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.
This is a rant. During the course of which, I may write something stupid (or wrong). If I do, please let me know in the comments.
For many of you who read this blog, you know that I’m very interested in how GLBTQ characters are depicted in literature. Usually, I’ve limited myself to just discussing LGBTQ characters in genre (sf, fantasy, and comics). For this post, I’m going to spread out and discuss issues of representation outside of genre, too. So, what’s my beef?
I don’t like Glee. I think the writing is atrocious and the vision schizophrenic. The only reason why I’m interested is because Kurt Hummel is one of the most important GLBTQ characters on television today. Kurt Hummel, love him or hate him, represents a zeitgeist change in how LGBTQ characters are represented.
You see, Kurt Hummel is one of the rare GLBTQ characters who have sustained importance to a show. Especially given the genre. I mean, Victorious, set in a performing arts high school in Los Angeles, has no LGBTQ characters that I know of. Seriously?
But. Kurt Hummel could be a great character, instead he is damned to the hells of narrative tropes. Among other things.
While I have issues with some of Kurt’s season one story, it seems to me that season one was his greatest moment (plus maybe the first half of season two) as a character. Even if it does incorporate a reversed standard coming out narrative (which I loath). Following that, Kurt’s major stories involve his saccharine relationship with Blaine (which did have potential for some interesting stories, I will admit, just never happened) and a demotion to GBFF for Rachel (how insipidly stereotyped can you get- I hate the GBFF trope, by the way).
Another thing that bugs me about Kurt Hummel is his inexplicable lack of “sexiness.” Even though he damn well is. Why he is depicted as a delicate flower just seems stupid. I don’t get it. Let him go through a sexy phase! (They won’t though).
And finally, what the hell is up with the lack of a gay community on the show? I get that Lima is a small city, but it ain’t a hick town. There are three major cities (including Columbus) within less than a three hour drive. There has to be more than just Scandals, damn it. Is this a case of “but not too gay”?
Ian Gallagher (US Version)
In many ways, I much prefer the “anti Kurt Hummel” Ian Gallagher from the US version of Shameless. Now, I do have issues with him as well. For one thing, I really don’t get why he hasn’t come out yet. Hell, most of his family knows he’s gay already. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is history. So why? Unless it’s just not his time.
But what I especially like about the Ian Gallagher character is that there is no fear in showing his sexuality. For me, I believe that it is important to have the courage to show gay male sexuality. Even if it is on network tv.
Bunker (Teen Titans), Alan Scott (Earth 2), and Wiccan and Hulkling (Young Avengers)
I don’t know if this came from an interview or just hearsay, but I think that Scott Lobdell mentioned that when he pitched Bunker, he was told to not make him “too gay.” What does that mean? Now, I haven’t kept up with Teen Titans. So far, I think Bunker has only come out to Wonder Girl. But that is about it. And somewhere, he has a boyfriend conveniently in a coma. So no romantic action (unless said boyfriend doesn’t actually exist).
It took gumption to recreate Alan Scott as an out gay man. The kiss between him and Sam is just amazing. But (spoiler alert) Sam dies in that same issue. So no romance for Green Lantern for a good long while.
What would happen if Wiccan and Hulkling ever broke up? I don’t know. They’ve been together so long that they’re practically inseparable. And it still took them nearly eight years to get an on panel kiss! Seriously? Hopefully the new Young Avengers series won’t shy away from some Wiccan and Hulkling love scenes.
This Post has gone on too long
I think I should conclude with how I want LGBTQ characters to be represented. I want to focus on giving them narratives. Narratives in which they stand on their own. Not being tied as a GBFF with perhaps some narrative crumbs. I want to see arcs devoted to them, not see them easily become disposable. I want to see them become great characters who just happen to be GLBTQ. But I don’t want that aspect to be completely neglected either. I want fully human characters that aren’t afraid to show who they are.
Today, I have two reviews of the first two issues of Dial H and Earth 2. Now, the easy review would be that I love both series and urge everyone to check both out. But, to do a just review, one must utilize depth.
From the brilliant and creative mind of China Mieville, this series has all of the elements that makes a great Mieville story. The series follows Nelson, an obese out of luck Londoner, who happens on the H Dial when his friend is attacked by the gangsters he works for. Thus begins the random heroic career of a most unlikely superhero.
And that’s the key. Nelson should not be a super hero, but he is. And that, I think, makes this series work so well. Nelson is not even an everyman. He is someone no body would want to be. He doesn’t even want to be himself. Which introduces an amazing series of characterization shots.
Indeed, beyond the superhero surface is a heartfelt and compassionate study of identity and the desire to become someone else, someone heroic.
The progression of the series has so far been fast paced and addicting. And the villains have so far been very cool and extremely weird.
Mieville has found an excellent partner in Mateus Santolouco and the rest of the art team. My goodness, the art is gorgeous in a weird, somewhat surrealist style.
For those of you who have not checked out Dial H, what are you waiting for? Do it now!
