Everyone Is Missing the Point About Batman's Dick

Why censoring 'Batman: Damned' misses the point of this comic book story entirely.

DC Comics

A new, adult-oriented graphic novel from DC Comics features Batman in the nude with his Batarang hanging loose. Unsurprisingly, the image quickly went viral (because Batman’s dick), and DC is now editing the Bat’s peen out of future print versions and the digital edition.

Batman absolutely fucks, to be sure, but this whole thing has gotten out of hand. Missing from the conversation is the ambition of Batman: Damned #1, a Batman horror series from acclaimed artists Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, in which they aim to strip Batman naked of his larger than life persona to expose the scared, vulnerable humanity underneath.

I understood what that meant several years ago, when I first saw another rich white man expose himself, clumsily wrecking his physical space like an animal.

Several years ago, in a cold, dark room with other half-bored English students, I sat watching Citizen Kane, as one tends to do with a film studies minor, and witnessed an aged Charles Foster Kane destroy luxury furniture in a tiny room (built with the explicit purpose to make Kane look out of place). Larger than life throughout his lifetime, Charles Kane was still no more than a child.

And that was it. That’s how visual metaphors worked. It needed the previous 80 minutes of context to give it meaning, but, there it was.

There are huge differences between the stories, but I was reminded of that moment when reading Batman: Damned #1, where a nude Bruce Wayne lets his Batarang hang loose. Citizen Kane and Batman: Damned tell entirely different stories with wildly different characters, but the two share uncannily similar themes: Pathetic vulnerability in larger than life, “alpha” men.

This is the story of Batman: Damned. “Batman’s dick” is just a vital, visual part.

So it was to my shock when “Batman’s Dick” became trending viral fodder. Believe me, I get that comic books don’t release with the same level of hype and consumption as, say, a pop star’s new album. But I still thought Bruce’s nudity was a non-story when I received an advanced, unedited copy a week ago because I had the context. Batman: Damned, a horror miniseries that aims to bring down Batman to terrifying places in his investigation of the Joker’s murder, is all about rendering Batman, a fictional icon we think of as invincible, as naked.

Cover of 'Batman: Damned' #1, by Lee Bermejo.

DC Comics

But removed of all context, and shared only in embeddable tweets, the story is Batman’s circumcised junk. You do not get the gripping, shocking opening of Batman laid out on a medical stretcher. You don’t see Batman bleed from a gunshot and fall off a bridge. You don’t see Batman hallucinate seeing his dead parents telling him he’s “doing fine” as he’s drowning.

And you don’t see the big splash page, two pages after the dick, where a nude Bruce Wayne lies prone in the Batcave — at once a physical space that turns his inner Batman ego outward, and surrounded by his suits like a judging hall of mirrors — with his own costume ominously looming over him.

This is not what we imagine when we think of Batman. Even when he’s broken and bruised, like in The Dark Knight Rises or Justice League, it often plays off like a star athlete with an injury. It is hardly ever what the reality would be, which is an exceptionally healthy rich guy in an elaborate costume getting his back broken by monstrous men.

Yup. There it is. From 'Batman: Damned' #1.

DC Comics

“He’s a force of unstoppable will,” said illustrator Lee Bermejo in our interview about the comic last week. He told me that he had grown tired of the “Robocop”-ification of Batman and wanted to get back to his human side. “You can hit him, shoot him, the guy never seems to go down. It takes away the human quality, so much of who that character is.”

I’m disinterested in the specifics of our reactionary culture, how Everything Is Content and how the packaging of stories in social media can render a nothing into a something. I also disagree with DC for editing Batman’s penis out of the digital editions and future print versions, on the basis that it wasn’t “additive” to the story (says an anonymous source to IGN) because it very much is.

Batman’s dick is funny because it’s Batman’s dick. We make fun of Superman’s bulge all the time. But comics are more than just a sequential series of weird stuff with super people. There’s story here, packed with characters. And Batman, as a character, doesn’t do anything without a purpose.

Batman: Damned #1 is available now.

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