Graphic Arts, Homoeroticism

Hidden connections? Or, destroying Superman with a vibrator

“A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.” — Heraclitus of Ephesus

By Scott Ross

Somewhere in Gerald Jones’ pop history Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Jack Kirby admits that as an adolescent in the 1930s he masturbated to the homoerotic imagery in superhero comics. Since I’ve long suspected there is an unacknowledged connection between the hyper-masculine anatomy of the Marvel/DC universes and rabid fan-boy mentality — made explicit by Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay — Kirby’s statement (I don’t have Men of Tomorrow at hand, so I can’t quote him verbatim) did not surprise me, although it’s the only such confession by a heterosexual member of the comics fraternity I’ve encountered.

The young Jack Kirby with fellow comic mavens.

Alan Moore, an exception to every rule, frequently attacks homophobia. In addition, his The Mirror of Love consists of an epic poem on same-sex romance, and there are positive gay characterizations in his superb Top Ten series. Participating in a panel on homosexuality in comics (the first part of four segments is at http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&old=1&id=11165) Moore noted, “I was never tempted to sort of suggest a gay relationship between Batman and Robin. I mean, come on, that has been the subject of infantile jokes, many of which I laughed at when I was at school. It’s not really saying anything interesting or important. It’s an attempt to shock and outrage, and it’s very middle class.”

Of course, we’re living in a very different world from the one Stan Lee and his compatriots grew up in and, later, worked through. It was the era of that infamous charlatan Frederick Wertham (M.D.) whose specious, hysterical and largely fabricated attack on the comic book, Seduction of the Innocent, led to Congressional hearings and the formation of the Comics Code Authority, the “funny book” equivalent of the equally purblind and woebegone Motion Picture Production Code (and its hypocritical offshoot, the MPAA Ratings Board.) Aside from “openly gay” artists like Howard Cruse (does anyone ever say “openly straight”?) or the, essentially one-joke, re-imagining of The Rawhide Kid in 2003, and the gay-bashed Terry Berg in Green Lantern, there is the celebrated (and now “gay-married”) Kevin Keller of the Archie comics.

Since I’m not by any means a superhero expert — my comics of choice as a child were of the “funny animal” variety (Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Looney Toons characters. Terrytoons, the Harvey line and, later, those strange Charlton Comics) — I’m sure there are other, and better, examples. The point is that subterfuge no longer seems necessary, or desirable. Especially, perhaps, for a more knowing, ironic, audience, one that sees what Moore calls the “infantile” in anything remotely double-edged, intentional or not.

Which brings us to the nub, as it were: The many, and often jaw-dropping, period comic book howlers that increasingly show up on the ‘net. Even if we grant that changes in slang and other verbal nomenclature can alter the meaning of much — the very word “gay” had, to the wider culture, a much different meaning in the West even as recently as 40 years ago — the fact that these allegedly unintentional double entendres were perpetrated by adult men, who had to have known what they were doing, and writing, makes me question just how “innocent” these “boners” are.

No other comic book enjoys (if that’s the word) a greater reputation as a sexual eye-raiser than Batman. Panel from the story “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors.”

Bruce Wayne and his “ward” Dick Grayson. (What ABOUT them?)

Bruce and Dick at home.

Only a few seconds? Where’s the fun in that?

Just catching a few moon-rays. In the nude. Maybe Wertham was on to something after all.

The 1960s television incarnation of “Batman” included one of these suggestive images in every episode.

“What? Don’t ALL adoptive father-figures sleep in adjacent twin-beds with their wards?”

That Robin. Always going for the seat of the problem.

(Why, as they used to ask in Esquire’s Dubious Achievement photos, is this man laughing?)

Well, THAT’S a novel approach, I guess.

Moose clearly has some ideas about that.

Spanking is a recurrent theme in comics of the pre-modern age.

That has got to be SOME vibrator!

So, is Superman arriving… or leaving? And was he indeed faster than a speeding bullet? (The original dialogue balloons have been removed from this facsimile for maximum salaciousness… though not by me.)

How many inappropriate words and images can you cram into one cover, anyway? (And just when did Jughead have a son? And by whom?)

You can ask me, if you like.

A REALLY long time…

Does Robin know?

Jimmy Olsen takes a walk on the wild side.

Kid Flash and Superboy enjoy… well, modesty forbids. (And is it just me, or do those vertical lines recall a men’s room stall? It’s just me, huh?)

Which of his adventures is that rope a souvenir of?

I don’t know who Toro and Torch are, but that double-bed is a definitive improvement over Batman and Robin’s twins.

Cruising, Smallville style.

What the HELL???

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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