To begin this review, one must acknowledge the controversies surrounding it. For one thing, the revelation of Alan Scott as a gay man in this new universe. And, of course, there are the deaths of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in the first issue during the final battle with the forces of Apokolips.
The thing is, you see, this series is a radical departure from the usual Earth Two depiction. Instead of these heroes existing in a Golden Age of Super Heroes, these heroes (Scott, Garrick, etc.) are the second generation of heroes (or wonders as the residents of Earth 2 call them).
James Robinson has embarked on something akin to an superhero epic. The old heroes, hell the old gods, are dead. Who will take their place when the world needs new heroes? I look forward to that answer.
The first issue is powerful and heart breaking. Especially the relationship between Batman and his daughter, Robin. And that last scene, wow.
The second issue picks up with the introduction of the Flash (Jay Garrick). In this reality, he gains his powers from a dying god (guess who). So, much of this issue is built around him learning how to use his new powers and his first experiences as a hero. Indeed, his growth as a character is very well done. He is, I think, going to develop in to a fine hero.
Less time is devoted to Alan Scott and the newly arrived Michael Holt. I look forward to seeing how Mr. Terrific integrates into this new world.
Moving on to the future Green Lantern, the handling of his sexuality and his love life is excellently handled. There is a touching frankness to it that is deceptively simple to achieve. And Robinson achieves it. Now, the question is, what will happen to Sam? That final splash does not look good for him. Again, making a reader worry for a newly introduced character mere moments after their introduction is an excellent achievement.
The art team on this book led by Nicola Scott is excellent. Again, I think the series is very well served by the art.
This series has me dying to know what is coming for the future Justice Society.
If you haven’t checked this series out, why the hell not. Get to it! Now!!
I had intended this post to explore my love for Fairy Tail, but I decided to wait until I read volume 19. So, it could be a while. Instead, I have a potpourri post up tackling some issues that have been bugging me over the past week or so. Let’s begin with:
I’m dejected right now. Seriously, should I even bother to vote? Yeah, I could just vote for President Obama and the democratic senate nominee then ignore the rest of the ballot. But still, this is depressing.
What I find so distressing is the real weakness of the Texas Democratic Party in my area. I’ve checked and no Democrat is running for our congressional seat, or state house seat, or seat on the state board of education. Who am I to vote for, the Libertarian candidate if he/ she is less egregious than the Republican candidate?
Well, I guess that is what you get for having a one party state…
Next topic is . . .
Current Children’s Cartoons
This is an example of me putting my foot in my mouth. I had, for years, believed that PBS’s children’s shows were the best. But having watched many cartoons geared at children with my niece, I have come to the conclusion that I am wrong.
Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go!, Ni Hao, Kai-lan, Pocoyo, Yo Gabba Gabba, etc. are all very good. And they’re all on Nick. That’s not to say that PBS’s offerings are any worse than I remember. But, PBS is not the only show in town anymore when it comes to excellent and educational children’s programming.
It is always nice to be proven wrong.
Moving on to . . .
Comics of two subjects
The rumors are true, Alan Scott is revealed to be gay in Earth 2 #2. Personally, I love this development. Reading James Robinson’s interview about his processes in making the decision is highly informative and, I think, paints DC in a much better light than a number of fans seem willing to grant. Unlike Northstar’s wedding next month, DC had not intention of announcing it. Dan Didio answered a question at a convention. The media (both comic and not) took it from there.
Despite the fact that gay and lesbian characters are becoming more common in all sorts of media, the inclusion and introduction of gay characters still draws media attention, however the company approaches the issue.
One aspect of this whole event is how much it reveals about the relative ignorance of how the creation of a comic book actually works. Robinson has been planning this book for at least eight months. And the same is true of Marjorie Liu’s run on Astonishing X-Men. Comic books are not produced on the fly. It takes months of planning, editorial input, rewrites, artwork, etc. to produce a final product.
Speaking of writing, I’m wondering if one of the problems with global manga may be issues of writing. Whenever I read articles on creating global manga, I mostly see it discussed almost exclusively in terms of art rather than writing.It is important to remember that sequential art tells a story. And that story requires some form of writing. To be a successful manga artist, one needs both excellent art skills and strong writing skills.
But regardless of my own feelings on the matter, I look forward to Deb Aoki’s look at ways to correct the sorry state of American manga.
Now finally. . .
As I have stated before, it is important for writers in this day and age to be willing to produce works in multiple formats. From novels and short stories to video games, comics, movies, etc all should be on the table at least in the contemplative stages. Now, some of these formats are harder to break into than others and all have their own intricacies when it comes time to shop your ideas and work around. And, at the end of the day, you may find yourself preferring one or two formats rather exclusively. The key thing is, I think, to explore one’s options to the fullest.
And this is true of how one publishes. I’ve gone on record that I prefer a more traditional approach to publishing, but I also think that all writers need to be aware of what e-publishing offers. Personally, I would feel like a hypocrite if I rooted exclusively for self e-publishing. How can I write about this subject when I don’t have an e-reader?
Anyway, that’s it for my 200th post. I’ll try to get a few more posts up later this weekend.