Saturday, 2 September 2017

How Super It Is To Be Queer

In the fight against crime and the pursuit of justice there have been no more popular figures than the comic book superhero. The concept of heroes with extra-human superpowers has been with us since ancient times, the most famous superhero of all time being Hercules. Like Hercules recent fictional heroes have fought demons and dangers with equally superhuman powers. The 20th century saw the creation of the stereotypical “caped crusader” who fights the villains and injustices of the contemporary world.

Gay male characters have appeared in mainstream superhero comic book franchises (eg. Marvel and DC Comics) for several decades. In the majority of cases these few gay characters have not been very heroic in nature at all and mirrored the attitudes towards homosexuality that was common in the period in which the story was written. The worst example comes from a 1980 story featuring The Hulk. Two men attempt to rape Bruce Banner in the shower of a YMCA. The men are depicted as stereotypical 1970s gay porn jocks. The story features other unpleasant incidents and characters, straight ones as well, but it is generally regarded that the portrayal of the two gay men is a regrettable episode in a universe in which a good gay male role model never existed.

The Batman universe was rocked in 1955 when an American psychologist published a book in which he claimed Batman and Robin was a gay couple. To counter the outcry from fans the character of Batwoman was created in 1956 as a love interest for Batman. Ironically, the 2006 reboot of the Bat-universe has Batwoman as a lesbian ex-US army officer who was discharged under the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She was given her own comic book series and was the first comic book superhero to propose to his/her partner (though not the first to marry) in print.

On the subject of Batman reboots, in 1986 the villain Joker was reimagined as a butch muscle-bound villain with effeminate mannerisms who wore lipstick.
Fortunately, the 1990s saw the emergence of lgbt superheroes who became major characters, though the majority still have mere supporting roles. The lgbt community itself had been reaffirming itself in the wake of the emergence of AIDS and the growth of the Pride movement so it was only natural that, at last, superheroes could tell their readers they were gay and be people who are respected by other superheroes.

It is generally thought that the first comic book superhero to come out as gay was Northstar in 1992. Apparently, they character was always intended as a superhero who was gay from his first appearance in issue 120 of Marvel Comic’s “Uncanny X-Men” (April 1979). He was a member of an ensemble superhero team, Alpha Flight. During the AIDS crisis the writers decided that Northstar would contract HIV and, indeed, die of AIDS. But Marvel weren’t yet ready to have a major hero come out as gay and the illness was due to the fact that he had been away from his native magical fairy kingdom too long. Apparently the existence of a superhero who was a fairy was more acceptable and believable than a superhero being gay! The circumstances surrounding Northstar finally coming out in 1992 began when he found an abandoned infant who had AIDS. Since 2002 Northstar has been a full member of the X-Men, and he and his partner Kyle had the first same-sex wedding in a comic book series in June 2012 in “Astonishing X-Men” issue 51.

There was, however, one established character who came out before Northstar. In 1991 the DC Comics character Pied Piper, originally a villain who was introduced in “The Flash” issue 106 (may 1959), came out to the eponymous lead superhero in issue 53 of “The Flash”. Pied Piper was a reformed villain and went on to assist The Flash in the fight against crime.

Several other superheroes were later portrayed as openly gay from their first appearances. The first of these were Midnighter and Apollo, two superheroes from “The Authority” series of comic books originally published by WildStorm comics. Although there were only hints about their sexuality from their first appearance in issue 4, volume 2 of “Stormwatch” (February 1998) they didn’t actually mention they were gay even though it was generally accepted that they were. When they finally kissed in 2000 the world’s media went into meltdown.

Since then dozens of superheroes, both headline and supporting characters, have come out or have been introduced as lgbt. In 2011 a whole new team of lgbt superheroes called The Pride was created by gay comic book artist Joe Glass who formed the central characters of his independently produced series. While they may seem to play on traditional lgbt stereotypes than mainstream superheroes they have proved popular.

In 2015 the Advocate magazine published a list of 52 lgbt superheroes and villains. You can see the list here. Since then a lot more lgbt superheroes have appeared. The most recent addition to the superqueer world includes Doctor Endless who was introduced this month into the “Suicide Squad” comic series. Doctor Endless is the first genderfluid superhero.

The iconic Wonder Woman was recently out as lesbian in her comic book series. She is arguably the most famous and most important female superhero there has ever been. Whether her sexuality will be transferred to film versions only time will tell.

If, like me, your interest in comic book heroes (ignore their film versions. I do) has been re-ignited you may be interested in looking at a these lgbt comic book (not necessarily superhero) fan websites – Prism Comics and Gay League.

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