Review: "Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life"

It's easy to write off superhero comics as simple wish fulfillment: They're all about adolescent power fantasies.

After all, who wouldn't want the strength to beat up people you don't like? Or the power to fly? That would be cool.

But do superhero stories offer us anything else? Do they have any deeper value besides fantasy, escapism and nostalgia?

Carey A. Friedman thinks so, and details this belief in "Wisdom from the Batcave."

Friedman is a rabbi and this book is a spiritual self-help work of sorts, but not a cheesy, gimmicky one.

Friedman takes superheroes, especially Batman, quite seriously. He takes a close look at the Batman myth and what it tells us about living a meaningful life.

Batman is the ideal character for such an exercise because, more than any other superhero, he's human. He doesn't have any particular super powers. True, he's super intelligent and very strong. And he has an incredible car. But if we use our imaginations enough, achieving what he's achieved is in some way possible. We can all work toward improving ourselves.

And that goes beyond simply doing lots of pushups. Using Batman as an example, Friedman details the importance of family (Batman's got Robin, Alfred and an assortment of other folks he relies on for support), facing adversity (Batman emerges from the tragedy of his parents' death to do something constructive in the world--fighting crime) and strong principles. And it all comes off a lot less hokey than you might think.

A former chaplain at Duke University, Friedman got the idea of using Batman in this fashion while doing "Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement" workshops for the FBI. Those sessions drew from philosophy and different religious traditions in order to give law enforcement officers the psychic tools they need to persevere in situations that sometimes feel bleak and hopeless. But while teaching the class and thinking about his own reservoirs of strenght and inspiration, Friedman kept coming back to Batman.

No doubt many of us other grown-ups owe more than we might think to the characters who inspired as us children. In a way, that made us who we are. Or who we'd like to be. And maybe that's why many of us still have an emotional attachment--one that goes beyond mere nostaligia--to these characters today.

Published by Compass Books, "Wisdom from the Batcave" is available in bookstores or via

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