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Paging Doctor Wertham!

You know, the surprise is not that someone wanted the government to crack down on comic books, but that someone didn’t do it sooner

So there I am, reading The Batman Chronicles volume 8 (the series collects every Batman stories “in the exact order of publication” and if you’re a Batman fan, you really should get these, because they’re awesome), and I get to Batman #15 (February/March 1943). The lead story features Catwoman – whose name, I should point out, is Elva Barr. She’s working at a beauty salon (for a good reason, trust me) and one day she meets Bruce Wayne, who was judging a beauty contest she won (on the second page of the story, because Bendis didn’t write this). Elva immediately falls in love with Bruce, because who can resist that lantern-jawed hunk???? Later, Catwoman tells Batman that if only she could hook up with Bruce Wayne, she’d go straight. So Bruce cooks up a diabolical plan where he romances Elva Barr to make her go straight, even though his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Linda Page, is still hanging around. Dick Grayson doesn’t quite get what Bruce is doing, leading to this panel:

Oh, Robin - Bruce only wants you for your sweet pre-teen ass!

I know it’s out of context, but come on – that’s funny stuff! “Oh, Bruce, what about those times when we would pull a train with Linda? And then, when she went home, we’d get to the really good stuff? WHAT ABOUT THAT, BRUCE?!?!?!?!?!”

Elva finds out that Bruce is playing her, and she goes on a crime spree. Elva herself has quit her job at the salon, so “the world’s greatest detective” is flummoxed over how to find her (he says as much to Dick). Dick, never one to take his man getting stolen lying down, decides to go undercover himself, and one night, he gets into costume because he has a lead. Bruce asks him, “Where do you think you’re going, youngster?” and Dick replies, “Oh, just after the Catwoman! Er … I suppose you can come along, too … although you might be too old to understand this sort of thing!” You see what he did there, turning the tables on Bruce? Well, that leads to this utterly bizarre panel:

Little-known fact: This is NAMBLA's logo!

A grown man spanking a young boy (what do we think Robin’s age is here? 12?) while said boy is dressed in a spandex outfit. All I can say to Jack Schiff and Bob Kane, who are the credited writer and artist: Fetish much?

I know Batman and Robin gay jokes are played out, but I don’t care! I’m just stunned it took Fredric Wertham another decade to decide comics were warping kids’ minds. I guess the government had more important things to worry about in 1943!

39 Comments

Greg, that was an awesome post.

The fact that both speech bubbles seem to be coming from Bruces mouth makes the final panel even more bizarre.

I wonder which modern comics will look weird or ridiculous in 60 years.

And THAT’S why I always say that Dennys O’Neil and Neal Adams really created Batman!!! Before them Batman was something else.

Adding to the weirdness of that last panel – what’s up with the plane flying by outside the window? Is it Gotham’s vice squad’s aerial division checking up on rich known pedophiles?

I think even out of context that first panel isn’t that bad. I think there are much better examples of homoerotic Batman and Robin out of context panels.

The second panel though, that one is better, even though taken in context of the era it was in it still isn’t that bad. This was an era where even teachers at certain schools were allowed to dole out corporal punishment to students.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_corporal_punishment#United_States

So I’m sure a legal guardian doling out corporal punishment raised even less eyebrows back then.

What, you’ve never been spanked by a wealthy playboy while wearing a cape, green briefs and Peter Pan booties?

Is that just me?

Wesley: You mean TODAY, or just in general?

That is truly bizarre. For so many reasons.

At least it wasn’t part of the “Papa spank!” series that seemed to run rampant in vintage DC…

…but yeah, it’s just as bad. “Speak up or you’ll get a spanking!” seems a bit late if you’ve already got him over your knee, Bruce.

Fabio: I like your idea about Batman’s creation.

creepy, out-of-context early batman panels should be a regular feature…hysterical.

that panel showed how crazy and different the early run of batman was not to mention how lax judging from the panel dc editorial was back then for now a days dc tried to publish something like that int he current bat books they would have some one screaming. batman is abusive to robin.

Part of the reason that last panel looks so weird to us now is that we don’t hear too much about parents spanking children these days (“Time Outs” are far more common). And Golden Age Batman & Robin was definitely 50% parent-child and 50% big brother-little brother.

Roman: Ain`t that right? I remember when (a long time ago, about 25 years) I started to read the old batman stories from the 40`s and 50`s and i thought: WTF?!? I mean, I was a Marvel fanboy and just had finished reading TDKR and I was “Oh man! Batman is so cool! I have to read his early stuff!”. What a disappointment…

I will not stand for any hate speech against the Zebra Batman.

It was a different time, and things seen in today’s context weren’t seen in that context all those years ago.

For instance, gay was a benign word back then. Today, it makes a specific reference. Even the Flintstone’s theme song mentions having a gay, old time.

Different times, different connotations. And different contexts, too.

Johnny the Boy: “creepy, out-of-context early batman panels should be a regular feature…hysterical.”

Oh, man you got my vote!

You know, now that DC is releasing these fairly regularly, maybe this will have to become a regular feature …

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 10, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I love that the old DC books, despite only really getting funny when your looking back on them (ie. they weren’t meant to be funny), all have their own sense of humour.
Old Superman strips have him acting like a dick, Batman one’s have him being really creepy, and totally into Dick.

I vote for this being a regular feature!

Classic.

Is there any explanation or acknowledgement in the story of the plane in the background? Or is that a painting hanging on the wall behind them, maybe?

