Batman’s Arsenal review

Superman has strength, speed, and flight.

Green Lantern has his power ring.

The Flash is the fastest man alive.

Batman, as the old joke goes, has the greatest superpower of all: money.

As with any joke there is at least a bit of truth to that statement, and as with any joke the truth goes deeper than the surface.  Batman has a lot of money, yes, but that’s one of the most interesting character traits of Bruce Wayne: he uses his fortune to fund his war on crime while also using it to help the disenfranchised citizens of Gotham through charities, funds and trusts.

But, seriously, the dude has a ton of toys.

Throughout his 75-plus year history, if you can give it a Bat prefix he’s probably wielded it at least once: Batarangs, Batlines, Batsprays, Batboats, Batmobiles, Batradarscopes, whatever.  Batman uses gadgets not as a crutch but as a tool in his crusade, and to this day his vast arsenal is one of the most enduring and endearing aspects of the character.

With Batman’s Arsenal, Matt Macnabb, founder and curator of Legions of Gotham, has taken on the almost Herculean task of chronicling over seventy-five years worth of vehicles, gadgets, weapons, and tools.  The result is a massive tome that, while not entirely perfect, is meticulously detailed and researched and a worthy addition to any Batfan’s bookshelf.

Lending an immediate sense of legitimacy to the book is a preface from Adam West.  True to form, Batman himself uses his dry wit to decry the overused “campy” label applied to his take on the character.  “It was a comedy,” he says, “but the kids took it seriously.  And that’s why it remains the classic and evergreen it is.  I am happy to be the ‘Caped Crusader’ in many eyes.”  He’s celebrating fans in general, and the idea that this character belongs to nobody in particular and everybody at the same time.  He may not be “your Batman,” but he’s someone’s Batman, and that versatility with the character is what allows him to endure.

Macnabb’s introduction is well-written and conversational, and even though it contains a few minor grammatical errors nothing is so egregious as to make it unreadable.  He goes into the history of Batman as a character and his own love of the the Dark Knight, adding to the readability of the work itself and the relatability of the author to keep things from becoming too dry.

The Batography as he calls it is particularly illuminating, serving as a reference for each era of the Dark Knight’s history and what Macnabb will pull from in his cataloging.  From the first appearance in 1939’s Detective Comics #27 to the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and pretty much everything in between, the entire history of the character up to the present day is at least touched upon.  Macnabb focuses on the Golden and Silver ages of comics because he feels like a majority of readers don’t have access to those old stories, whereas anyone can go out and watch The Dark Knight whenever they please.  It’s a wise choice, and the inclusion of less-appreciated works like the 1940s serials (which are terrible, but it’s nice they’re here) and the criminally under-appreciated Beware the Batman.

From there, Macnabb breaks the rest of the book down into various categories: Batmobile, Bat Flight, Batarang, Batboat, Batcave, Batcycle, Bat-Signal, Batsuit, Utility Belt, Batman, Firearms, and finally an index for quick reference.  Macnabb goes through the history of Batman in remarkable detail, touching on every major change in gear that has happened over the past 75 years and dividing each chapter by subject, be it comics, television, or film.  Quotes from various creators and bits of trivia are sprinkled throughout, breaking up the text and making it a little more fun to read.

Even the controversial Firearms chapter is handled fairly even-handedly, though it’s obvious how the author feels about Batman killing.  While he and countless readers (myself included) feel like Batman works better with a no kill and anti-gun policy, those early issues are still a part of the character’s history and are worth researching.

The biggest weakness of the book is its lack of pictures, though it’s understandable why they aren’t included.  This is an independently produced work, not officially sanctioned or associated with DC Comics or Warner Bros., so it’s hard to fault it for that.  From its greatest weakness comes the book’s greatest strength, though, as Macnabb is forced to go into very specific detail when describing everything.  He does a remarkable job, too, balancing the somewhat dry descriptions of, say, a 1939 Studebaker with the more vivid picture of the action going on as that vehicle is introduced.  It’s the best case of using your situation to your advantage, as it elevates the book above mere encyclopedia and makes it a truly entertaining read.

Best of all, the book can be purchased for just over twenty bucks, so go and support a fellow Batman fan by buying it.

Overall: Meticulously researched and thoroughly detailed, Matthew Macnabb has made an unofficial guide that would be a welcome addition to any Batfan’s library.  Even with its shortcomings, this is still a well-crafted tome that serves as both a handy reference and an enjoyable read on its own.  Factor in the fairly low price tag and that just sweetens the deal and makes it more than worth the investment.

SCORE: 8.5/10