Comics and the queer revolution
At the beginning of the year, DC comics created international buzz amongst anxious readers by announcing a major character would come out as gay. In early June, the Green Lantern came out to the whole world. And that’s just the latest in a list of comic book heroes that are coming out…
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Comic book fans have waited a long time to see their superheroes, favourite sidekicks or side characters come out as gay or lesbian. In fact, the Comics Code Authority systematically censored homosexual content in North America until 1989.
Banner photo: Billy and Teddy kissing in The Young Avengers.
The 90s were not explicit about homosexuality thought they included more suggestive content — but rare were the stories that proudly embraced alternatives to the heterosexual status quo in the world of comic books.
Northstar, a Marvel Comics X-Man superhero has just married his partner in astonishing X-Men #51, published this week (June 25). Originally a Québec member of Alpha Flight (the first Canadian team of superheroes created in 1979), Northstar is known for his superhuman speed, flight and capacity to manipulate light.
Before this recent wave of queer inclusion, readers everywhere had to wait until last summer, in 2011, for superheroes to come out. One such example is DC Comic’s Batwoman.
Very American in dialogue and plot: “Kate Kane survived a brutal kidnapping by terrorists that left her mother dead and her twin sister lost.” Brilliantly intertwining national pride with American affairs and news; you can almost hear low-tone American film commercial voice: “following her father’s footsteps, she vowed to serve her country and attended West Point until she was expelled under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Now she is many things: estranged daughter, grieving sister, proud lesbian, brave soldier, determined hero, she is BATWOMAN.”
Co-written by W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III who is also the artist, green-eyed, redhead Kate Kane is the stereotypical lesbian: tattooed, mysterious, rough on the outside and sweet on the inside. The first three issues reveal a complicated childhood and the beginning of what is sure to be a complicated relationship with Detective Sawyer, a blond with short hair and glowing blue eyes.
Apart from the regular menu of super-villains, we are also introduced to the sexy Agent Cameron Chase who works for a skeleton head (literally) at the Department of Extranormal Operations. She is mandated with figuring out the identity of Batwoman and she doesn’t look like she has the best of intentions. But she sure acts and looks like a butch.
Rated T for teen, the third book ends with a luscious kiss between Kate and her detective. What’s next, one can only imagine.
“A lot of superheroes are represented as being openly gay,” says Rebecca of Silver Snail comic book shop located in Ottawa’s village. “We have lots of gay and lesbian customers coming here. Many have always loved superman — he’s the Boy Scout fighting for the underdog type.” She forgets to mention “with big muscles and wearing tight spandex.”
“All of DC was revamped last summer,” explains her colleague Heather. “Many have consequently introduced gay, lesbian and even trans characters to appeal to a wider audience.”
Teen Titans introduced a gay boy character named Bunker. In September 2011, at a Montreal Comic Conference panel titled Where are the Gay Superheroes, comic book writer Gail Simone — who took over Wonder Woman in 2007 and Batgirl in 2011 — and Brett Booth, artist of Teen Titans, introduced Bunker to an anxious and excited crowd of gay comic book fans. Bleedingcool.com has a record of the announcement:
Brett Booth: We got at least one in Teen Titans.
Gail Simone: Really? Who is the gay superhero in TT? Can you say?
Brett Booth: Bunker is gay. The purple guy, I know, not my first color choice!
Brett Booth: We’re trying to make being gay a part of who he is, your gaydar should be pinged right off the bat.
“There was a really big buzz last summer,” explains Heather. “For example, when Archie’s friend Kevin Keller got married to his boyfriend. We had a huge stack that was sold out almost right away.”
In fact, Archie’s Number 16 stirred a huge online controversy with certain conservative groups such as The American Family Association and the website OneMillionMoms.com condoning the issue altogether, claiming it was “too complicated” for children to understand.
The issue sold out even in the face of their boycott call. “It’s probably a collector’s item now,” adds Rebecca.
There was also a marriage proposal in Marvel Cimics’ The Young Avengers, this time between two superheroes, Wiccan (Teddy) and Hulking (Billy). Also by Marvel, Runaways has a lesbian couple that go on to marry — marriage being a recurring theme for comic book’s openly gay and lesbian couples.
Runaways is the incredible tale of a group of teenagers who find out their parents are evil members of a group called The Pride. The teens also find out they’ve inherited their parents’ superpowers — and the story goes on from there. Of the original six heroes, Karolina Dean is a lesbian, in a relationship with Xavin. Interestingly, Xavin first appeared in the series as a black man, but later shape-shifted to a female in order to be with Karolina. Throughout the plot, Xavin, short for Xav, shape shifts between her male and female bodies.
“I can’t think of many transsexual characters off the top of my head,” says Heather. “There is a side-character named Desire in Sandman.” The character first appeared in the DC Comic books series in 1989, making it avant-garde in this regard. Desire is attractive and androgynous, and is made both male and female, or both or nothing in the series.
“The themes of sexuality in American comic books and Japanese manga are approached differently,” explains Heather. “Japanese comic books have been open about homosexuality for a while, but it has been censored for a long time and so the American readers didn’t know about it until recently.”
That’s because the American Comic Code Authority (mistakenly) thought mainly children read manga, while in Japan it was understood right away that most readers were adults. “Japan has produced genre manga for girls since the 70s,” explains Heather. “I’m thinking Sailor Moon: two of the main characters were in a relationship but it was translated differently for the North American audience. All of a sudden, they were really good friends instead of lovers.”
She tells me that Yaoi (“boys love” in Japanese) manga are for boys while “Yuri” (meaning girls’ love) are for lesbians. Off the shop’s manga rack, she picks up Selfish Mr. Mermaid and La Esperança, both Yaoi mangas that are popular with their gay customers. They were totally sold out of their Yuri manga, though I am told Strawberry Panic is a very good read.
While many queer theorist critique comic books and mangas for representing gay, lesbian and trans characters in a heterosexual setting or lifestyle, the “coming out” of superheroes and other characters is a small revolution for the wider audience comic books are trying to reach, namely LGBTQ fans worldwide.
Photos by Sanita Fejzic