Lonely Gods:
Social Minorities in American Superhero Comic Books

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Homosexuals in Comics:

 

Comics of the 2000s and Beyond

« Continued from the 1990s...
     While the current decade did introduce many new gay characters, older characters stayed in the comics. Homosexual portrayals of the Joker continued into the 21st century as well.
cupcake
awww...
In a manner similar to the 1980s, he continued to call Batman various pet names whenever they fought. These mannerisms were showcased during the "War Crimes" crossover of 2005. During this event Batman fought the Joker and another villain Black Mask. After a particularly hard punch the Joker commented: "Only one or two ribs broken this time. Getting old, cupcake?" 1 In a later fight the Joker called Batman "Honeycakes" as he shot him in the chest with an acid tipped dart. 2 In a manner similar to the 1990s, Joker's strange relationship with Batman was well known among other characters. In the comic series Outsiders from 2003, The Joker tortured Superman villain Lex Luthor to find the location of some weaponry.
Luthor knows
Touch a nerve, there?
Between screams of agony, Luthor managed to ask Joker a question. "Does it bother you ... bother you at all, really," he gasped out, "That Batman likes Catwoman better?" Joker stared in shock as Luthor continued, laughing maniacally. "He'll never love you, sweetheart! You can keep screwing with his city, but he's never gonna take you to the prom!" 3 Portrayals such as these are intended primarily for humor rather than adding more facets to The Joker's character and this helps explain why they are so prevalent. Even the Joker's usage of various "pet-names" and affectionate phrases for Batman are done to to give the Joker a more disturbing personality and are allowed by the editors and fans alike because he is a villain. Homosexual characteristics in comic heroes, in contrast, were still limited during this decade.

     Even while they were limited in number, comics with gay characters continued to generate controversy. This occurred in the pages of Young Avengers, a 2005 Marvel series focusing of teenage superheroes.
Billy and Teddy
Billy and Teddy
During a battle in the first issue, two male characters Billy (codename Asgardian, later changed to Wiccan) and Teddy (codename Hulkling), talked with each other. Some readers who noticed this panel assumed the two characters were flirting with each other and the letters pages of Young Avengers immediately erupted into controversy. The first reader to notice a relationship wrote in asking, "did I see some flirt action between [Hulkling] and Asgardian? If so ... that'd be friggin' cool! One of the things that turns me away from titles is I'm tired of seeing heterosexual relationships all the time." 4 In response to this, author Allan Heinberg wrote: "I couldn't agree with you more about the need for more positive (or at least more diverse and accurate) representations of gays and lesbians in the mainstream media .... Young Avengers will definitely explore the kids' identities - sexual and otherwise - in some (hopefully) surprising ways." 5

     Heinberg's comment opened the floodgates. Letters filled the next six issues debating whether Billy and Teddy were gay and the ramifications if they were. Similar to the reaction to Pied Piper from 1991 or to Northstar in 1992, many of these letters discussed the relationship between comic books and American culture. One letter published in the third issue addressed this point. "I'm not some anti-gay bigot," a fan named James Meeley began. "I have no problem with people being who they are or living how they choose. But I do think a super hero comic is not the platform for exploring 'sexual identities', especially for characters that are teenagers .... Sexuality issues were never needed in the past to make super hero comics interesting. I don't think they need it now to be so, either." 6 Another letter in the same issue defended the use of sexuality. "It would be really interesting to see a gay relationship between two teenagers in a mainstream comic. If something like that existed when I was 15 (only 6 years ago), it would have helped me understand my sexuality a lot sooner and made me more comfortable with myself." 7

     In response to James Meeley's letter saying that sexuality had no place in comic books, the entire letters page in issue four was filled with fans decrying this stance and stating that comics did have a role for exploring society and culture. One writer, Rick, discussed the interaction between comic books and culture in great detail:

     "Personally, I don't care if Asgardian and Hulkling are gay or not, but if they are, I cannot disagree more with James Meeley. Why should comics not be 'an outlet for changing society's view or forcing sensitive issues to be discussed among the readership'? To accept his argument that comics should entertain in a way that does not raise contentious issues is to accept the argument that the medium is, and should remain, a child's medium .... I believe it's possible to address potentially incendiary issues without ramming any given message down readers' throats or becoming didactic. It's important to treat the readership with respect ... or you run the risk, by playing it 'safe', of aiming only for the most simplistic and inoffensive storylines. Life is complex and nuanced. Why should fiction be any less so? Comics are no less valid a medium than books or movies. When I pick up a comic book, I do want to be entertained - to be sucked into that fictional world - but I'm also happy to have my preconceptions challenged." 8

