This week marks the launch of Batman: Damned #1, from master storytellers Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. In the lead up to the release, the comics community was buzzing over one major element of the issue: the full-frontal nudity. The full-frontal bat-nudity.
I spent a whole weekend watching people on my Twitter timeline tweet obliquely about Batman’s penis (which I will only refer to as Batman’s penis, not “his dick,” so as to avoid confusion with his adopted ward, Dick Grayson) without a moment to sit down and read Batman: Damned #1 myself. Possibly I could have on Sunday, when I was on an Amtrak train sitting next to an old lady, but I chose to demur. As it turns out, I probably would have been fine.
Batman: Damned #1, a dream-like, supernaturally-tinged story about what happens to Batman after the Joker dies, featuring guest appearances by John Constantine and Deadman, is the the first installment of the first book in DC Comics’ Black Label imprint. The idea of Black Label is to pair the biggest DC characters with comics creators at the top of their craft, and let them run wild. Black Label books won’t be a part of DC’s main continuity, and will be graphic novel-length. Their pages are literally bigger than those of standard monthlies, and they’ll be published on a more relaxed schedule.
I ask you, reader: What is the Black Label imprint for, if not things that artists and writers can’t do in a monthly comic, due to the constraints of time, continuity ... or content?
All weekend, I waited for Batman: Damned, and I expected to see a significant representation of Batman’s penis. I did not.
Let’s make some things clear
I am not disparaging Batman’s penis as it appears in Batman: Damned #1. As an aspect of character design, I have no problems here in regards to length, girth or shape.
What I am criticizing, in my full professional capacity as comics editor of Polygon, is the presentation of Batman’s penis. I reached the end of Batman: Damned #1, expectantly waiting for the Batman’s penis panel — and had to turn right around and look for it again when I was done.
Batman’s penis is on display in three panels of Batman: Damned #1, in which Batman is lit from behind, his features heavily in shadow. In each panel, a faint, gentle line of Lee Bermejo’s pen gives us just the barest, silhouetted outline of Batman’s penis. It is clearly to be seen, so long as you are really looking for it specifically, and not just, you know, reading the comic. Like the Dark Knight himself, crouched on some rainswept gargoyle or looming in the dark corners of a crime scene, his penis is depicted almost entirely hidden in shadow.
If you’d like to see it, you can support your local comic shop by buying the issue. But you won’t find any drawings of Batman’s penis in the digital edition of Batman: Damned #1 — it’s been edited out. [Update: Get to your comic shop fast, because DC has decided to edit it out of all future print editions as well.] Polygon’s sources say that, in the end, DC editorial didn’t feel like the nudity was additive to the story.
Oddly enough, I agree.
Look: The internet exists
If I wanted to go look at Batman’s penis, I could. We could all go look at any potential configuration of Batman’s genitalia with any potential configuration of the genitalia of a vast array of other superheroes and supervillains. We could potentially go find a story that doesn’t have Batman’s genitalia in it at all, although depending on the website, that might actually present the greater challenge.
What I expected from Batman’s penis in Batman: Damned #1 is that it would show me why I would want to look at Batman’s penis in an official DC comic rather than in some corner of the internet. What I expected from Batman’s penis in Batman: Damned is that it would not be timid. But that’s what it is. I showed these panels to a friend, and he responded, “That is the LaCroix of penises.”
I’m not saying that Watchmen is a classic because Doctor Manhattan’s penis was visible, but I am saying that we had a clearly drawn, fully lit penis in a DC book as early as 1986. The first thing I would expect of a great Batman story for DC’s Black Label imprint is that it would be bold, in every aspect that it could be.
Making (A) a story with Batman’s penis in it (B) for free in your spare time and (C) putting it on the internet where anyone can look at it is bold. And in an environment where we can all go look at an unofficial drawing of Batman’s penis at any time, I would expect anyone crafting an official drawing of Batman’s penis to take the power of that responsibility and do something bold. Something that’s additive to the story.
And so, in this op-ed, written in my full professional capacity, I am arguing that if Batman’s penis is shown in further issues of Batman: Damned, that it be more prominent in both art and story.
Is that what I expected to be arguing when I started writing this? No! But we find ourselves in interesting times, reader. We find ourselves in interesting times.