Robot 6

Marvel and DC just go GAY, all of a sudden!

There’s a scene in the 1938 screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby where Cary Grant’s character discovers that Katherine Hepburn’s character has taken his clothes in an attempt to keep him from leaving her.  In desperation, he puts on the only thing he can find — a sheer, pink robe of hers — and storms around the house, looking for something else to wear.

When the owner of the house arrives and demands  to know who the strange man is and why he’s wearing that robe, an exasperated Grant shouts, “Because I just went GAY, all of a sudden!” punctuating the word “gay” with a leap into the air.

I’ve been thinking of that moment this week, as the mainstream superhero publishers seem to have been metaphorically running around in metaphorical ladies nightwear, metaphorically leaping in the air and shouting: DC and Marvel have gone gay — or “gay!” — all of a sudden.

Of course, the bit in Bringing Up Baby was meant to be a joke, the very sight of the virile, handsome, zenith of masculinity Cary Grant dressed in women’s nightclothes was in and of itself so ridiculous as to be funny without elaboration (although the image has since taken on some irony, given decades of speculation about Grant’s personal life, but let’s not get into that). It was also made more than 70 years ago.

DC and Marvel are shouting about going gay with a — well, with a straight face, and they’re doing so in 2012. Read between the lines of the public relations, and essentially the two biggest North American superhero comics publishers (and Hollywood IP farms) are proudly, cluelessly boasting about the fact that they’re not as out of touch with the rest of American pop culture and society as they were last month, and they’re accepting congratulations for it.

It’s a bit embarrassing, really, and not just for DC and Marvel — I mean, all of us readers-of and writers-about these publishers get to share in guilt by association.

I’m not sure which of the Big Two comes off worse in this week’s campaigning.

Marvel’s big, gay news is, of course, that mutant superhero Northstar proposed to and is set to marry his civilian boyfriend, Kyle. This plot point has been hinted at by Marvel since at least March, when the publisher started its “Save The Date!” advertising campaign for Astonishing X-Men, and the February-released solicitation for the May-shipping Issue 50 included a line about Northstar having to choose between his boyfriend and the team, and another read “Don’t miss the end of this issue – it’ll be the most talked about moment of the year!”

Pretty obvious that Northstar was going to get married, right?

Earlier in the week Marvel started hyping an announcement that would be made on The View, of all places. (Do you know what a Venn diagram of “People Who Watch The View” and “People Who Will Ever Buy An Issue of Astonishing X-Men” looks like? It’s two circles on separate sheets of paper, and about a mile and a half between each of those sheets of paper). And it turned out to be that, yes, as you’ve surely already guessed, Northstar would be the first Marvel superhero to be married to a member of the same sex. (An aside: I wonder if, in the Marvel Universe, if mutant/human marriages are considered a greater threat to “traditional marriage” then gay marriages …? Do Republican politicians in the Marvel Universe introduce Defense of Marriage Acts forbidding a homo superior from marrying a homo sapien?)

So Marvel’s big news of the week is that the publisher whose foundational, traditional identity has been that it was the edgier, more realistic and with-it alternative to DC’s staid comics line, is just now catching up to Archie Comics, traditionally the most conservative and slow-to-change of the extant publishers. (They still publish comics for kids! And sell them in grocery stores!) Archie’s Life With Archie #17, published in January, featured a wedding between Kevin Keller and his boyfriend Clay Walker (six months, by the way, is about how long it would take to plan, create and publish an issue of an ongoing comic book series, at least in the olden days of the 1990s).

The appearance on The View, corporate synergy or no (Disney owns both Marvel and the show’s network ABC), was at least pretty well timed. President Barack Obama  publicly stated his support for gay marriage on May 9. That too would have (and perhaps should have) been a non-story, as Obama had publicly supported gay marriage in 1996, but changed his mind as he campaigned for the presidency the first time, were it not for the fact that  he was a sitting president. Like the Marvel story, the Obama one was basically along the lines of a declaration that someone was not as backward as previously thought. It’s just too bad so many news cycles have occurred between the Obama’s announcement and Marvel’s; that guy has been great for helping Marvel sell comic books in the past.