     Other letter writers in this same issue expressed similar remarks. One wrote: "Isn't the purpose of art to reflect society and/or to inspire it? I happen to think comic books are, in fact, art and should do both." Another fan commented: "Five years ago I could have been that 16-year-old Young Avengers reader who says, 'Wow, these kids are my age, they're openly gay, and they're being accepted. Maybe I don't need to commit suicide.' " 9 Significantly, all this controversy began over a single image that fueled reader speculation. Nothing was written about either Billy or Teddy's sexuality through the first five issues. Due to the overwhelming reader response author Allan Heinberg quickly realized the secret was out and confirmed both characters' homosexuality in issue seven. Under pressure from Captain America the Young Avengers team members decided to tell their parents they were superheroes. When Billy told his parents, however, they misinterpreted his words. "It's okay, honey." Billy's mother explained. "We know. We've always known. And what you have to know is, we love you. We're proud of you ... and we're just so happy you boys found each other." 10

     While both Marvel and DC ignite controversy when they feature gay characters, Marvel is far more conservative with their characters. The 2003 miniseries Rawhide Kid makes this clear. This series, while not a superhero comic, nevertheless demonstrated Marvel's views on homosexual characters. Rawhide Kid was based on the original 1955 comic series featuring the same cowboy/gunslinger main character, only now the main character was gay.
alone
Did you get the hint?
This miniseries was also issued under Marvel's MAX imprint, a line intended for an adult audience. All five issues of this series included a large warning: "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" on their covers. Examining the content of the series, however, reveals no explicit sex or violence. While the comic does include several gunfights and deaths, they were not particularly violent or gruesome. The only reason why this is a MAX title would seem to be the discussion of the Rawhide Kid's sexuality, and even this is not explicit. There is certainly no sex in this series, and the only mentions of the main character's homosexuality are through various sly comments. In one instance the Rawhide Kid said: "Guess I'm not used to sleeping in a houseful of men," he paused, "...alone." 11 Most of the humor in this series comes from Rawhide Kid making oblique statements about his sexuality, only to have no other character pick up on what he is really saying. The closest these other characters come to realizing something is different about the Rawhide Kid is when they repeatedly discuss what a "sharp dresser" he is. 12 This series indicates Marvel does not want to offend any potential reader with gay characters. Instead of publishing this under its own name, Marvel chose to push it into their "adults only" MAX line, deeming mild innuendo to be "explicit". Other open portrayals of gay characters were also pushed into separate lines.

     In 2000, Marvel began publishing a new X-Men series, Ultimate X-Men. This series presented an alternate, more modern version of the X-Men that was not tied down by forty years of history. To accomplish this, many well-known characters were given new histories and personalities. Once such character was Colossus.
Colossus
But I hate to dance...
This Colossus was very similar to his counterpart in the "real" Marvel universe, except he was gay. This fact was not mentioned during the first few years of Ultimate X-Men, and only became prominent after an alternate version of Northstar was introduced into the series. The two characters soon began dating. Colossus confirmed his sexuality to his teammate Nightcrawler in issue 65, when he told Nightcrawler that Northstar asked him to his school's Homecoming dance. 13 When Nightcrawler incredulously asked if he was gay, Colossus confirmed his fears. "If a man as unique as you no longer has to hide in the shadows, I fail to see why someone like me should." 14 This revelation began a plot line where the extremely religious Nightcrawler was unable to accept Colossus' homosexuality. Two issues later the two characters discussed this issue at length. "I know you've been avoiding me since you think you found out what I am." Colossus began. "Do you think that I am attracted to every man? Why would you think that? I will admit, your skin is cute, but you are not my type. So do not worry, I promise to keep my hands to myself. Can we just go back to the way things were? .... I am the same friend you knew." Nightcrawler angrily replied, "I am thinking, now ... that I did no know that friend very well." 15

     Marvel's portrayals of gay characters are often very conservative, generally preferring hints and nudges rather than outright saying a character is gay. This is the case with another recently introduced gay character, Victor Borkowski, codename Anole. Victor was first introduced in the second issue of the series New Mutants 16 , and quickly became a fan favorite even though he only appeared a couple times. The authors of New Mutants, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, intended to make Victor a gay character, and would later discuss this topic with fans in online forums such as Comixfan and CBR 17 . Reading through these forum posts is fascinating, because it shows the evolution of the New Mutants characters as the authors created them. In a forum post from September 2003, DeFilippis wrote: "We're still developing the characters as we go. Right now, Victor ... has had the most development." 18

Much like the Northstar illness stories from nearly two decades earlier, this character development had a dark side. The authors intended for Victor to both reveal his homosexuality and commit suicide in the eighth issue of New Mutants. DeFilippis later wrote: "When we originally wrote the suicide issue ... [Victor] definitely was not out because that was the story that outted him. And being outted cost him his parents and his friends, and that's why he killed himself." 19

