Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Superman Probably Isn’t Gay (But That Would Be Okay)

Boss:  Hey, I saw an article that said that Superman might be gay.
Me:  I’ll bet.
Boss:  It was on Fox News.
Me:  Well, there’s your problem.
So this is the article in question.  For those who don’t want to give Faux News any traffic – and I don’t blame you there – the article mentions comments by DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio who stated that DC has shifted its position on gay characters from one in which no previously-established straight character would be outed as being gay, and any inclusiveness of gay characters would be limited to new characters, and that an as-yet unnamed pre-existing character would be revealed to be gay.
Fox Noise went on to speculate, based on nothing other than that he’s their most famous character, that the character in question could be Superman.
(They also made some random link between this announcement and President Obama’s recent announcement of tepid, unofficial support for same sex marriage, because of course they did.)
Shortly after I read the article a friend posed a question to me on Facebook as to whether I viewed this move as being necessary, stating that a new character could fill the need for a prominent gay character.
I suppose it depends on how you define “necessary,” but my short answer was, “Sure, why not?”
This post will contain my longer answer.
First things first:  I really doubt that Superman is going to be revealed to be gay.
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that I just don’t see DC being brave enough to try something like that.
However, there was a key phrase that DiDio used in his comments:  re-introducing.  Strictly speaking, with the line-wide reboot of their comics – “The New 52” – last fall, DC technically “re-introduced” most of its characters.  However, there are many existing characters in DC’s stable that have yet to make an appearance in the new DC Universe, and all of the major characters – at least, the ones most recognizable to the general public – have all made an appearance, and have several months worth of new backstory already in place.
I have no doubt that Grant Morrison – who, in a recent Playboy interview  made some comments about the “gayness” of Batman, stating that while the character named Batman has always been presented as being explicitly heterosexual, there is a lot about the character, conceptually, that is “gay” – as the writer of one of the two current series featuring Superman as the main character – Action Comics – would be more than willing to push the envelope and make Superman gay, I just don’t see it happening.
While both Action and Superman are still in the early stages, having only 9 issues on the stands to date, there has been sufficient character development that the sudden revelation that he’s gay just wouldn’t be a very good narrative fit.
Is it impossible?  No, but it strikes me as unlikely.
The same goes for Batman, who managed to hold onto slightly more of his pre-New 52 continuity so that it would be even less of a fit.
Is it impossible?  Well, we’re talking about comics, where people can fly, run faster than the speed of light, and routinely come back from the dead, so nothing is impossible, but it strikes me as unlikely.
And, again, there’s that word, “re-introduce,” and when you consider that DiDio was talking to an audience of actual comic book readers, the word “prominent” takes on a different meaning than it does with the larger population.  For me, the Flash is a prominent character, for example, and while Barry Allen – the modern-day Flash – is already established in the DCnU, as some people call it, the original Flash, Jay Garrick, is currently in the process of being re-introduced.  Is he “prominent” to non-fans?  No, of course not.  But to people who know comics, he definitely counts as prominent.
But to return to the question of being necessary, I say that, despite the unreal and impossible worlds that serve as the setting for super hero comics, the best comics are the ones that resonate because they share at least some similarities to the less fantastical world we all live in, and to succeed, the stories have have to appeal to as wide and diverse an audience as possible, which is an area in which comics routinely fail, and it can’t help but be something that DC (and Marvel, and every other company that struggles with the issue) is keenly aware of as they struggle to stop the loss of existing readers and actually expand to reach new audiences.
So are gay super heroes “necessary?”  Absolutely.
Well, then, you ask, what about just sticking to new characters?
It’s an approach that can be taken, and certainly it’s worked for Archie Comics with their introduction of Kevin Keller, and DC itself has done reasonably well with Batwoman, but introducing new characters is always a crapshoot.  For every Batwoman there are hundreds of characters – either entirely new or reinventions of older, obscure characters – who never gain any significant amount of traction.
And frankly, it’s unfair to relegate the representation of a significant portion of the population – your friends, co-workers, and family members – to characters who are never likely to get much recognition, existing only as tokens, or novelties.
Beyond that, there are plenty of existing characters who have been around for decades, and who have name recognition beyond the ranks of fandom, who have always been written with a subtextual nod towards LGBT orientations, but who could never be brought out of the closet due to societal pressures (and the onus of the Comics Code Authority).
in a post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell world, why not make the subtext into actual text?
So, yes.  It’s necessary.  And, quite frankly, welcome.
”But Jon,” you might ask, “wouldn’t it bother you if Superman were gay?”
Well, first of all, is it even possible for Superman to be gay, given that he’s an alien?  Honestly, sex with any human – male or female – is vaguely akin to bestiality.
More seriously…yes, it would bother me, but not because of any sort of bigotry or concerns that he would be less heroic – he wouldn’t be – but because his romantic relationship with Lois Lane – despite how poorly it is often handled (and how much the men in charge at DC like to screw her over) – is an essential aspect of the character.
Is that a cop-out?  Maybe, but the fact of the matter is, if DC did decide to make Superman gay, despite my Lois objection, I would get the fuck over it pretty quickly, because no matter what, he’s still fucking Superman and that’s good enough for me.Honestly, I would have even less objection to Batman being gay, because – Catwoman and Talia aside – there really isn’t an equivalent to Lois in his life.
And here’s the other thing, and this is not directed at anyone in particular, such as my boss or my friend on Facebook, but rather at the sensationalist media and the people out there in the world who get off on being offended, when it comes to you having an opinion about what goes on in a sub-culture that you aren’t part of, and have no interest in – unless it gives you an excuse to create a sensationalist narrative or to get a good offendedness fix, or to laugh at us socially-maladjusted nerds with our arrested development who still read that “kid stuff”  – my thought is pretty much fuck you.
You don’t read comics, so your opinion about comics is worth exactly two things:  Jack and shit.
I didn’t actually mean to suggest that I think that Jay Garrick is the most likely candidate when I used him as an example, by the way (though come to think of it, based on the glimpses we’ve had of him so far, it’s a definite possibility), I was just citing him as example of a character who, in fandom, counts as “prominent” and is being “re-introduced.”
The same goes for the former Captain Marvel, who is, arguably, fairly prominent outside of fandom, at least in terms of the word associated with him, which will actually be his name when he’s re-introduced:  SHAZAM.
But honestly, I don’t think that’s who it is either.
There is another very prominent character whom I think fits the bill – and fits in with the “safer” approach to introducing LGBT characters that DC has historically taken – and who has a long history of gay subtext, whose re-introduction has been decidedly lacking any focus on a romantic life, is in the middle of a storyline in which such a revelation would flow pretty naturally as a consequence of what’s happening, and who is, honestly, something of a no-brainer:  Wonder Woman.
I don’t think there are a lot of people who would bat an eye at the notion of Diana being a lesbian – she grew up on an island inhabited solely by women, after all – and DC has found that lesbians are a little easier for the fans to accept, so I think it makes perfect sense.  It’s a bold move, but not too bold, which makes it the most likely choice that DC would make.
Would I be okay with that?  Certainly, though I think that the fact that it’s a very obvious and safe choice kind of robs it of some of its impact, but I can’t really object to the logic behind it.
I may have more to say on this in a future post, which will include some additional thoughts on the lingering possibility of “Superman” (the quotes are there for a reason) being gay after all…

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