Down the Bat Pole

Every generation seems to rediscover certain suspicions about Batman and Robin, two rich, toned playboys who favored masks, spandex, bat caves, and each other's company to the exclusion of all else. But the ideas first appeared in 1954, with the publication of Fredric Wertham's provocatively titled Seduction of the Innocent, in which the psychiatrist hammered the comics industry for spreading moral degeneracy, homoeroticism, and antisocial behavior -- and also for letting loose a lesbian with a bondage fetish (Wonder Woman). The book resulted in the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and the specter of EC publisher William Gaines standing up before politicians and trying to explain how an illustration of a severed head wasn't bad for the kids. The politicos won, parents freaked, censorship reigned, and many titles disappeared (some through book burnings), ruining careers and launching a sanitized era of comics. We also got Batwoman and Bat-Girl, two convenient love interests for the boys. The story is expertly told in David Hajdu's new book The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, which also offers a compelling new theory -- that it was comic books, not rock 'n' roll or James Dean, that spawned the first generation gap.

He speaks today at 12:30 at Stacey's (www.staceys.com).
Thu., March 20, 7 p.m., 2008

 
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