After this issue was written, however, Marvel decided not to publish it. The final eight pages of the issue were removed and the authors were forced to write a new ending to the story, where Victor remained alive without any suicide attempt or mention of his homosexuality. This treatment is startlingly similar to Northstar's near death encounter in Alpha Flight issue 50 many years prior. Also similar to Northstar, although Victor did not officially "come out" for a lengthy period of time, his homosexuality was fairly well known amongst fans of the series.
Santo and Victor
Santo comes out for Victor
In New X-Men issue 13, Victor has several lengthy scenes where he discussed his friendship with his teacher/mentor Northstar. Victor mentioned how important Northstar was to him, saying "He understood me. It was important for me to have someone like him to talk to". 20 Author Nunzio DeFillipis later commented about this issue: "Yes, Victor is gay. He all but said so." 21 Victor's homosexuality was finally revealed in 2007 with New X-Men issue 43, long after many fans has already figured it out. In this issue the character Santo tells everyone that Victor is gay, much to his chagrin. The only response from the other students is that everyone already knew,22 a possible reference to the fans of New X-Men who already knew as well.

     In contrast to Marvel, DC is far more open about character sexuality, including homosexuality. DC also began to focus more on each character's personal struggle for identity, instead of how they were viewed by others. One of these was Terry Berg in Green Lantern. Terry first appeared in October 2000 as a teenage assistant to the current Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. 23 Over the next year, Terry developed an attraction to Kyle. This culminated when Kyle proposed to his girlfriend and told Terry about it. Arguing with Kyle over her, Terry stormed out of his apartment, muttering, "I don't want you to be with her." 24
Terry Berg
Terry Berg
Kyle later confronted Terry in his house, and straightforwardly asked him if he was gay. "I don't know what I am." Terry replied. 25 Kyle quickly launched into a long discussion about homosexuality: "I hear that happens a lot. It's a very confusing time. And I don't really have a lot of insight on this subject. But I do know this - it's perfectly normal to ask these questions about yourself. It's just a part of discovering who you are. And if you are gay, well, that's okay too. And never forget that there is nothing wrong with you." 26 During the next several issues Terry accepted his sexuality, and even began dating another character David. In issue 154, the two characters even kissed, something never shown in any Marvel comic. 27 Soon after this kiss, however, Terry was the victim of a hate crime that left him in a coma for two issues. 28

     DC also introduced lesbian characters, who are far rarer than their male counterparts. One notable example is the detective Renee Montoya, a minor character in the Batman comics. First introduced in 1992 in Batman issue 475, Renee only appeared a handful of times over the next ten years. This changed in 2003 with the beginning of a new series, Gotham Central. Rather than concentrate on Batman, this series focused on the daily lives of the police officers of Gotham city. The sixth issue of this series began the "Half a Life" storyline which pitted Renee against the villain Two-Face who developed an obsession with her. As part of his obsession, Two-Face began to systematically destroy Renee's life, including outing her as a lesbian to her fellow police officers. Arriving at work one morning, Renee discovered a photograph of her kissing another woman pinned to the bulletin board. Another officer taunted her, "I've got to know, Montoya ... is this just an experimental phase or are you the real thing?" 29 This storyline also focused on Renee's struggle with her sexuality and how it affected her family. After her parents saw the photograph of her and another woman, Renee's brother Benny confronted her. "You made your choice, Renee, made a decision, and if that's what works for you, great. But there's no reason mom and pop have to suffer for it!" Renee immediately responded: "Maybe it wasn't a choice, Ben! Maybe, just maybe, I never had a say in the matter! And maybe I'm glad." 30 After Two-Face was finally captured, Renee confronted her parents with her sexuality. "My mother told me I was going to burn in hell, and that her daughter was dead to her, now .... My father wouldn't say anything", Renee sobbed to her girlfriend Daria. "They told me not to come back. They told me not to ever come back." 31 While this storyline won several awards including the famous Eisner Award, 32 it too ignited controversy. Author Greg Rucka later described the critical reaction to Renee Montoya. "People got angry at this story. They accused me ... of all sorts of things, almost all of them without basis in fact, and almost all of them revealing more about the accusers than the accused .... Most ridiculous to me was the accusation that we 'made' Montoya gay. As far as I'm concerned, we did no such thing. She was always gay. We were simply the first story to actually say so, and to say it in no uncertain terms." Rucka also noted that this was the first DC comic to ever have a character actually say "I'm a lesbian". 33

     These portrayals of homosexuality in both Marvel and DC comics demonstrate the continued controversy about gay rights. The letters pages of these comics are split almost evenly between those opposed to gay characters and those supportive of them. This split continued all the way from 1991 to the present day, and clearly shows that large segments of the American public still vehemently oppose any discussion of homosexuality. This reflects the political and religious opposition to homosexuality, seen in government laws in Colorado and Oregon during the early 1990s. But opposition to gays is not limited to any single decade. When any superhero comic attempted to introduce gay characters or storylines, they generated an immediate outcry from many readers regardless of when they appeared. The fan reaction to the characters Pied Piper and Northstar are almost identical to the fan reaction to the characters Renee Montoya or Billy and Teddy in Young Avengers. Opposition to homosexuality is still present in American society and will not disappear for some time.

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