Corey: Nope. It’s completely ignored, so I have no idea if it’s a window or a painting. It’s just … there.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 10, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Either Robin has a malformed bum, or Bruce is pulling pants and open…

Well, now we know that Frank Miller’s All Star Batman isn’t completely different from the source material…

@Greg Burgas – Even better!

I love how Bruce is all dressed up in a suit for the spanking…better than a smoking jacket I suppose…

Just a quick question. How many of you guys have read Seduction of the Innocent?

Just a quick question. How many of you guys have read Seduction of the Innocent?

I’ve tried to find it at a decent price, but for obvious reasons it hasn’t been in print very much since the 1970s, and, ironically, the local library doesn’t have it.

I was able to read portions of it when in college but it was almost never available at the college library. Predictably, a lot of his arguments, and the logic and evidence he used to back them up, were highly dubious.

I’ve never read Seduction of the Innocent in its entirety, but I will say the parts I have read were nowhere near as bad as detractors made it out to be. In fact I’d say many of Wertham’s arguments were plausible and made sense. The witch hunt that followed was still excessive though.

Let me add though that from everything I read, Wertham himself did not want the witch hunt that ensued. He simply wanted a ratings system and regulation in place on more unsavory violent, sexist and racist comics, not the near destruction of the industry.

Our library had a copy of SOTI, so I was able to read the book 3 times. Some things, I have to say, Wertham hit on the money…other things were simply ludicrous!

To me what was most interesting about Wertham is that a lot of what I saw him condemning is not all that different than the stuff many PC prigs on this site complain about. He was very against sexism toward women and objectifying them, he was horrified by the rampant racial stereotyping, especially of Asians like in the WWII “Jap” stories and blacks in the vein of Eisner’s Ebony White. He was very progressive and liberal. These are things people still complain about today both when reading the golden age works or when critiquing modern comic books. Wertham was obviously a force in getting rid of many of those unsavory elements. This is why it shocks me that so many fans aren’t able to take a more balanced look at his legacy. He definitely had his bad parts, but I think the case against him is too one-sided and gets tainted by “winner’s bias,” meaning the pro-comics crowd dominant in pop culture today got to write the man’s historical and cultural legacy.

Also, for superhero fans the guy was basically responsible for the resurgence of superheroes as a dominant genre.

I read Seduction of the Innocent back in the 80s. As I recall, Wertham had good arguments, but also demonstrated a penchent for taking things out of context.

He also didn’t consider the era of the comics he provided examples from. For example, he demonized comics printed in the 40s and 50s, or set during WWII that insulted the Japanese and Germans. Even as a Japanese, I found that odd. America was at war, of course the “Japs” were evil.

As T mentions, Wertham was very progressive and liberal. Unfortunately, he expected the static printed word to also progress and liberate as the time and culture changed.

Theno

Jherek Carnelian

November 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm

In the British weekly comics I grew up with, characters such as Dennis the Menace (no relation to your US version) Beryl the Peril, Roger the Dodger, (see a pattern here?) the Bash St, Kids etc regularly ended their escapades with a spanking either from a parent or just as often from some other authority figure like a policeman, teacher or park keeper. It’s no wonder S&M is known as the English perversion.

I think what’s weird about the Batman panel above is that the relationship between the two males (without even considering the homoerotic undertones) is able to slip so easily from serious crime fighting to larky punishment games. We 21st century post-modern sophisticates cannot be blamed for wondering what exactly is the intended message in this medium. By the way I think the picture on the wall is an early Lichtenstein (from his blown up comic strip period) obviously Wayne has already developed the ‘camp’ Pop Art sensibilities he would become known for later in his career. How ironic!

[...] Paging Doctor Wertham! (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) [...]

Usually I would agree with you but I also agree with you – the gay jokes are overdone. There’s a less perverted explanation for those panels, and Robin wasn’t exactly 12 any way. The relationship is clearly Platonic, didn’t brats get spanked in the old days or something? Frank Miller’s portrayal of the two in ALL-STAR explains a lot about the spanking a lot more clearly – it’s not that Bruce was a pedophile, but that he was prone to beat the shit out of his sidekicks for crossing lines!

As for the “what about us” hyperbole (classic) I’m willing to bet my bowler hat that you really have taken it out of context. Come on! Wertham and all these homophobic interpretations clearly say more about the READER. I remember reading the same thing stuff as a kid and never caught sight of em until a certain grown up decided to POINT FINGERS AND MAKE IT CLEAR. No, I’d rather let Wertham sustain his dignity by calling such an itnerpretation reader oriented – like a rorshach test if you may – that says more about the reader than about the author. In these post-modern times, who can’t agree with that? There’s no way any reader can fully establish what the author was trying to say — chances are even the author him/herself has a loose grip on his/her unconscious mind any way, defining a ‘true meaning of a text’ – it’s IMPOSSIBLE. It’s BEYOND REASON. In the end, it’s just plain silly. I’m willing to bet the same hat that there are many other ways to read these classics without adhering to homophobia!

What happened to Bruces other leg???

To me there is nothing wrong with it back then people didn’t really think to much about it. It shows that Bruce felt dick was his son. And that was all. I have nothing against gays at all (actually I think it’s okay to be gay) but back then very few people knew about a guy liking a guy or visa versa. Dick could be 10 or 12 (I’m not sure if people even heard of pedophiles back then) But spanking teens and children(though adult spanking to me was more questionable to me that sounds like a fetish) was normal it even happened in schools back then. This is my opinion

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