Something unexpected happened in comic books this week: we saw Batman’s penis. Returning back to the batcave after a night out protecting Gotham City, Batman dragged his body out of the Batmobile, pulling off his clothes as he made the difficult few steps further into his home. There was nothing sexual about the scene.
The comic, Batman: Damned #1, was the first book in a new imprint from DC Comics telling more adult stories featuring its superhero characters with an adult audience in mind. Seeing a naked body in this context really shouldn’t be a big deal.
But something expected happened in comics this week: seeing a naked Batman’s penis became a big deal.
Very quickly Twitter came alight with jokes. Websites published humorous articles and tongue-in-cheek thought pieces. And conservative comic shop owners made their feelings known. Within days of the book's publication, DC Comics censored its own book, announcing that future printings and digital copies of the book will be switched to a version that has Batman’s penis hidden by shadows.
This decision by DC speaks to the problem that mainstream media, and our culture broadly, has with male full-frontal nudity. Not all nudity has to be sexualised and we’d all be a lot better off if we could see naked bodies on screen in all their full glory. Normalising the body should be celebrated. The unhealthy shame and perceptions we have about our bodies needs to be reduced.
It is concerning that we don’t see more penises in our movies, TV shows, and, yes, our comic books. We see male nudity in films all the time, but just not complete nudity - it is usually just shots from behind. We either treat the penis on screen as a source of comedy, or as something so powerfully sexual that it cannot be shown on the screen. Neither of these seem healthy.
Male nudity needs to be more commonplace than in the occasional indie film starring Michael Fassbender or Jude Law.
It’s time to normalise the penis
It’s rare that heterosexual men ever see other men fully naked. Occasionally at the urinal you may get a very slight peripheral glance, but there it is all about business: you get in, eyes forward, do your thing, you get out. It’s part of the social code that we don’t look explicitly to our left or right. Beyond that, when else does one encounter another naked man? It just doesn’t really happen.
The only time a heterosexual guy is likely to see another man’s business is through pornography where the standards are less than reflective of the reality of the day-to-day penis. It’s also unlikely that you’ll see many flaccid penises on screen.
Type in the word ‘penis’ into Google and very quickly you’ll find a whole lot of videos and articles about penis size and whether a penis ‘is normal’. You don’t find those same results for other body parts. No one is curious as to whether their hands are normal.
Of course, there is a similar mystique surrounding the ‘normality’ of the vagina, with Google front-page results proving this, but the difference is that a woman’s entire physical and sexual identity is rarely ever concentrated on just that one body part.
Big dick energy
Akin to the impossible beauty standards that women are held to, the self-worth that a man can feel he is judged by is generally out of his control. But for men generally, it’s not a whole-of-body issue, but rather it is all in the pants. When a man’s sexual prowess and value is discussed, it is almost always associated with how big his member is.
Midway through this year, it even became a popular Internet meme after Twitter user @babyvietcong described the self-confidence likely felt by SNL comedian Pete Davidson.
Men feel considerable power and confidence from their penis - even if it isn’t at the girth required to fully empower the guy with a dose of BDE. Because the penis is seen so infrequently, men tend to see their own member as being a lot more special than it is. It’s no wonder that for a lot of guys trying to flirt with women, sending a picture of their dick is so common. After all, if their dick is so special, surely a prospective mate will consider it to be equally appealing.
If penises became a whole lot more common place, the unwanted dick pic would almost surely vanish.
Why it’s important for Batman to drop his trousers
Even if we lived in an abundant penis-on-screen-utopia where we routinely see male full-frontal nudity, you can guarantee that it will still be filtered through Hollywood’s beauty standards. The small and the micro-penis would be rare. Plus, actors appearing on screen, more often than not, will be wanting to appear on screen giving it their ‘best-showing’ (you can bet the temperature in the room will be just-so to mitigate any shrinkage concerns).
There is an artistic purity that comes from comic book art. The visuals on the page are generally crafted by a writer and an artist. There are no actors with their egos or vanity involved. The characters on the page are there to behave exactly in line with the artistic intention of the writer and the artist. So, if it’s decided that they want a naked body to appear in a comic panel, the body will be shaped and proportioned exactly as the artist wants to show it, stripped of all vanity and ego.
Now, the chances of Batman ever being drawn with a small penis is highly unlikely. The character of Batman is always depicted as being an alpha male with a muscly body to match. He’s supposed to be the best of us and boy does he wield that BDE. But, if Batman can be seen on the page fully naked, then it opens the door to other male nudity in comics. Outside of Watchmen’s famously nude, big and blue superhero Doctor Manhattan, it has been exceptionally rare to see any male nudity in a comic published by Marvel and DC. A pants-less Batman allows nudity to happen.
Hopefully DC reverses its decision to let Batman show his all. It wasn’t gratuitous and was handled matter-of-factly. On-screen nudity shouldn’t be an event. The fact we don’t treat it as casually as we should is a big part of why our perceptions of beauty and body shapes are so badly damaged. It benefits us all once we can see Batman’s penis, because it reminds us that he is human and looks just like us.
Want more Batman (albeit fully clothed)? You can watch the 1960s TV series starring Adam West as the caped crusader on SBS On Demand. Watch it before it disappears.
Ever wondered what it would be like to wake from a coma only to discover the country has gone nude for the sake of security? You can see exactly this on Nude, a new French TV comedy on SBS and SBS On Demand. Catch up with the first episode here: