Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

Shanté P Smalls

Second Advisor

Jennifer Travis

Third Advisor

Robert Fanuzzi


This dissertation is a survey of trauma as depicted within the Batman mythos. The first chapter, “The Serious House,” explores the history of New York State’s insane asylum system and its relationship to the creation of the fictional Arkham Asylum. The opening chapter also features a close reading of Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (2005) and employs Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1995) and Madness and Civilization (1988) as critical frameworks. The dissertation's second chapter, “There is no Sanity Clause,” is a detailed examination of the Joker’s character. The Joker is an advocate for the normalization of insanity. This chapter engages David L. Rosenhan's "On Being Sane in Insane Places" and argues that the historical treatment of mental illness is harmful in key Joker-centric texts (across mediums), including the Arkham series of videogames. This second chapter also explores the complex relationship between Batman and the Joker. The relationship is examined as dually romantic and traumatic in nature. The third chapter of this project, “Pearls in the Gutter,” identifies Bruce Wayne/Batman as a victim of both punctual and insidious trauma. Bruce Wayne, the performative Bruce Wayne, and Batman are defined as clearly identifiable and separate entities. In this chapter, Batman’s personal brand of justice is explored and defined as absolutist. The traumatic nature of his relationship with his Robins is also discussed as exploitative. The dissertation's final chapter, “Poor, Dear, Sweet Girl,” uses Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators (1999) to examine women's trauma in Batman texts. The chapter builds from Simone’s concept of “fridging” and explores the industry practice as it has evolved over time. Close attention is given to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and her shift to the physically disabled superhero, Oracle. The fetishization of Batwoman’s sexuality and the evisceration of her sidekick, Flamebird, are also featured in this chapter. The final section of this final chapter discusses the invention and casual abuse of Harley Quinn from her inception in Batman: The Animated Series (1992) to Birds of Prey (2020).

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