NEW YORK — When Batman and Robin lock leather-gloved hands at the end of "Batman Forever," and the Caped Crusader (Val Kilmer) tells his red-breasted junior version (Chris O'Donnell) that he's "not just a friend," he's "a partner," gay men in the audience are left with one riddle even Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) can't solve:
Are these guys big queens or what?
If you're gay, that scene and the film's finale--a shot of the Dynamic Duo running side-by-side, rubber nipples to the wind--tug at your heartstrings, not to mention your G-string. Wowie! Zowie! as we used to say.
But that's just my reaction.
Staunch defenders of Batman's heterosexuality--which, if you read such magazines as Movieline and Premiere, include most everyone connected with the film regardless of their own orientation--say gay people are projecting their desires onto the film like a Batsignal against a night sky.
Maybe we are. That was me with my face to the glass at the Warner Brothers Studio Store the day they put the rubber Batsuits in the window on 57th Street.
Certainly growing up in the 1960s, when there were no gay characters on TV or in the pages of our favorite comics, we read what we needed to read into the "Batman" saga. Howard Cruse, a gay cartoonist who wrote a tract called "The Batboys in the Band" a few years back, says he "saw jealousy in those eyes" when Robin caught Batman kissing Catwoman. A fan of the campy "Batman" TV series, Cruse says, "You sort of grabbed whatever signs you could to not feel crazy in your feelings for other men." Batman always resonated with him and other gay kids because of the notion of leading a double life and having a major secret.
Whether Robin was jealous or not, no one knows. But the homoerotic tension of the "Batman Forever" movie didn't go unnoticed by mainstream (presumably heterosexual) critics, who thought there might be more going on in the Batcave this time around than cowled crime-fighting and some dotty old butler using Armor-All to polish his master's evening wear.
"What with everyone's skintight super-hero clothes, Bruce Wayne's remarkable interest in becoming the guardian of handsome young Dick Grayson, and the mutual interest these two share in Bruce's motorcycles, 'Batman Forever' is the most sexually ambiguous of the three [Batman] films," wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times.
Sure, sexy psychiatrist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) serves as Batman's love interest, but next to Robin who notices her? Even Batman admits that "I've never had that much luck with women." Anyone who's seen the film does notice, however, that there are enough codpiece close-ups and gratuitous booty shots to make any Batfancier swoon. The predominantly straight audience I saw it with giggled at them. Even Batman himself is a little bowled over when he sees Robin in his rubber get-up for the first time. Kilmer looks O'Donnell up and down and says, "Who's your tailor?"
I swear, I thought he was going to call him "Mary."
Now, of course, no one is going to come out and say Batman and Robin really are gay in "Batman Forever." But people have speculated about Batman and Robin's sexuality since before Kilmer and O'Donnell were born. The question has dogged the characters since 1940 when, on the pages of DC Comics, billionaire Bruce Wayne adopted a limber young circus performer named Dick Grayson.
According to the official DC Comics biography of Batman, "Wayne trained Grayson to share his mission. . . . Besides companionship and athletic skill, Robin provided occasional relief to the otherwise somber tone" of the comic books. And they wonder why our minds are in the bat gutter?
Well, Batman and Robin certainly aren't the only dynamic duo whose proclivities have come into question. Lesbians (and drag queens) have always wondered about Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl, a twosome who came from Themyscira, a Greek island, not unlike Lesbos. Green Arrow had Speedy to pal with. Superman had Jimmy Olsen. Captain America had Bucky. Green Hornet, his Kato. And, who can forget that day on TV's "The Hollywood Squares" when Peter Marshall said, "Tonto called the Lone Ranger by a special name. What was it?" Paul Lynde answered, "Beloved!"
It's always been a real buddy-buddy world out there.
These days, it's no different. On "The Tick," Fox-TV's Saturday morning animated series, the Tick and Arthur--a big (400 pound) blue super-hero with insectlike traits and his pudgy sidekick, a former accountant who wears a moth suit--live and fight crime together. Created by Ben Edlund, a 26-year-old writer-cartoonist, the series spoofs all of the super-hero conventions, including the sexual ambiguity of most costumed supermen.
"Get out of my apartment! Get out of my life!" an embittered Arthur says to his overgrown roommate during a spat on an episode called "The Tick Vs. Arthur's Bank Account."
"The boys are fighting," Arthur's sister Dot tells a friend.
A lot of super-hero stories, Edlund says, are about "antisocial and psychotic guys picking up young boys and making them wear tights. The classic super-hero/sidekick relationship is like Batman and Robin. There's so much in the super-hero world that's based on latent homosexual urges. To anyone with any level of literary reference or basic astuteness, it's obvious."
Although he is "basically straight," Edlund says he hopes his show is "very quietly anti-homophobic. I want to keep it OK for two guys to live in the same apartment and hug."
As Robin might say, "Holy Matrimony!"