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Wertham's Ghost, Part 2
by The Old Maid

As fans know, the Dick/Barbara romance ended in TNBA’s “Old Wounds.” We still see sparks, as when Barbara pines for Dick in “You Scratch My Back.” Dick refuses to let her back into his life. He feels betrayed. Indeed, Dick may not be wrong to push her away. For the rest of her career Batgirl consistently patrols with Batman instead of him. She is doing the very thing that makes Dick not trust her. He told her plainly and she does it anyway. Why should he take her back if he’s only going to get hurt again?

Then the Batman Beyond animated series is created, and with it a distant-future character we’ll call Barbara Beyond. The love of Dick’s life, she dismisses their years together as "puppy love." This is akin to saying that Dick’s broken heart is his own fault, and that Bruce and Barbara’s sickening behavior after his departure is also his fault. It most certainly is not. To say that Barbara consoled herself for a lost love by making fun of him and having an affair with his father mocks and degrades them all. Many families drive a son away; do they console each other in this fashion? Of course not.

This proposal redraws the psychological landscape of the Bat mythos. Barbara used to be the most normal of the B:TAS vigilantes. But if she’d rather smooch her boyfriend’s father, and escort a rich man twice her age into his dotage, that makes Dick the most normal one in the family.

Popular opinion is that Nightwing never appeared in Batman Beyond because he and Wayne are fighting. Possibly. Dick and Bruce Wayne fight the way they breathe, naturally and constantly. It’s just as likely that Nightwing avoids Gotham because he’s still furious at Barbara. Even Old Man Wayne had enough sense to regret things. But to this day Barbara doesn’t think she did anything wrong.

Holmes speaks of "grief staining backwards," draining color and joy from memory, but perversion stains backwards too. Barbara Beyond is called upon to service not one but two men from the same family. It’s not beautiful. It’s not nostalgic. It’s just sleazy, and only raises that old ghost with its assumptions of A Partner’s Place. Once again the woman’s romances become the primary purpose for her character. Of course she would service as many men as possible—that’s her job—and the one she cannot service physically (Tim Drake Beyond) she nurtures in other ways. It didn’t help that Barbara Beyond contributed far less to the BB series than fans had anticipated. Her character development reminds one of an exchange in the series Home Improvement:

Quote:

Randy: "Dinner and flowers? What'd you do now, Dad?"

Tim: "Nothing! See, the thing about marriage is, every now and then I do nice stuff for Mom even when I don't have to. That way I build up credit against bad stuff I haven't done yet."

Randy: "So it's like frequent screw-up miles."

 

As a young woman Barbara/Batgirl earned a balance of goodwill by fighting crime. Barbara Beyond drew heavily upon that account while making few new deposits to it. For many fans the it’s-not-legally-incest proposal has overdrawn that account. Fans wanted to see the character do something, well, good. True, whenever Terry (the Batman of this future) caught crooks she put them in jail, but any chief of police could have done the same. Why did the only thing about Barbara Beyond that made her unique, that gave her distinction, have to be something bad?

Robin had at his disposal the aggressive Bat-Girl (Betty), Batgirl I (Barbara), and Batgirl II (Huntress), each more sexually explicit than the last. Now we are told that the Batman also had easy access to Batgirl I. Does this mean the men finally find their female partners attractive? No. They find them available, and that’s no compliment.

"The very notion that every lady would yield, if she didn't have a compelling reason not to, is insulting." --Judith Martin

What the women of Batman do is to legitimize another of Wertham’s points, twice over. One: that the Bat mythos is hypersexualized and therefore a bad place for good women. Or is that a good place for bad women? Two: that its women cannot handle power. They become intoxicated, then addicted. They make bizarre and obvious mistakes but their addiction blinds them to reality. Eventually they are crushed beneath the weight of cumulative mistakes, or else they commit one piercing, unforgettable sin that turns the audience against them in unison. The character is then discarded and her fatal flaws recycled in the next generation.

