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This week’s question comes from Mike Hardy. Mike’s question is based on a subject that was first raised in “Seduction of the Innocents” by Dr. Fredrick Wertham in the 50s (or rather by his ‘patients’) and has become hearsay since then. It is a question that has been known in the past to produce quite angry answers from some people…but surely we’re beyond that now? The question is:
“ Is Batman gay? Do you agree with people imposing their own ‘readings’ on established characters?”
Mike Collins: “Whether he’s gay or not is irrelevant to what he does. A more interesting question would be: Is Batman religious? Is he a Holy Terror? The whole ‘criminals are a cowardly and SUPERSTITIOUS lot’ suggests a faith based moral code. You could see him as Old Testament — he’s judgement personified– but I lean towards the ‘Batman is a Catholic’ idea- hey, even in the old loopy 70s ‘Super-Sons’ stories in Brave & Bold Bob Haney had the imagined son of Bats going on how his dad believed in Original Sin…
There you go, I’m using ‘Super-Sons’ to justify my argument…!”
Mark Buckingham: “Ask Bob Kane. I personally had never considered Batman to be gay despite the obvious camping up of the 60s TV show etc. Whilst I appreciate that Batman is an iconic character who is so ingrained in our cultural heritage that he can withstand frequent reinterpretation, I cannot help but feel it’s increasingly lazy on the part of both creators and publishers to do shocking things with or to established characters for instant notoriety and a brief sales rise. I want to read New Comics with New Characters. We will not open up comics to a wider audience simply by slapping a different sexual preference, gender, religion or ethnic background on an existing hero.”
Devin Grayson: “To answer your second question first, do I agree with people imposing their own “readings” on establish FICTIONAL characters? Of course. That’s the whole point of reading, to bring your imagination and experience to the text, and to come away feeling inspired or entertained or like you’ve made a connection with the universal (because as I keep insisting, fiction is about truth, not reality).
Batman is a great example. He’s a legend, and because of his stature and the amount of time he’s existed, there has been a lot of information disseminated about him through out popular culture. People who’ve never been in a comicbook store can still often tell you, after some thought, that Batman has a young ward and a butler named Alfred and spends his days as some rich guy. Many even know that his parents died and that he’s “just a guy, though, really, right? I mean, not like Superman.” The character is cut from a very specific archetypal cloth and there is a small set of “facts” from which he takes his shape. Batman’s sexuality, however, is not among them.
So what does it mean for someone to then take this character, flesh those other details out, and make him their own? It means he’s effective and accessible and still playing a vital part in our societal stories. I will argue all night to defend my beliefs about the character, and as anyone who has ever been in such an argument with me can attest, I hold those beliefs passionately. But I also understand that they’re only my beliefs — they are, essentially, things I’ve made up about him in order to relate to his story, and I fully support other people in doing the same. It is, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “all good.”
So now, specifically, is he gay? Well, I guess it depends who you ask, doesn’t it? Since you’re asking me, I’ll say no, I don’t think he is. I’m pretty attached to the idea of him having the impossible romance with Selina, and I also think he’s someone who lives pretty far outside sexual self-expression as a general rule. I certainly understand the gay readings, though. There’s lots there to play with and I think that’s fun and cool. And, of course, had you asked me about _Nightwing’s_ sexuality, well, you might have gotten a very different answer…. ;-)”
Jock: “Naahhh, what do *you* think?”
Rick Shea: “I don’t think Batman is gay. Sometimes people find their own version of a character or story in some throwaways line, when they’re certain it means something more. Sure, there’s the young ward Robin jokes, but if anything, Batman is more asexual than homosexual. Up until recently, that poor bastard got no play for ages, male or female, but he’s busy defending his city. If assuming Batman is gay makes the comic more enjoyable for you, go for it. What about Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy? They do seem to be really close and are always hugging each other…”
Alan Grant: “Is Batman gay?
In my 40 years as a Batman reader, that question never occurred to me. Then, during my time as writer on the Batman titles, I was interviewed for an American college rag. The first question was “Is Batman gay?”
Well, the Batman I wrote for 13 years isn’t gay. Denny O’Neil’s Batman, Marv Wolfman’s Batman, everybody’s Batman all the way back to Bob Kane…none of them wrote him as a gay character. Only Joel Schumacher might have had an opposing view.
The college interviewer insisted. As proof he cited Robin, and his close relationship with Batman (millionaire/ward). But you can say anything you like if you take it out of context. If I recall, Robin was added to the Batman strip to lighten the tone, and make it palatable to a younger audience; prior to Robin, there were a lot of dark and murderous Batman tales. And whereas today it might be considered suspicious–in fact it’s probably against the law–for a rich bachelor to “adopt” a teenager, in the 1930s/40s it was obviously an acceptable story device.
