What if Bruce Wayne wrote a manual describing how he became Batman? That’s the premise behind Brandon Snider’s The Dark Knight Manual from Insight Editions, a gorgeous coffee table book that’s filled to the brim with removable extras.

The making-of book genre is a tiny niche of your local bookstore. The Dark Knight Manual goes for an even narrower shelf space, because it’s written as though it’s in-world. In other words, it comes from the perspective of existing inside Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, by Batman himself. In reality, this handsome, over-sized tome is the work of Brandon T. Snider, a comic book aficionado and Batman expert from New York.

Nolan’s obsession with bringing Batman into the real world has long been a source of tremendous fascination to me. It’s not enough to just put a guy in a Batsuit and have him drive a hotrod and take on bad guys. Nolan has to have a believable story reason for each of those things. The suit, for example, serves dual purposes: it protects the wearer like kevlar while the bat motif makes the wearer a symbol for people to rally around. The Dark Knight Manual explains each of the filmmakers’ creative decisions — from Bruce Wayne’s point-of-view, of course — giving the reader a much better appreciation for the lengths that Nolan and his people went to, to ensure credibility for their movies.

In addition to the usual behind-the-scenes sketches, artwork, diagrams, and of course photos, The Dark Knight Manual also comes with a huge selection of removable objects. This is by far my favorite thing about the book, as you’ll find a wealth of movie mementos scattered and stuck inside the pages. These supplemental pieces include case files on key individuals like Harvey Dent and the Joker (true to the film, there’s no details on his true identity), pull-out blueprints of the Batcave, adhesive Batman logo and Gotham City stickers, a handful of Joker’s playing cards (each one a different style and brand), transparent overlays that show the multiple layers that make up the Batsuit, a key card for Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences Division, loads of handwritten sticky notes — mostly from Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox character (though there are a few humorous ones from Alfred, as well) — and more.

One of the nicest extras is located at the very back of the book. There, you’ll find a large envelope that holds a huge map of Gotham City. This map is fascinatingly detailed, showing how this version of Gotham is split into three sections by various bodies of water. If you really scour it, you’ll spot some key locations from the films like Arkham Asylum, Wayne Tower, and Gotham Arena. (I haven’t found Wayne Manor yet, but I’m sure it must be there.) I recommend approaching these book extras as a scavenger hunt, because there are quite a few secrets hidden in these pages.

(Hint: there’s a little something tucked away behind the Gotham City map at the back of the book. Oh, and keep an eye out for a QR code. There’s more, but that’s all you’re getting out of me!)

Reading the book itself is just as illuminating as all of the movie memorabilia. You’ll learn about each and every one of Batman’s “wonderful toys,” including how they work and even how he carries them when they’re not in use. There are extensive schematics and details about Batman’s fleet of vehicles, including the Tumbler, the Batpod, and “The Bat,” the new aerial vehicle from the third movie.

As a creative junkie, I devoured this stuff. I loved reading the background details on the underground “Bat bunker” seen in the second film, which are never divulged in the movie. Where did that structure come from? How did Bruce Wayne come to the decision to put his temporary base of operations there? The book tells you. There are also cool details about the improved Batcave seen in the third film, which only have me drooling to see this location on the big screen. And I was fascinated to learn about how the Batsuit’s gloves have built-in sensors that let Batman control the suit with one hand, and remote control the Tumbler with the other. Come on — that’s just cool!

Every major tool, weapon, vehicle, and character from the three films is touched upon, though Dark Knight Rises materials are a bit limited. I find that perfectly understandable; I wouldn’t want the final movie spoiled by too much behind-the-scenes info, and I’m certain Christopher Nolan wouldn’t, either. (The one exception to this is that there are some strong clues given regarding Selina Kyle’s personal agenda, so don’t read her profile if you don’t want to know what she could be up to.)

The price tag may seem a bit steep, at a MSRP of $40. But I can’t even imagine the complexities involved in trying to mass-produce a volume of this kind, with so many extra bits and pieces inserted. Each extra is made of a different kind of paper (or even plastic), with different thicknesses and textures, different sizes and printing methods… And they all had to be attached or placed in folders or envelopes… It sounds like a logistical nightmare that’s impossible to assemble any way but by hand. With all of the love and attention to detail that was poured into this book — and as for those extra items, they’re made of the very best materials — it’s a wonder to me The Dark Knight Manual doesn’t cost more.

It’s a gorgeous tome, and one of the finest behind-the-scenes books I’ve ever held and read. For Batman fans, it’s easily the best, must-have collectible this side of owning your own Tumbler.

ForeverGeek score: 5 stars out of 5.

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