DC’s big, gay news of the week wasn’t made in such a splashy fashion, so company gets some points for not jumping as high or shouting as loud about how totally not-homophobic it is, but it also seemed calculated to insert the publisher into the Marvel news, in the hopes of getting DC’s name mentioned in the mainstream media at least as often.

DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio didn’t call a press conference to make his company’s gay announcement, but it nevertheless seemed more cynical and calculated, given the timing.

DC’s announcement seems somewhat smaller on the face of it — DC will  apparently “out” one of its “major iconic” (and male) characters as gay in a New 52 storyline that begins in June — and whether it’s actually a big deal will likely depend on the identity of the character.

My Word dictionary function is telling me the definition of “iconic” is “relating to or characteristic of somebody or something admired as an icon,” with “icon” being either “somebody … widely and uncritically admired, especially somebody or something symbolizing a movement or field of activity” or, more simply, “a picture or symbol that is universally recognized to be representative of something.”

DC no doubt has a pretty loose definition of the word “iconic,” which it often uses to mean “all of our superheroes, even Vibe.” If I were to list all of DC’s truly iconic characters, the ones most likely to be recognized in the streets of foreign countries and the ones that many other characters have been derived from, my list would end up being pretty small: Superman and all his derivatives (-girl, -boy, maybe Steel), Batman (and –girl) and Robin, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Captain Marvel (I suppose I’ll get used to calling him “Shazam” some day …) and Plastic Man.

Of those, all have appeared in the New 52 already, although Captai—er, Shazam and Plas less so than the others.

I’d be surprised if they went with Cap, if only because his secret identity is that of a minor, but he is one of the few superheroes who never, ever had a female love interest that I can think of (unless you count Stargirl from JSA), and was actively flustered by, and afraid, of girls in many of his older stories.

Plastic Man, at least at conception, didn’t have any built-in romantic interests in the way that, say, Superman did, but since the ‘90s he’s been portrayed as something of a horn-dog Lothario whose pranks often cross the line into sexual harassment, so it may actually help rather than hurt the character if they removed his interest in the weaker, super-strong sex.

I suppose the Earth 2 series is a good place to look for candidates, as it has Flashes and Green Lanterns and Hawks and so forth, although they’re not the “real” ones, but the Golden Age versions who have since become the secondary versions, and they’re also now alternate-Earth versions of themselves. So DC could say they’re making Green Lantern gay, but it would be an alternate-dimension sub-Green Lantern, I guess, which is a way to have cake and not eat it either.

In looking for clues, I thought that perhaps DC’s June solicitations would offer some, but none of the names I see in them appearing for the first time (at least the first time as far as I can remember) seems to fit the “major iconic” bill. These include the likes of Dr. Mist, Lobo, Bat Lash, Mister Bones and Beast Boy.

The biggest name on that list is probably Beast Boy, and his close friendship with Cyborg in the  Titans comics certainly made him one of those characters that fans would speculate/write slash fiction about, but rebooting him as gay seems a little hollow, given how thoroughly he’s being reinvented. They could do it easily, having already rebooted his 47-year-long history, changed his origin, changed his costume and changed the color of his skin.

But then, that’s the problem with “outing” any of DC’s characters after the “new 52″ reboot:  The publisher has changed everything else about almost all of its characters, and could undo any such change in sexual orientation along with any other changes it chose to un-do in the eventual “Crisis” event that will inevitably un-do the New 52 continuity, either de-rebooting it or re-rebooting it.

In fact, the only thing DC could do on this front that would actually be a big deal given the New 52 reboot of less than a year ago would be to have the two characters whose histories haven’t been rebooted come out as gay: Batman Bruce Wayne and Green Lantern Hal Jordan.

