Could a Person Really be Batman?
Question: Could a person really be Batman? Answer: Yes, says Paul Zehr, kinesiology and neuroscience professor at the University of Victoria.
The dream of almost everyone who has flipped open a Batman comic book, to don the cape and to fight crime, is humanly possible, says a University of Victoria professor who has written a book about it.
But the stress it would put on the body, similar to an Olympic athlete or champion boxer, would make a career as the caped crusader short-lived.
“What I did was draw from all kinds of other activities and say, ‘What is Batman like?’” said Paul Zehr, who teaches kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria.
He is also author of the book Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero.
“Part of what he does is like being an NFL running back. Part of what he does is like being an ultimate fighter, like being a boxer … and if you look at all the science behind those things and you put all this together, what does it mean for someone who is actually trying to be Batman? It’s not a training manual per se, but it gives the background of what can people really achieve.”
Zehr’s book is already drawing fan buzz due to hype surrounding The Dark Knight movie, which opens in theatres today. The book won’t be released until October, through Johns Hopkins University Press, but Internet pre-sales are “through the roof,” he said.
Drawing upon hundreds of comic books and graphic novels, Zehr, the director of the university’s Centre for Biomedical Research, delved into the physical fitness and training necessary to pull off Batman’s nightly fisticuffs with henchman and high-wire rooftop acrobatics.
It would require a man at his absolute physical peak, most closely resembling an Olympic decathlete, with three to five years of intense physical conditioning and 10 to 12 years of martial arts and motor skill training, said Zehr. He’d also need another few years working under incredible pressure and stress, he said.
But the human body can only handle such stress for so long. By researching athletes such as Muhammad Ali, ultimate fighter Randy Couture and NFL linebackers, Zehr said he gives Batman a three-year peak before he is felled by serious injuries, such as repeated concussions.
“Based on some of these numbers, he’d become Batman, be the best Batman possible for about three years, and then he’s done,” said Zehr. “There’s a whole lot of training to get to that point.”
Even when he’s at his peak, one of the major constraints hampering a real-life Batman would be his unwillingness to kill, said Zehr, 40, himself a black belt in Chito-ryu karate. “This is the thing where he gets into a crazy amount of poise and training needed,” said Zehr. “It’s much easier to seriously injure someone.” It is possible to fight large groups of villains at once, and succeed, but it gets especially complicated when you have to look for non-lethal ways to subdue people intent on killing you, he said.
Zehr’s real-life research focuses on body motion rehabilitation after severe spinal cord injuries and strokes. A lifelong Batman fan, he said he hopes to make science more interesting by integrating it with pop culture.
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