gay batman returns

Decades Later, Let’s Celebrate What’s Really Gay About the Batman Franchise

If you’re gay and you love Batman — or if you’re gay and just love rubber suits — you had two reasons to celebrate this week. What’s debatably the best of the original Batman movies, Batman Returns, turned 25 years old on Monday, and what’s debatably the worst of that series, Batman & Robin, turned 20 on Tuesday.

Batman Returns first hit theaters on June 19, 1992, and Batman & Robin opened on June 20, 1997. These two movies might diverge in terms of quality, but looking back on them today, they offer a lot of interest for the gay comics fan. If you maybe didn’t have your sexuality figured out when you first saw these in the theaters, they might have still left a big impression on you, as there’s a lot about them that speaks to coming out, being different and striving for acceptance.

And yeah, there are the aforementioned rubber suits.

Now, it can be dangerous to look back on the movies you loved when you were young. You may, for example, be better off holding that perfect memory of The Neverending Story in your heart and not finding out how those special effects look on an HD TV set. But that curiosity is nonetheless what motivated my podcast cohost and me to start We Are Not Young Anymore, a series in which we watch those movies and figure out how viewing them as adults — or, at the very least, people who are legally considered adults — stacks up against our memories of them.

Cohost Chris Eggertsen and I are both gay, and our sexuality doesn’t necessarily inform our viewing experience for every movie. (There was very little gay to be found in Willow, it turns out, though it is an under-the-radar feminist triumph.) But man, did we find a lot that’s gay in talking about these two Batman movies.

gay batman uma

It’s more obvious, perhaps, what’s so gay about Batman & Robin, the widely reviled fourth and final installment in the original series. The movie’s first shots are of the asses and crotches of its rubber-suited leads, George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell, and the mood stays campy from then on out. This gay male gaze did not sit well with many straight Bat-fans, and while Batman & Robin isn’t good, I realized in reading up on the film for this podcast that a lot of the criticism against it smacks of homophobia — in general and directed specifically at out director Joel Schumacher.

Even discussion of Uma Thurman’s take on Poison Ivy frequently compares her performance to that of a drag queen, usually with the implication that this must be inherently bad. We say it’s not. Thurman’s spectacularly overdone villainess is draggy, but in this context it’s a plus, and she may be Batman & Robin’s sole saving grace.

If you feel like your day would be better off with two gay journalists talking about the gayer aspects of the movie that killed off the original Batman franchise, have a listen to our latest episode below.

And if that’s not enough, we’ve also got a talk about Batman Returns, where the gay themes are still there but just buried a bit deeper under all that Tim Burton aesthetic.

Perhaps you’ve not thought about how the transformation of Michelle Pfeiffer’s frumpy Selina Kyle into the slinky Catwoman works as an analogy for coming out. (Literally, she destroys her closet before she dons her dominatrix-y cat costume and shows the world her sexual side for the first time.)

Even Danny DeVito’s take on The Penguin lends itself to a gay narrative. Think about it: He is forced to live underground because he’s different. Once he comes out — you know, from the sewer instead of the closet, but still — he struggles to find true acceptance with a society that can only regard him as an aberration or a novelty. He’s also completely evil, of course, and his subsequent run for political office also lends itself to some parallels with Donald Trump that are, to say the least, unfortunate.

If you dig our discussion of these two Batman movies, please subscribe to We Are Not Young Anymore on SoundCloud or on iTunes. We’ve just started barreling through the busy summer movie seasons of both 1992 and 1997, but if there’s a decades-old movie that you’d like to hear us talk about — particularly if there’s a gay angle that you want to see explored — we’d love to hear about it. Hit us up on Twitter, and you may just hear your movie of choice featured in an upcoming episode.

And if all this discussion about Batman movies past has you jonesing for a viewing, can we suggest that Batman Returns might be the better way to go?

  • Chapman Baxter

    I know The Penguin is the obnoxious letch that runs for political office in Batman Returns, but I’ve still always regarded Max Shreck, the billionaire businessman/villain with good publicity, as the Trump proxy. The Penguin, by contrast, is, as you say, more of a genuine outsider, albeit a truly evil one who allows himself to be seduced by the establishment figure, Shreck, into politics. Thus, I do think the gay subtext still resonates both with Catwoman and The Penguin. Moreover, The Penguin is the leader of The Red Triangle Circus Gang, and the red triangle was of course used by the Nazis to stigmitise anarchists and socialists, the same way pink triangles were used to demonise gay men.

    I know it can be potentially offensive to make parallels between villainous fictional characters and the LGBT community, but since this is a Tim Burton/Daniel Waters film, we’re clearly meant to sympathise with the likes of Catwoman and The Penguin, in view of their outcast and downtrodden status, irrespective of how objectionable their reaction to that status may be.