Wertham accused Batman of an anti-woman bias that did not yet exist. He declared the Batman to be explicitly sexual, and did so in a way that could only contaminate Batman’s home. At the time, these charges were absurd. Since then the Bat mythos has done the very thing it was falsely accused of doing – and it made these mistakes trying to prove Wertham wrong. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today the comic continuity has yet another Batgirl, Batgirl III. However the name she received at random fits Dr. Wertham better: "Cassandra."

The possible future known as Batman Beyond stands in a unique position in the Bat mythos. The mistakes of the past did not have to be repeated, yet for the female characters it happened anyway. For the men, though, the BB series suggested an opportunity not only to avoid the mistakes of the past but to rectify them.

Batman Beyond television series was set in the 2040s, but its theme was the closest the mythos has come to Year One in a long time. Terry McGinnis shared Old Man Wayne’s goal : that what happened to them must never happen to anyone else. Together the two men are Batman, accomplishing what neither could alone.
Terry’s arrival brought Batman back to his origins. Why does someone become Batman? What alternate paths were available, and why did the hero reject them? What sacrifices must he make? Are they worth it?

Lamentably, this promising series became bogged down by peripheral characters leading small lives. The primary characters wilted. Among these primary characters were the trio who comprised Terry’s loved ones. Very soon these three were called upon to justify their existence or get off the screen. If Dana Tan and Mary and Matt McGinnis had the power to advance and develop the Terry character, why did they fail to do so?

The only plausible answer is that Wertham’s ghost has extended his reach across 50 years of time and space to influence the casting of this series. Terry is saddled with a possessive girlfriend and required to live with his mommy. It is as though their sole purpose was to ensure that Terry and Bruce Wayne don’t fall victim to the old rumors.

Of course it does no good to bar the door and leave the burglar the gift of an open window. Wertham’s ghost missed Terry McGinnis but scored a direct hit on Barbara Beyond. This character not only admits to an affair with her boyfriend’s father, but she also claims (“A Touch of Curare”) that she left Bruce because "the street gets old." If that had been true she wouldn’t be a policewoman now. She left Bruce because he was no fun anymore. This implies that fun is all Batgirl ever stood for; working her way through every man in the family being, in her eyes, merely another form of fun.

Lots of people care desperately to Keep Up Appearances in Batman Beyond: the network, which declared the series "too violent" then made it more so by promoting a succession of straw men, or rather straw teens, for Terry to knock down. Old Man Wayne is pressured to pair off with the two most inappropriate women he has ever known (his son’s ex-beloved; a homicidal drag queen) solely to prove that he pairs off with women. (Oh, Catwoman, where are you when we REALLY need you?) Barbara Beyond makes ghastly mistakes in both her professional and personal lives, won’t own up to them, and then wonders why people don’t take her seriously as a policewoman. And the creators of Batman Beyond waffle about its place in the Bat mythos. When it prospered in Season One, it was The Definitive Future. When it stumbled in Season Two, it became The Maybe Future. And when the series ended after only three seasons it became Elseworlds, a fantasy to be overwritten and forgotten.

That is a real shame. The Terry McGinnis and Old Man Wayne characters are two of the most original creations in Batman’s history. If their series could be pruned of its deadwood these characters could continue for years. They deserved better.

Long ago Robin prophesied in Batman #144 that Bruce will never make any relationship work until it’s all he has left to live for. Robin was speaking of romance, not of family ties, but the words proved true in both situations. Batman Beyond had the potential to fill this prophecy. Let us speculate what would happen if it attempted to do so. This may seem pointless to some (a possible future of a possible future?), but it would be pointless only if Beyond had nothing to offer.

If Batman Beyond is to be taken seriously as a legitimate chapter in Bat history, it must prove that it can contribute something to Batman’s character that no other chapter in his life can. What BB can contribute is the permanent restoration of Bruce Wayne’s good name.

Let us say the title returns to production someday. The heart of the show has always been the unique relationship between Terry and Wayne. These are the only characters who know why Terry’s father died, the only ones who know Terry’s real reason for becoming Batman. This murder prompted both men to re-examine their lives, to and decide they didn’t like what they see.

