On Lawson, Comics, and the Metamorphics of Batman

Today I had the imponderable delight of sitting in a lecture delivered by Dr. Jamie F Lawson of the Anthropology department of Durham University. He wasn’t the only lecturer today, as I also had the joy of listening to Dr. Gavin Weston, but that is a blog for Tuesday. Anyway, The lecture is part of a series of events hosted by Newcastle University in celebration of British Science Week. And of all the talks and seminars on offer today, what was it about this particular one which excited me enough to have me racing to sign up?

“Holy Metamorphics, Batman!”

A gripping and frankly brilliant title. I was instantly enticed. As speakers, they were both amazing, and both so very pretty to look at. Beside the point, but Kelly assures me my readers only care about pretty academics.

So before I explain to you the research Dr Lawson and his associates have gathered, allow me first to explain to you why we should even care about comics.

Anthropology looks at art as more than a piece of aesthetically pleasing work. It is through art that we are able to plot the cultural shifts in what we view as the paragons, concepts like beauty and femininity. From stone age idols of round and fertile women to streamlined nude beauties of Renaissance paintings, art is a piece of material culture which is preserved for anthropological study. Though still a relevant piece of our culture, Batman is a figure which has been around for 74 years now.

Now, I don’t want to relay what happened. Not unless you really want me to. I’d honestly feel bad because to the best of my research, their work has yet to be published. But I can’t resist telling my fellow comic lovers something very interesting about the study.

Dr. Lawson used 28 body shots of Batman, ranging from publication dates of 1939-2005, and likewise used 32 facial shots from 1939-2009. Over the years, Batman has become meaner looking (angular and more streamlined), and this is predicted in the rise of murders and thefts in the US.

And because the human condition has us think in binary, Lawson and his associates did a similar test with Batman’s opposite; The Joker. And in true Joker style, there was little correlation with time and how he shape evolved. It was simply chaos.

There is, however, one interesting thing. When plotted on a scatter graph, Batman’s evolution is clustered. And amongst it, there is one example of the Joker looking similar.

And when has The Joker seemed most like his opposite?

The award-winning one-shot ‘The Killing Joke‘.

I was excited just hearing that! I can’t wait for these finding to be published. The whole day was fascinating, and Tuesday will bring my opinion on Dr. Gavin Weston’s take on the Vigilante Archetype.

And so dear readers, my post has reached its end. Let me ask you this:

What do you think Lawson’s study has found? How has Batman evolved in shape over the years, and why do you think that is? Let me know what you think!



About Stephanie Gallon

I'm 22 years old with first class honours in BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing. I'm currently studying MA English Studies. I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I write on everything from comics, to feminism, to advice on university life.
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4 Responses to On Lawson, Comics, and the Metamorphics of Batman

  1. blah says:

    I wonder if they took into account the effect of the introduction of the Comic Code. I don’t think O’Neil and Adams were really thinking about the murder rate when they reintroduced a grimmer Batman.


    • Interesting point. The lecture didn’t go much in to sociological reasons so much as anthropological. The crime rates only predicted the changes though; whether the crime rates were actively used for redesigns is a different matter. I couldn’t answer whether Dr. Lawson took it in to account though. He didn’t specify which issues had a particularly mean looking Batman.


  2. Pingback: On Weston, Vigilantism, and Real Life Superheroes | Aspiration and Might

  3. Pingback: Aspiration and Might: An Anniversary Special | Aspiration and Might

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