 featured a short story entitled "The Legend of the Batman--Who He is and How He Came to be!" This two-page spread (which preceded the first appearance of the Joker in the pages that would follow), finally divulged the Batman's origin to curious readers. It was a simple, iconic story: while walking home from a movie, young Bruce's parents are robbed and killed by an anonymous mugger, after which the boy swears, "by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals." (5) He becomes a master scientist and trains his body "to physical perfection." "I am ready," he muses, "but first I must have a disguise." When a bat flies through the window of his study, it is the final piece of the puzzle. It is this simple piece of the Batman mythology, his origin, that has remained unchanged (6) over the years while almost every other aspect of the character has seen multiple, often contradictory, permutations. …

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