Wayne’s determination to redeem himself begins by redeeming himself in Terry’s eyes. Terry’s father was murdered by company men. Technically it wasn’t Wayne’s company anymore; the corporate culture was unrecognizable and Wayne had no power to influence it, except by appealing to conscience. Still, he owns stock in the place and his name is on the door. He probably feels responsible for this murder, even though he knew nothing and there was nothing he could have done.

Terry for his part has taken Wayne and put him in place of his own dead father. Terry the ex-convict needs to redeem himself too. Cleaning up the company was each man’s way of proving to the other, "I’ve changed. I don’t want to be that man anymore. I need you to believe in me."

It has long been this writer’s contention that Wayne would have adopted Terry if the series had continued. Wayne would have done this, not to turn BB into one long therapy session, but because the Batman demonstrates his feelings with actions, not words.

This proposal develops Terry too. To become Batman Terry had to choose between his living parent (Mary) and his dead one (Warren). An adoption would make Terry’s choice much more clear, and would probably make it irreversible.

If Wayne does adopt his protégé, Mary and Matt will surely see it as a betrayal. ("You don’t love Dad anymore.") This is the farthest thing from Terry’s intentions—but he can never tell them. Terry did not become Batman, and would not set aside the McGinnis name to betray his father’s memory but to honor it. Breaking Mary and Matt’s heart is the necessary price to be paid. It would be the first, indeed the only sacrifice Terry has been asked to make, and would give all parties the character development they were denied.

Terry wants to honor his father, and Old Man Wayne wants even one of his sons to forgive him and rebuild his family before he dies. The problem is, no one will let them. The moment I mentioned adoption, Wertham’s ghost reappeared:

Quote:

Won't everyone sit up and wonder why this old bachelor billionaire (never married) is adopting his pretty young adolescent assistant? Cursory digging will reveal that most of Terry's jobs occur at night, and do not involve any visible errand running.

 


The Bat mythos has its Hugo Stranges and Ian Peeks in fiction and its Fredric Werthams in life. Running from them in fright has not worked, not once in all these years. Batman has let fear rule its life, and it is no better off for it. But fear is as much a choice as a motivation.

As we were cautioned at the start, anyone can say anything. A story needn’t be fair or true to get into circulation. Will tabloid reporters or Wayne’s corporate enemies invent prurient stories about Our Heroes for fun and profit? Of course they will. Indeed, they would be more likely to do so as the years roll by and no adoption takes place. The only variable under the Batmen’s control is how to respond to this threat. The Bat mythos should not attempt to placate its critics but should instead deny them any shred of credibility. It’s high time to cut the Gordian knot and try the direct approach for a change.

The direct approach asks, What does Terry do at night? Answer: he works. The sun never sets on the Wayne corporate empire. If Wayne tells outsiders that they are conducting legitimate business with offices in other time zones, and can prove it, then that’s the end of it. Surely Wayne anticipated this question from the start and has instructed Terry accordingly.

The direct approach does its homework. The truth is there are not and never were any X-rated possibilities in adopting Terry. The adult adoption laws are designed to prevent that kind of nightmare scenario. It is true there have been specific cases in which a petitioner tried to adopt a homosexual partner in a desperate, last-resort attempt to create some kind of legally recognized bond between them. All such cases have been thrown out. Adoption solidifies a parent-and-child relationship, and sexual feelings or sexual contact are obviously unacceptable in that context. Therefore if Wayne adopts Terry this will prove they are not a sexually active couple; but if Wayne declines to adopt, the rumors may begin that they are.

Finally, the direct approach calls witnesses. Wertham accused the Batman of having sexual relations with minors. Commissioner James Gordon’s actions plainly refute this allegation. Jim Gordon personally arranged Dick Grayson’s placement at Wayne Manor (“Robin’s Reckoning”). It’s an unmistakable endorsement of Bruce Wayne’s good character. It’s also pretty unmistakable that if Bruce had been a child molester, Jim Gordon would have shot him by now. So it seems the reputations of all are quite safe.

The risks of adoption are real, but manageable. In contrast the risks of the indirect approach are real but unmanageable.

