“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.
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.
Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross