Rather than consider the Caped Crusader through the images and text that comprise the comics and movies devoted to his dark persona, talented Knopf book designer Chip Kidd proudly puts his substantial collection of Batman merchandise on display in this strangely superfluous book -- all as evidence of Batman's pop-culture significance. After all, our contemporary heroes today exist no less vividly through their licensed manifestations than in their original form. Take Mickey Mouse. Please.
Kidd's fascination with all things Batman originated at age four, when a Batman nightlight soothed his chicken-pox fever dreams. While this may explain Kidd's obsession, Batman hasn't always been a burning fixture on the larger American landscape. His stock peaked in 1966, when the wonderfully kitschy television show debuted, and again in 1989, when Tim Burton's hit film
Batman introduced artist Frank Miller's "Dark Knight" -- the violent, noir-ish Batman that Miller had reinvented for DC Comics in 1986 -- to a mass audience.
Batman Collected sure looks impressive. Rarely has so much kitsch been photographed as lovingly as Geoff Spear has captured this motley gallery of fetish objects. Kidd and Spear have transformed the found and tawdry into something mysterious and impressive. In addition to the predictable action figures, lunch boxes and toy gizmos, Kidd has amassed a future archeologist's dream dig. His collection of cape-and-cowl-inspired junk includes unbreakable pocket combs ("made of a new miracle discovery"), needlepoint, bubble bath, air fresheners, underwear, tortilla chips, a pogo stick, wallpaper and many other chips off the Batman franchise.
Batman Collected has little to say about collecting beyond the suggestion that obsession is its own reward. What's missing here is the sense of weird creativity cultural clichés often inspire. Kidd offers a few examples of "Resin Heads" who've created their own Batman toys from scratch. Yet I suspect a universe of unlicensed Batman merchandise exists out there that Kidd, perhaps for legal reasons, couldn't include (Bullfinch Press is part of Little, Brown, which hovers under the Time Warner roof that also protects DC Comics).
What does all this commercial overdetermination finally teach us? That something as weird as Batman can be reduced to banality -- but that even a pencil holder can partake of the esoteric. --
There's an unusual vigor and inventiveness to the graphic design of
Batman Collected, which isn't surprising given that the author, Chip Kidd, is the book jacket designer who created the eye-catching jackets for Jurassic Park, All the Pretty Horses, Intensity and other Knopf titles. Here, Kidd, a dedicated collector of Batman memorabilia, presents hundreds of rare items from his collection, photographed in an appropriately bold and ominous manner by Geoff Spear, accompanied by Kidd's resourceful essay on the lure of Batman collecting and the evolution of the visual aspects of the character and his colleagues and foes. The array of products featured in the 500 photos, 460 in color, is extraordinary, from watches to cars to figurines to milk containers to corn chips. The book includes an exclusive blow-in Batman paper toy.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly