I'm a Batman fan. I love Batman. Not in that way. Well, maybe in that way. It's hard to tell, isn't it? There are so many different Batmen.
There's the grim, gothic figure of the 1939 comic books, the patriotic war hero of the early 1940s film serials, the 1960s camp crusader of television - and that's before we reach Tim Burton's Batman, Joel Schumacher's Batman and Christopher Nolan's recent movies. Even now, as audiences wait for the next Dark Knight Rises trailer, they can follow a very different Batman in the ongoing comics, or take the role of Batman in the Arkham City video game, or check out Holy Musical B@tman!, which premiered in Chicago last month and is now available on YouTube.
Holy Musical B@tman achieves something very special. It manages to be camper than the carnival extravaganza Batman Live, which turned the London O2 into a Gotham City circus last year and successfully reincorporated Joel Schumacher's flamboyant designs and performances into a format where they immediately made sense - on-stage, rather than on-screen as sequels to Burton's baroque, but slightly more serious movies of 1989 and 1992.
Batman Live takes itself seriously some of the time, mixing Schumacher-style pantomime with high-tech staging, Cirque du Soleil stunts and lavish sets and costumes that recall the animated cartoon series, as well as the recent blockbuster movies. Holy Musical is serious for approximately 45 seconds, as young Bruce Wayne watches his parents' murder ('One shot! Two shots in the night and they're gone...') and stands alone under a spotlight while a narrator croons 'and there's nothing he can do...'
Then the cheesy keyboards kick in, and Batman starts to dance like a six year old at a party, blue underpants over his tights, as the lyrics describe him as 'the baddest man that there's ever been..' Joe Walker's Batman adopts and exaggerates the adenoidal growl Christian Bale gave the Dark Knight in Nolan's films, and Alfred the Butler (Chris Allen) is clearly based on Michael Caine, but the hard-ass, sulky brooding is played for laughs, in the pure Pop Art style of the 1960s TV show. Like Adam West's timeless Batman, this Dark Knight is endearing partly because he's the only one who isn't in on the joke.
The only one? Well, maybe not. There are leagues of comic book purists, video gamers and Nolan aficionados who won't crack a smile at Holy Musical. To these fans, there can only be one Batman, and that's the grim and gritty vigilante who pursues a never-ending 'war on crime' and comforts himself on sleepless nights with all the ways he knows to break a man's tibia. These are the followers who try to write every camp incarnation out of history, and insist that Batman has only ever been, and always should be, an uptight, straight-up man's man. No, not in that way. Not in that way, at all. Because their Dark Knight could never be gay, or even playful, or fluid in his masculinity. He never wore a pink costume as 'The Rainbow Batman'. (He did)
Whether Batman, the character, is gay or not is irrelevant. There are enough cues and clues in the tens of thousands of Batman texts circulating over 73 years to read him either way, or as bisexual, or entirely asexual. What matters is that by denying the campier sides of Batman, these fans confine him to a single 'dark' dimension, make him a far less interesting character - what's fascinating about Batman are his tensions, his dilemmas, his multiple forms, the endless possibilities he presents - and, crucially, ignore the importance of what we might call the Rainbow Batman to the success of the Dark Knight.
In the mid-1950s, Batman was subject to Senate Subcommittee hearings because it was felt his adventures with Robin might encourage homosexual thoughts among young readers. Those teenage boys, imagining themselves as Robin - 'gay' before the word even circulated in that sense - were devoted, dedicated Batman fans.
In the mid-1960s, the Batman comic book was about to fold. It was the high camp television show that rescued it, propelling it to a new audience of knowing adults - including students, socialites and gay viewers - and giving the comic the boost it needed to survive.
Batman is a performer. Even the darkest version has to deal with the fact that this is a story about a man in a fancy costume, putting on a show. As Green Arrow tells Batman in Frank Miller's grim and gritty Dark Knight Returns, 'Sure, you play it mysterious - but it's a loud kind of mysterious, man.' At the end of Nolan's Batman Begins, Gordon shows Batman the Joker's calling card. 'Got a taste for theatrics, like you...' Batman, like Joker, is a figure of carnival and camp. And more often than not, that camp crusader has kept the character going.
Some Batmen are gay. Get over it.
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