One of the hero characteristics most admired by comic readers is consistency. So although in theory someone could do a story featuring Batman coming out as gay, I don’t think it would be well-accepted by regular readers.
That said, of course, a good story transcends all!
Do you agree with people imposing their own readings on established characters?
What I don’t understand is why people want to impose themselves on established characters. Why don’t they create a new character espousing the extra characteristics they’d like the established character to have? Why don’t they do a spoof version?
The partial answer might be that they’re incapable of creating an iconic character; much easier to leech onto someone else’s creation. Unless they’re handled properly, over a period of time by a writer and artist who care, claims like “Batman is gay” are just one-shot jokes, a gag before moving on to Jim Nick-Nick Davison’s next one-liner. They have little relevance, and no endurance.”
Bill Rosemann: “While fictional characters are the creation of their authors, once the work reaches public hands, the audience is free to interpret as they see fit. And while authors may disagree with certain interpretations, ultimately art–like beauty–is in the eye of the beholder.”
Lee Dawson: “If you want him to be! Really, I think that whatever makes the comic or story or whatever more enjoyable for you then it’s all fair game. Is that what the creators intended? No, I don’t think so. I agree with Michael Chabon’s assessment in Kavalier & Clay, that the boy sidekick trend was created and appealed to a generation of kids whose fathers had gone off to war. Batman became a substitute father for them and they identified with Robin in that sense. The downside of people imposing their own readings is of course possible censorship based on personal biases. Such is the case with all art forms.”
Terry Moore: “Is Batman gay? Actually, I know the answer to that, but I’m not allowed to say. The government commissioned a report on the matter and everybody who worked on it is now dead. So, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions. Let me just say this, Batman is no more gay than Wonder Woman is into bondage or the Flash is into red latex. Batman did not have inappropriate dealings with any of the seemingly endless stream of little fellas he kept around like a Bangkok colonialist and that should settle the matter. Now we need to put this mass right-wing conspiracy behind us because he has to get back to work for the American people. Now the Joker on the other hand…”
Peter David: “It doesn’t matter if one “agrees” with people imposing their own readings or not. It is simply the nature of the beast that audiences view works of fiction through the prism of their own experiences and personalities. They have to. It’s necessary for the suspension of disbelief. These are, after all, made-up characters. The things that happen to them, their emotions and experiences–they’re all fabricated. They have no real world impact at all. The *only* way readers can relate to them is if the characters make some sort of personal connection. In a way, readers are really reading about themselves.
So if you think Batman’s gay, well…”
Craig Lemon: “Is Batman gay?
No, of course not. When in “Batman” form, he is dedicated to the job in hand, romance doesn’t enter into the equation. Maybe the correct question should be “Is Bruce Wayne gay?” whereupon you could come up with a whole line of speculation relating to his continual use and abuse of women, his fondness for young boys, and his weird obsession with older men (Alfred, Jim Gordon)…all of which could be put together and give one of two readings:
(a) he’s gay; (b) he has a secret identity he’s trying to hide.
Er, I’ll get me coat.
As to readers putting their own interpretations onto events, of course this has to happen – unless every single occurrence in a comic is explained in full detail, some degree of reader interpretation happens in every comic…it’s like with exams when you’re at school, “read this piece by Charles Dickens and interpret whether Little Dorrit has the hots for Mr. Z or not”. The other side of it is that no creator has worked on Batman as long as some readers have been reading it, so doesn’t this mean that these readers have more insight into the character than some johnny-come-lately
Shawna Ervin-Gore: “I wouldn’t say Batman is gay. He’s always seemed rather dour to me.
Should people impose their own “readings” on characters? Of course they should. That’s a big part of why people sometimes choose to read instead of watching television. Reading is an interpretive activity.
It’s active, not passive.
That said, I think people’s individual “readings” of certain characters should be respected as such, and similarly, they should be held by said reader as just that — their own personal reading. I don’t necessarily know if someone could convince me that their reading of Batman is more accurate than my own, but if you think Batman’s gay, then I’m sure he is … when YOU’RE reading his stories.”
Ray Tate (guest panelist, long-time SBC reviewer and even longer-time Bat-fan): First of all if you want to believe Batman’s gay, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no force on earth that can make you accept or deny the interpretation of others. Ultimately, once something has been put out to the public, it is in some ways no longer in the hands of the creator. The creation is subject to interpretation, and some feel that this is the entire worth of writing. The difficulty lies in finding evidence that supports the idea of Batman being gay. No such evidence exists.
