A contentious new book is re-imagining the lives and sexual exploits of iconic comic book superheroes as they age, and specifically constructing the older Batman and Robin as a bickering gay couple that have lost the passion in their love life.
Titled Erotic Lives Of The Superheroes, the book by Italian author Marco Mancassola portrays the Dark Knight not only as an aging gay man, but also a narcissist who occupies a seat next to Elton John during New York charity dinners and cruises other gay men for one-night stands. In addition to Batman, Mancassola's book explores the erotic lives of Superman, Mister Fantastic and Mystique as they also age and progressively lose their abilities as superheroes. The novel was originally published in 2008, and will now be available in an English translation for the first time.
In an interview with The Independent, Mancassola shared the perspective driving his work:
Batman has always had a very dark side. And it shouldn’t be a shock that my version of this character indulges in weird forms of fetishism and extreme sex...Narcissism is his inner abyss. He let his only real love story miserably fail because he is in love with the mystery of youth – that inaccessible, fleeting kind of spirit that he sees in the eyes of his young male and female pick-ups.
The storyline and exploration of Batman as a gay character seem to build upon popular notions, as well as long-standing author implications, surrounding Batman's sexual preference and his seemingly intimate relationship with sidekick Robin. The sexuality of Batman and homoerotic subtext that dominates his storylines have served as a subject of debate for quite some time. Grant Morrison, known largely for his work overhauling the DC Comic Batman brand since 2006, has openly disscussed Batman as a "gay" character in the past, most noteably in a 2012 interview with Playboy:
He’s very plutonian in the sense that he’s wealthy and also in the sense that he’s sexually deviant. Gayness is built into Batman. I’m not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay. There’s just no denying it. Obviously as a fictional character he’s intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay. I think that’s why people like it. All these women fancy him and they all wear fetish clothes and jump around rooftops to get to him. He doesn’t care—he’s more interested in hanging out with the old guy and the kid.
Within this framework, perhaps it is largely Morrison's intended fluidity of Batman's performative gender and ambiguity of sexual identity that makes his character such an interesting source of inquiry. However, this debate surrounding the sexuality of Batman is also fueled by a larger cultural shift: the dramatic and gradual influx of LGBT representation in comic books. This has occurred predominately since the 1990s, but began in the late 70's with the controversial inclusion by the 'Doonesbury' comic strip of an openly gay character that eventually contracted and died of AIDS. Despite the backlash by print media, the comic's creator was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the storyline.
Another notable contributor to this shift in LGBT visibility is the first openly gay character in Archie Comics, Kevin Keller, who continues to remain part of the franchise today. "We're trying to show that Riverdale is an accepting community, that everyone is welcome in Riverdale," said cartoonist Dan Parent at the time of the character's introduction. "We're trying to show that Riverdale is that ideal town that everybody wants to be a part of."
Considering this gradual shift in comic character representation and the trajectory of debate surrounding Batman as a gay character, perhaps we can understand Erotic Lives Of The Superheroes as furthering this project of streamlining queer characters into comic book culture. Indeed, Mancassola admits that he knows there will be fans who “can’t forgive me for what I’ve done to their beloved characters. This is true especially when it comes to Batman, who comes across as the least nice character of the book –- egocentric, ridiculously vain, in some way ‘perverse’. But, actually, I depicted him that way because I love him.”
Erotic Lives Of The Superheroes will be available for order from the U.K. beginning next week.