Back when I was eleven or twelve, I had a crush on Batman. The Batman of my fantasies was, more or less, Adam West’s Batman from the campy sixties TV show. In my fantasies, however, as in the show, Batman was quite solemn as he climbed up buildings in his pleather mask and tights. He was equally grave in his public persona of Bruce Wayne, millionaire (or was it billionaire?) playboy.
In an era where the word “playboy” evoked thoughts of swinging bachelorhood, Bruce Wayne seemed unusually ascetic. I seem to remember Adam West always looking vaguely uncomfortable as a fake-lashed debutante melted into him. Like the professor in Gilligan’s Island, Bruce Wayne seemed to be provoke lust in women without showing much evidence of experiencing it himself.
Yet in his Batman disguise, another side of Bruce emerged. When one of the many incarnations of Catwoman battled him, there was always a glimmer of something carnal behind the eye slits of that black pleather mask. Of course, the Catwomen were something to behold. Whether it was Eartha Kitt or Julie Newmar or that other one I wasn’t as fond of, the catwomen were always wasp-waisted and bullet-breasted, girded for the kind of battle that usually takes place in high-priced dungeons. As for Robin, the boy wonder, his idol worship of the big man did seem a little suspect. A more sophisticated viewer might have wondered if Batman were capable of juggling a bird and a cat.
Not that I thought about this when I was in the sixth or seventh grade, of course. At least, I didn’t know it consciously. Yet when I went to sleep, I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to be tied up—Batman was always tying Catwoman up—and at the mercy of a man who would look at you, enigmatic behind the mask, and say something that sounded deep and dry and tinged with the subtlest traces of humor.
Unlike most girls my age, I also read Batman comics. He was not my favorite, not by a long shot, but I did like his dark city of Gotham, and I respected the fact that he had no superpowers, just his native brilliance and his nifty inventions. In the world of superheroes, there have always been the superpowered, like Superman and Wonder Woman, and the uncannily gifted but normal, like Batman and Shanna the She-Devil (a feminist jungle queen from the early seventies). I always preferred the latter.
Years later, when I worked at DC Comics, it occurred to me that in all his many reinventions, no one had ever taken Batman and made him into a romantic hero. Writers like Denny O’Neal and Alan Moore and Frank Miller all gave Batman grit and edge and emphasized his haunted, shadowed soul, and the movies mostly followed suit. You would have thought there were only two choices for Batman: camp or angst.
Yet any romance reader could see there is another way. Brooding, brilliant, detached and obsessive, Batman is the anti-vampire. A vampire must struggle to control his blood lust; Batman would need the right kind of woman to unleash the sensual creature behind the mask.
Maybe it’s time to let a woman have a crack at the Batman.
Alisa Kwitney has written some half a dozen novels, two coffee table books, and assorted comics and graphic novels. She was an editor at DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint for seven years, working on titles such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and shepherding other dark fantasy books. Her latest releases include paranormal romance Moon Burn and young adult graphic novel Token.