Joe Einsig SFIII Research Paper

Holy Homophobia, Batman?!: The Hyper-Masculinization of the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder’s Vanishing Act

“I think we may have killed the franchise.”-George Clooney on Batman & Robin1. Joel Schumacher’s portrayal of Batman in Batman & Robin is considered by many bat-fans and critics alike to be one of the more bizarre and ultimately failed portrayals of Batman. Some of its many cited faults include cheesy one-liners, the campy atmosphere, and the inclusion of blown up cod pieces and bat-nipples. Now, I’ll be blunt here: one would be very hard-pressed to make a positive argument for the quality of this film. However, I believe that Batman & Robin failed primarily not because of poor dialogue, an undeveloped plot, and a general lack of quality dramatic tension, but because of the initial faults listed above. The bat-fans and general public of 1997 were never going to accept a Batman that had bat-nipples or a film that was as campy as the Adam West TV show, especially one that was perceived to contain several sexual innuendos developed by an openly homosexual filmmaker. But why? In a sense, the purpose of this paper is to answer that question, namely Why was this campy, comic depiction of Batman harshly rejected in 1997 when it was accepted during the Silver Age of Comics and for the Adam West run? Or to generalize the question, How has the depiction of Batman transformed over time, and what roles did homophobia and “social norms” play in that transformation? To answer these


Daniel. “Batman and Robin” 2005.

In 1954.2 What many people don’t know about the original Batman was the dark. Daniels. In fact. Hopefully. 28. using actual images and scenarios from the comics to address how the caped crusader has evolved into a muscular. I want to chronicle Robin’s increasingly decreasing roles and importance in the comics and other media outlets throughout time. all this will allow us to see a little more clearly why the dynamic duo are who they are today. . Wertham argued that “crime comics. 31. so they decided to cut off Batman’s usage of lethal weapons shortly afterwards. as these types of actions and depictions in comics would be blasted by a particular psychiatrist’s book fifteen years later. Firstly. Batman was created by Bob Kane (art) and Bill Finger (writing). and then dive into the world of Batman. pg. published with the intention of making known to society the negative influence of comic books on children as he saw it. After that.3 The editors of Detective Comics decided that these kind of depictions could be portrayed as bad examples for children. This would prove to be considerable foresight. I want to address the hyper-masculinization of Batman himself. murder-filled tones of the stories and his usage of guns. dark. psychiatrist Fredric Wertham had his book.questions. Seduction of the Innocent.” which included 2 3 Les Daniels. he even shot and killed a vampiric villain known as the Monk with silver bullets in an early issue. and made his first appearance in May of 1939 in Detective Comics #27 . I want to take a look at the effects of Fredric Wertham’s The Seduction of the Innocent on the comic book industry. and come to some conclusions as to why that occurred. Batman: The Complete History. dividing my time there looking at two different aspects of this transformation. pg. and tough figure that oozes prototypical manliness.

.superhero comics as well as gangster/murder comics. 7 Stan Lee and other comic book writers attributed the huge dips in comic books’ popularity directly to Wertham’s work in the documentary Starz Inside: Comic Books Unbound. the code didn’t do much to prevent the imminent fall out from Wertham’s claims. pg vii. Seal of Approval. pg. stating: “The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies. which essentially meant the exclusion of explicit gore and blood.. “Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoeroticism which pervades the adventures of the mature ‘Batman’ and his young friend ‘Robin’. His piercing criticisms of Batman and other comics affected the comic book industry on several levels. of the nature of which they may be unconscious.4 In terms of Batman and Robin. 6 Amy Kiste Niberg. And those parents who weren’t considering this possibility before were certainly made aware of it now. a sort of self censorship seal that appeared on all comics that adhered to the rules laid down. and foul language6.. Wertham had some particular criticism for their relationship. overt sexual references. as comic book sales dropped drastically after the publication of Seduction. drugs.”5 Wertham came right out and stated what some conservative parents may have been thinking upon viewing the comics. 293 Found on pages 189-190. However. comic book publishers rushed to set up the Comics Code Authority (CCA).7 The introduction of this code put the creators and writers of Batman somewhere 4 5 Seduction of the Innocent. In terms of superhero comics. he made claims that Superman was an un-American fascist and that Wonder Woman was a lesbian. and sex which corrupted the youth.” and. Soon after the publishing of Seduction. contained images of violence.

