2020 Wishlist: Why We Deserve a Gay Batman Movie
Greetings, gentle readers. This year, as we settle in for a new decade of escalating horrors, we reflect on what wonders the future may also bring. The 2010s brought us a television renaissance, a new Star Wars series (for our sins), and a new era of the superhero movie. As an antidote to the terrors of the roaring decade ahead, we’ve decided to create a wishlist for the movies and television we hope are coming. Let this be an island of optimism in a rising sea. To kick things off…
The Batman franchise has a masculinity problem. Well, actually it has several. It would be a long, boring, and repetitive endeavor to describe it at length, but the gist should be viscerally clear to anyone who has entered the DCU. As defined by the Frank Millers and Christopher Nolans with which we have been plentifully supplied, Batman is dark, (like, seriously, all gray), gritty, violent, tortured, emotionally stunted, and obsessed with Freshman philosophy. He is surrounded by white male domestic terrorist villains who love to point out that we live in a society by staging murderous thought experiments. (And, of course, surrounded by forgettable brunettes who tend to get blown up).
From what I understand, (for I have spared myself the frustration of seeing it), Batman vs. Superman continues this trend but makes him the anti-heroic utilitarian in the debate. But the less said about that, perhaps, the better.
There have been a lot of hot and lukewarm takes on how DC tries to separate its cinematic universe from that of Marvel by making it darker, more action-oriented, more ‘serious.’ Of course, given the emotional depth of many Marvel movies, the dark subject matter they often grapple with, and the joy and levity they manage to find anyway, this is a false dichotomy, one that hurts DC without cutting into Marvel’s audience at all.
So screw it. Let’s toss out the wallowing, hypermasculine drama, and bring back what made Batman fun for so many generations before. The bright colors! The shamelessly corny expressions! The wacky, costumed villains! The camp.
And what better way to bring this kind of enjoyment into the 2020s — a time when we have gone through several postmodern phases and come to treasure our cynicism as moviegoers — than by admitting what was there all along? Namely, that Batman is a camp gay man, Robin is his camp gay partner, Superman is their on-again-off-again boyfriend, Batman and Batwoman are poster children for gay-lesbian solidarity, and all the camp gay villains of Gotham are desperate for Batman’s attention?
A quick note to anyone tempted to insist that Batman isn’t gay. While most superheroes, especially the classic ones, use a double identity, there’s something about Bruce Wayne that particularly screams “beard.” Erase Bill’s monologue from Kill Bill, vol. 2 from your mind for a moment: it’s Bruce Wayne, not Clark Kent, that’s the true mask. With Batman, we get a hero whose real life takes place underground and at night, while during the day a shell of him goes through the motions of acting as a heteronormative, capitalist philanthropist. At night, not only does he defend the innocent (which is very socialist and sexy of him), but he also puts on a flamboyant costume and explores the city, engaging in flirtations with various, also flamboyantly dressed, queer characters. The parallels between this and the various gay scenes of the twentieth century (from early cruising to Stonewall) is undeniable. To ignore these obvious facts of Batman’s queerness is to overlook the character of Batman entirely.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to address the concerns of my fellow queers. Is this really the sort of representation we need, you’re asking? Do we need a big, silly, campy parade of stereotypes in the style of Adam West? What do we gain, you wonder, by lending verisimilitude to “gay batman” jokes and queer-coded villains?
To that I say: we open the door to broader queer representation by putting the most obvious case first. The double-edged tropes developed during the era of the Hays Code and the Comics Code Authority (censoring bodies for film and comics, respectively, that expressly forbade, among other things, open gay representation and criminals getting away with their crimes) have allowed people to consume stereotypes about queer people uncritically, using the association with queerness to categorize characters as “bad” or “odd,” without ever actually having to see queer romance or even open queer existence as part of that. So yes, it’s sad that it’s still necessary to point this out in 2020, but let’s do it. Let’s explode this particular type of prejudice by showing Batman and (grown-up) Robin in a loving relationship, by showing the heroes and villains of Gotham as an extended, complex queer community, full of good people and bad people, healthy relationships and unhealthy. And let’s have gay spin-offs: a trauma-healing love story between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, a rampantly bisexual, transgender Catwoman origin story, a Batman sequel that takes place in a drag club owned by the Riddler. A gay DCU. Then, finally, they could give us something Marvel hasn’t.
What exactly is stopping the studio from giving us this glorious future? They don’t stand to lose much from a change. Even if one was to claim the tired old saw, “what about the Chinese market?,” well, a few things. One, catering to our own government’s censorship is what got us into this mess in the first place, and we have to break the cycle at some point. Two, from the standpoint of pure profitability: these movies could easily be entertaining at a very low budget. Literally, we don’t need anything to explode at all. Not even once. Film it in Chicago and hire former Drag Race contestants to make the costumes. Have the Joker taunt Batman while dangling him over a cauldron filled with dry ice. It worked for the better part of a century, didn’t it? Give us an enjoyable Batman movie made on the cheap, and we’ll reward it with an exponential profit. The kind of profit that spending millions and then making them back in a slow international trickle just doesn’t compete with.
The stars have aligned for this, I tell you. We even have Robert Pattinson in line as the next Batman, and, as a friend of mine pointed out, R-Patz would obviously be down for this. He needs to have a little fun, and so do we all. Give us underwear over tights again, give us Batarangs, give us steamy Batcave sleepovers. We’ve put up with “straight” Batman long enough, so Lord knows we deserve it.