Lockdown Bookclub – Erotic Lives of the Superheroes
These are queer times for superheroes. Last October, Batwoman came out as the first crime-fighting lesbian to front her own TV show. Seven years earlier, an edition of Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men featured gay superhero Northstar getting hitched to longterm boyfriend Kyle. And network television series Arrow has a quiver full of queer characters, from gay Curtis Holt to bisexual Sara Lance.
There have even been rumours about Batman. Before his most recent incarnation as the brooding, mumbling Dark Knight, the caped crusader was camping it up with Robin in gay director Joel Schumacher’s two contributions to the genre, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin – or Battyman and Robin Forever as some gay wag put it (me, in case you’re wondering.)
It was Schumacher and his costume designer who first gave the Batsuit nipples – and I think we all know what that means. ..
‘Batman and Robin Forever’ could have been the working title of Marco Mancassola’s literary take on the genre. In Erotic Lives of the Superheroes, Batman and Robin are a celebrity gay couple living together in New York. But the spark has gone. The Boy Wonder is no longer a boy, having ‘committed the unforgivable sin of growing older.’ So while Robin is out fighting crime, Batman has sex with young pickups and is seated next to Elton John at charity dinners.
Then Robin is murdered in Central Park, and Batman is hellbent on revenge. In the course of the book, he meets Superman, now old and frail with his wicker chair and ‘trembling arms’. Meanwhile, Mister Fantastic and Mystique have thrown in the towel, unaware that they too are in mortal danger.
Framed as an erotic murder mystery, this is a big, bold book about the fear of aging and the true nature of heroism. It’s also a sly take on contemporary celebrity culture, in which people once considered super human are reduced to performing tricks on tacky TV shows. Mystique’s party piece sees her morphing into the likes of Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger – fellow American icons with bodies of steel, now growing old under the unforgiving glare of the media.
‘I was obsessed with superheroes for years,’ Mancassola has said. ‘I see them as a metaphor for our times – the most vulnerable, romantic, tragic characters I could write about.’
He writes about them extremely well. For anyone disappointed by the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this could be the superhero story you need.