WASHINGTON — If Senator Patrick Leahy is not grilling the president’s nominees for federal judgeships or questioning State Department budget officers, he just might be moonlighting as the governor of the Utah Territory, circa 1870.
Leahy, 74, the longest-serving senator, lays claim to one the most fanciful hobbies in Washington: He has been quietly co-writing Batman comic books and anthologies, as well as taking bit parts and voiceover roles in Caped Crusader films and cartoons — including a turn as a 19th-century frontier politician.
DC Comics’ Batman character has been a passion since the Vermont Democrat, then 5 years old, read his first comic book at the Kellogg-Hubbard Children’s Library in Montpelier, to which he donates all the proceeds from his Batman work.
A reserved figure by today’s Washington standards, Leahy, the Senate president pro tem, exhibits a rare boyish zeal when talking about his favorite superhero and his alter ego, the millionaire do-gooder Bruce Wayne, demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of his countless adventures since first appearing in 1939.
Leahy recalls what drew him to Batman when many of his friends were partial to other superheroes.
“We all knew Superman, but who could really identify with him,” Leahy wrote in the forward of one Batman anthology. “Batman had vulnerabilities that Superman did not.”
A voracious reader who had devoured every Robert Louis Stevenson novel by third grade, Leahy claims to know the source of “each broken rib, bullet, stab wound, or consciousness-robbing concussion” Batman ever suffered from.
“These are problems Superman could never understand,” he says.
He also admits he was intrigued by Batman’s vigilante status; in the early days of the serial, the authorities were trying to arrest him before he became “politically correct” and acceptable to the police.
“He did what others could not. Search warrants were not an issue when Batman crashed through a door.”
The decades-long relationship with the creators has landed the senator in some of Batman’s adventures, including one ripped from modern-day headlines, about environmental conflict.
In the cartoon version produced by Warner Bros. between 1992 and 1998, Leahy was the voice of the governor of the Utah Territory who was bent on America’s westward expansion in the face of a mad environmental terrorist convinced that “drastic steps must be taken to preserve the wilderness.”
“I’ll destroy the railroad, and bomb other railroad junctions as I move eastward toward Washington,” the villain exclaims at one point.
As the chief politico in the vast territory spanning parts of modern-day Utah, Nebraska, Colorado, and Nevada, Leahy is having none of it.
As he is preparing to drive a spike into a new section of railroad for a photo op, he proclaims, “Today on this momentous period in history we link our great western lands with the East. Before this great enterprise — envisioned by myself — there was nothing here but wilderness. We have hewn a civilized land.”
It’s not all fantasy. Leahy has used his Batman connection to advance policy goals, especially his crusade against land mines. He helped write a special comic book issue, “The Death of Innocents,” to raise awareness about the problem.
“Batman goes in to rescue the child of somebody who worked for Wayne Industries in a combat zone,” Leahy recalled recently in his office. “How terrifying it was for Batman to walk through, not knowing whether he is going to step on a land mine or not, to rescue the child.”
The last panel: “Oh look at the shiny toy,” the child tells Batman, according to Leahy. “Batman says ‘No!’ and then ‘Kaboom.’ ”
“It’s a collector’s item now,” Leahy says of the issue. “I wish I had kept my copies.”
In another special edition, Leahy, depicted as himself, discussed with the Caped Crusader their bedtime reading habits.
“I tell him I read Batman late at night — he says he curls up in the Batcave with the Congressional Record,” Leahy describes it. “Having read both, there are days when I think I made the better choice.”
Leahy, who is also an accomplished amateur photographer with the distinction of being the Capitol’s biggest fan of The Grateful Dead, seems genuinely tickled at how far his Batman obsession has taken him.
“I helped write this,” Leahy boasted in an interview in his office, referring to the land mine comic. “I’ve also written the foreward to one of their anthologies. I’ve been in four Batman movies. I’ve done voiceovers. I’ve made a huge amount of money on it. Sometimes I kind of gawk when I see the size of the checks, but I committed to [donate it to the library] years ago.”