Lonely Gods:
Social Minorities in American Superhero Comic Books

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No Place For a Girl:

 

Batman Comics of the 60s and 70s

Continued from the 1950s...
     As the 1960s began, the Batman comics continued the lighthearted tones introduced in the 1950s, and Batman still routinely came up against superhuman monsters and creatures from other dimensions. Stereotypical feminine characters such as Batwoman still made appearances for several years into this decade before they were removed. 1 Batwoman even gained a new partner, her niece Batgirl. Kathy Kane's niece Betty Kane first appeared in April 1961, and quickly discovered her aunt was Batwoman. After her first outing as Batgirl, Kathy Kane forbade Betty from ever doing it again. Betty refused, and a perplexed Batwoman went to Batman for help. Batman suggested stalling Betty by having her undergo a lengthy "training" period. 2 Betty soon tired of this, and decided to sneak out one night to help the three crime fighters track down the crime boss King Cobra.
Batgirl wants a Date
Batgirl wants a Date.
Batgirl discovered King Cobra's hideout and decided to apprehend the heavily armed criminals on her own. As expected, King Cobra and his cohorts immediately captured her. 3 Managing to attract Batman's attention, Batgirl broke free of the criminals and aided in their arrest. "Not bad - for a girl!" Robin commented to her during the massive fight. [View Image] Afterwards, Betty admitted her error in trying to be a crime fighter like her aunt. "I learned my lesson! I'll never be so foolish again!" she proclaimed. Batwoman, however, had other plans. "You proved you can be a good crime fighter! Maybe we will go out as a team someday!" Betty responded enthusiastically, revealing another interest. "I can hardly wait! And perhaps Robin and I can work on a case together, too! Well, Robin - is that a date?" Robin could only gulp in horror as both Batman and Batwoman smiled in the background. 4

     Betty returned two issues later in Batman issue 141, and quickly captured the crime boss The Moth. Humiliated at being defeated by a young girl, The Moth swore revenge and immediately broke out of prison. Fearing Betty was in danger, Batman and Batwoman decided to distract her by having Robin take her to a dance while they captured The Moth. 5 The Moth, however, captured both Batman and Batwoman, forcing Robin and Batgirl to rescue them. After the heroes were rescued and the criminals captured, Batman explained why they kept Batgirl away. Realizing they only wanted to keep her out of danger, Batgirl rushed into Robin's arms, kissing him as she proclaimed "Oh, Robin - now I know you really care for me!" Not to be outdone, Batwoman tried a similar tactic. "Perhaps Batgirl's approach is the best way for a gal to get her guy! Come here Batman..." Now it was Batman's turn to stare in horror as Robin and Batgirl laughed in the background. 6

     Even though views of women began to change during this period, Batwoman and Batgirl still stuck to the stereotypical portrayal of women, and they were more concerned with trying to woo Batman and Robin rather than fight crime.
Batgirl kisses Robin
Batgirl kisses a horrified Robin.
In the story "Bat-Mite meets Bat-Girl" from 1961, the entire plot revolved around Batgirl trying to make Robin fall in love with her. Instead of patrolling the city like they were supposed to, once Batgirl was alone with Robin she immediately embraced him, saying "Working with you is what I've always dreamed of! Oh, Robin, I think you're just adorable!" 7 This story culminated when Batgirl tried to orchestrate an elaborate plot where she pretended to get abducted by criminals in order to force Robin to save her. The plan backfired when Batgirl actually was abducted by criminals. Once Robin rescued the helpless Bat-girl, she concluded the adventure by saying, "Oh, Robin, then it's all right for me to kiss you now!", and proceeded to do just that. 8

     Batgirl's attempts at wooing Robin were encouraged by her aunt who did the same with Batman. By 1963 however, Batman and Robin began to finally acquiesce to a possible romance with the heroines. In February 1963 the four crime fighters teamed up once again in the story "Prisoner of Three Worlds". In this adventure they confronted an alien criminal who zapped the four of them with a "fantastic machine". 9 Robin and Batgirl were instantly transported to a different dimension, but Batman and Batwoman remained behind. Since they were standing on a steel manhole cover when they were hit by the machine's ray, only their "energy force" was transported to the alien dimension. 10 While their energy-being counterparts fought for survival, Batman and Batwoman became too weak to even fight. Realizing that they would soon die if not reunited with their energy force, Batman and Batwoman held each other close as they waited for the end. "Oh, Batman! Everything's over for us!" Batwoman wailed. "Hold me close! If I must die, I want it to be in your arms! Oh Batman, you know I love you - Dying wouldn't be so bad, if I knew you loved me too." 11 Batwoman's words warmed Batman's heart, and he replied: "I ... I do love you! I never wanted to admit it before ..." His confession cut off as Batwoman immediately kissed him. 12 Likewise Batgirl and Robin kissed each other while trapped in the alien dimension. 13 After the adventure concluded and Batman and Batwoman were reunited with their energy, Batgirl and Robin walked off to discuss their relationship. This reminded Batwoman of Batman's earlier words. "I did hear you admit that you loved me!" Batwoman confronted Batman. "I've always managed to escape death-traps - all kinds of danger! But how do I get out of this?" Batman thought before quickly coming up with an answer. "Well - er - Batwoman - I thought we were going to die - and I wanted to make your last moment's happy ones!" 14 Both Batwoman and the reader were left wondering if his earlier declaration of love was sincere or not.