And then have the two of them get married.

Ah, but now I’m playing along with DC’s agenda here, talking about its plans and hyping them up. And that’s why I find the whole thing so embarrassing. It’s difficult not to feel complicit, or to actually be complicit in these things.

While I do understand the desire of some readers to have heroes like them to look up to (or, more likely these days, for readers like younger versions of themselves to have heroes to look up to), and I do understand the need for the publishers to provide those heroes. And while I understand the shortcut of outing a pre-existing hero rather than creating a brand-new gay one (or a legacy gay hero) because otherwise the hero will be viewed as inferior (simply because neither publisher seems able to generate a character as strong as the other, older ones in its stable), I still feel like the only honest response to these stunts and the crowing about them is a simple, “So what? You should have done that years ago.”

If DC and Marvel really want to provide realistic, relatable gay characters they can be proud of, if they really want the admiration of readers and media for making comics that reflect the real world in the year 2012, the best thing they can do would be to make good use of Northstar and the newly gay iconic DC hero, telling awesome, compelling stories with great writing and great art that aren’t dependent on the sexual orientation of the heroes.

In other words, to make Northstar a star with an identity separate from “Marvel’s gay superhero,” and for DC to do the same with a New 52 Beast Boy or Bat Lash or whoever, and for them to be stars who just happen to be gay.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed but, in the mean time, welcome to the 21st century Big Two, you constant sources of embarrassment you. Well, entertainment as well as embarrassment, but this week? More of the latter, less of the former.

News From Our Partners

Comments

31 Comments

KaraokeFanboy

May 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Indeed, the best way to reflect the natural evolution of society — or rather our evolution toward acceptance IN society — is to keep it natural and not issue a press release. Let the material speak for itself, and let reaction go viral — reaction to the STORY, not to the PR. I thought the same thing of Miles Morales’ introduction.

Archie Comics are the coolest. ‘Nuff said.

@KaraokeFanboy And that’s what DC did. If the guy at Kapow hadn’t asked the question, would Didio have blurted it out? DC wasn’t trying to make news before the fact. Now anything it does will have cynics thinking it’s on purpose. Coincidences actually still happen. One example was Marvel and DC producing zombie events at the same time (Necrosha, Blackest Night).

It felt like both of those announcements were pandering to the comic community. I can’t recall if Archie made a press release or what about Kevin Keller and his wedding. I remember CBR posting articles and the like about it but I can’t recall if they did or not which I think is the way to go about it. If the story is compelling enough then the news and advertising will follow.

“It felt like both of those announcements were pandering to the comic community.”

Answering a question is pandering, huh?

” I can’t recall if Archie made a press release or what about Kevin Keller and his wedding.”

Yes. And arranging feature articles with fan sites is pretty much on the same level as releasing a press release.

Bah. Fandom thinks what it wants to think, no matter the facts.

i’m all for diversity in everything, but i’m not quite sure why the Big 2 are jumping on this particular bandwagon when other minorities are woefully under-represented in their comics.

Bill Oppenheim

May 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Of course “gay” didn’t have homosexual connotations back then-at least outside of Hollywood. The movie “Gay Divorcee” only came out a few years before.

KaraokeFanboy

May 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

@CagedLeo: Understood and agreed. I still assert that the general mentality should be to let the story happen and then answer all follow-up questions with, “Yeah, he’s gay . . . So what?” If they dismiss it as natural, then we can’t criticize it as hype.

Interestingly — is equality the holo-foil cover of the 21st century?

I’ve already shared my guess on who it is, and if I’m right, they’ve given it to a guy who’s got experience in writing valid, three-dimensional gay characters.

But if it’s Viibe, all bets are off.

