Homosexuality in the Batman franchise
Homosexual interpretations have been part of the academic study of the Batman franchise at least since psychiatrist Fredric Wertham asserted in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent that "Batman stories are psychologically homosexual". Wertham, as well as parodies, fans, and other independent parties, have described Batman and his sidekick Robin (Dick Grayson) as homosexual, possibly in a relationship with each other. DC Comics has never indicated Batman or any of his male allies to be gay, but several characters in the Modern Age Batman comic books are expressly gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Golden and Silver Age Batman
The early Golden Age Batman stories were dark and violent, but during the late 1940s and the early 1950s they changed to a softer, friendlier and more exotic style, that was considered "campy". This style awoke contemporary and later associations with homosexual culture.
In Seduction of the Innocent, Fredric Wertham claimed, "The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies, of the nature of which they may be unconscious" and "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." This book was issued in the context of the "lavender scare" where authorities regarded homosexuality as a security risk.
Andy Medhurst wrote in his 1991 essay Batman, Deviance, and Camp that Batman is interesting to gay audiences because "he was one of the first fictional characters to be attacked on the grounds of his presumed homosexuality," "the 1960s TV series remains a touchstone of camp," and "[he] merits analysis as a notably successful construction of masculinity."
Views within the industry
The Comics Bulletin website posed the question "Is Batman Gay?" to their staff and various comic book professionals. Writer Alan Grant has stated, "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." Writer Devin Grayson has commented, "It depends who you ask, doesn't it? Since you're asking me, I'll say no, I don't think he is… I certainly understand the gay readings, though." While Frank Miller has described the relationship between Batman and the Joker as a "homophobic nightmare," he views the character as sublimating his sexual urges into crime fighting, concluding, "He'd be much healthier if he were gay." Grant Morrison, writer of both Batman and Batman Incorporated said in an interview with Playboy that "Gayness is built into Batman. I’m not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay...Obviously as a fictional character he's intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay." Morrison later said that Playboy misquoted him and explained in an interview with the New Statesman that the quote was "the opposite of what [he had] said." While one "could easily dial up the black-leather-fetishistic-night-dwelling aspects of Batman, and the masculinity of Batman, and get a pretty good gay Batman, [...] ultimately he's not gay because he has no sex life".
Burt Ward, who portrayed Robin in the 1960s television show, has also remarked upon this interpretation in his autobiography Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights; he writes that the relationship could be interpreted as a sexual one, with the show's double entendres and lavish camp also possibly offering ambiguous interpretation.
Joel Schumacher's films
The 1995 feature film Batman Forever, and especially its 1997 sequel Batman & Robin, both helmed by the openly gay director Joel Schumacher, attracted attention for their many homo-erotic innuendos. Many observers accused Schumacher of adding homosexual innuendo in the storyline.
James Berardinelli questioned the "random amount of rubber nipples and camera angle close-ups of the Dynamic Duo's butts and Bat-crotches." Similar to Batman Forever, this primarily included the decision to add nipples and enlarged codpieces to Batman and Robin suits. Schumacher stated, "I had no idea that putting nipples on the Batsuit and Robin suit were going to spark international headlines. The bodies of the suits come from ancient Greek statues, which display perfect bodies. They are anatomically correct."
Chris O'Donnell, who portrayed Robin, felt "it wasn't so much the nipples that bothered me. It was the codpiece. The press obviously played it up and made it a big deal, especially with Joel directing. I didn't think twice about the controversy, but going back and looking and seeing some of the pictures, it was very unusual."
George Clooney joked, "Joel Schumacher told me we never made another Batman film because Batman was gay." Clooney himself has spoken dismissively of the film, saying "I think we might have killed the franchise," and called it "a waste of money."
In 2006, Clooney said in an interview with Barbara Walters that in Batman & Robin he played Batman as gay. "I was in a rubber suit and I had rubber nipples. I could have played Batman straight, but I made him gay." Walters then asked, "George, is Batman gay?" To which he responded, "No, but I made him gay."
Interpretations in later years; parody and fandom
Homosexual interpretations of Batman and Robin have attracted even more attention during the Modern Age of Comic Books, as sexual and LGBT themes became more common and accepted in mainstream comics.
At the Worldcon costume ball in 1962, a number of fans appeared as the Justice Society of America, including Fred Patten and Rick Norwood as The Flash, Dick Lupoff as Batman, and Harlan Ellison as Robin. Lupoff and Ellison struck a homoerotic pose for the cameras.