So what were they to do? Well. His words are caring and considerate.between a rock and a hard place. all point to the hinted homoeroticism that Werther was addressing. The hyper-masculinizing of Batman did not occur all at once. but he is still nowhere near as large as he’ll be in later reincarnations. they couldn’t continue to produce comics that had perceived traces of homoeroticism. his cowl and cape are that silver age blue. and Robin was slowly deemphasized and for a time fazed out.the image of Batman was progressively hypermasculinized to make him appear tougher and grittier. titled “The Rainbow Batman. 241. His hand placement and posture is mother or lover-like. they did precisely what I stated earlier. From a masculinity standpoint. this kind of color . they couldn’t return to the violent. #2. But to start. The next portion of this paper will be dedicated to taking a glance at the aspects of this transformation. On the other. doesn’t look all that menacing. Let’s look at the next image. I’d like to provide a base for us to work from. along with Robin’s undressing and perceived excitedness. This image is the cover of Detective Comics Vol. for a man dressed up like a bat.” It was released in March of 1957. It was a gradual and not necessarily concerted transformation. No. murderous tales that accompanied Batman at his inception. has the Comic Code of Approval. Lastly. depending on your interpretation. and as you can see in the upper right hand corner. lest they be blasted by Wertham and parents again. On the one hand. Consider image #1 (refer to rear of packet for images): Batman’s positioning and choice & delivery of words. But also note that Batman. Batman’s musculature has increased slightly from the last picture. which isn’t nearly as menacing as the black coloring we see later on.

Batman appears much more muscular and ripped. I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. The Many Lives of the Batman. let’s take a look instead at Batman.”8 Neil and Adams are also responsible for one of Batman’s more complex villains. because shortly after the Adam West TV show’s run. Note that his outfit is actually torn.coded wardrobe seems odd and somewhat effeminate compared to the modern representation of Batman. would the scene ever even cross the writers’ minds as anything more than a laughable joke to scare the producers? As the legend of Batman ages and grows. Batman #232 “Daughter of the Demon” . Also. For example. two men came on board with the intentions of returning to a darker Batman. Talia. indirectly showing off his stature. Neil said he wanted to “simply take it back to where it started. This comic was published in 1968. 18. Ra’s Al Ghul. who is introduced in this comic (image #4) in June 1971. his size and musculature also seems to increase. and interestingly enough. pg.9 But for as great a villain as Ra’s is. Writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams wanted to go back to a style similar to the Batman of the 1940’s. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after. Again. in image #3. It’s important to note the date. Batman’s musculature is becoming more definitive and superhuman in comparison to the last image. over a decade after Werther’s remarks and after the Adam West era. he cover image from The Brave and the Bold #79 (“Batman and Deadman”). O’Neil. Would a scene that involved Batman choosing between his pink and teal batsuits ever make the final cut of a Nolan film? More importantly. We should also note that Batman appears to be in a much more treacherous position than he was in the previous two images. note that his cowl and cape. while still maintaing 8 9 Pearson.

which comes off as more menacing than the blue in previous suits.their blue coloring. who was actually engaged. When we look at the Caped Crusader’s possible love interest. Batman has had love interests before. In Year One. and is considered the definitive origin story for the Dark Knight. Batman has had a history of romancing sexualized and often dangerous women. let’s look at two images. using his mask as a way of creating distance and not allowing himself to fall too hard for one woman. 10 Published in 1986. Starting in the 1970s and right up to today. Batman is displayed as an incredibly strongwilled vigilante who takes on numerous bullet wounds and constant hounding from the police in his attempt to start cleaning up the streets of Gotham. Year One is also iconic for depicting Batman in his grey and black suit. if not the finest work in the Batman collection. No study of Batman would be complete without looking at what is considered by many to be one of. are adapting more shades of black to make him appear darker and more intimidating. The graphic novel in question is Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One10. . this graphic novel is very gritty and proudly shows the dark and tough side of Bruce/Batman. but none that have been drawn as seductively as this portrayal of Talia. Those who are well versed in their history know that this is quite different from the original Batman. This distancing and refusal to fall head over heels for a particular woman plays right into this more masculinized Batman. who largely steered clear of romantic relationships. For an example of this gritty and menacing Batman. and the Batman of the 1950s and 1960s. we see a very curvaceous and sexualized Talia. since the concepts of bachelorhood and nonattachment are crucial archetypes in the stereotypical definition of strong masculinity. Compared to some previous works.

willing to choke a victim into submission. He also beats Superman to a bloody pulp. the white-haired Bat pounds on the seemingly invincible Superman. The Dark Knight is over seventy years old in this piece. Even though he’s a senior citizen and admits to being affected by his age. and also shows that Batman isn’t afraid to hurt a criminal in order to get what he wants. perhaps more than any either. His ability to perform increasingly violent acts fits in with his hyper-masculinized identity. we should look at his other definitive work. . can be seen as some sort of super- 11 Published in 1985. This image (#6) is designed to cast Batman in a very menacing (and low-lit) light. those who don’t view Year One as the greatest Batman story largely do so because they believe that title belongs to this piece. super-strong mutants for the most part single-handedly.Image #5 shows off the new coloring of the suit. Batman has been retired for several decades before recognizing that Gotham once again needs him. To understand how integral this story is to the Batman legend. and lets up so that he only sends a message and doesn’t actually maim the man of steel. consider that for the most part. It illustrates how this version of Batman has become more than a vigilante and a herohe is now a newfound terror that strikes fear into the criminals of Gotham. He is confrontational and direct. Yes. This version of Batman. The Dark Knight Returns11. In this work. this ripped. and look at how he is depicted(images #7) and #8)! The Batman we see in TDKR is easily the thickest and most muscular Batman depiction ever for its time. While discussing Frank Miller’s impact on Batman. gargantuan version of Batman tackles an entire army of young.