     The characters' new relationships did not last very long, and the two women soon returned to their old methods. Later in the same year the four crime fighters teamed up once more to fight the villains Clayface and the Joker. Continuing her old tactics, Batgirl once again needed saving by Robin.
Batwoman and Batgirl
Batwoman's attempt to woo Batman. Notice the pain in his neck.
After he rescued her halfway through the story, Batgirl ran into Robin's arms, saying "Oh, Robin, I'm afraid you'll just have to hold me! I'm still so shaky after fighting Clayface, and you're so strong!" Instead of reprimanding her niece for being so obsessed with a boy, Batwoman congratulated her. "Smart girl! She knows how to play up to a man! Maybe I should take a tip from her, eh, Batman?" 15 One high point of this story occurred when Batwoman and Batgirl captured the Joker without any help from their male counterparts. 16 Although this scene displayed a glimpse of more proactive female characters, Batwoman and Batgirl proved too stereotypical to last much longer and completely disappeared from the comics in 1964. In their place, more realistic characters and plot lines were introduced into the comics to make Batman's story lines more relevant to the current social issues of the day. "Conceptually, the Batman of the fifties would vanish almost overnight in 1964 ... Batman would once again have to evolve to keep pace with the rapidly transforming times and audience." 17

     Attitudes towards women began to dramatically change during the 1960s, and DC Comics had no choice but to change as well. In 1961 John F. Kennedy established the Commission on the Status of Women, and this group "documented the second class position of women." 18 Two years later Betty Friedan wrote her seminal work The Feminine Mystique. This work gave voice to the dissatisfaction many suburban wives and mothers had in their lives. "It is no longer possible to ... dismiss the desperation of so many American women," Friedan wrote. "This is not what being a woman means, no matter what the experts say .... The women who suffer this problem have a hunger that food cannot fill .... Women who think it will be solved by more money, a bigger house, a second car, moving to a better suburb, often discover it gets worse." 19 Friedan attributed the cause of this unhappiness to a "mystique" that equated femininity with domesticity. "The new mystique makes the housewife-mothers, who never had a chance to be anything else, the model for all women .... It simply makes ... cooking, cleaning, washing, bearing children ... into a religion, a pattern by which all women must now live." 20 Friedan's work ignited the "second wave" of feminism, and women began to rapidly make gains for themselves. This started in 1963 with the passage of the Equal Pay Act and continued through 1964 with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Section Seven of this act prohibited the discrimination of race and sex in employment. 21 In addition to legislation several women's organizations were created during this time, including the Equal Employment Opportunity commission and the National Organization for Women in 1966. 22 Reflecting this change in attitudes towards women, new characters began to be introduced into the Batman comics.

     One of the major characters introduced during the 1960s was the second character to take the name Batgirl, first appearing in 1967. This incarnation of Batgirl was a completely new character with no connection to Betty Kane from the early 1960s. 23 Unlike the previous female heroes, this new Batgirl enjoyed a greater connection to Batman.
Batgirl batnaps Robin
Batgirl quite literally steals Robin from Batman.
Barbara Gordon was not a random female who became enamored of Batman like Kathy Kane, but rather was the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon who worked closely with Batman. Furthermore, this Batgirl rarely needed rescuing, as she was extremely athletic and knew several styles of combat including judo and karate. 24 This character is a direct result of the women's movement taking place during the mid 1960s. Entering into the year 1967, new portrayals of women forced mainstream American media to change. Batgirl portrayed a modern, liberated American woman and her actions in the comics reflected this. Instead of always staying by the male hero's side, Batgirl patrolled alone on her motorcycle and easily handled any criminals she found. In an early appearance Batgirl managed to capture several gang members, earning compliments from Robin in the process. 25 In this same issue she teamed up with Robin to save Batman's life after he contracted a disease. Although Batman initially resented their pairing, by the end of the issue he realized their true intentions and accepted Batgirl's help. 26

     This sudden change in the status of Batman's female allies reflected the changing social values of the 1960s, and Batman was not the only comic to radically change. DC made an attempt to introduce several other culturally relevant comic books to augment the changes being made in their superhero line. One outcome of this was the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics which had the two titular heroes team up. 27 While this concept only lasted fourteen issues, the two heroes dealt with contemporary subjects such as overpopulation, racism, and sexism in American society. 28 The author of this series, Dennis O'Neal, defended his inclusion of socially conscious material in a comic book. "I cherished the notion that the stories might be socially useful: I could hope they might awaken youngsters, eight or nine-year-olds, to the world's dilemmas and these children, given such an early start, might be able to find solutions in their maturity. My generation, and my father's, had grown up ignorant; my son's didn't have to." 29 Other comic publishers such as Marvel continued this trend by creating new series like Fantastic Four, which focused on the family dynamic amongst the team members. 30