The indirect approach assumes that Wayne and Terry are in danger of being labelled a homosexual couple and that the best way to prevent this identification … is to behave like such a couple. That is, Terry cannot move in with Bruce Wayne even if the move would be in the best interests of both men; Wayne should hide his true feelings for his heir, and after his death slip Terry palimony under the table, laundered through trusted advisors or friends, rather than a direct and public inheritance. Keeping Terry’s inheritance quiet, though, could be construed as though the characters had done something wrong. Now if that’s how the characters act, that’s what people will think.

Remember perversion staining backwards? If Old Man Wayne is accused of having a same-sex affair with one boy, public perception would assume that that’s what he’s always done. Suddenly the father of orphans becomes the son of perdition. He didn’t give poor Dick and Tim a home out of compassion or to set an example for other prospective foster parents. He did it to molest them. Furthermore, Dick and Tim do more to promote this charge than Terry McGinnis ever could. Supposedly Dick moved into Wayne Manor at age nine (comics version) to eleven (B:TAS) and Tim at age thirteen (TNBA). Both left in a state of extreme mental anguish. Tim went insane. He moved out but still needs therapy forty years later. As for Dick, he fled the country! (Went to South America, according to the comics.) Despite their ages these characters didn’t move out so much as run away from home.

Dick and Tim call Bruce a freak and a manipulator. They blame him for stealing their childhood. Metaphorically speaking, they spit on the ground when his name is mentioned. They left decades ago and nothing can induce them to make the first move toward him. They aren’t there for him. Some villain or other is always trying to assassinate him (Shriek, Blight, Payback, the Royal Flush Gang, the ROTJ Jokerz, their Joker master), but no one ever checks to see if the old man is dead or alive. Maybe they missed the first newscast—but after the fifth attempt, you have to conclude they’re not coming.

That is what the public will see. It needn’t be true. It need only be believed.

But if Wayne does adopt Terry, public perception would conclude that this is what Wayne has always done or tried to do. Bruce Wayne remains the protector of widows and orphans, and if his troubled sons ran away from home, well, it was because they were troubled. That’s why they were in foster care in the first place.

Now this may overcompensate the Batman—it makes him look more the saint than he is—but the alter-ego Bruce Wayne needs that to bleach away the stain upon his name. The Bruce of public image always maintained a warm-hearted, generous but occasionally naïve persona that bore little relation to his grim night life. What motivates both personas, though, is love of justice. Giving Bruce back his good name is not giving him more than he deserves, but merely returning what was stolen from him.

Ultimately, though, Old Man Wayne would not adopt Terry to simplify the distribution of his estate or to exorcize old ghosts (though this would solve both problems). If Wayne and Terry ever did this, it would be because this is the way they truly feel.

On July 23, 2005, American audiences first viewed "Epilogue," the season finale of another Timmverse vehicle, Justice League Unlimited. After an unprecedented thirteen years of creativity, the animated continuity illustrated (and often written) by Bruce Timm has come to be acknowledged as one of the best interpretations of the Batman character in its 65-year history. In "Epilogue" Timm joined with writer Dwayne McDuffie to tie up loose ends even as they looked toward unexplored horizons. This episode has been described as a love letter to the fans, a "game of hide and seek with questions of fate and character formation," a Moebius strip of plot/theme, a study in power/control, or just plain "phenomenal." To explore every ramification of this late entry would fall outside the scope of this essay, yet we would be remiss not to mention its unmistakable (think meteor crater) impact on Batman's world. It redefines Batman Beyond as the canonical future, and it rewrites the most intimate chapters in the lives of Terry McGinnis and Old Man Wayne.

This writer is not so presumptuous as to believe that the Timmverse writers would craft an episode specifically to address the concerns raised in a previous version of this essay. Nevertheless "Epilogue" does address those concerns, in ways both brazen and brilliant. For, you see, the episode dares to take both the indirect approach and the direct approach, alternately then in support of each other, until they merge into one "reality."