@minimalistx Because not every minority is in the news every week. And not every minority asks questions at cons about their inclusions in comics. If a minority doesn’t make noise, nobody will listen. Some creators are adding more minorities without press conferences. Manapul has added a few East Asians (Mob Rule, David Singh). Weather Wizard is now Guatemalan. New Green Lantern from FCBD looks like he’s of Arabic descent. Hawgirl from Earth-2 is now Black/Egyptian. It’s just nobody outside comic forums are talking about them.

I still like hot girls in comics oh crap now i look like a monster. I’m all in on the gay characters as well i don’t want to seem wrong i just like hot girls as well could we not get away from that :-}

Bruce and Hal? Bruce and Hall??? omfg! That would be a disaster! The way that those two hate each other in the Geoff Johns…. wait a minute… that whole love/hate thing…. hmmm…..

Nah. It’d never work.

What a thing to say.

Some *MILD* progress in queer representation in comics and the person up there goes “WHATEVAH, THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE WHO DESERVE TO BE REPRESENTED”

Prolly felt real clever when you wrote that, smh.

This post was a minor masterpiece of mature, thoughtful, well-expressed weariness with both traditionalist hang-ups and cynical exploitation of traditional hang-ups on an array of fronts.

I just plain enjoyed it as an exercise in good craft, aside from personally supporting just about everything said as well.

My favorite bit: “It’s two circles on separate sheets of paper, and about a mile and a half between each of those sheets of paper.”

It seems like the most cynical of all this isn’t DC or Marvel, it’s the author. This whole article is one giant exercise in cynicism. Want proof? This guy is one of those people who still thinks the New 52 is a temporary reboot and everything will go back to what it was before. I applaud DC and Marvel for taking further steps at making their comics more diverse, and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt because of the quality of the stories featuring gay characters like Northstar, WIccan and Hulkling, Batwoman, etc. in the past decade.

You know as a homosexual myself I realize that this sales gimmick to draw attention to gay comic book heroes is very demeaning. First of all, a gay marriage should not be this pomp and circumstance, it should just be a marriage. Making it a sales gimmick angers me too because it is not about two people in love getting married it is about headlines to get attention to sale copies and not sustain readership. Yeah for one month Astonishing X-Men may have high copies but after that it is still going to be whatever it was before. Don’t use my sexual orientation as a marketing scheme man.

Also if you are going to push the envelope, do it with someone at least more astonishing than Northstar, who was killed 3 different times in one month, and do someone that could actually make a difference. Have some balls man.

Marvel and DC make their money on orders. They can’t increase orders if they don’t issue a press release, or create hype,before the comic comes out. So whether you like this sort of thing or not, don’t expect it to change.

I agree that a gay marriage shouldn’t be treated any differently that a straight one; but I don’t really see the big issue. Marvel announced the thing with the “Save the date” campaign. But it’s a MARRIAGE. In one of their titles. Didn’t Storm and Black Panther’s marriage get announced? Or Jean Grey and Scot Summers’? Peter Parker and Mary Jane? I think a superhero wedding is ALWAYS a big deal, no matter who gets hitched.

Another point that I do not agree is that Marvel suddenly “went gay”. It wasn’t sudden. Issues of how long it takes to prepare a book aside, they’ve had significant gay couples for a while now. Having this wedding is not “going gay all of a sudden”. It’s taking another reasonable step with the gay characters they already have.

This had nothing to do with societal growth and acceptance. They’re simply trying to.exploit a new market and using the controversy to drum up audience and sales. That’s the most offensive thing a company can do.

If we let a man marry a mutant, how can we stop a man marrying a dog???

@ david levack
But as Katty pointed out, Marvel has made a big deal about marriages in the past. The sexual orientation isn’t the gimmick, it’s the marriage. Remember how big a deal X-Men #30 was back in the 90s when Jean and Scott got hitched? Or the Spidey wedding from the late 80s? And Sue and Reed’s big wedding in an early annual of FF? (I am remembering that correctly, right?) Just this once, Marvel has decided to make the wedding between two men, which I think is a good move because, as Kevin Smith points out, in the past it’s always been straight couples who get the love story and wedding in popular fiction. It was never the gay character. Well, now that’s changing. We’ve seen well written gay couples, it’s about time we’ve seen these companies embrace something that is in no way a threat to the traditional definition of marriage and do their part to show the ignorant there is nothing to fear about two guys who love each other tying the knot.