Writer Warren Ellis addressed the issue of Batman's sexuality obliquely in his comic book The Authority from Image Comics where he portrayed the character of the Midnighter, a clear Batman pastiche, as openly gay and engaged in a long term relationship with the Superman analogue Apollo.
Another notable example occurred in 2000, when DC Comics refused to allow permission for the reprinting of four panels (from Batman #79, 92, 105 and 139) to illustrate Christopher York's paper All in the Family: Homophobia and Batman Comics in the 1950s.
The idea of the "gay" Batman has also been revitalized around 2005, as a montage of panels from "The Joker's Comedy of Errors" in Batman #66, issued in 1951, began to circulate as a joke. The episode used the word "boner" several times; in the original comic, it meant "blunder," but in present-day vernacular the word is primarily the slang term for an erection. A similar case of an unintended gay interpretation was the Rainbow Batman from 1957.
Another incident happened in the summer of 2005, when painter Mark Chamberlain displayed a number of watercolors depicting both Batman and Robin in suggestive and sexually explicit poses. DC threatened both artist and the Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts gallery with legal action if they did not cease selling the works and demanded all remaining art, as well as any profits derived from them.
Will Brooker argues in Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon, that a queer reading of Batman is a valid interpretation, and that homosexual readers would naturally find themselves drawn to the lifestyle depicted within, whether the character of Bruce Wayne himself is explicitly homosexual or not. He also identifies a homophobic element to the vigour with which mainstream fandom rejects the possibility of a homosexual reading of the character. Writing for The Guardian, Brooker expanded on this theme, stating that Batman:
can never be tied down to any one identity. Batman has been a ridiculous boy-scout, a fearsome vigilante, a protective father, a loner, a clown. Batman is a myth and a mosaic, an icon who catches the light at different angles at different times, and takes multiple forms. But gayness – from high camp to intense homoeroticism – is an important aspect of that icon...The constant need to insist on Batman's heterosexuality always, unwittingly, reminds us of the campy incarnations as it tries to repress them; and the harder the push towards "darkness," the more the "rainbow Batman" sneaks through the gaps.
LGBT characters in the Batman franchise
Several characters, mostly women, have been portrayed as lesbian or bisexual in the recent history of the franchise.
In 2006, DC drew widespread media attention by announcing a new, lesbian incarnation of the well-known character Batwoman, even while openly lesbian characters such as Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya, police captain Maggie Sawyer, and Catwoman's protégée (and, for a time, successor as Catwoman) Holly Robinson, already existed in the Batman franchise.
In response to the 2009 New York Comic Con, reporter Alison Flood called Batwoman DC Comics' highest profile gay superhero. Batwoman appeared in a new Justice League comic book written by James Robinson and took over as the lead character in Detective Comics starting issue #854.
Greg Rucka said that DC's editors had no problem with his writing Montoya or Batwoman as lesbian, but the media controversy over Batwoman's sexuality "nullified any positive effect Batwoman might have had on the industry" and forced the character into minor roles during major crossover storylines. This changed in September 2011, when, as part of a company wide relaunch of their superhero titles, DC launched a Batwoman monthly title starring Kate Kane.
Ironically, the original Batwoman, Katherine Kane, was created in the 1950s, along with original Bat-girl Bette Kane, as a romantic interest for Batman (and Bat-girl as such for Robin), to deter the notion that Batman and Robin were both gay and in a relationship. Additionally, the Batwoman characters, sharing a last name, have been written to be related.
The Joker's sidekick Harley Quinn was also revealed to be bisexual by the DC Comics official Twitter in June 2015 as she doesn't consider gender when initiating relationships. She is in a relationship "without monogamy" with longtime partner in crime, supervillain Poison Ivy.
Other characters have been portrayed as bisexual in Batman media adaptations. Gotham's Barbara Kean and Tabitha Galavan are also confirmed to be bisexual. Barbara had had a relationship with Renee Montoya in the past, and she has also been in a love triangle including Tabitha.
Gay male characters
Gay male characters in Batman comics include Harper Row's brother Cullen, and the gay superhero Midnighter. Midnighter started off as an openly gay and ultraviolent analogue of Batman in comics published by Wildstorm Comics, but since The New 52 has been part of the DC Universe and has been a regular supporting character of Dick Grayson in Grayson and Nightwing.
- LGBT themes in comics
- LGBT themes in American mainstream comics
- Slash fiction
- The Ambiguously Gay Duo
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