In his 1954 polemic, “Seduction of the Innocent,” psychiatrist Fredric Wertham railed against comic books as immoral and referred to Batman and Robin, in particular, as “a wish-dream of two homosexuals living together.”
While Wertham’s research has been debunked over the years, it appears he was at least partly right: In the August issue of “Batman: Urban Legends,” released Tuesday, Robin agrees to go out on a date with another boy.
The Robin in question is Tim Drake, the third of at least four young men to wear the green and red tights alongside the Caped Crusader. With Batman’s biological son, Damian, taking on the mantle of Robin in recent years, Tim has suffered something of an identity crisis.
He has even taken on a variety of hero names — Red Robin, Drake — but is still trying to find himself. In “Batman: Urban Legends” No. 4, released in June, Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, tells Tim “what you find is going to change you.”
The current storyline, “Sum of Our Parts,” sees Tim reconnecting with an old friend, Bernard Dowd, who last appeared in 2005’s “Robin” No. 140.
As the story unfolds, Tim’s feelings for Bernard seem more than friendly: Seeing him for dinner, Tim thinks, “It feels like it’s been years but he still looks ... he still looks ...” before the pair hug.
Bernard is kidnapped by a new villain, the Chaos Monster, and Bernard hints during their daring escape that he knows Tim is Robin, saying he wished “we could have finished our date.”
The pair make it to safety, and at the end of the issue, Tim tells Bernard: “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that night and I — I don’t know what it meant to me. Not yet. But I’d like to figure it out.”
Bernard then asks Tim out on a legitimate date, which the young hero accepts.
Because “Urban Legends” is an anthology series, readers won’t see the next installment in Tim Drake’s story until “Batman: Urban Legends” No. 10 comes out in December.
Should he prove to be bisexual or even bi-curious, Tim will be just the latest member of the Bat family to raise the rainbow flag: In 2006, Greg Rucka reinvented Batwoman as an out lesbian. Since then, antiheroes Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have been portrayed as romantic partners. Catwoman has been presented as bisexual, and lesbian police detective Renee Montoya has frequently patrolled the streets of Gotham, both as a cop and as the enigmatic superhero The Question.
Tim Drake has previously been linked to a female do-gooder — Stephanie Brown, alias Spoiler — and would be the first cisgender male hero in the Bat titles to explore his sexuality, a fact writer Meghan Fitzmartin (“DC Superhero Girls,” “Future State: Robin Eternal”) calls “significant.”
“While female LGBTQ representation is very important, especially in comics, there is also a history of deeming these characters as ‘acceptable’ only because LGBTQ women are often fetishized,” Fitzmartin told NBC News in an email. “Therefore, it becomes uncouth for male characters to explore their sexuality, because of what it may mean for the male readers. Ultimately, what I want from art is for it to challenge the way we see the world and face us with the truth that exists below the surface.”
In an interview with Polygon, Fitzmartin said she wanted Tim Drake's storyline "to pay tribute to the fact that sexuality is a journey."
“To be clear, his feelings for Stephanie have been/are 100 percent real, as are his feelings for Bernard. However, Tim is still figuring himself out. I don’t think he has the language for it all ... yet," she said.
Fitzmartin, who worked on the story with artist Belen Ortega and colorist Alejandro Sánchez, told Polygon that the idea came out of her discussions with Batman titles editor Dave Wielgosz.
Fitzmartin and Wielgosz “talked about where Tim Drake has been vs. where he was at the time and came to the conclusion that it needed to be a story about identity and discovery. What was next for Boy Wonder?”
After stewing over it, she pitched Wielgosz on having Robin come out or at least explore his sexuality.
“Look, I don’t know if this is something that can happen, but this is the story,” she told him, Polygon reported, “because it’s the only story it can be.”
Fitzmartin credits the story’s getting approved to Wielgosz and out Batman writer James Tynion IV, who contributed to June’s LGBTQ “DC Pride” special.
LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD applauded DC's Tim Drake-Bernard Dowd storyline.
“Bi+ people make up the majority of the LGBTQ community, but continue to be underrepresented in media, especially bi+ men,” Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis, said in an email. “We look forward to seeing Tim Drake’s story be explored further in new DC comics, and hope this wave of growing LGBTQ visibility continues within the world of major label comics.”