Martha Stewart tells you what to cook. Carson Kressley tells you what to wear. In the age of "Extreme Makeover," even lifestyle experts have lifestyle experts. So maybe it's time to let Batman help rescue your career, love life and self-esteem.
If you're going to mold your life after any superhero, Batman is clearly the most rational choice. He's the only major comic book crime fighter with no supernatural powers. The bite of a radioactive spider didn't endow him with the ability to climb walls. His parents didn't send him from Krypton to Earth with the power to bend steel with his bare hands.
Sure, Batman's got the deep pockets of millionaire Bruce Wayne (his alter ego) to help furnish his trusty utility belt with gadgets galore. But the Batarang is just a glorified boomerang, which Aborigines have been wielding for centuries. That's a far cry from Wonder Woman's golden lasso, which magically compels evildoers to tell the truth.
As Batman can tell you, even infinite wealth has limitations, and it hardly guarantees heroics. You don't see Paris Hilton solving murders.
No, what makes Batman special is that he's learned to channel his rage. His parents were savagely beaten and left to die, and he's vowed to wage a war against crime throughout Gotham City.
Batman's not perfect. Maybe he's sometimes bent a little too much on exacting pain from bad guys. But he's also the world's first self-made superhero, a man who traveled the world to toughen his body and sharpen his mind, all to be the world's best crime fighter. If he's still dealing with rage, like any advocate of therapy, he could tell you that dealing with such inner demons is a lifelong process.
So, if you're looking for a lifestyle guru -- with tips on everything from training a sidekick, scaling a wall and romantic entanglements with a catty woman -- the Caped Crusader may be your hero. In "The Batman Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual," author Scott Beatty teaches all the bat basics -- concealing your secret identity, driving the Batmobile on two wheels, winning a whip fight and pithy remarks to make to your adversary when you're sinking in quicksand.
Just as Bruce Wayne studies under the best teachers in every field, Beatty says he assembled his handbook after consulting with FBI agents, detectives, forensic experts, stunt persons, gymnasts, martial artists, hypnotists, geologists and dozens of other professionals.
Christian Bale, the latest in a long line of big-screen Batmen, says that becoming the Dark Knight in the newly released "Batman Begins" required a physical and mental transformation that was nothing short of an extreme makeover.
"At first, I just couldn't take seriously Bruce Wayne in a bat suit," Bale says. "So I said, 'Look, he has to become just a different animal completely. That allows him to channel all of his rage and his years of dissatisfaction and everything."
The original comic book "Batman," written by Bob Kane in 1939, served as Bale's inspiration. "Kane's intention was for Batman to be a very dark and threatening character … I had a very rigorous training routine because Batman has to look like somebody who has just trained himself and honed his mental skills to such a degree that he's capable of doing things that he does."
Of course, even in Gotham City, Batman is a controversial figure, and any bat makeover should begin with a warning. Beatty's tongue-in-cheek handbook offers this disclaimer: "Attempting to exact vigilante-style justice is illegal, no matter what the situation. Even Batman himself, if he really existed, would be subject to prosecution, despite his close relationship with Commissioner Gordon."
The Evolution of Big-Screen Batman
Previous Batman movies skirted the Dark Knight's sometimes sadistic pleasure in punishing his enemies, a side of the character that was vividly revived in the graphic novels that became popular in the 1980s. TV's campy "Batman" series, starring Adam West, was a kid-friendly romp that gave stars of the day, like Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin, a chance to goof around as The Joker, Penguin and Riddler.
West's Batman -- featured in a 1966 film -- also gave a nod to the '60s-era swingers. This Caped Crusader danced the Batutsi, and his sidekick, Robin, played by Burt Ward, eventually wrote one of Hollywood's most notorious confessionals, blowing the lid of the bat cave in his 1995 memoir "Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights." He claimed that the show was a never-ending sex party, with "thousands" of women waiting outside the superheroes' trailer, and quoted West as shouting to the throng, "On your knees girls and stay in line."
When Warner Bros. revived "Batman" in 1989, they made the controversial call of casting Michael Keaton. The star of "Beetle Juice" and "Mr. Mom" was best known as a comic with regular-guy appeal, certainly not the macho type who would play to Batman's darker tendencies. Keaton's Batman brooded, but he was not unlike a typical contemporary man, the type who might be dismissed in a woman's magazine as "emotionally unavailable."