Initially it is the direct approach which clamors for our attention. The story is told gracefully, if the raw details are coarse: the steely woman warrior Amanda Waller becomes fascinated with Bruce Wayne's Batman, enough to do something about it. Like Tolkien's Aule, she is just trying to help God out a little. Her definition of "helping" prompts her to steal Bruce/Batman's DNA from a blood sample and to introduce it into Warren and Mary McGinnis' marital bed. The result is that Warren McGinnis sacrifices his time, finances and ultimately his life to nurture and protect another man's children. That he chooses to sacrifice himself to save lives is significant; Waller would have deprived him of that choice as well, in the single-minded pursuit of her own goals. Instead, Warren lives long enough to become a whistleblower at Wayne's company, and dies as one. Warren is Terry's inspiration, but he is not of Terry's blood. Terry understandably feels coerced when he learns this, and, knowing no other foe with the capacity or motive to violate his family, he assumes that Bruce Wayne himself is the culprit. To Terry's shock, Waller comfortably takes blame/credit for the whole thing.

It is at this point that many of Terry's fans reject the story in anguish or outrage. Terry himself stops there, in part because Wertham would have stopped there. It is safe to say that Wertham would have evaluated Waller's exploitation of Mary and the three men in question in terms both impolite and unprecedented. (Indeed, what fan can ever again look at the episode "Rebirth" in the same way? The innocent first-time meeting between Mary and a man old enough to be her grandfather who, unbeknownst to either of them, just happens to be the father of her sons, surely provokes a few uneasy stomachs.) However, it could be argued that "Epilogue" intended to disturb the audience. Terry needs to yell; Waller has worked out her salvation or judgment years ago (and off-screen); therefore Terry cannot yell at her because she has grown beyond the ability to receive it. Thus Terry's frustration is recreated for the viewer's sampling as well.

The catch is that, because the direct approach is direct, it does not stop there. Amanda Waller's need to control her environment causes her to see children like Ace and Terry and even her hero, Bruce/Batman, as mere experiments that any competent scientist should be able to document and replicate, given the technology and ingredients; she must be disabused of this notion. Terry is very ready to blame Bruce; he must be disabused of this notion as well. Terry believes he cannot marry; he must be challenged by the grown Dana Tan who, refreshingly, has been restored as the strong-minded but sympathetic partner she used to be in her first televised season.

Ultimately the point of "Epilogue" is not to document Waller's act of exploitation (now thirty-five years past in "story" time) but to inquire whether the characters allow themselves to be defined by it. Terry's initial reaction is to argue Yes; believing himself to be artificially engineered to live another man's life, he feels too smothered to pursue his own dreams. That Terry already is pursuing said dreams until this shocking revelation comes to light is a point he declines to consider, preferring instead to indulge in some rather high-flown revenge fantasies. (Even in his fantasies, Terry's relationships with Warren and Bruce remain unchanged: Terry is sarcastic, defiant, and rarely does anything the easy way if there is a harder way to do it; say, talking versus yelling.) It is Waller, the one who created this mess, who must make things right. She does not apologize (events are surely way, way past "sorry"), but she reminds Terry of a lesson she also had to learn: that character arises more from choice than history or biology. People are not paint-by-numbers kits; they have dignity, spirit.

The apparent downside of this direct approach is that it appears to devalue Dick Grayson and Tim Drake as Bruce Wayne's sons, and to devalue Warren McGinnis as Terry's father. This is where the indirect approach comes into play. Does Terry's presence disqualify Dick and Tim from being Bruce Wayne's sons? Has the biological child replaced the adoptive children in terms of inheritance? Have the series' creators become those obnoxious persons who inquire of adoptive parents whether they also have "real" children? Of course not. Dick and Tim were not Bruce Wayne's roommates—they were children he raised, albeit children he often failed. (They might want never to see him again, but that's entirely different.) Dick and Tim are not missing from Old Man Wayne's life because they are not family, but perhaps because they are. For who else can enrage or hurt us so deeply but family? Bruce's mistakes wound his boys so deeply precisely because they are too personal, not the blows of a stranger. In like manner, Warren is not Terry's babysitter but his father. Bruce Wayne did not raise Terry; he did not sit up with a sick child, or help him with homework, and Terry did not become Batman to honor his biological father but his faithful father.

