There’s a new book out, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. According to anyone who’s ever wrote a Batman & Robin comic, this duo wasn’t gay, ambiguous as they might seem. Batman’s co-creators, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, both firmly answered the question as have writers like Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil and Alan Grant.
So, if a character isn’t written as gay, then the character isn’t gay, right?
We’ve all heard the gags, slurs, puns, and innuendo that have dogged Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s “partnership” for the last 75 years.
The gay subtext managed to “insert” itself (sorry) into the Dynamic Duo’s story from the very start. According to Slate,
“…the opening page of Robin’s debut story in the April 1940 issue of Detective Comics No. 38 featured an introductory scroll jammed with breathless declamatory copy about “THE SENSATIONAL CHARACTER FIND OF 1940… ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER!”
It began, “The Batman, that weird figure of the night, takes under his protecting mantle an ally in his relentless fight against crime …”
Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to begin.
But the page’s letterer, tasked with squeezing a hell of a lot of text onto said scroll, unwittingly shoved the words “an” and “ally” so closely together as to effectively elide the space between them.
Thus, the first thing readers ever learned about THE SENSATIONAL CHARACTER FIND OF 1940 was that he was someone whom Batman ‘took under his protecting mantle anally‘ …”
Thus, young Dick became Bruce Wayne’s ward, and many stories began by depicting the man and boy engaged together in some leisure-time pursuit. Slate tell us…
“Take 1942’s Batman No. 13, which saw Bruce and Dick Owl-and-Pussycatting it up in a rowboat on a pond in a Gotham City park. Just the two of them. At night.
Or the panel of World’s Finest No. 59 from 1952, in which naked Bruce and Dick lie next to one another, languidly bronzing their brawny physiques under matching sun lamps.
And of course there were the plots, many of which turned on Robin’s seething jealousy over Batman’s romantic interests and his paranoia that he might get replaced at Batman’s side by some rival crimefighter. In this era, elaborate ruses and misdirection were the twin engines of comic book storytelling, which meant many a comic began with Batman performatively rejecting Robin as his partner, an act that would send the tearful lad to his sumptuously appointed bedroom to (choke!) and (sob!) his guts out.”
Some people noticed and one person, in particular was Dr. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist convinced that comic books were directly responsible for the scourge of juvenile delinquency. This led to a nationwide anti-comics crusade. When it came to B&R, Wertham loved drawing the reader’s attention to Wayne Manor’s…
“…beautiful flowers in large vases” and the fact that Bruce was given to swanning about the estate in a dressing gown.
It is like a wish-dream, of two homosexuals living together.”
Then to give more fuel to the flames (sorry) Batman No. 84 hit newsstands in April 1954, Ten Nights of Fear begins with Bruce and Dick waking up in bed together.
“Morning. And it begins like any other routine morning in the lives of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson…
C’mon Dick! A cold shower, a big breakfast!”
Again, Slate tells us,
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.
Say what you want, but looking at some of these panels with 2016 eyes, it looks like Batman & Robin just might have invented the bro-job, not that there’s anything wrong with it.
The Ambiguously Gay Duo picked up on all of it and give it back to us HARD! What are you looking at? Watch below.