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February 15, 2013

Revealed: Batman Wasn't Gay After All

In 1954 a German-American psychiatrist named Dr. Frederick Wertham published a book called The Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that comic books were causing children to become homosexual, promiscuous, delinquent and criminal, and also preoccupied by the occult.

Among his more famous theses was the claim that Batman and his young ward Robin lived out the perfect homosexual fantasy together at Wayne Manor, a hawk and his chicken, with no women around and lots of spelunking in secret caves.*

The book caused a Moral Panic -- what would America be without its frequent stupid moral panics? -- and resulted in the near-death of the comic book industry. The industry had to create a "voluntary" comic code to forestall Congress from legislating one; out the window were a hundred things useful to storytelling, even words like "terror" and even concepts like the undead.

Marvel retired its long running Dracula and monster-themed comics due to this*; I think EC comics -- the Tales from the Crypt guys -- wound up getting really hurt. William Gaines was the one who suggested the "voluntary" comic code within the industry; but then he got more than he bargained for.

Gaines called a meeting of his fellow publishers and suggested that the comic book industry gather to fight outside censorship and help repair the industry's damaged reputation. They formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and its Comics Code Authority. The CCA code expanded on the ACMP's restrictions. Unlike its predecessor, the CCA code was rigorously enforced, with all comics requiring code approval prior to their publication. This not being what Gaines intended, he refused to join the association.[13] Among the Code's new rules were that no comic book title could use the words "horror" or "terror" or "weird" on its cover. When distributors refused to handle many of his comics, Gaines ended publication of his three horror and the two SuspenStory titles on September 14, 1954.

Since comic books titled precisely with the words "horror," "terror," and "weird" were Gaines' stock in trade, he really lost out there. His company wouldn't have survived, except for... Mad magazine. Fortunately, "mad" (insane) was still permitted.

The new news is this: While Wertham's various speculations and interpretations have always been ridiculous (and ridiculed), it now turns out he faked his research, too.

He claimed he'd documented case-studies of Superman (a "fascist," in Wertham's estimation) and Batman (a gay fascist) causing all sorts of bad behavior in children.

But he lied. Yet another guy who wanted to control (and also wanted notoriety, status, and money) and wasn't at all scrupulous about his methods.

Although there have been persistent concerns about the clinical evidence Wertham used as the basis for Seduction, his sources were made widely available only in 2010. This paper documents specific examples of how Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.


For example, in “Seduction,” Wertham links “Batman” comic books to the case of a 13-year-old boy on probation and receiving counseling for sexual abuse of another boy: “Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman: ‘Sometimes I read them over and over again. … It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy.’ ”

What Tilley found in Wertham’s notes, however, was that the boy preferred “Superman,” “Crime Does Not Pay” and “war comics” over “Batman,” and that he had previously been sexually assaulted by the other boy – all information that Wertham left out.

Wertham was right about one thing -- Wonder Woman's creator was preoccupied with sexual bondage, and frequently depicted Wonder Woman (or other women) in bondage because he really got his kicks from it. The creator later admitted it.

He was a weird cat. On other hand, he lived with two women, polyamorously, so he got some things right.

He also invented one component of the modern polygraph. That's why his fantasy heroine has that stupid lariat of truth, which is like the dumbest super power in all of comics (Aquaman laughs at it). This lariat of truth just happens to wrap around your torso just like the chest-expansion measuring cord in a polygraph.

And is also good for bondage. It's really hot when Wonder Woman wraps that lariat around another woman -- say, a busty one, in a black leather coat -- and compels the Bad Girl to tell her darkest secrets.

Write what you love, love what you write.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Loophole: Eddie Willers writes:

Mad didn't have to conform to the Comics Code. It was printed on bigger paper than most comic books, and was black and white, so it was considered a magazine rather than a comic book.

Hm! Maybe they defined that way because they were skull-f***ing Gaines' other magazines, I mean, his other comics.

* The "Aunt Harriet" character was introduced, IIRC, precisely to address this claim. But I don't know how much a frumpy 60-year-old matron actually Heterosexes Up Wayne Manor. Having two unrelated men of vastly different ages with Secret Lives and a very Secret Pasttime having to employ Funny Misdirections and Evasions to Hide Their Shame from an older woman with more conventional ideas about life (including the idea gentlemen should stop galavanting around and get married to proper girls)... pretty sure this makes things more gay, not less.

I mean, you're one George Peppard short of Truman Capote romp, aren't you?

Thankfully, they dropped this character when the Gay Coast was clear.

** Marvel has a bunch of stupid characters with the basic template: He has vampire powers, but he's not a vampire, he's a mutant with vampirish powers.

Or: She has the power of witchcraft, but it's not really witchcraft and she's not really a witch; she's a mutant, with the mutant power to control witchcraft. (What?)

I think these characters were created (or retconned, post-creation) to backdoor monsters and magic back into the books, but with the shiny new Perfectly Scientific Explanation That's Not Occult In Any Way explanation attached.

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posted by Ace at 02:38 PM

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