When "Epilogue" aired, one fan asked, "Is it a crime to change the random occurrences of ‘Rebirth's’ first meeting of Terry and Bruce into something ordained by the slow, grinding wheel of Fate? Not really; coincidence is no more justifiable or preferable than the other, outside of the realm of opinion." Ultimately the viewers responded to this development with that mixture of delight and nausea that one experiences after sampling a rollercoaster that proved more ambitious than one's sensibilities. Nevertheless, in very few cases did the initial queasiness at the proposal deter them from riding again.

"Epilogue" turns inside out the original question : "Is Old Man Wayne any less a father figure to Terry just because they are unrelated?" Now the situation is reversed. The audience must inquire, "Is Warren any less a father figure to Terry just because they are unrelated?" The viewer who would answer "He is still a father figure" to the one question is compelled to answer the question the same way when matters prove to be the other way around. For one of the perennial themes of Batman's myth and world is that family is not merely blood but a choice. Through Bruce/Batman's identification with Dick Grayson, with Tim Drake, with Ace, and with Terry McGinnis, he extends the definition of family to include the human family.

The typical superhero is always saving the world. He or she never asks whether this world is worth saving. That is Batman's question. Each time he risks it all to save one life, he says Yes. To him one life is worth the world. It is that quality to which Amanda Waller responds, however crudely and uncomprehendingly. There is great irony here, as this is the same quality that Batman failed to communicate to Fredric Wertham, who was specifically looking for it and, after his fashion, dedicated his life to pursuing much the same principle.

Decades ago, the comic books overreacted to Wertham’s charges of sexual misconduct by sexualizing all the characters. This only made the Bat appear sexually insatiable, to the point that both mixed teams and same-sex teams were polluted by his presence. In Batman Beyond the mythos had the chance to exorcize this ghost by getting the Wayne/McGinnis relationship firmly footed as a familial one.

It’s easy to blame Wertham’s ghost for the weaknesses of assorted Bat-stories—too easy. It makes him the scapegoat and uses him to justify mistakes which he would have loathed as much as we do. Wertham did not make the Bat mythos introduce female characters, nor did he make them self-destruct. Fredric Wertham would have hated to see woman after woman introduced to serve as sexual objects and to foul up. This is hardly an improvement.

It is time to face the truth. Wertham the man seemed a towering figure, alternately compassionate and calculating, but Wertham’s ghost has no real power, aside from what others give it. Give a phobia the power to rule your life, and it will ruin your life. If the mythos would resolve to give it none, then it would have none. It’s as simple as that.

Ask the hard-core Batfan to describe the Batman, and the answer is usually, "a loner." Sex just isn’t part of Batman’s concern. He’s married to the job, and if Batman was close to his Robins, well, that’s because it’s normal for parents to be close to their children. It fits Batman’s precarious mental state as well. He lost the love of his parents when they died and has built surrogate families to recapture that feeling ever since. It brings out, shall we say, the human in him. And they don’t always turn out badly. Consider how Bruce and Dick define a successful family in Nightwing: Ties That Bind.

From "The Resignation":


Quote:

"I’ve been looking at my life lately," begins Nightwing, "and I don’t like what I see. We watched my parents fall to their deaths … you took me in and after a few months you let me in on all your secrets. I was flattered, excited. Then you gave me a costume and I became Robin, history’s first kid sidekick. There I was, the laughing boy daredevil, tearing through Gotham City with the great Batman himself. I thought I was the hottest item in town.

"But it wasn’t all fun. I was on call twenty-four hours a day and you subjected me to discipline that would make a Marine boot camp look like a Girl Scout cookiefest. I was able to handle schoolwork. But there was no time for anything else. No football games, no dances, no proms, no girlfriends. Just Robin.

"And where was Dick Grayson? Nowhere. Nowhere at all.

