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.
I’m a lapsed comic book fan who has recently gotten back into comic book reading. In an earlier post, I described myself as a DC fanboy who wants to branch out into smaller publishers and creator owned titles. And I don’t know why I’m not enthusiastic about Marvel. I’ll aim to follow those two threads in another post or two on comics in the near future. What I want to discuss here is how I choose what comics I want to read.
Generally, fans of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) come in (roughly) permutations of two broad categories. Readers in the first category (and likely the most prevalent) are those who follow specific titles and characters. Readers of the second category are those who follow specific creators and creative teams. Now, the key to this formulation lies in permutations. Some readers start out being more character or title centric, but become fans of a specific creator or team and decide to follow their concurrent and subsequent work. And there are many other possible permutations (which can be left alone for now).
I describe myself as a mixture of the two. During my first period of heavy comic book reading, I was strongly character and title driven. Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Catwoman, Robin (Tim Drake), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), etc. are some of the titles I followed as a kid, creative team unimportant. Flash forward a few years. I’m now increasingly more a creator centric reader rather than a character/ title centric reader. Although the character/ title does still influence what I want to read.
Of the titles I’m following, the two that most align to focusing on character and title are Teen Titans and Stormwatch. The rest of what I follow are mostly geared towards creative teams. In fact, increasingly whether I like the creative team trumps whether or not I am “devoted” to the title or characters.
Being a gay comic book fan (I won’t describe myself as a geek) adds an interesting complication to things. Yes, part of the reason why I picked up Teen Titans and Stormwatch is because of the inclusion of gay heroes. While I am generally interested in the Teen Titans (and Tim Drake), Bunker did play a role in my picking it up. And of course, Stormwatch is notable for having two of the premier gay superheroes in Apollo and the Midnighter. Now, some could consider my picking up Earth 2 as being similarly influenced by Alan Scott’s sexuality. But at the time I picked up Earth 2 #1, I was under the impression that the new gay hero would appear in Geoff Johns’s Justice League! I picked up Earth 2 because I’m a fan of James Robinson.
There is, to a degree, a sort of politics that goes along with following the adventures of gay heroes. It is important to let the major publishers know that diversity is a good thing and encourage further inclusion. I want to read about the adventures of gay heroes. And hell, what about some gay villains, too?
But, this does not mean that I’m going to follow a series with gay characters if I don’t think it is any good. A good example is Stormwatch. Paul Cornell’s initial run is a great read and introduction to the characters. I hate to admit that I missed issues 7 and 8, and I’ve read issues 9 and 10. Right now, I’m not loving Peter Milligan’s run on the series. It seems to be a series of scattered oneshots and character pieces that don’t really go anywhere. Of all the titles I’m following, it is likely that Stormwatch will be the first I drop. Unless something changes.
Now, a few years ago, I was really into Young Avengers. Personally, I think it is a shame how badly mishandled the series was. Once Heinberg left Marvel after the first 12 issues, another creative team should have taken over the book. The occasional miniseries that come out in regards to various Events did the property no favors, in my opinion. Marvel should not have waited for Heinberg to finish out the concept with Children’s Crusade. It should have been a monthly ongoing. Now, fans of the team and its members will have to hope that other writes will release them from the Limbo of Forgotten Characters.
How fans choose to approach reading and collecting comics is an important one. And it is important to understand the reasons behind making conscious selections. Making the right choices can alleviate the frustrations that go along with being comic book fans.
As a gay comic book fan, I think it is important to include glbt characters in a number of roles. As I said earlier, I want to read about gay heroes and villains. But comic book shopping decisions must not be based solely on limited criteria.
Howl’s Moving Castle (Novel and Anime)
I’ve recently watched and read the two versions of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. The anime film by Hayao Miyazaki is loosely based on Jones’s novel. As I read the novel, I could not help but compare the two versions. And I think, contrary to popular assumption, that the anime is better than the book. Why? One word: Wales.
That Howl (Howell Jenkins) and Suliman (Ben Sullivan) are both natives of Wales (and from the lateish twentieth century to boot) living in a fictional fantasy world (Ingary) where both are highly accomplished wizards. This bugs me to no end. If the parts dealing with Wales are cut, the novel would not be hampered in any way. As it stands, Wales (our world) makes an unwelcome intrusion into a fantasy story. It does not make the story any better that I can see. All it does, honestly, is allow for some playing around with Oz and Narnia.
Taking Wales out, I’m not sure which version I prefer. I think I would still go with the Miyazaki adaptation. I like that Howl is a rogue in the novel, a coward and dissolute. But, I much prefer the more heroic depiction of him from the anime.
In the end, both works are good. But I think the anime, with its themes of pacifism, war, rebellion against power, etc. is a more enjoyable work on the whole. Jones is, however, a very good and enjoyable writer.
Making Tim Drake Gay
I’ve been meaning to get to this. A week ago, Comics Alliance had an article listing ten already existing comic book characters who could conceivably be “outed” as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The argument is that these (and other) extant characters have been around for years (and will continue to be so) while newly created/ introduced characters are more likely to be exiled to comic book limbo after a while.
I see the point that Tim Drake (Robin/ Red Robin) has a stature and history greater than that of his new teammate on the Teen Titans, Bunker. And for that matter, Drake does have a higher status than Wiccan and Hulkling (who may be in the process of being sent to comic book limbo after The Children’s Crusade, though I hope not). So, outing Tim Drake (or any of the other characters on the list) makes some sense.
But some of the characters on the list really don’t make much sense. Gambit? Captain America?
As a gay man who grew up with Tim Drake as Robin, I would be thrilled if a writer and editor made the decision to out him. For me, fictional characters’ sexualities are by nature fluid. They are at the discretion of the writer. Making a character gay, straight, bi, or asexual is the choice of the writer.
Now, this brings me to reasons to argue that Tim Drake can be read as gay. GayComicGeek on Youtube has a pretty good video on this. While these reasons could help in a hypothetical coming out story (as happened with Rictor and Shatterstar), they can also be explained in other ways. That a straight man chooses to not have sex with his girlfriend or a willing girl does not equal gay. That Tim is far more affected by Superboy’s death than by his longtime girlfriend’s does not mean he is gay. There has been critical attention paid to these types of relationships (Sedgwick and Clum). And while they can be interpreted as homosocial and homoerotic, it does not necessarily make either character homosexual (nor does it preclude it).
Could Tim Drake ever conceivably come out as gay or bisexual (or even asexual)? The consensus seems to be no. Most readers do not see DC outing a major character of Tim’s status. I’m not so sure. I want to give the editors more credit than that. If he were to come out, I would be overjoyed. But if he continues to be confirmed heterosexual, then I have no problem with it.
Either with established characters or with newly created ones, the numbers of glbt comic book characters are growing, slowly but steadily. These characters, whoever they are, give glbt comic book readers characters to look up to, to read about, maybe to even identify with.