The next two bat dudes, Val Kilmer and George Clooney, played up Batman's sexual allure. Clooney's costume in 1997's "Batman & Robin," famously featured a costume with built-in nipples, and might have been more suited for a Chippendales dance club.
The "Batman" film franchise subsequently went into redevelopment. And now, like every former drug-abusing, sexually wanton, self-destructive Hollywood celebrity, our hero has come to terms with his past, and in "Batman Begins," he's trying to be true to his roots.
The Dark Knight's Geeky Reading List
If you're considering the Batman makeover, Beatty says it begins with an oath to uphold the law. Bruce Wayne always struggles with the need to make criminals suffer his pain. You must focus and direct your anger, because it will make you strong.
A good Batman reads Sun Tzu's "Art of War," Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," and Sir Author Conan Doyle's "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," while also mastering foreign languages, forensic accounting, physics and computer science. For a guy who likes to throw a punch, this guy has a geeky reading list.
Much of the book offers practical advice: In the chapter, "How to Slide Down a Bat-Pole," you're advised to grip the pole with both legs and both arms, relax your legs so that gravity will allow you to slide, and land on both feet with your soles flat. Other lessons include, "How to Build a Batcave," "How to Avoid Hypnotism" and "How to Maintain Your Alter Ego."
The tips on "How to Make a Quick Costume Change" include wearing part of your costume under your civilian clothes. You should carry gloves, boots, cape and cowl in an attaché case, keep other essentials in your car and get in the habit of using alternate exits at work to avoid suspicion. Any quick-change artist should also be armed with handy excuses to abruptly leave your office when danger calls. The book suggests, "I'll go get help!" and "I just developed a terrible migraine."
A good rule of thumb: The mild-mannered man or woman who ducks out of the room saying "I'm going to find Batman" -- or any superhero -- is likely to be that superhero.
Perhaps no choice can be more important than choosing a sidekick. Demand complete obedience from your "Robin," but be open to the fact that his motivations to fight crime might be different than yours. The first Robin, aka Dick Grayson, was from a circus family and took to chasing bad guys as he did balancing on a high wire. Robin No. 2, Jason Todd, was a troubled youth who came into Batman's life after trying to swipe the wheels of the batmobile.
Focus your sidekick's anger on his training, and the two of you must train as a unit. Ultimately, you must treat him like a partner, an equal. He is your last line of defense, the one who will carry on your work if the very worst should happen.
Of course, danger comes when a superhero develops emotional attachments. Bad guys are all but expected to look at your mini-me sidekick as a kidnapping target. The dangers are therefore double. And besides, as a Batman, you're never going to shake public allegations of vigilantism. Do you also want to be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor?
Relationship advice comes in the form of "How to Avoid a Poison Kiss." Like any lovelorn guy, Batman has burned through many relationships, and he's had his romantic horror stories. There was a fling with noted botanist Dr. Pamela Isley, aka Poison Ivy, who has chlorophyll instead of blood pumping through her veins.
A good superhero should treat any romantic overture with healthy skepticism. History has proven that even a guy with Superman's X-ray vision can't distinguish his would-be soulmate from a villainess. The book advises you to "avoid seduction and direct skin contact," "treat initial reactions with anti-allergents" and to seek medical help at the first sign of poisoning.
In "Batman Begins," Katie Holmes plays Bruce Wayne's childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes, who grows up to become an assistant district attorney who's more than a bit skeptical of Batman. The handbook points out that all of Wayne/Batman's lady loves fall into two camps.
There are those women who learn the Caped Crusader's secret identity and this ultimately ruins the relationship. Either she can't handle all the secrecy and danger, or Batman self-sabotages the romance with fear that he'll ultimately do these ladies harm.
Then there are those gals who appear with Wayne from time to time. They seem to be having fun, but never seem able to move the relationship to the next level.
OK, maybe Batman doesn't have all the answers, but that doesn't mean he can't help. Most of all, he's here to remind us that it's what you've got behind the cowl that counts.
But it never hurts to make sure that cowl is 100 percent Kevlar.