Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book review - "Becoming Batman"

After recent conversations we have had, and after my last blog (Batman by 40) my good buddy Lise couldn't wait until Christmas and gave me my gift early.

No it wasn't bat-undies to wear outside my pants

Nor was it the life like Jessica Biel robot I requested

It was a copy of E. Paul Zehr's "Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero"

Book Description:
Publication Date: November 7, 2008

Battling bad guys. High-tech hideouts. The gratitude of the masses. Who at some point in their life hasn't dreamed of being a superhero? Impossible, right? Or is it?

Possessing no supernatural powers, Batman is the most realistic of all the superheroes. His feats are achieved through rigorous training and mental discipline, and with the aid of fantastic gadgets. Drawing on his training as a neuroscientist, kinesiologist, and martial artist, E. Paul Zehr explores the question: Could a mortal ever become Batman?

Zehr discusses the physical training necessary to maintain bad-guy-fighting readiness while relating the science underlying this process, from strength conditioning to the cognitive changes a person would endure in undertaking such a regimen. In probing what a real-life Batman could achieve, Zehr considers the level of punishment a consummately fit and trained person could handle, how hard and fast such a person could punch and kick, and the number of adversaries that individual could dispatch. He also tells us what it would be like to fight while wearing a batsuit and the amount of food we'd need to consume each day to maintain vigilance as Gotham City's guardian.

A fun foray of escapism grounded in sound science, Becoming Batman provides the background for attaining the realizable-though extreme-level of human performance that would allow you to be a superhero.

First the cons (what I didn’t like)

The first 3 chapters are very sciency.  Dry and kind of hard to get through, seemed overly detailed.
Na├»ve ideas about violence and the use of force.  It was written from the distinct perspective of a dojo martial artist that has never or very rarely encountered violence out side of training.

Much emphasis was placed on waiting to be attacked then defending, and Batman going out of his way not to hurt criminals.

I have discussed my beliefs on this blog about the need to start with high levels of effective force fast then ease up as control is gained ending confrontations quickly.

Batman is already at a disadvantage by an unwillingness to use lethal force even when completely justified.
As addressed here:
“I'll count the dead, one by one. I'll add them to the list, Joker. The list of all the people I've murdered by letting you live.”

Because of this unwillingness to use justified lethal force Batman has to be punishing at non lethal, to survive and build the reputation that will allow him to accomplish control with simple presence.  If you commit crimes and the Batman catches you are going to be maimed or crippled

As addressed here: 
[Rookie Cop: You've crippled that man!
Batman: He's young. He'll walk again. (But he will stay scared)]

I guess I am just more of a fan of Frank Miller’s vision of Batman than Neil Adams’ because it makes much more sense to me.

Here are some more quotes from Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”

There are seven working defenses from this position. Three of them disarm with minimal contact. Three of them kill. The other-- [KRAKK] --hurts.

No, Joker. You're playing the wrong game. The old game. Tonight you're taking no hostages. Tonight I'm taking no prisoners.

I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.

Thug: No! Stay back, I got RIGHTS!!!
Batman: You've got rights, lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make me feel crazy... But right now you've got a piece of glass shoved in a major artery in your arm, right now you're bleeding to death. Right now I'm the only one person in the world who can get you to a hospital in time!.

Ok ok fan boy moment over back to the review -

As detailed as the biology and neurology are, there is very little information on human stress reactions to interpersonal violence.  Tons of information on concussions and the like (how the brain reacts to injury) but nothing on how the brain reacts to violence

I would have liked studies of cops and troops.  Or even references to research by Lt Grossman, and Dr Lewinski would have been very germane to Bruce Wayne’s (or anyone’s) preparation to use force (violence) and dealing with the consequences of a lifestyle in which violent traumatic incidents are a regular occurrence.

(Lt Grossman)  http://www.killology.com/

Now the pros (what I did like)
The 1st 3 chapters are worth it.  Although dry and overly detailed, Zehr references this information in nearly every other chapter in a very interesting way.  It was kind of like Danielsan painting the fence and waxing off (don’t get cute with that).  It was tedious at the time but it made sense eventually and was totally worth it later.  If this was used as a high school biology text book I would have got much better grades.

I really enjoyed the explanations of how the body responds to training.

The type of training that would be needed to be a crime fighter:
  • Base level strength
  • Activity specific power (explosiveness) training
  • Martial Arts training
  • What and how much you would need to eat to accomplish that
  • The effects of sleep depravation and maintaining that high of an activity
  • How best to mitigate those effects as you age

I agreed with Zehr’s assumptions of the type of Martial Arts training Bruce would need to under go and what it would take to maintain that skill level.

So in conclusion, I enjoyed this book very much it seemed to be written specifically for me.
Yet another tool in my arsenal to become batman by 40.

So if you like:
  • Martial Arts
  • Strength Training
  • Science
  • Comic Books
  • Or ant combination of the above

Go out and buy this book

Train hard, Train smart, Be safe and….always be yourself, unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman


  1. Great book review.
    You know when I saw this book, it literally threw itself at me and gave me a thigh lock!! Precious wanted to be reunited with its master :)

  2. (Tongue-in-cheek comment to follow) Sir, your Batman by 40 mission is very admirable. These goals that you have set are terribly impressive and will definitely increase your kick-ass ability and your right to go shirtless AND be unbearably cocky. However, and I understand that this is a little geek-snobbish, anyone with your level of Bat-knowledge knows that Batman is supposed to be an Olympic-level athlete in like 7 different disciplines. He's the guy who can run a 4 minute mile then clean-jerk 350 kilos. He can operate on an hour of sleep by going into a meditative trance. The goals that you've set would more appropriately be titled "60 year old Batman by 40". Because he's frickin' Batman! ;D

    Seriously though, your dedication is making me take a good hard look in the mirror to address the lack of direction in my own training. Destroy and rebuild stronger. You're an inspiration and I wish you all the best.

  3. Thanks Kamil
    And while it kills me to write this, I may never be Batman, but the pursuit of Batman is worthwhile because it forces me to be a better Kasey

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation. Reading it now; interesting and enjoyable -- and a little bit inspirational.