"Eventually I cut loose from you. I thought I was becoming my own person. But was I? I adopted this Nightwing identity—a bargain basement version of Batman, and I continued to do as I’d always done. Wear a mask and fight the bad guys. I wasn’t as good as you—nobody could be—but I did my best. I never felt it was good enough.

"A few months ago, you asked me to be you for a while. I put on the cape and cowl and sallied forth to do battle with society’s foes. Once more the reluctant knight errant …. I was adequate. But I hated it.

"I realized that I’m not you. I was never you. I don’t want to be you."

 

Nightwing then announces he will become Dick Grayson alone. He leaves his costume behind and walks away. But the life of an ordinary man doesn’t speak to him the way he had hoped. Time crawls. He’s lonely and bored. Every relationship he pursues, whether friend or foe, leads him back to Work. Even his efforts to learn more about his parents prove futile. And so in Dead Simple Dick returns to the only home he's every known.

Quote:

"I hoped to learn about the Graysons as people. Were they brave, smart, happy? I’ll never know. And it doesn’t matter because I’ve gotten something far more valuable—something I didn’t realize I needed. Something about my own childhood.

"What I’ve gotten is the realization that you did the best you could with what you had. You weren’t a perfect father, but that’s okay because probably nobody’s a perfect father. No family’s perfect, either.

"I was lucky. I was privileged. Not because of the big house and the money, but because you gave me a lot of yourself. You taught me, you showed me, you encouraged me. You never lied to me and you never demanded that I be anything I’m not.

"I didn’t imitate you because you insisted that I do so, but because I wanted to. Of all the men I knew, you were most worthy of imitation. Then I blamed you for letting me be who I was. Pretty dumb.

"You and Alfred gave me a home and you gave me what we don’t mention. The L word. You were the best family I could have had.

"Thanks."

 


Now if Bruce and Dick had talked like this when Fredric Wertham was alive, it might have made a difference. Sadly, even when the Dynamic Duo were at their most chatty and carefree, the important things still went unsaid. And so when Wertham went fishing for terms to describe just what Batman and Robin were doing in that big house all by themselves, he never thought in terms of parent-and-child. When his patients told him how they "read" Bats, he saw no reason to doubt their perceptions. Why couldn’t Wertham see the Batman as a foster parent, a man who’d vowed to change the world to make it a better place for children? These were things Wertham himself promoted. Bats gave his Robins all that he had the capacity to give—but his foster sons were sons, as surely as if they were blood. Why did Wertham never see that?

Because Batman never said so.

That simple misstep caused so much unnecessary confusion, grief and pain. And it all came about because the characters took the indirect approach instead of the direct one. The indirect approach may be more subtle, more dramatic, but there is such a thing as being too subtle. Fredric Wertham made his complaints extremely clear. Now if such a smart man could not "get" Batman, that may not be the Bat’s fault. But if the mythos could not grasp such plainly worded complaints, and instead chose to fix what ain’t broke ‘til it got broke, that surely doesn’t sound like Wertham’s fault. Every player did his part. No one ruined things all alone.

In the final analysis Wertham had more in common with the Batman than he knew. Both men had seen the ugliness beneath a façade of civilization. They saw victims revictimized by a system that didn’t talk to them or know how to help them. They knew how hypocritical it was to say "don’t do that" and then release offenders back into the same environment where they got into trouble. Above all, Wertham and the Batman were utterly exasperated with public apathy. Even if no one joined them, they would continue their campaign alone.

Like the Batman, Wertham was a man who tried to change the world while standing on one foot. He believed he could do it if he just tried harder. He kept believing and kept trying until finally, inexorably, life went on without him. Today people (those who have heard of him, anyway) dismiss Wertham or make fun of him, as the Batman of BB’s “Out of the Past” is dismissed as a high-stepping Rockette. Yes, Wertham failed in his most publicized ambition—but how often history overlooks his achievements.

What Dr. Wertham and the Batman both show us is that one man can make a difference. You can make a difference. Don’t worry about whether you’ll succeed, or whether you’ll be remembered. Just make sure what you give your life to is truly worth fighting for.

{The End.}
 

 

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