and wanting to please. he has everything that a man’s man is supposed to want: money. In fact. like Frank Miller’s. which are qualities we’ve been conditioned to desire in our culture. Jezebel. . exotic. and Batman has her. Image #9 is from the Grant Morrison graphic novel Batman R. he’s come to represent all of the things that men are supposed to desire in this masculinity driven culture we live in.I. This Batman is so incredibly different than the one who was deciding what color batsuit to wear 51 years ago. He’s much more than a comic book detective/hero. At times.12 Note how Batman blends with his cape into one all-black mass of imposing darkness. rich. mystery. (Image #10) This Batman. This Batman (image #11) also satisfies present day society’s fascination with sex in terms of masculinity. power. is essentially a caricature of what men are supposed to desire in women. Essentially. He represents a sort of primal masculinity that is associated with power and dominance. he is savage and primal. The muscles in his arms are still distinguishable so that we know that he is the perfect physical specimen that we have come to now expect him to be. His demeanor is dark. 12 Published in 2008. she’s everything that a “masculine man” is supposed to desire. but I’d like to jump ahead to a more recent comic for some final examples that show just how much the image of Batman has changed. and women. but seemingly under control. Batman’s dangerous lover pictured here. isn’t afraid to break the bones of a few criminals to stop crime. his expression is tense.P.human fountain of youth and masculinity for its readers to confide in. She’s slim yet voluptuous. muscles. The number of examples of hyper-masculinization that could be found in the 1980s and 1990s is numerous.

He first appeared in issue #38. Robin was introduced in 1940 as a means to attract younger readers to the Detective Comics series. has been significantly reduced and was for a time largely fazed out of the Batman world. the characters Batgirl and Batwoman were introduced in 1956 in order to alleviate the constant one-to-one relationship shared by Batman and Robin14. When Robin did appear. This de-centralizing of Robin proved to have a snowballing effect. as Robin became less and less prevalent compared to his Golden Age days. as he now had to share sidekick duties with two other characters. but it wasn’t the only one. The role of Robin. as a way to combat these claims of possible homoeroticism.The hyper-masculinization of Batman may have been the biggest consequence to come out of Werther’s criticisms and general homophobia towards Batman and Robin’s relationship.13 However. Wertham’s words affected Robin in several ways. he wasn’t always a he. the Robin 13 14 Daniels. For a large part of the 1970s and 1980s. this meant less time and importance in the comics. and the plan worked-including Robin essentially doubled the sales for Detective Comics shortly after being introduced. For Robin. First. . pg 37. In The Dark Knight Returns. Batman was off teaming up with other superheroes in team-up series like The Brave and the Bold. who was once constantly at Batman’s side and always ready to help. the speculation about his possibly homoerotic relationship with Batman would severely hurt the sales of the comics after Wertham’s criticism. Daniels. Robin appeared in only a limited role in comics. The fact that these characters were also female obviously also played into the attempt to “straighten out” Batman.

If we return to our original question regarding the failure of Batman & Robin. As for Robin. he wasn’t included until Batman Forever (Schumacher 1995). Fredric Wertham criticized Detective Comics for .mantle is taken up by a young teenage girl. It was 58 years ago when Dr. The gradual hypermasculinization of Batman over the last 50-plus years simply wouldn’t allow fans of Batman to see and believe the campy version that Schumacher put out a half-century too late. I highly doubt he’ll make an appearance in The Dark Knight Rises. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. we can see how the changes in what we expect from the concept of Batman essentially buried the film’s chances of garnering a positive response. He’s there. but it was very limited as the show focused much more exclusively on Batman. and I believe that Christopher Nolan understood what fans wanted by not including him. Robin didn’t fare very well onscreen either. as well as Batman Begins (Nolan 2005) and The Dark Knight (Nolan 2008). Jason Todd was so disliked by fans that he was actually voted to be killed off in 1988 in Batman: A Death In the Family. It is yet to be seen whether Robin will appear in The Dark Knight Rises. but many reports and speculation feel that he won’t be involved in the final installment of the trilogy. When the male Robin did appear in comics. He also didn’t make the cut for the one animated Batman film that saw a theatrical release. which means that he didn’t appear in Batman (Burton 1989) and Batman Returns (Burton 1992). it’s possible that fans could accept him as Batman’s sidekick. but he doesn’t have to be. As for live action movies. he wasn’t always met with positive fanfare. He did have a role in the TV show Batman:TAS. it shouldn’t be included. and sometimes if something isn’t needed. but he isn’t integral to our understanding of Batman as he may have once been.

Whether or not you favor these changes. in shaping the image and culture of Batman that we know today.and the attached feelings of homophobia from parents. you cannot deny the importance of Wertham’s criticism .the apparent homoerotic nature of Batman and Robin. . These criticisms led to vast changes in writing philosophy that resulted in the hyper-masculinization of Batman and the reduced importance of Robin.