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The Art Instructor

In volume one of the Batman Archives is the Batman story originally printed in Detective #41. It’s the third appearance of Dick Grayson and Robin who plays an important role in this untitled story. One night a homocidal maniac escapes from an asylum. Even before Arkham it seems Gotham had trouble keeping villains incarcerated. The same night at Blake School For Boys (ahem) the superintendent is murdered outdoors on school grounds and student Ted Spencer is kidnapped from his bed. All of these events catch Bruce Wayne’s attention in the following day’s newspaper, requiring Batman’s involvement, with the help of Dick. One day later Bruce enrolls Dick in the private school.

Mr Blake himself shows Bruce and Dick around the school, and introduces Mr. Graves the art instructor. Graves caught my attention for several reasons and led me to wonder if Bill Finger and Bob Kane intended Graves to be gay. One reason is because art teachers (at all boys schools!) aren’t often shown in comics, though his art background figures in to the plot, and most importantly because of the way he’s depicted. He wears a frilly neck scarf, which may have had some contemporary popularity of which I’m unaware. His hair is upswept and appears more feminine in comparison to how the other male characters have their hair drawn. Lastly, in two panels his hand gestures seem more typically feminine. While he is an older character, to my eye it appears he was drawn to look less attractive. Aside from his appearance and mannerisms all we know is he’s excited to have a new student and his artistic eye is for engraving, which requires a good eye for detail and a steady hand.

Fresh faced and eager, Dick settles in to the school all the while investigating. As Robin, he finds the missing diary of the kidnapped boy, which the police just couldn’t find because (gasp!) it was in a jumble of school books on his desk. A masked man fights Robin for the diary, and quickly disappears after stealing it away. Minutes later, he comes across the homocidal maniac (remember him?) trying to stab a janitor he thinks is an asylum guard. They tussle, and Robin disappears at the sound of policeman who capture the unstable man, leading everyone to assume the perp is captured. Not so, thinks Dick, who that night discovers Blake is murdered and trails the masked man through secret tunnels after finding him in a class room. Thank goodness Batman appears from nowhere to help Robin fight the thugs who’re part of the masked figure’s gang! Sweet victory belongs to our youthful crimefighter when he slingshots a rock at the mystery villain. Batman unmasks the fallen rogue and reveals the bad guy to be Mr Graves, our fussy, otherwise mild-mannered art instructor. It seems he and Blake had a counterfeiting operation and the boy saw the costumed Graves one night.

In decades past gay characters appearing in media were usually coded and burdened with any number of stereotypes, including being evil, unworthy of love or happiness, fussy and effeminate, and predatory. Oh wait, some people still think these are true today! Proclaiming Graves a gay character representation may be a stretch, but he does seem a curiosity to me.

January 28, 2011
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