Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Real Men

July 12th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

Batman doesn’t care about sex.

I mean, sure, he’ll have sex sometimes. He’s had a series of short-lived relationships, the most popular of which involve an easy escape hatch. Benefit of dating criminals, right? It’s pretty clear to me that he doesn’t care about sex. He’s got a mission, he’s been trained, and guess what! Sex is entirely beside the point. He’ll do it when he has to, but you won’t see Bruce at a bar talking to Bonita Applebum.

Parker is the star of more than a few of Richard Stark’s novels. He’s a no-nonsense thief and strong-arm, very expert in planning and even better at putting a stop to any funny business. If you cross Parker, he’ll lean you before you even get a chance to think about what you just did. He enjoy sex, but only at specific times. If he’s on the job, or planning a job, he’s got no drive at all. After, though, he can spend several days horizontal. His drive slowly fades away after that, until he’s practically a monk in the run-up to the next job.

Ogami Itto? Don’t even. I’m six volumes in, and I don’t think he’s had sex for pleasure once. He’s done it to save someone’s life, and to grease some wheels, but never because he chatted someone up. It’s entirely possible that he’s just respecting his dead wife’s memory, but it’s much more likely that it’s because he’s walking the path of the assassin and has no time for physical pleasure.

All three of these guys are focused, motivated, driven, and paragons of self control. They all approach sex on their own terms, blatantly ignore it when they feel like it, but are still considered virile. It’s definitely fair to say that they are all generally portrayed as Real Men, even across cultural barriers. Ogami is a hop from Parker, who is in turn a skip from Batman, who is himself a jump from Ogami. They have very similar characterizations, despite having some fairly irreconcilable differences between them. Ogami murders for a living, Parker isn’t opposed to slapping a woman around if it’ll help a heist, and Batman is a manchild who sates his desire for justice by beating up criminals.

Together, I think that these three say something pretty interesting about what it means to be a man. They all fit the basic stereotype of a Real Man. They’re physically attractive, be it in a pretty boy sort of way or a more rugged manner. They’re physically capable, able to demolish most men with a single move, be it a punch, gunshot, or swing of a sword. They’re intelligent enough to create complicated plans that always come off perfectly, human error aside. They’re witty enough to be able to think on their feet when a situation goes south and to come out on top. They aren’t afraid to use violence when the time comes, either. That sounds like a Real Man, doesn’t it?

The sex thing is what makes it interesting. Virility is tied up in violence and physical strength, and all three of these guys have it in spades. Ogami kills dudes by the baker’s dozen, Parker is a machine, and Batman is a highly trained non-lethal ninja. When they do have sex, it’s never shown as “making love.” It’s something fast, primal, rough, and vaguely taboo. There’s a thrill to it, particularly when it comes to Batman and Parker. Parker is only interested after he re-establishes his manhood by making a lot of money and breaking a few heads. Batman’s biggest flame is Catwoman, the object of many a late-night chase and cowled makeout session. To borrow a line, they keep the masks on because it’s better that way. Ogami himself only indulges, or lowers, himself in sex when it fits into his quest. The first time he has sex in volume 1, it’s to show exactly how little he cares for the samurai customs of the day. In fact, he proves his manhood by rejecting the traditional notion of it.

I think it comes down to control. Men are supposed to be in control of themselves, their emotions, and the situation at all times. What better way to show this control than to refuse sex, one of the most primal needs of human beings? Ogami treats most women he encounters, and definitely the prostitutes, with something approaching contempt. They, like anyone else, are beneath his notice. It seems like every Parker novel has him refusing the advances of an appropriately attractive and willing woman until he decides he wants to bother with her. Batman’s celibacy is practically a superpower, considering that a couple of his villains are outright seductresses and the rest are openly sexy/sexual.

This occurred to me after finishing one of Stark’s Parker novels, one in which Stark has Parker question his sexual habits. It got me thinking, and I soon realized that Ogami Itto was similar in execution, if not in tone. It all really clicked into place once Batman came into the picture, and I realized that it was more of a trend than I’d expected.

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14 comments to “Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Real Men”

  1. I don’t know, my impression of Batman’s sexual relationships is that most of them tend to occur after he’s either revealed his secret identity, or the woman in question discovers it. That event sort of entails a certain amount of intimacy, and if that particular barrier is down, then it’s easier for him to let go of his control, for a little while at least.

    Although I do agree that there is an element of him being *so* in control of everything that he abstains from sex, that he’s such a Real Man that he doesn’t *need* sex, etc.

  2. you hardly ever see them on the toilet, either.

  3. I can think of one Stark that’s picking up their slack.

  4. You left out Duke Togo AKA Golgo 13, who is always portrayed as the manliest man to ever wield a y chromosome. I’m not entirely sure why, but I guess you are supposed to take it on faith. He sleeps around a lot, but even when seducing women so as to better assassinate someone he never technically seduces anyone. Instead, he just shows up and they instantly fall for his rugged manliness (again, take it on faith). Even though he is apparently the World’s Greatest Lover it is a mystery as to whether he actually enjoys sex or not, because he only has one facial expression.

  5. I’ve always gotten the implication that Bruce parties with supermodels, at least enough to keep up his playboy rep. He might not be a total dog, but I’ve always figured he’s swingin’ more than we see.