You can dismiss the many women that have passed through Batman’s life as simply beards to protect his secret, but this will not strengthen the argument. The idea of Batman being gay stems solely from Bruce Wayne sharing his life with Robin. The problem is that Dick Grayson was Bruce Wayne’s ward–which a lot of people interpreted as being a euphemism for boy-toy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The designation of guardians and wards still exists today. You may have heard the term ward of the state which essentially means that the child is placed in a foster home or under the protectorate of that state’s child services department which will likely situate the child temporarily in a foster family.
Dick Grayson, orphaned when his parents were murdered by the machinations of Boss Zucco, was later remanded into the custody of Bruce Wayne because he was a citizen of good standing and wealthy beyond wealthy. He therefore could provide for the boy. His unmarried status prevented adoption, but his being unmarried does not pertain to his being gay. Indeed heterosexual unmarried men and women are often denied the privilege to adopt children. It’s important to point out that no mention of the legal petition can be found in the original tale, but Dick’s training as Robin takes months, and there is enough of an interim for the actual episode to occur.
According to Michael Fleischer’s Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Vol 1.: Batman, the idea of Bruce Wayne being Dick Grayson’s guardian is upheld as early as 1944. Dick Grayson’s conniving living relative intent solely on extorting a million dollars from Bruce Wayne challenges his guardianship of the boy. When the facts of the case become known, the judge returns custody of Dick Grayson to Bruce Wayne.
You may argue that the whole idea of a ward/guardian relationship was merely a smokescreen to disguise the homosexual relationship between Batman and Robin, but the problem with this notion is that it would not be a homosexual relationship. It would be a criminal relationship.
Robin was a kid when Batman became his guardian. Batman is an adult. To suggest Batman had carnal relations with a kid makes him a child molester: a criminal of the most heinous kind. Batman cannot be a criminal if he has declared war on crime. Although the current incarnation of Batman expresses little if any human emotions, although he is often considered a vigilante, no writer with a modicum of sense can possibly suggest that Batman was attracted to the boy who he has stated was like his own son.
It has also been suggested that perhaps the two had unrequited feelings for each other that went beyond father and son, but such hypotheses are largely based upon Freudian psychology which has been successfully challenged and unseated as the bastion of psychological theory. Some have argued that Bruce’s feelings for Dick change as Dick grows older, but such suggestions are ridiculous. A gay man’s feelings for his son would not change an iota. To a father, his son remains his son no matter how old his son happens to be.
In truth the idea of Batman and Robin being gay really evolved from the Batman television show. Few of the viewers had any idea that Batman adopted Robin when he was but a boy. Burt Ward was portraying a college-age teen. These viewers were unlikely to have read a single comic book that was published before the era of the television series, and they certainly were unlikely to have been exposed to the comic strip also showing Robin as a boy. So, based upon the television series which never once suggested a homosexual relationship between the two some viewers who later took up postmodern theory in college came to their own conclusion and connected the handsome but surprisingly unwed and unattached Bruce Wayne to the semi-legal Dick Grayson. Oddly enough no such interpretations were given to Batman’s and Robin’s contemporaries Green Hornet and Kato, two adult males living in the same house.
Since the Batman television show became synonymous with camp, and flamboyantly gay behavior later became described as campy, the association perpetuated. The idea was later reinforced by Joel Schumacher in “Batman Forever.” The often mentioned nipples on the suits eroticized their leather costumes in the inane film. Robin does not become Batman’s ward, and Batman meets him when he’s a young, legally consenting adult. Chris O’Donnell’s haircut is butch-styled, and Chase Meridian, the alleged female love interest, is marginalized throughout the film. Further guilty associations can be found in Rob Schmiegel’s hilarious sendup of Batman and Robin the Ambiguously Gay Duo.
The fact of the matter is that social forces outside the realm of comic books are usually responsible for influencing the interpretation of comic book characters. Batman has always been thought of, in this context, as Robin’s lover. Until recently in the super-hero parody “The Authority,” the idea of his being Superman’s lover which would have been morally acceptable has never been breached. Ironically, Jimmy Olsen has also never been considered Superman’s lover. Because of cartoons, radio, television and movies, Lois Lane inevitably is thought of as Superman’s love interest. “Smallville” may change this notion.
None of Batman’s other male colleagues in the super-hero community have ever been considered as possible lovers. A Batman/Aquaman pairing has never been raised despite the fact that these two heroes often teamed up the most in “Brave and Bold.” That’s mainly because if you asked the question to a sampling of passerbys on the street, their responses would likely be remarkably similar: “Who’s Aquaman?”
