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The Great Comic Book Detectives – Hidden Profanity in Batman #1?

Typically, this column is for people to send in old comics that they only vaguely remember and we’ll hunt down the comic that they’re talking about, but we’ve decided to mix it up a bit this week.

Today, we are looking at a suggestion a reader made over what might be a hidden piece of profanity in Batman #1. We’ll present what we have and leave it to you folks to weigh in one what you think the deal is (and perhaps some of you have more information that you could lend).

Read on to see what we’re talking about!

The idea came from Cosmic Comics in Las Vegas.

We’re dealing with reprints for the two issues at question here, but I believe both reprints are faithful to the originals. If I’m wrong, please let me know.

Batman #1 opened with a quick refresher on who Batman is and how he came to be…

detectives3-18-4

This, of course, was an edited reprint of the opening pages of Detective Comics #33…

detectives3-18-3

Okay, check out the following panel from Detective Comics #33…

detectives3-18-2

Now look at the version in Batman #1…

detectives3-18-1

Someone has added a building and very slightly re-arranged the dots on the buildings. The question is, why? Was this an attempt to slyly sneak in profanity into the comic? It sure looks like you could see the dots spelling out F, U, C and then not really a K, but who knows what was originally there? In addition, reader kdu2814 rightly notes that it looks like perhaps the original panel was just cropped out for Detective Comics #33 and then re-inserted for Batman #1. So perhaps any hidden words were originally in the panel for Detective #33.

The original piece had Sheldon Moldoff on backgrounds. The rest of Batman #1 had Jerry Robinson on backgrounds, but who knows if he was the one who worked on editing Moldoff’s piece. It could have been anyone in National Comics’ offices. So we can’t even say whether it was Jerry Robinson who added the extra building and re-arranged the dots or not.

It is worth noting, by the way, that later reprints eliminate the dots entirely.

In any event, since I am unsure about the whole thing myself, I decided that I couldn’t run this in Comic Book Legends Revealed as I don’t think I can honestly say that there WAS the intent to sneak profanity into the background and I can’t say that there WASN’T the intent. So instead, we thought it would be interesting to open it up to you folks.

What do YOU think happened with this panel in Detective Comics #33/Batman #1?

39 Comments

In the first panel you only see the top of ‘Joe Chill’s’ shoulder on the right, in the second example you see a downward slope, his back or arm. It looks like the first panel has a small bit cropped from the right hand side, cutting out the building.

That or the second example has been expanded a tiny bit. Either way if there was a cuss word, just adding more dots would have been a quicker and easier fix.

I was talking about the close ups. So first panel = Detective 33, second = Batman 1.

In fact, look at the left side of the “Leave her alone, you..” panels, Thomas Wayne’s elbow moves closer to the panel boarder in Batman 1. The panels have moved a little to the left.

Great observations!

I remember looking up modern uses of the word “fuck” in school, (many years ago) and I don’t recall it being in wide use again until the 60s. I’m not saying it wasn’t around, (it’s a very old word) but how widely known was it?

It was definitely well known (and well used) by 1941. WHEN it precisely came into vogue is a fine question. I’m going to say…hmm…World War I, maybe? The problem, of course, is that it was never used in most of the popular writings that survive from that era (newspapers, etc.), so it is hard to know. It was only in the last fifty years or so that it became SO prolific that it became acceptable to the point where we could use it without it seeming too shocking. DH Lawrence used it in the late 1920s and it was considered desperately shocking. Now, obviously not so much.

According to Wikipedia, the words FUBAR and SNAFU are acronyms coined by GIs in WW2, which stand for “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up” and “Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.” The term “fucked up” is a pretty modern use of the word (i.e. nothing to do with fornication), so this seems to suggest that the word “fuck” was fairly well-established as an all-purpose curse word by the 1940s.

Let’s keep in mind, even if the word was only well-known among men in poor urban neighborhoods, then it would certainly be well-known among comic book creators.

Oh yeah, fuck was DEFINITELY in well use during World War II. I think it was already well used before then, but definitely by World War II.

And yes, the people doing comics at the time would certainly be the ones who would know the terms well.

In addition, while I can’t think of any specific examples off the top of my head, it was not especially uncommon for artists of the era to try to sneak stuff like this into comics. It is just a question of whether that is, in fact, what we’re seeing here.

The words “shit”, “fuck”, and “Cocksucker” were all curses edited out of “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929.

Also check out this memo from 1898; we were not so prurient “back then” as we wish we were:

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/06/special-instructions-to-players.html

Back in 1948, after “fuck” was changed to “fug” in The Naked and the Dead, when Dorothy Parker met Norman Mailer, she said, “So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'”

This changed in Mailer’s later works.

If I knew I’d spend my career ghosting for Bob Kane, I’d be cursing like a f*cking sailor.

To be honest, to me it looks like if you can see a profanity in any of these pictures, you are trying too hard. Why not notice too that Thomas Wayne’s nose is sort of an S, then his mouth and chin are three parallel lines of E and his tie forms an X…

Aw, man! Now that’s all I can see!

It looks to me as if more than just the buildings have been redrawn. The Waynes’ faces don’t look quite the same, Bruce’s hair is different, the folds in Martha’s dress don’t match, and Joe Chill’s gun and hand vary from one drawing to the other. I’m sure someone could cite a loss of quality in the reproduction as an explanation, but it seems as if parts of this panel, if not the entire thing, were redrawn or, more likely, traced.

Maybe the artist simply couldn’t be bothered tracing the dots exactly as they had been drawn the first time.

LOVE the intelligent responses. Seriously. You guys know you’re stuff. Thanks for answering my inquiry.

Charles Martin

March 19, 2013 at 7:38 am

This is an overactive imagination at work. Seriously.

Ralph Dibny thinks this is a stretch.

I think you’re seeing things in this case, but it does happen– a boss of mine had been a copywriter on the Sears catalog and one colleague was forever trying to spec copy so that the first letter of each line would spell F-U-C-K.

On the other hand, there’s a moment in the 1966 Batman movie which, when a friend recorded it on Betamax, we swore was Adam West slipping in the phrase “you stupid fuck” to the Riddler. How could that get in? Yet there it was, plain as can be. Years later, I buy the DVD for my son and… you could now hear in digital clarity that it was “you stupid thug.”

That reader has some issues of his own i recon…… >___>

Look at the first of the three panels, which has been substantially changed in the reprint. I suspect that panel two was trimmed slightly to make it the same width as panel one, which required panel three being extended.

As for hidden profanity: well, if it was hidden, it was hidden so well that i can’t see it.

Chris Schillig

March 19, 2013 at 8:41 am

Even when I supposedly know what I’m looking for in these panels, I can’t see it at all. Epic fail.

Darth Commenter

March 19, 2013 at 8:50 am

If you combine AS and Tim’s observations, then the conspiracy builds steam. Bruce’s nose was definitely altered to remove the “S.” The fold’s in Martha’s dress in Batman #1 come to a point to look more like a vagina, in Detective #33 the lines are more parallel. Also look at Thomas’ hat. If you rotate the panel in Batman #1 90 degrees, the shadows look like an erect penis. In Detective #33, the shadows are changed.

Suggestion: when invoking etymology, do consult the Oxford English Dictionary.

I don’t think it looks like an actual attempt to spell words at all. Sorry! :)

And if you look at the windows before the supposed offending phrase you’ve got two “J’s:”. Or even going left to right…a J and a partially formed hakencreuz and then the supposed offending phrase.
I don’t think there’s any medieval monk- style Illuminated Manuscripts- cryptic messages here..it looks merely like the recoloring from Detective 33 to Batman 1 affected the quality of the panel. Likely they were working with copies rather than the original art.

"O" the Humanatee!

March 19, 2013 at 11:56 am

Those who want to know the history of “fuck” can consult the definitive work on the topic, Jesse Sheidlower’s “The F-Word”: http://www.amazon.com/F-Word-Jesse-Sheidlower/dp/0195393112. It’s quite an old word.

Of course, it makes it even a little more amusing to note some of this art was originally swiped from another source, “Gang Buster in Action”, a Big Little Book published in 1938!! For more details:

http://dialbforblog.com/archives/391/

Enjoy!!

Wow. What drugs are you on, man?

This isn’t even clever at all it’s just plain BS.

My official opinion: Fuck if I know.

Lotta time on our hands, yes?

I’m still just stunned that, it looks to me, that in #33 Martha is sticking her finger in Thomas’ eye. What a bitch move, the poor guy’s just been shot :)

MarkR- that is hilarious. To think that people were so surprised by obscenities in ‘Ball Four’ 75 years later. Not much new under the sun.

“A four-letter word most of us use every day, generally in the present participle.” – George Orwell, 1946, in an article noting that an American publisher had recently fought a court case and won the right to print it as “f**k”.

As for the Batman panel, Dr Wertham would have called that a stretch.

What is the procedure/link for submitting questions to the GCBD?

To be fair, the reprint in #33 looks like it was redrawn rather than pasted in. There is a significant amount of extra detail on the older Wayne’s faces, and more texture on Bruce’s hair, and part of Joe’s collar has been blacked out.

I also don’t know if the original page was still in existence or not, so it’s possible it was a rescan of the image, or if it was a paste that it was touched up to make it look better.

In either case I think there is a large possibility that whoever touched it up or redrew it wasn’t intending on covering anything up. One a lightbox some of the dots could be a little muddled so whoever redrew it possibly just drew the window dots in a way that looked similar.

If it was a rescan, it is more likely they would have been changed intentionally to cover it up, but it’s also quite likely in my mind that it was just tweaked as a way of artistic interpretation rather than to intentionally mask something.

Regardless of what the case is, this a very interesting find, and I think it was a very clever way to sneak in profanity. It looks pretty darn clear to me, and that would have been totally intentional.

What is the procedure/link for submitting questions to the GCBD?

E-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com

[…] Was There Hidden Profanity In The Art For “Batman” #1? (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) […]

You’ve got those backwards. The one you credit to Batman #1 was in Detective Comics #33, and vice-versa. Also, Moldoff did not work on Batman until later.

Moldoff didn’t pencil Batman until much later, but he worked on Batman early on doing backgrounds and stuff like that.

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