    Your dynamic, David, is also seen in the earliest Superman strips. More modern portrayals showed Superman loving Lois, but wanting to win her as Clark. In the earliest Siegel/Shusters, Clark is a dopey milksop, and Superman seems to delight in rejecting Lois, in demonstrating to her that he feels nothing for her at all. I find it really offputting, though I enjoy so much about those early stories.

  6. @Guy Smiley: I’d even say that the parties are just as you say– something to keep his rep up. It’s a tool in his quest, rather than a pastime. No booty calls, except when he needs an alibi for when he sneaks out of the house.

  7. Regarding Batman’s sexuality: Maybe losing his parents so early on affected how he views love, intimacy, and sex? Losing one’s parents at the same time, in the real world at least, impacts all sorts of assumptions we have about ourselves, about how the world works, about how relationships work…

    As for Parker, sex being tied up to virility is often an expression of something else.

  8. Very interesting. Perhaps I may offer a fourth character that fits with your choices: Raymond Chandler’s private detective, Philip Marlowe. Like your picks, Marlowe is a hard man, not afraid to take a beating or to administer one, and focused on his job above all other things. He does not really have relationships, and when he does have sex, it is devoid of feeling, which he saves for impossible loves, women he could never be with, if only because he does not allow them to get close.

    Perhaps the clear parallels between these somewhat disparate characters can (partly) be traced back to their common archetype, that of the Knight (although I’m not sure if Parker completely fits that archetype, don’t know enough about him to say for sure). The Knight places his quest and his devotion to justice and honor above all else, and while he may rescue and protect the princess, he does not desire her. All the characters here are ‘tainted knights’, but still have that archetypal core, and so sex has little to do with what their lives are about.

    Also, something that I find interesting, although it is something that you don’t touch on, is that Ogami Itto is a Japanese creation, and so is the product of an entirely different culture than Batman and Parker (and Marlowe). I’m no expert on Japan and its views of masculinity and sexuality, but I bet that these views are very different from those in America/the West, which makes the parallels even more fascinating.

  9. I’m with you there, David, and … god, I can’t believe I’m engaging in a discussion of Batman’s off-panel sex life … I always figured that if he didn’t do a certain amount of real fooling around, some kind of word would get out that Bruce’s rep isn’t what he makes it out to be.

    [Imagine the tabloid reporter launching an investigation into whether Bruce Wayne is in the closet (Freddie Wertham, cub reporter!), only to find he’s actually in the cave under the grandfather clock.]

    Then again, who knows all the tricks behind his champagne-swilling partyhound image. I always loved that panel in the first Batman/Grendel where Bruce and Hunter meet. Bruce says, “I think I got your martini” or whatever, and Hunter replies, “Yes, and I’ve gotten your … ginger ale.”

    (My name is Bruce, and I’m addicted … to Justice!)

  10. Derek — I was gonna bring up Marlowe, but then I remember he got married. He’s on the cusp of a sudden marriage at the end of “Playback,” Chandler’s last completed novel, and he’s chafing at wedded bliss at the start of “Poodle Springs,” which Chandler died four chapters into. I believe that while Phil was stressed over issues of his independence as a working man married to a very rich girl, the two were very happy romantically. So it struck me as likely that Chandler was intending to evolve the way sex and relationships played out in Marlowe’s life.

    I still think your essential comment on the knight archetype is spot-on, though.

  11. Batman: better than sex.

    @Guy Smiley: “Imagine the tabloid reporter launching an investigation into whether Bruce Wayne is in the closet”
    …actually, I think I read something along those lines. Anybody else remember “Batman: Tenses” ?

    The fact that all these badass dark hero types don’t care about sex only makes them sexier. It’s the “not caring” part that makes them so manly. You show me the most rugged badass duty-bound warrior you can find, and the second he comes down with real *feelings* towards a woman, along the lines of needing to be connected to her heart and soul, I’ll say “aww!” and then he might as well tear up his Man card.

  12. @Derk van Santvoort: Geez, the Knight thing. That’s perfect. That leads back to how soldiers would abstain from sex before going into battle. Parker’s a bad guy, but he has a code, of sorts. He’s a Knight in the other direction, I guess is the easiest way to put it.

    I wish I could say more about the Japanese thing, but I’m hesitant. Most of my knowledge about Japan comes from pop culture stuff, rather than any real study. It does seem very much that stoicism, of a sort, was prized in a certain period of time, though. There is definitely something there.

    @Laura: Batman: Better than Sex? More like Batman: Really Kinky Sex. The costume is pretty fetish-y, isn’t it? Especially when you add Catwoman into the mix.

    When I was a teenager, I got some advice that basically boiled down to “Pay attention to girls up to a point, but make sure you ignore them if you want to keep their interest.” Maybe that’s what Batman is up to? It’s like an extended tease, but in a really stoic, manly, cigar chomping whiskey drinking sort of way.

  13. Also, thank you guys for not making this a creepy conversation!

  14. […] 18. I loved the lettering mistake in #4’s Batman episode, where it looks like Bruce is trying to seduce Luna in the name of crimefighting. People, she’s inviting him to her hotel room. Not the other way around. I mean, Batman doesn’t care about sex. […]