BERLIN -- Comic book characters can lead unconventional lives. Very few of them are married, or have kids, or a normal job. If minors live with them – unusual, but take Donald Duck as an example – they are “nephews,” and we get no clue as to who their parents are or why they live with their uncle.
If the characters live communally, then it is usually men only and the set-up is not without parallels to married life: that’s the way it is for Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie, the well-known German comic figures Fix and Foxi, or for that matter, Batman and Robin.
In the real world, arrangements like that are usually cause for plenty of commentary. Which is why it’s not exactly a huge surprise that an official Batman Inc. author has now come out and just said it: Batman is gay.
“Gayness is built into Batman,” Grant Morrison, a Scot who has been writing for the series since 2006, told a Playboy interviewer. “I’m not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay. There’s just no denying it.”
Morrison, whose fans consider him along with Alan Moore to be the greatest living comics author, is known for laying it on a bit thick. This may just be him being provocative for the sake of it. One of his first series, in the 1980s, was called “The New Adventures of Hitler." The hero of his best-known work, "The Invisibles" – a series about voodoo, time travel and the Marquis de Sade – is a bald, cynical, invincible macho-man who looks exactly like his creator.
When bad sales threatened to put an end to “The Invisibles,” Morrison organized a world-wide “wankathon” – a mass masturbation session at a set time (on Thanksgiving Day) to cast a magic spell that would keep his creation going. It worked. Morrison’s outrageous plan caused so much media buzz that sales soared.
Still: the fact remains that what Morrison is saying is nothing that any assiduous Batman reader older than, say, 12, hasn’t already figured out. “Obviously, as a fictional character, [Batman] is intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay,” the writer said. “I think that’s why people like it. All these women fancy him and they all wear fetish clothes and jump around roof tops to get him. He doesn’t care – he’s more interested in hanging out with the old guy and the kid.”
Morrison already alluded to Batman’s hidden homosexuality in his 1986 story “Arkham Asylum,” in which the super hero goes to a lunatic asylum to talk to the Joker. The latter grabs Batman’s buttocks and asks: “How’s the Boy Wonder? Started shaving yet?”
When, in the mid-1990s, movie director Joel Schumacher made two movies with Val Kilmer and George Clooney as Batman and Chris O’Donnell as Robin, his costume designers dressed the hero and his sidekick in suits that played up nipples, biceps and abs. Some considered the costume choice a camp and not so subtle hint about what was really going on with the characters.
A hidden agenda?
The homoerotic nature of super hero comics has been the stuff of discussion since the 1950s, when German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham made the point that these guys not only flew around in tight-fitting outfits that enhanced their pumped-up muscles, but usually lived in an unexplained relationship with young male “sidekicks.”
Wertham found Batman and Robin particularly gay. In his book “The Seduction of the Innocent,” published in 1954, the psychiatrist also criticized comics for what he considered to be exaggerated violence and for encouraging heterosexual masturbation – he saw the loop of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso as a vagina symbol.
Wertham was the Joseph McCarthy of comics. Where the conservative U.S. senator saw secret communists lurking, the psychiatrist saw all-pervasive albeit hidden perversions. His message resonated with Americans in the paranoid Cold War climate. Publishers reacted by creating the Comic Codes in 1954, a form of industry self-regulation to avoid state censorship measures.
In 2001, American writer Michael Chabon used the mood Wertham created in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” The plot centers on two young Jews -- one of whom has just fled Nazi-occupied Prague leaving his family behind -- who go on to become comics authors. One of them is gay, and he becomes obsessed with the idea that the characters he creates may be giving expression to his suppressed inclinations.
Alan Moore’s classic, “Watchmen,” also suggests hidden homosexuality on the part of early super heroes: a member of a Watchmen team in the 1950s turns out to be gay, and commits suicide when his true sexual orientation comes to light.
No danger of that with Batman and Robin. They may not be officially out, but we know the score – and it’s not exactly upsetting anybody.
Read the original story in German
Photo - Tony Bowden