Dennis O’Neil: Stamp Out Batman!

Think Batman is tough? Well, my friend, you could give him a licking!

Okay, I’ll ask you to forgive that. What I really mean is, you could lick the postage stamps that bear Batpics. The stamps might be already available and if they’re not, you’ll be able to get them soon – “just in time for the New York Comic Con,” promises an article in last Monday’s USA Today.

This isn’t the first time that heroes from DC Comics pantheon have made their way onto postage stamps. One of the stranger gigs I’ve ever participated in had several of us comics guys sitting at a table in The Museum of Comic Art and autographing post cards and sheets of stamps illustrated with the likes of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman and other superdoers including, yes, Batman. The people in front of us then took the signed items to the next table where employees of the United States Postal System marked the stamps with a cancelation notice, thus proving to any who cared that the stamps/post cards were purchased on the day they were first available.

I guess the what we signed and the postal folk canceled were pretty nifty items for both stamp collectors and comics fans and receiving an imprimatur from a living, breathing government agency was further evidence that comics had struggled from the underbelly of American publishing into the Region of Respectability. The stuff I just mentioned was, as noted, not limited to just Batman, but the Dark Knight stands (and swings) solo on the new issues. (The USA Today piece doesn’t mention Robin.)

Why this particular distinction? The newspaper quotes DC’s co-publisher Jim Lee: “Batman is the most popular superhero of all time…” Is he? Let’s not argue. But is this paragon an appropriate subject for postage stamps? I mean, shouldn’t stamps commemorate exemplars of political achievement – the Washington/Jefferson/Roosevelt crowd – or civilization-altering inventors – your Fultons, your Edisons, your Carvers – or genuine heroes who sacrificed themselves for the national good? Note that “genuine”: it excludes movie stars as well as cartoon characters, with the exception of Jimmy Stewart, who flew 50 bomber missions.

Okay, we’ll take “no” for an answer.

We hereby admit fictional stalwarts into the company of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington Carver and the rest. But can you at least grant that the made-up people should symbolize achievement and maybe nobility? King Arthur types. Maybe even Sherlock Holmes. What does Batman symbolize? Childhood tragedy. Obsession. Urban darkness.

Well…maybe Batman does belong on postage because the grim things he represents are a part of life and maybe there should be room on our signage for the less cheery aspects of our national experience.

Naw. Let’s stick with fantasy. Wasn’t there a Mickey Mouse stamp a while back?