     Additional changes in the portrayal of women occurred within Batman comics during this time.
Catwoman's Proposal
Catwoman's Proposal.
The character of Catwoman who was almost completely absent from the comics of the late 1950s and early 1960s, returned as a villain. She initially returned as a rival to Batgirl, trying to win Batman's affection, and tried to threaten him into marrying her. From an issue in 1967, she says to Batman: "Do I go back to my crime career as Catwoman, or are you going to say the magic words 'Marry Me' and make me the happiest girl in the world?" 31 Catwoman was presented as a nemesis to Batgirl and, while she is a strong character, does have many flaws. Chief amongst these is her overriding love for Batman, as she pursued him to the exclusion of all other activities. It is clear that her character is not seen as strong or very independent by the writers and editors of this period, from her continued use of many gimmicky plot devices. These include fighting criminals with cat-themed makeup utensils (remarkably similar to what Batwoman had for her arsenal in the 1950s), as well as her constant use of words beginning with "cat" (such as catabatic, catapult, catacombs, to name but a few). All these gimmicks and flaws were intentional. Catwoman quickly became a direct rival and antithesis to Batgirl, and the two characters were written as opposites. While Batgirl was strong and independent, Catwoman's only goal was forcing Batman into marriage. Catwoman's character suffered under these outdated stereotypes to enhance the appeal of Batgirl and show the readers just how modern and liberated Batgirl was.

    
Catwoman ponders
Sexy, Sexy Batman.
This man-crazed portrayal of Catwoman continued through the 1970s and was seen in her character even when Batgirl is not present. During the mid 70s the Batman villain Joker was featured in a short lived series, aptly titled The Joker. This series did not feature Batman at all, and instead pitted the Joker against several other villains. The last issue in this series had him confronting Catwoman. Soon after their initial confrontation, Catwoman pondered a way to lure the Joker to her lair and trap him. She quickly realized her plan might attract the attention of Batman.
Catwoman kisses
If she only knew who that was...
This was something to be desired, however. "With any luck," Catwoman said to herself, "I'll get that sexy Batman here too!" 32 The Joker latched onto this weakness of Catwoman's and dressed up like Batman to surprise her. Thinking her enemy to be Batman, Catwoman asked him, "I actually managed to attract your attention this time? Here is your reward!" as she lunged into his arms and kissed him. 33

     Other relationships, however, were presented in a less neurotic light. In 1977, Bruce Wayne became enamored of yet another woman, Silver St. Cloud. Silver proved to be remarkably intelligent and soon deduced that Bruce Wayne was Batman. Soon after their first meeting aboard a cruise ship, Bruce Wayne fought the villain Doctor Phosphorous and had to swim away from the ship to conceal his secret identity. After defeating the villain and returning to the ship, Bruce encountered Silver again. She noticed his hair was wet and began to wonder. 34 In subsequent issues their relationship became more intense, and Bruce realized he actually did have feelings for Silver. "This is getting serious!" Bruce thought to himself as he walked arm-in-arm with Silver. "It's beginning to really matter what she thinks of me! And yet - she doesn't really know me - not inside! There's a part of me she can't ever know! Always the same problem ... they love Bruce Wayne - but Bruce Wayne has become a daytime mask for the Batman!" 35 That same issue Silver discovered Bruce Wayne was Batman, and Batman confronted her in the next issue. "She knows who I am, beneath this mask!" Batman thought to himself as he stared into Silver's eyes. "She called to me - stared like she's staring now! I know her too well to miss the shock running through her - just as she knows me! We've been too close, shared too much, for too long! She knows!" 36

     While Silver refused to admit anything during this conversation, she later ended her relationship with Bruce, each of them tacitly admitting his secret identity. After a battle with the Joker, Batman met with Silver. "Maybe I know what you wanted me to say the other night - about what I've learned of you." Silver began. "Maybe I came back here - to tell you! Maybe I - I even love you! But just now I saw the Batman in action .... I saw you - the man inside! The man I love! I saw you fighting with a madman, straddling a girder in the blinding lightning storm! I love you - but I couldn't live with that. Never knowing what each night would bring!" Silver broke off her relationship with Batman, but not before the two of them shared one final kiss. 37 Silver presented a very different type of relationship than anything from previous Batman comics. In earlier issues Batman always went to great lengths to conceal his secret identity from any woman. Even while Bruce Wayne went on dates with Vicki Vale and Kathy Kane, he constructed extremely elaborate measures to constantly trick them into believing someone else was Batman. None of that chicanery occurred with Silver St. Cloud. When Silver finally admitted she knew his identity, Batman did not deny it and trusted her with his secret. After the two of them broke up, Bruce Wayne even began to question his role as Batman: "[Silver] walked out on me ... because she couldn't live with what I am and what I do - couldn't resign herself to the night when I would never come home again! The Batman drove an impenetrable wedge between us! The blasted Batman split us apart!" Bruce next directed his anger to his parents. "This is all your fault! You - my dear departed parents! If you hadn't died, there would never have been any need for the Batman! I could have lived a normal life like any other man!" 38

Continue to the 1980s...
Notes: