The “Approved by the Comic Code Authority” seal remained well into the first decade of the 21st century, and in many ways will remain if only as a ghostly residue that could withhold creativity. Decades of control, decent guidelines and moral correctness cannot be forgotten overnight. American comic books, for better or for worse, will bear the mark of the code, but unlike branded cattle, this is a mark imprinted heavily upon the minds of creators and readers alike. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, after all, Jacques Derrida pointed out not too long ago that social structure relies deeply on certain marks, inscriptions or imprints that we can trace back in order to better understand social structures.
But, what happens when the “ultimate gay fantasy” is taken to the limits? What happens when the ambiguous interaction between a caped crusader and a young sidekick is reinterpreted for a more adult audience? The result is Rick Veitch’s shocking Brat Pack. Plagued with references to the comic industry, but moreover with parodies of well-established superheroes, the Brat Pack is a 160 page graphic novel divided into 5 chapters.
Sometimes it’s all about the media. That’s made clear in the first pages, with the host of a popular radio show named Neal Dennis (let’s remember that Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams did one of the most famous runs on Batman) who will be later mirrored by Gay Neilman (an obvious reference to British comic book author Neil Gaiman). Readers can easily identify who is the reference for certain characters. But what’s going on with the media throughout all this? Paraphrasing Jacques Lacan I could point out that the gaze of the other defines us, in many ways, some more literals than others, we “make ourselves seen” to the other because we need to. Talking about celebrities, it all becomes clear, they demand attention and without high ratings (id est, the gaze of the other) they’re nothing. Exactly the same thing happens with the heroes’ sidekicks, their existence is determined by the fierce gaze of the public. That’s why, in another clever homage, the final fate of these sidekicks will be determined by the audience of the radio show, people call in and vote, just like they did in real life to determine if Robin (Jason Todd) would either live or die in the famous Batman saga “Death in the Family”.
In the second chapter the heroes are desperately looking for replacements. New flesh. It’s the Midnight Mink (the caped crusader with a cool car and a big mansion that parodies Batman) who’s especially eager to find a new young boy, “And my Chippy? Did you find the right type? You know what I like” says to the priest who has, for a long time, recruited naïve kids for undisclosed purposes. It’s then that the reader witnesses the lives of three boys and a girl, in a masterfully executed narrative that intercrosses their perspectives while comparing their backgrounds and personalities.
The training of these youngsters takes place in the third chapter. And when the heroes take the kids under their wings, the reader comes close to a different model of super-hero: from the Midnight Mink’s promiscuous attitude and a certain keenness for nudity, to the repulsive and decaying female body behind Moon Mistress’s costume, to the alcoholism and recklessness of King Rad, to the sexual impotence and bigotry of Judge Jury.
In the penultimate chapters, the sidekicks must face menaces no normal hero would even imagine. Chippy is constantly accused of being sodomized by Midnight Mink, Moon Mistress’s ally is about to be raped by a bunch of hooligans, King Rad’s ward falls deeply into alcoholism and Kid Vicious follows the steps of Judge Jury trying to put in practice racial cleansing.
In the final episode, a year has passed by, and the once innocent and pure children are now corrupted souls that have been either physically or mentally abused by their tutors. Just like it was hinted at the beginning, one’s greatest desire is to be the object of desire of the other, and the young sidekicks have been victimized precisely for being so quickly objectified, thus achieving great success in being desired and most coveted by their masters / heroes. But just like in Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic one cannot exist without the other, and the adult heroes cannot survive without the Lacanian gaze of the other, which is why, when the sidekicks risk their lives for good, they get worried. This equation, like any other, can no longer exist if one of the items is untimely removed.
En la década del 50 un psiquiatra norteamericano se hizo famoso al acusar a Batman y Robin de ser el símbolo de las fantasías homosexuales reprimidas. El público, e incluso el senado, concluyó que esas perversas publicaciones conocidas como comic books eran demasiado peligrosas para los niños, y así empezó la Edad de la Censura.
Luego de muchas décadas, Rick Veitch decidió llevar esta fantasía gay al extremo para un público adulto. El resultado fue la extraordinaria serie BRAT PACKS, que explora la relación ambigua entre dos personajes que parodian a Batman y Robin.