By J.S Wayne
*Cue tranquil music*
When I hear the word “cartoon,” it takes my back to my misspent childhood of He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe, and the associated toys and action figures. I think about the cumulative years of imagination that contaminated me to the point where I’m wholly unsuitable for a 9-5 desk jockey’s job and that helped create a neophyte writer STOP THE MUSIC!!!
The first inkling the American mainstream had that cartoons were not solely the province of children and emotionally-stunted adults was the wildly imaginative animated movie Heavy Metal. Featuring a hard-driving metal soundtrack and incorporating nearly every genre from sci-fi horror to erotica to fantasy, Heavy Metal was a wake-up call for a generation. I remember it because it was the first cartoon I ever saw featuring exposed breasts and nipples, which as a healthy nine-year-old male made it a REALLY BIG DEAL to me. (Yeah, the caps are intentional: I’m amazed my palms aren’t furry because of the chick with the white hair.)
The way the women were dressed, in a whole lot of not much mostly consisting of a complicated series of straps that barely covered the essentials, was echoed in most of the comic books I started reading around the same time. The women either wore form-fitting bodysuits that in the real world would be so snug you could see their labia or a few wisps of leather or latex not a great deal more modest than the gauzy material that some jurisdictions require exotic dancers to wear around their hips. Don’t believe me? Go over to your local Mecca of Geekdom (aka the comic-book store), grab a random comic book, and open it up. If there’s a woman in the story, 9.9 out of 10 times, she’s wearing this kind of outfit, give or take a cape, a crown, or some kind of accessory designed to do thoroughly unpleasant things to anyone in its path and featuring an elaborate semi-divine back story a la Excalibur.
Now, let me back this bus up for a second before it builds any more momentum and someone gets all the wrong ideas. I’m not saying comic books are bad or are loaded with subliminal messages; far from it! Comic books and movies like Heavy Metal were specifically intended to cater to the budding sexuality, natural curiosity, and feelings of social isolation that plague adolescents. (Oh, yeah, there’s plenty of eye candy for the girls, too. All the guys look like they’ve been dressed by dommes or are so ripped they look like they can bench-press refrigerators.) Comic books offer that little thrill of the forbidden, wrapped up in heavy morality tales and liberally peppered with punches, kicks, slashes, and blasts from various exotic weapons to make them palatable. “It’s a comic book! Little Timmy won’t learn ANYTHING about sex from this.” (Although I myself had some fairly “torrid” fantasies about Marvel Comics’ Psylocke. I say “torrid” because while they were pretty randy for a thirteen-year-old, they were positively pedestrian compared to what I write on a daily basis now!)
And now, here’s the kicker: The point of this little diatribe is that if you read between the lines with a knowing, adult eye, you’re likely to find all kinds of little kinks and fetishes hidden in comic books. The meaning and metaphor will most likely be wholly lost on the kiddies, who just see a good or not-so-good story. They’re not as likely to focus on the exposed “naughty bits” as they are the number of explosions or “Hey! Did you see how Wolverine/Superman/Batman sliced up/blasted/beat up that Sentinel/rogue missile/bad guy?” Thinking on Batman: The whole joke about what REALLY happened behind the scenes with Bruce and Dick has become a little shopworn, but still bears consideration.
A disclaimer: Everything that follows is off the top of my head and the ones I am aware of from personal experience and knowledge. I’m sure that I’ll miss some, but this is by way of example, not the encyclopedia. Any fetishes that I didn’t give specific references for, you can find online with a little research, but trust me: They’re out there. Also, I’m not weighing the relative “goodness” or “badness” of any particular fetish or proclivity; I’m merely acknowledging their existence.
In the broad sweep of the comic book world, you’ve got shadings or blatant mentions of BDSM (Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman), GLBTQ (subplots of The Green Lantern, Superman), necrophilia (Not touching this one), voyeurism (Spider-Man, Superman, Batman. . . need I go on?), an entire host of bestiality fetishes (Batman again. . . what’s up with this guy?), and sado-masochism (Insert your favorite comic villain here. If they weren’t getting off on getting pounded on, why would they insist on pissing off the people most likely to push their faces into their brainpans?).
So what does it all mean?
Comic books are a great medium. They have layers to appeal to their nominal target audience, and the messages they convey, of tolerance and justice and being the one to stand against the darkness, are timeless parables written to be accessible to the tween and up set. But if you scratch the surface and take a closer look, somewhere in the colorful costumes and explosions, you can find yourself looking back from the eye-catching pages.
And in the grand scheme of things, that’s the entire point of ANY medium of writing: To see ourselves in a glass, darkly, either an idealized or debased reflection of our own personas, beliefs, and desires. No matter how extreme or well-tolerated, we ultimately just want to be accepted for everything we are, and a truly good book will leave us feeling, at the end, a little less isolated. And that includes our own peculiar kinks, too.
Thanks to Bianca, and all you terrific readers, for letting me come by again and shoot my mouth off. It’s been fun! I look forward to seeing YOUR takes on this notion.
Until next time,
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