I have to say, DC Comics already has some characters and they can and should create more and give them higher profiles.

BUT.

BUT.

I won’t support changing the orientation of a character we have been following for decades as a publicity gimmick. These characters are loved by their fans and they do not exist as a list of powers and a costume.. it is their supporting casts, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives and children etc. etc. By altering something so fundamental about one of these characters… DC just continues down the misguided New 52 route of erasing decades of history and chasing older fans, like myself away…. heck, I used to buy 25 DC titles a month and am now down to 3 as it is… {sigh}

If Batman came out as gay, he could do a lot better than Hal freakin’ Jordan. Just saying.

Clearly, it’s Wonder Woman. The New 52 Diana is almost a spitting image of Xena: Warrior Princess both aesthetically and figuratively….and those who watched Xena know the lesbian overtones were off the charts in later seasons. Case in point:
1. She’s a badass who puts all of the boys to shame
2. Her charge is a physically inferior woman whom she has guarded and rescued
3. Her charge is pregnant. This would 1-up Marvel’s gay marriage by leading to same-sex parenting

It is the old and simple question to say “why don’t they create a new character rather than use old ones?” New characters in general have a tough time surviving in an already crowded market….and without a gimmick like a tie in something huge like Batman or Xmen, or a big name writer/artist, new characters fall into obscurity quickly. Most of the characters anyone remembers in the last 20 years were batman costars like Bane and Harley Quinn, or Image Comics characters like Spawn and Savage Dragon or Xmen tie ins like Daken and x-23. Compound a new character as a homosexual? That’s a stigma to point of kiss of death..Period. Batwoman, regardless her many abilities, is known for being a lesbian, rather than being a female batman or a crimefighter in her own merits. The only reason she’s even lasted this long is because her ties to the Batman family that got her attention. Most every other LBGT superhero character in comics are background/ensemble/d-listers. And even that, according to many comic fans, are far too many LBGT characters already (though I doubt any of them could name 10 LBGT characters in their Marvel/DC universe aside from the big names Northstar and Batwoman respectively).

As the many forum flame wars have erupted over the issue, it’s pretty clear that a LOT – perhaps even the majority of comic readers – do not pick up Batwoman simply because she is gay and readers want NOTHING to do with that. So, I can see a title with a gay character as the lead failing simply because far too many would outright refuse to pick it up – even if JMS were writing and Jim Lee were doing art – and then haters will point and say “See? Gay characters don’t sell so stop making them ever again!”

The Bitter Man

May 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm

All of this “going gay all of a sudden” is making me sick. There is no reason for it. Comic Books have traditionally been for kids and adolescents. What will be next, a gay character on Mickey Mouse? Where is DC and Marvel’s sense of ethics? Oh, that’s right, they’ve been taken over by money hungry liberals willing to sacrifice principles by pandering to a fringe group…

The Bitter Man

May 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm

PS “B Smith” is the man.

“Comic Books have traditionally been for kids and adolescents. “

Where have you been for the past 30 years, Rip Van Winkle?

Geez, Bitter Man, where HAVE you been? Gays aren’t exactly a ‘fringe group’ these days.
If you are truly so far behind the times as to believe that, then it’s no wonder that you’re posting under a pseudonym.

Me: Golden Age GL has — HAD two kids, and a long history of heterosexuality including a Batman/Catwoman like thing with the Harlequin. I’ve followed the character for years.

DC: SO WHAT, LETS MAKE HIM GAY. WE’LL GET ON TV!

Me: Buh-Bye!

Leave a Comment

 



Browse the Robot 6 Archives