When Batman adopted a young ward named Dick Grayson and renamed him Robin back in 1940, it had a number of positive effects on his career. His comic-book sales doubled, his public image was softened considerably, and he finally had someone to talk to while he was solving all those complicated cases. But the change had another long-term effect on the franchise: For the next 76 years (and counting), Batman and Robin would be mistaken as being gay. Glen Weldon, the author of The Caped Crusade: Batman And The Rise Of Nerd Culture, sorts through all of this supposed Bat-subtext in a piece for Slate called “A Brief History Of Dick.” Weldon makes it very clear at the outset that the Dark Knight and his faithful sidekick are heterosexual. Nearly every important artist and writer behind the character, from Bob Kane to Frank Miller, agrees on that. One major exception is writer Grant Morrison, who essentially “outed” Batman in a 2012 Playboy article. But the preponderance of evidence, Weldon says, suggests that Batman and Robin are “straight as uncooked spaghetti.”

The problem, the article explains, is that the characters came along at a time when homosexual relationships were not openly depicted in mainstream media. People saw Batman and Robin as gay because that’s what they wanted to see. Those supposedly intimate moments, like Batman and Robin sharing a bed at Wayne Manor, were homosocial, not homosexual. The rumors became even stronger when anti-comics crusader Dr. Frederic Werthan described Batman and Robin as “two homosexuals living together” in his infamous 1954 screed Seduction Of The Innocent. Throughout the ensuing decades, Batman jumped from one medium to another, and the article traces the ebb and flow of gay subtext throughout these various incarnations. The 1960s television adaptation, Weldon asserts, “never came off as particularly gay.” But with his two ’90s Bat-films, Batman Forever and Batman And Robin, Joel Schumacher turned the crime-fighting duo into “a sugar-daddy Bruce and a surly, tank-topped, rough-trade Dick, complete with earring.” These movies, with their infamous Bat-nipples, represent what Weldon calls “a a final, defiantly queer victory lap for the Bruce and Dick team. What Schumacher produced wasn’t gay subtext; it was gay domtext.”

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