Decades ago, the comic books overreacted to Werthams
charges of sexual misconduct by sexualizing all the characters. This only
made the Bat appear sexually insatiable, to the point that both mixed
teams and same-sex teams were polluted by his presence. In Batman Beyond
the mythos had the chance to exorcize this ghost by getting the Wayne/McGinnis
relationship firmly footed as a familial one.
Its easy to blame Werthams ghost for the weaknesses of assorted
Bat-stories too easy. It makes him the scapegoat and uses him to
justify mistakes which he would have loathed as much as we do. Wertham
did not make the Bat mythos introduce female characters, nor did he make
them self-destruct. Fredric Wertham would have hated to see woman after
woman introduced to serve as sexual objects and to foul up. This is hardly
It is time to face the truth. Wertham the man seemed a towering figure,
alternately compassionate and calculating, but Werthams ghost has
no real power, aside from what others give it. Give a phobia the power
to rule your life, and it will ruin your life. If the mythos would resolve
to give it none, then it would have none. Its as simple as that.
Ask the hard-core Batfan to describe the Batman, and the answer is usually,
"a loner." Sex just isnt part of Batmans concern.
Hes married to the job, and if Batman was close to his Robins, well,
thats because its normal for parents to be close to their
children. It fits Batmans precarious mental state as well. He lost
the love of his parents when they died and has built surrogate families
to recapture that feeling ever since. It brings out, shall we say, the
human in him. And they dont always turn out badly. Consider
how Bruce and Dick define a successful family in Nightwing: Ties That
From "The Resignation":
been looking at my life lately," begins Nightwing, "and
I dont like what I see. We watched my parents fall to their deaths
you took me in and after a few months you let me in on all your
secrets. I was flattered, excited. Then you gave me a costume and I became
Robin, historys first kid sidekick. There I was, the laughing boy
daredevil, tearing through Gotham City with the great Batman himself.
I thought I was the hottest item in town.
"But it wasnt all fun. I was on call twenty-four hours a day
and you subjected me to discipline that would make a Marine boot camp
look like a Girl Scout cookiefest. I was able to handle schoolwork. But
there was no time for anything else. No football games, no dances, no
proms, no girlfriends. Just Robin.
"And where was Dick Grayson? Nowhere. Nowhere at all.
"Eventually I cut loose from you. I thought I was becoming my own
person. But was I? I adopted this Nightwing identity a bargain
basement version of Batman, and I continued to do as Id always done.
Wear a mask and fight the bad guys. I wasnt as good as you
nobody could be but I did my best. I never felt it was good enough.
"A few months ago, you asked me to be you for a while. I put on the
cape and cowl and sallied forth to do battle with societys foes.
Once more the reluctant knight errant
. I was adequate. But I hated
"I realized that Im not you. I was never
you. I dont want to be you."
Nightwing then announces he will become Dick Grayson
alone. He leaves his costume behind and walks away. But the life of an
ordinary man doesnt speak to him the way he had hoped. Time crawls.
Hes lonely and bored. Every relationship he pursues, whether friend
or foe, leads him back to Work. Even his efforts to learn more about his
parents prove futile. And so in Dead Simple Dick returns to the
only home he's every known.
"I hoped to learn about the Graysons as people.
Were they brave, smart, happy? Ill never know. And it doesnt
matter because Ive gotten something far more valuable something
I didnt realize I needed. Something about my own childhood.
"What Ive gotten is the realization that you did the best you
could with what you had. You werent a perfect father, but thats
okay because probably nobodys a perfect father. No familys
"I was lucky. I was privileged. Not because of the big house and
the money, but because you gave me a lot of yourself. You taught me, you
showed me, you encouraged me. You never lied to me and you never demanded
that I be anything Im not.
"I didnt imitate you because you insisted that I do so, but
because I wanted to. Of all the men I knew, you were most worthy of imitation.
Then I blamed you for letting me be who I was. Pretty dumb.
"You and Alfred gave me a home and you gave me what we dont
mention. The L word. You were the best family I could have had.
Now if Bruce and Dick had talked like this when Fredric
Wertham was alive, it might have made a difference. Sadly, even when the
Dynamic Duo were at their most chatty and carefree, the important things
still went unsaid. And so when Wertham went fishing for terms to describe
just what Batman and Robin were doing in that big house all by themselves,
he never thought in terms of parent-and-child. When his patients told
him how they "read" Bats, he saw no reason to doubt their perceptions.
Why couldnt Wertham see the Batman as a foster parent, a man whod
vowed to change the world to make it a better place for children? These
were things Wertham himself promoted. Bats gave his Robins all that he
had the capacity to give but his foster sons were sons, as surely
as if they were blood. Why did Wertham never see that?
Because Batman never said so.
simple misstep caused so much unnecessary confusion, grief and pain. And
it all came about because the characters took the indirect approach instead
of the direct one. The indirect approach may be more subtle, more dramatic,
but there is such a thing as being too subtle. Fredric Wertham made his
complaints extremely clear. Now if such a smart man could not "get"
Batman, that may not be the Bats fault. But if the mythos could
not grasp such plainly worded complaints, and instead chose to fix what
aint broke til it got broke, that surely doesnt sound
like Werthams fault. Every player did his part. No one ruined things
In the final analysis Wertham had more in common with
the Batman than he knew. Both men had seen the ugliness beneath a façade
of civilization. They saw victims revictimized by a system that didnt
talk to them or know how to help them. They knew how hypocritical it was
to say "dont do that" and then release offenders back
into the same environment where they got into trouble. Above all, Wertham
and the Batman were utterly exasperated with public apathy. Even if no
one joined them, they would continue their campaign alone.
Like the Batman, Wertham was a man who tried to change the world while
standing on one foot. He believed he could do it if he just tried harder.
He kept believing and kept trying until finally, inexorably, life went
on without him. Today people (those who have heard of him, anyway) dismiss
Wertham or make fun of him, as the Batman of BBs "Out
of the Past" is dismissed as a high-stepping Rockette. Yes, Wertham
failed in his most publicized ambition but how often history overlooks
What Dr. Wertham and the Batman both show us is that one man can make
a difference. You can make a difference. Dont worry about whether
youll succeed, or whether youll be remembered. Just make sure
what you give your life to is truly worth fighting for.
1 2 3 4 5
The Old Maid's essays can be found at "Editorials"
section of World's Finest
Appendix: Related articles of interest
of Comic Books, by Dr. Frederic Wertham
Art: A Brief Biography of Dr. Frederic Wertham
Wertham: Anti-Comics Crusader Who Turned Advocate, by Dwight Decker
History of Comic Art in America
Comic Book Nation, by Bradford Wright, by Emru Townsend
All representations of Batman and related characters are property and
TMs of DC Comics and/or Warner Bros.
Images from the animated series are provided courtesy of World's
Finest and BatBeyond.
Images of Batwoman and Batgirl are provided courtesy of Batgirls