Recently I was struck low by the common cold, that bane of clear-thinking and productivity, so I grabbed my roommate's collection of comic books and retreated to my bed for the next three days. I figured that comic books would be a nice, mindless distraction while I healed -- and now I have a complete working knowledge of the DC Universe. I'd been out of the comics scene for a couple of years, but boy! My interest in the genre has been sparked again. But I have to wonder... Where are all the gay people?
Now, don't get me wrong - I don't think that comics should be dealing with gay issues, and I don't want Token Gay Characters to crop up everywhere. Here are some concrete examples of what I DON'T want to see:
Captain Amazing: "Stop there, miscreant! Drop your weapon!"
Bad Guy: "It's Captain Amazing! Get 'im!" *Blam* *Blam*
Captain Amazing: "Ha-ha! Your bullets can't hurt me. *Pow* By the way, I'm gay!
Nor do I want to see campy gay stereotypes as heroes:
FF: "Stop right there, Conservative Man! I've got you cornered."
CW: "Oh, no! It's the Flaming Fairy!"
FF: "That's right! Granted my powers in a freak hair-dressing accident, I use them to fight oppression and homophobia!"
*Pow* *Biff* *Whap* <------(fist fight noises)
FF: "Dammit, I broke a nail! You bitch!"
But seriously, you'd think the comic book medium would be perfect for gay men. After all, most people in the industry are creative, artistic males, with an attraction for bright colors and costumes that are really just glorified underwear. Think of it...spandex, tightly muscled men, power rings, flamboyant capes... It all seems ripe for a gay aesthetic - one that just hasn't happened. Why not? Where are the gay heroes? Well...
BATMAN & ROBIN: this is almost too easy. A well-dressed grown man hanging out with a 14-year-old boy - living in a mansion - wearing tights - spending their nights out in the city - the closeness formed in the heat of battle... you know.
But I actually don't think that Batman and Robin are a gay couple. Really. I mean, the homoerotic implications of the Dynamic Duo are so obvious that even straight people could pick up on it - and comic books were attacked on that very basis back in the 1950's. So the publishers and writers of Batman started consciously moved away from that angle as much as possible. Bear in mind that I'm talking about the COMIC BOOKS here, not the Joel Schumaker nipples-on-the-Batsuit, Riddler-obsessed-with-Bruce Wayne, phallicly-rich piece o' crap movies. No, in the books Batman is too dark, too obsessed to be gay. If anything, he's asexual - all of his sexual energies have been sublimated into crimefighting. Robin has grown up to be Nightwing - and he's got a steady flirtation going with the former Batgirl. Instead, the Batman writers have pointed the pink wand at...
THE JOKER: He might be gay. He's also a psychopathic sadist, but he's been set up as a raging queen in the last couple of appearances. He already starts with his own lipstick. In "The Dark Knight Returns" he keeps calling Batman "Darling," and "Sweetheart." In "Arkham Asylum" he screams that the blood from one of his victims "is going to RUIN my PUMPS!" and he asks about "the long-legged Boy Wonder." (Check it out! I did some research!) However, it seems to me that the Joker is so totally twisted that assigning any kind of sexuality to him is futile. Unlike, for instance...
THE PIED PIPER: Who? He's a minor bad guy who can control people with music. He recently defected to become a good guy and hangs out with the Flash. And he came out of the closet. This was actually handled really well. The exchange went something like this:
Flash: What about the Joker? I heard a rumor that he's gay.
Piper: I really don't know. It's not like we all hung out at the Clubhouse of Evil.
Flash: But surely you must've heard something.
Piper: No...No, I can't really think of any super-villains that are gay. Except for me, of course.
Flash: Whoa, look at the time! Gotta go! *Whooooooosh!*
Later on, the Pied Piper helps Superman rescue that cute newsboy, Jimmy Olsen - and he has his arm around Jimmy in the last panel. I don't think anything ever comes of it, though.
Anyway, that's the kind of thing I'd like to see in the comics. I don't expect long-running heroes to come out of the closet - they've already got long romantic histories established, saved pretty girls, etc. Spiderman has Mary-Jane, Superman has Lois. But minor characters, or new ones...there could be some interesting storylines.
For instance: in the Super-teen comics. These are always hotbeds(!) of sexual tension between team members. Half the issue is devoted to stopping the evil Magneto, and the other half to whether Cannonball will make out with Magma or not. These issues always shy away from any sort of gay implication. Close friendship between males is frowned on - they always have to be rivals for the chicks.
In "the New Mutants," which I used to read, the males with the closest relationship were Cypher and Warlock. More, they were "Soulmates" or "soulbrothers" with a kind of mental link. But Cypher was human, and Warlock was a techno-organic being from outer space - it eliminated any sexual tension, because Warlock really didn't have a sex. Bastards! In "the Legion of Superheroes" there are almost 20 superheroes living in close quarters - average age 15 and a half. Don't tell me there aren't some hormones racing there! But again, the closest friendship is between Invisible Kid (human) and Changeling (a funky, orange alien) - they eliminate the possibility of same-sex romance by changing the species. Come on! Let's have Invisible Kid and Cosmic Boy start flirting!
Since 85% of their audience is 16-year-old heterosexual boys who can't get dates, I guess it's not surprising that there are very few gay characters in comics. Granted, there's Northstar in the Marvel Universe - but who really cares about a gay, Canadian superhero? Jeesh. The comic GEN-13 has a (possibly) lesbian character - which I suppose is titillating to the boys reading it - but they aren't going to commit to her orientation and possibly turn off readers.
But still...here's what I want. Some gay super-characters. I want a storyline that reflects something in my own life. I want a super-villain to kidnap the hero's boyfriend. I want Wonder Woman to get a real Amazonian girlfriend and COME OUT already! I want to see what Poison Ivy's pheromone power does to a gay man. Does it work on lesbians? Let's find out!
All right, one last plot idea. I think this would work, and be true to the characters. Batman isn't gay - but he's got a new Robin, Tim Drake - who might be. Tim already has a serious case of hero-worship for both Batman and Nightwing - but they're pretty unapproachable. So Robin teams up with Superboy (in World's Finest #3) and develops a HUGE crush on him. Superboy, a 16-year-old clone of Superman, has already been established as a ladies man ("Women are my Kryptonite"), so he doesn't even notice - but he likes Robin anyway. This grants a reason for further adventures together (Robin wants to see him as much as possible), provides some deeper characterization, and sets up an even deeper sense of betrayal and jealousy when Superboy falls under Poison Ivy's evil spell. It could happen. Maybe they date, maybe not, but it could sustain a storyline for at least four or five issues. Think of a younger, more conflicted version of the Superman/ Lois Lane flirtation.
So come on, DC Universe! There are enough teenage heroes, some of them have at least got to be questioning! Let's have some real soap opera stuff! Call me - I'll give you some more ideas! But please, no queens with Super Fashion Sense.
Wow, this was a long one. Sorry, got inspired there. Thank you to everyone who wrote to me about last month's column, and I hereby resolve not to whine about a lack of response to my columns in the future. That being said, anyone who does actually want to write to me and tell me how wonderful I am can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org - any flames will be gleefully mocked and responded to.
'til next time, true believers,