Wonder Woman’s delinquent breakfast

Has your life been blighted by man-hating lesbians? Ever found yourself in the grip of unexplained homosexual tendencies?

If so, blame Batman, Wonder Woman and other superheroes. If a psychiatrist called Dr Fredric Wertham was right, generations have been corrupted by characters like these in the comics.

In a book called Seduction of the Innocent, Dr Wertham warned that comics were turning children and young people to crime. And through such superheroes as Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Sheena Queen of the Jungle, they were influencing sexuality in unhelpful ways.

Wertham’s work was a major factor in the censorship of comics by the industry. Self-censorship was seen as the alternative to state censorship.


Much of his argument boiled down to the assertion that juvenile delinquents and disturbed young people read comics and therefore comics must contribute to juvenile delinquency and disturbance. He ignored the fact that almost all children who were not juvenile delinquents and who were not disturbed also read comics. He was willing to exaggerate and distort his own research to boost his case. Even people who shared his concerns about comics did not trust his findings entirely. Nonetheless, his work was influential.

To get back to the man-hating lesbians: Wertham noted that female heroes such as Wonder Woman and Sheena Queen of the Jungle got to push men around. This, he warned, reinforced “violent revenge fantasies against men and possibly creates these violent anti-man [therefore homosexual] fantasies . . .”

‘Wish dream of two homosexuals’

Then there was the comic panel in which Wonder Woman is seen having breakfast with “an admiring young girl”. “Do you eat all this for breakfast every day, Wonder Woman?” the girl asks. “Of course, dear,” Wonder Woman replies. “Amazons, like everyone else, need a hearty breakfast. Fruit juice, bread and butter, cereal or eggs, cheese and milk, give you a good start for the day’s activities!”

Breakfast also added to his suspicions about Batman and Robin who, he stated, provided “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together”. “I have seen an elaborate, charming breakfast scene, but it was between Batman and his boy, complete with checkered tablecloth, milk, cereal, fruit juice, dressing gown and newspaper.” And, he noted,”I have seen a parallel scene with the same implications when Wonder Woman had breakfast with an admiring young girl.”

Wertham wasn’t alone. One critic, John Mason Brown, described comics as “the marijuana of the nursery, the bane of the bassinet, the horror of the home, the curse of the kids, and a threat to the future”.

On this side of the Atlantic we were more likely to be reading the Dandy and Beano. What would Dr Wertham have made of those? They usually depict adults as baffled idiots, and where do you leave Minnie the Minx?

Wertham had a distinguished career aside from his campaigns against comics and his cavalier attitude to the use of research. He founded the Lafargue clinic, a low-cost mental health service for the poor in Harlem. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to have psychiatric care provided for Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed with her husband Julius for spying for the Soviet Union. And he testified at hearings that formed part of the build-up to the overturn of segregated education in the US.

Opposition to comics

After all that, it’s his opposition to the comics that he is best remembered for. If you want to know more about Wertham, look up Carol L Tilley, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, who has written in detail about him in the journal

Information & Culture


And next time you see a caped crusader or a woman in blue hot pants heading your way, duck down the nearest alley.

Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email. pomorain@yahoo.com