Green Lantern and Green Arrow neither were ever held up as candidates, and nobody has ever thought that perhaps these heroes may have been bisexual and in a tryst relationship with Black Canary. The reason can be found in the reply to the Aquaman question. The Flash is another character who could have been ethically Batman’s lover, yet never is this union theorized by the proponents of a gay Batman. Always, Batman’s intended lover is Robin, and Robin is the one hero that Batman, even if gay, would never touch.
Alan Donald: “Personally I don’t believe Batman or Bruce Wayne to be gay. My own reading of the character is that Bruce Wayne is a dark and tragic figure and that his emotions are on many levels those of a child and as such sex in any form isn’t really part of his life. Bruce Wayne may have had many female lovers whilst he was touring the world but since the start of his mission I doubt there have been that many, they aren’t important as they won’t help him in his quest for justice (that and the fact it’s probably becoming increasingly difficult to explain away the growing mass of scar tissue that makes up his body. Sure he’s got Kevlar now but there’s still plenty of gunshot and knife wounds along with the deformities from broken bones, the scars from acid and fire burns etc etc to try and justify on the body of a useless, waster of a playboy). Bruce isn’t very good at articulating his emotions nor truly understanding them. He’s on a lonely personal journey yet he keeps on accumulating close allies. He doesn’t know how to show gratitude nor concern properly yet those close to him would die to protect him in an instant. Perhaps there is sexual tension present but Bruce is unaware of it, this is a man who doesn’t even know how to tell his now adopted son that he’s proud of him.
I like the idea of the ‘father and son’ reading of Batman and the presentation of his allies as a family of sorts but even this has it’s limitations because of Bruce’s mental state. I don’t see Bruce as mad but as driven, single minded and damaged. He is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable and intelligent people in the DCU yet he is still on one level little Brucie Wayne skipping along pretending to be Zorro and little Brucie Wayne cowering on the ground covered in his parents blood.
All of that said I see nothing wrong with people interpreting Batman as being gay as long as it is for the right reasons. It is not appropriate to simply say ‘he hangs round with little boys in a dark cave and has vigorous physical workouts with them’. That is not a gay reading at all but a reading of Batman as a child molester; it is also extremely homophobic as it harks back to the old myth that all gay men are child abusers. It is also not right to make snide asides about Batman, dismissing him with a simple ‘Batman, he’s a poof, right?’ Again this is pure homophobia. If you want to read Batman as gay, then go for it I say but there’s no reason for it to detract from the mythos in fact it might even enhance it for some people.
When this question was posed in the past there was a tendency amongst fans to react angrily and ‘defend’ Batman from the slur. I’d like to think that we’re beyond this now a days, do we still live in a world where homosexuality is automatically labelled as wrong? My editor pointed out to me a little while after the question had been sent out that some people might see this as a controversial subject. I have to say that didn’t even occur to me for a second, which leads to my answer for the second part of the question. I think anyone should be able to read fictional characters in what ever way personally suits them. We all do it anyway, in books we all see characters faces differently, hear their voices differently. In comics we fill in the gaps between the panels (and indeed issues) in our own way, it is the nature of fiction. The problem is when people try to impose their views upon others.
That Batman can have so many different reading applied to him by so many different people is a testament to the fantastic work that has been carried out by so many great creators over the years. It is they who wove a history so rich and full that it survives and indeed is enhanced by reader interpretation.”
Summary: On the surface most of the Panel don’t believe that Batman is gay but many of them believe that people should be allowed to make their own minds up on the subject and make their own ‘readings’. A few of the Panel did think that personal ‘readings’ had been taken too far and that if new creators wish to impose a ‘reading’ on a character that is very different from that held by previous creators they should invent a new character that fits the bill rather than going out for shock value. One could actually say that this has already happened for the ‘gay Batman’ reading with the Authority’s Midnighter who is in his most basic form a gay version of Batman.
All in all as varied and interesting bunch of answers as one would expect from such an eclectic Panel.
This Week’s Panel: “Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Peter David (Captain Marvel, Supergirl), Craig Lemon (Review editor at Silver Bullet Comicbooks (and second in command as it were of the whole site)), Lee Dawson (Publicist, Dark Horse), Bill Rosemann (Publicist, Crossgen), Alan Grant (Batman, Judge Anderson), Mike Collins (Star Trek, 2000AD), Mark Buckingham (Fables), Jock (2000AD, The Losers), , Devin Grayson (Nightwing), Alan Donald (columnist, SBC), Shawna Ervin-Gore (editor, Dark Horse) and Rick Shea (top retailer).
Next week’s question: “ Will comicbooks ever reach the same levels of respectability in the UK/US that they have in such countries as France or Japan? If so how do you think we’ll get there?”
Big Shout: The Panel need your questions so email them into me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous Questions: Check out the message board where I’ve put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) to inspire you and let you know what to avoid.
SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity