Parting Glances: Whap! Thud! Shazam!

by Charles Alexander

O, the simple 10-cent pleasures of days long gone by! The Saturday joys that a shiny quarter could bring. A coke. A box of popcorn. A cowboy movie. A Roy Rogers serial. Way back when ...

I was an only child. But I didn't mind at all missing out on sibling rivalry. I grew up in a 65-unit apartment building, 444 Peterboro. (Now a vacant lot in a sadly vacant neighborhood.)

There were kids my age living at 444. Betty Renny. Patsy Kata. Joannie McGonegal. Tom Tudman. Tommy Black. Gorgeous Bobby Hendrix. We all read comic books, and part of our up-and-down, four-floor, eager socializing was trading and bartering our paper treasures.

Comics these days certainly have come of age. Minority comic characters - black, Asian, physically challenged - appear regularly. Gay characters are out as action heroes. We've come a long, long way, 'Brucie' Wayne. It was not always that way.

Sixty years ago a shrink named Dr. Fredric Wertham claimed the bitter seeds of crime were sown by comics. His popular paperback, "Seduction of the Innocent" argued comic books helped turn impressionable kids homosexual.

"I have never come across any adult or adolescent who had outgrown comic book reading who would ever dream of keeping any of the 'books' for any sentimental or other reason," Wertham wrote. (Let's see, "Action Comic No. 1; 1938" markets for $38M to $350M.)

I'll admit, as a kid I secretly admired Captain Marvel. I knew that his alter ego, dot-eyed Billy Batson, was an ordinary runt like me. That was encouraging. With exercise, Wheaties, eight hours of sleep, and Brilcream - "a little dab'll do ya" - life held possibilities for real rooftop soaring.

But Wertham's darts weren't directed at Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Superman, Plastic Man, Submariner, The Flash, or Mr. Tweedle Dee Dee. (All my heroes.) They were aimed at closet queers Batman and Robin and crypto-dyke Wonder Woman.

Yes, the Caped Crusader had a "ward" (guardian, not prison) and Wonder Woman, well - as plump sidekick Etta Candy woo-woo'd it, "Aphrodite be praised" - she hailed from an island of Amazons, and they weren't selling books online in the forum, either.

"At home they lead an idyllic life," gossiped Wertham. "They are Bruce Wayne and 'Dick' Grayson. They live in sumptuous quarters with beautiful flowers in large vases. Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. It is like a wish of two homosexuals living together."

(Under 30s, please note: A dressing gown is not drag. Large vases are House & Gardens optional. But, as everybody knows, 'Dick' is dick.)

"For boys, Wonder Woman is a frightening image," warned Wertham. "For girls, she is a morbid ideal. Where Batman is anti-feminine, the attractive Wonder Woman and her counterparts are definitely anti-masculine." (Stone butch, maybe?)

Wertham may have been on to something about the Wayne-hyphen-Graysons. DC Comics, which continues to drive the lucrative Batmobile Rolls Royce to the bank, refuses to grant permission to use any illustrations of the crusading pair - gardening or fisticuffing - for psychological dissing about the their sex lives.

As far as gays and real-time violence is concerned, David Nimmons, in his book "The Soul Beneath the Skin" (St. Martin's Press) says instances of LGBT street or public violence are remarkably few.

His data are taken from police records, notably those of Greenwich Village, Provincetown; Boy's Town, Chicago; and Washington, D.C., where, of five large-scale gay events held in one year, with 1,400,000 attendees total, only 10 disturbance arrests occurred. (None in capes, leotards, or parked Batmobiles.)

"Oddly enough," says Nimmons, "America has a vast peaceable (LGBT) kingdom in its midst, yet has scarcely noticed." (Too busy duct-taping Gotham City, no doubt. Holy KY Lube, Batman!) Facebook, too!
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