Cultural historians consider the late 1930s through the 1950s to be the golden age of comic books. Characters introduced in that era, such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Crypt Keeper, are still cultural icons and have been reinvented for other media and new generations of children.
In 1953-54, more than 75 million ten-cent comics were bought and traded each month. Concerns about these comics’ influence on children led to articles with titles like “Horror in the Nursery” and “What Parents Don’t Know About Comic Books” that appeared in national magazines. A child psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham, M.D., led the charge against crime comics in his best-selling 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent.
Wertham, a social activist and classically trained psychoanalyst, railed against the criminal behaviors portrayed in the stories. He also pointed out a partial image of a nude woman that was seemingly embedded in an illustration of a man’s shoulder, and warned loudly and repeatedly about the influence on youth by what he claimed to be the homosexual relationship between Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Robin (Dick Grayson).
They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown…. It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend’s arm. Like the girls in other stories, Robin is sometimes held captive by the villains and Batman has to give in or “Robin gets killed.”
Robin is a handsome ephebic [adolescent] boy, usually shown in his uniform with bare legs. He is buoyant with energy and devoted to nothing on Earth or in interplanetary space as much as to Bruce Wayne. He often stands with his legs spread, the genital region discreetly evident.
In these stories there are practically no decent, attractive, successful women. A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip. The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess. If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick. (p. 190-191)
Because of these and other concerns, at least 50 cities tried to prevent or regulate the sale of comics. The New York State legislature passed a bill to make it a crime to sell comics that might incite minors to violence or immorality, but the governor vetoed it out of concern that the ban might be unconstitutional. The U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on juvenile delinquency held hearings in 1954 about the pernicious influence of comics. Its interim report stated,
It has been pointed out that the so-called crime and horror comic books of concern to the subcommittee offer short courses in murder, mayhem, robbery, rape cannibalism, carnage, necrophilia, sex, sadism, masochism, and virtually every other form of crime, degeneracy, bestiality, and horror. These depraved acts are presented and explained in illustrated detail in an array of comic books being bought and read daily by thousands of children. These books evidence a common penchant for violent death in every form imaginable. Many of the books dwell in detail on various forms of insanity and stress sadistic degeneracy. Others are devoted to cannibalism with monsters in human form feasting on human bodies, usually the bodies of scantily clad women.
Dr. Wertham’s testimony at the subcommittee’s hearings in New York City started with that premise, and took it even further.