Valentine’s Day Special: On Gay Relationships in Comics and Television

Oh, Valentine’s Day. A day of love. Or at least spending a ridiculous amount of money on boyfriends, girlfriends, friends in general, family, classmates, etc. Personally, I hate that Valentine’s Day has become so damn commercialized. Like most other holidays. But this is not a ranting post opposing the commercialization of our holidays. Rather, I want to write about the depiction of gay relationships in comics and television. With maybe some ranting thrown in.

I’ve written about gay romantic relationships in fiction before. But I want to do a little more. I want to interrogate this issue. I want to figure out what my own stance is. And I want to do something about it. 

Taking Characters Out of the Dating Pool

The great thing about DC’s New 52 is the continuing commitment to include increased levels of character diversity. Among their number are the reimagined Green Lantern of Earth 2 (Alan Scott) and new creation Miguel Jose Barragan (Bunker) of Teen Titans. I’ve gone on record repeatedly extolling my love of James D. Robinson’s work on Earth 2 and of his treatment of Alan Scott in particular. I’m not as up to date on Teen Titans, but I have seen Bunker’s coming out scene to Wonder Girl. And it was awesomely funny, in my opinion. But, I do have some issues with them, too.

Alan Scott’s boyfriend, Sam, is killed in his first appearance. This, unfortunately, classic superhero origin archetype pushes Green Lantern to become a superhero. Like Batman honoring his parents and Spider-Man honoring Uncle Ben, Green Lantern honors his love for Sam through his heroism. This is an awesome development (and similar to Mikaal Tomas’s Starman during Robinson’s run on Justice League). But this does prevent any hints of romance coming Green Lantern’s way for a good while yet. The man needs to properly mourn the loss of the love of his life, after all! Unless he, too, pulls a Mikaal Tomas at some point. . . 

Bunker is in a similar situation to Green Lantern. At least I think he is. I don’t know for sure, though, if this has been mentioned in canon yet. There has been numerous reports that Bunker has a boyfriend. He’s just in a coma. How convenient. Personally, I think a better approach would either be that Miguel is, honestly, far too busy trying to survive to spend any time dating. Or, he could just be, you know, single. Anyway, Bunker hasn’t really been explored in depth as of yet. He hasn’t gotten an arc of his own. So we’re in the waiting game with him for now. 

The Curse of the One True Paring

Wiccan and Hulkling, Apollo and Midnighter, and Kurt and Blaine are all core (or at least major) pairings in their respective series. Each relationship has, for good or ill, captured the imagination and devotion of the fandom. So, what’s my beef with these couples?

Let’s take a quick break from comic books and deal with Klaine first. If you’ve read my previous posts on Glee, you will know that I have major issues with how Kurt’s storyline has gone. For the purposes of this post, I’ll limit my ranting to one thing: until recently, Kurt has never, really, had a counter suitor competing with Blaine for Kurt’s heart. It was (and is) Blaine or nothing (though originally Sam). And for me, I’ve always had issues with this relationship. I don’t really see it as healthy. And I suspect there is a large amount of settling going on here. 

Now, I think part of the problem lies with the writers. They’ve done a terrible job with Kurt, in my opinion, and they’ve done an even worse job with Blaine. But the lion’s share of the blame goes to an unwillingness to introduce more LGBT characters to complement, contrast, and support the major preexisting LGBT characters on the show. 

Why is Blaine the only out guy that Kurt meets before his senior year? And if the original plan with Sam came to fruition, would Blaine have been only a one off? Ugh. Lima, Ohio isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It is a large town within a few hours drive of three large cities: Toledo, Dayton, and Columbus (the largest city in the state and home to OSU). And there are no other out youth in the region? What about Dalton? Wouldn’t it have a (hypothetical) GSA? Why does Kurt never (to my knowledge) express a desire to seek out people who get him in ways that no one else ever could?

Now, back to comics. The argument can be made that Wiccan and Hulkling have been romantically involved before the first series even begins. And, under the argument that Wiccan has gradually become the main protagonist of the entire Young Avengers saga, their romance is the central romance of the series. I love that. But I’m torn, too. I love the fact that Billy and Teddy have such a strong, central relationship. But I have problems with them, too. 

In my review of Young Avengers #1 (Gillen and McKelvie), I mention that I love the fact that Billy and Teddy are passionate. Remember, that is only their second on panel kiss. But I must ask a follow up question: In the same issue, Kate Bishop wakes up after sleeping with Noh-Varr. So, will future issues depict Billy and Teddy in a similar fashion? I hope so. 

As far as their relationship itself? I like it. I like that they are “sickening” in a romantic and sappy way. But, they could use some drama. Eventually. 

Moving on to Apollo and Midnighter, I love how Paul Cornell handled the hesitant flirting the two engage in before they fully join the team. And I love how Apollo rages against being in the “superhero closet” as it reminds him oh so painfully of being in the closet when he was younger. 

I dropped the series with issue 10, so I don’t know exactly what has gone on since. And it does look as if the current Stormwatch team is imploding for a second reboot. Or something. Not really looking forward to it. 

The Problem Explained

So, why doesn’t Kurt have another romantic option during his rather torturous courtship with Blaine? Simple, there is a pressure to keep the numbers of LGBT characters low so that the property doesn’t become “too gay” and lose “mainstream” audience (or readers). If Kurt were to join Dalton’s (hypothetical) GSA, started his own at McKinley, or got involved in some form of LGBT youth group in Columbus, Glee becomes too openly political and activist. But if only a few recurring characters are added (Blaine, Sebastian, Dave, and Adam) with a few more one offs (Jeremiah, Chandler, etc.) then Glee doesn’t have to deal with “too much gay.” 

A similar occurrence exists in the DC Universe. I don’t know if this is apocryphal or not, but I remember reading that an editor on Teen Titans didn’t want Bunker to be “too gay.” Whatever that means. Of course, given the nature of superhero comics, dropping in on the local Gotham City LGBT community center might be a bit of a problem if one has to save the world on a regular basis. But it would be a nice character moment.

What has gone unstated is that while it is okay to depict a (limited) number of LGBT characters, it is not okay to explore those characters in a more aggressively sexual way. Just look at Kurt and Blaine with their anemic first time and lackluster passion. And how long did it take for Wiccan and Hulkling to finally kiss (on panel)? We can, I think, do better.

Doing Something About It

Ranting and bitching solves nothing. Except maybe bullying the creators of Glee (if a large enough number of fans are involved). But, honestly, that doesn’t satisfy me. I want to do something. 

I want to create and write the LGBT characters that I want to read and watch. But I also want to make the work (in whatever form it is) as appealing to everyone as I can. The question, I guess, is if I can have my cake and eat it, too. Can I have a large audience/ readership and not sacrifice my vision for the work, especially when it comes to matters of diversity? I think so. 

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Posted on February 14, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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