Welcome to the five hundred and seventy-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven't been able to update it in a while). This week, did Fredric Wertham really claim that Batman and Robin were gay? Did Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross try to take over Iron Man before doing Marvels together? And was Captain America already set to relaunch as part of Heroes Reborn before Mark Waid and Ron Garney's run even began?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There's a little "next" button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Fredric Wertham said that Batman and Robin were gay in the Seduction of the Innocent.
STATUS: I'm Going With False
Recently, I attended a conversation between Glen Weldon and Jon Hogan at the Astoria Bookshop about Glen's excellent new book, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. During the talk, Glen brought up a fascinating point that I had never actually considered before and it had to do with Fredric Wertham, the Seduction of the Innocent and Batman being "gay."
Obviously, we've all seen the various "Oh man, Batman and Robin are gay!" memes...
But a pretty pervasive part of our common comic book popular culture collective is the idea that Fredric Wertham called Batman and Robin "gay" in the Seduction of the Innocent. However, Glen noted that's not actually what Wertham says, and it occurred to me that I didn't know, exactly, what Wertham ACTUALLY said about Batman, Robin and homosexuality. I had just assumed that he said that they were gay. So I actually looked up the book and here are the less than four pages in the books dedicated to the topic...
As Weldon noted, and as you can see above, what Wertham actually talks about in the book is how Batman and Robin comics were "psychologically" gay, which is to say that there were so many homoerotic elements that it would make a young child question their own sexuality. Obviously that's ludicrous, but Weldon does note that it is fair enough that yes, while certainly the writers and artists on the Batman books at the time were not intending to create gay imagery, they did end up doing so, but only TO gay people. For instance, if you were a young gay kid, there was something for you to see in the books, but it was not something that would, like, "turn" kids gay (obviously). As Weldon mentioned in a Slate article adapted from his then-upcoming book:
Remember: Queer readers didn’t see any vestige of themselves represented in the mass media of this era, let alone its comic books. And when queer audiences don’t see ourselves in a given work, we look deeper, parsing every exchange for the faintest hint of something we recognize. This is why, as a visual medium filled with silent cues like body language and background detail, superhero comics have proven a particularly fertile vector for gay readings over the years. Images can assert layers of unspoken meanings that mere words can never conjure. That panel of a be-toweled Bruce and Dick lounging together in their solarium, for example, would not carry the potent homoerotic charge it does, were the same scene simply described in boring ol’ prose.
And that's totally fair. It's like the discussion we had the other week about The Killing Joke. Authorial intent doesn't matter (outside of discussions about authorial intent, of course), read into it what you like. Grant Morrison certainly has read into the gay imagery of Batman:
Gayness is built into Batman. Batman is VERY, very gay. Obviously as a fictional character he’s intended to be heterosexual, but the whole basis of the concept is utterly gay. I think that’s why people like it. All these women fancy him and they all wear fetish clothes and jump around rooftops to get him. He doesn’t care—he’s more interested in hanging out with [Alfred] and [Robin].
So Wertham's point was not that Batman and Robin WERE gay, but that they represented an image that would inspire kids to pursue being gay. Of course, even there, he just flat out made shit up to prove his point. The awesome Dr. Carol Tilly looked into Wertham's many BS pieces of "science" and one of the major made-up points was regarding Batman. From the NY Times:
Elsewhere in the book Wertham argues that the superheroes Batman and Robin represent “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together,” and cited a young gay man who says that he put himself “in the position of Robin” and “did want to have relations with Batman.”
But in Wertham’s original notes, Dr. Tilley writes, these quotations actually come from two young men, ages 16 and 17, who were in a sexual relationship with each other, and who told Wertham they were more likely to fantasize about heroes like Tarzan or the Sub-Mariner, rather than Batman and Robin.
"Yeah, we like the scantily clad male superheroes." "Really? Are you sure you don't prefer Batman and Robin? Come on, guys, give me something here!"
You can obviously argue that it isn't an important enough distinction to say that Wertham was saying that the comics were filled with gay imagery instead of them being actually gay, but I personally think that the whole "Wertham said Batman and Robin were gay!" stuff is SO pervasive that it is worth a clarification. It was a surprise to me, at least.
And hey, it gives us a chance to talk about a cool new book by Glen Weldon, so there's that!
Thanks to Glen Weldon and Carol Tilly for the information!
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Check out some entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:
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On the next page, were Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross almost the creative team on IRON MAN before they did Marvels together?