Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Comic Relief

My first celebrity crush, when I was four, was on Alfred, the butler in the Batman tv show and comics. Bruce Wayne always struck me as a bit of a too-tortured soul. I felt sympathy for him, and wanted to be his friend, but I never thought of him as desirable. His superpowers are money (which is only interesting when you don’t have it) and finding the right people for the job like Lucius Fox, who designed and built all the gear on the famous utility belt and also built the batmobile (god, how I wanted a batmobile and a cave to go with it), but Alfred knew everything. Bruce would be sitting in front of his computer, head in hand, lamenting the inscrutability of the puzzle of the moment while Commissioner Gordon was ringing the Batphone off the hook and Gotham lay in peril. Up would waltz Alfred, a towel draped over his suit-clad arm, and say “But young Master Bruce, wouldn’t you just do thus-and-such?” and Bruce would stare in amazement as the pieces fell into place and exclaim his thanks. Alfred, ever unflappable, would reply, “My pleasure. Vichyssoise?” proffering a china bowl and silver spoon. Elegant, collected, and analytic. And he made soup. What’s not to love?

My mom didn’t approve of me reading comic books, so I had to sneak them home from the library. She was afraid that reading them — or reading science fiction or watching horror movies or playing sports of any kind — would make me a lesbian. I begged for comics anyway, not knowing at seven years old what a lesbian was but promising cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die that I would never ever be one, and she relented, allowing me to buy Wonder Woman (but only Wonder Woman, because she’s a girl) when we passed the comics rack at the grocery store. She had never so much as flipped through the 70s rendition of the amazon of justice, or she would have nixed Wonder Woman in a hot minute: pages filled with colorized pen drawings of scantily clad amazons engaged in vigorous athletics on Paradise Island or of jack-booted Nazis who routinely bound our heroine in ropes and chains would have realized the worst of her fantasies.

I found comic book collections—and all the other things I wasn’t supposed to have—in the library, from A Wrinkle in Time to Alfred Hitchcock’s collections of short stories featuring the horror of daily life, or the movie The Omen on VHS (I slept with the light on for a week). When I was in high school, I met friends in the school library to play D&D for a year before the librarian found out what we were doing and kicked us out, saying we couldn’t meet for satanic purposes. “But I’m not a lesbian!” I wanted to tell her, even though I knew it wouldn’t help.