DC To Change Characters Sexuality – Not Superman!
Originally I tried my best to stay away from this story until it was more concrete, beyond an offhanded answer at a convention panel. But unfortunately this small quote has exploded into news stories that are being misinterpreted entirely by non-comic fans, confusing comic fans less familiar with the subject, and leading to outright idiocy in lesser news groups like that of Fox, who claims Superman might be changed into a homosexual character. So before I go any further, let me remind you all that this isn’t 10 years ago when Joe Quesada was joking about Marvel obtaining Superman and making him flamboyantly gay. DC will not be changing the sexuality of one of their big three! End of discussion, it wont happen. There are countless reasons why, and I am not being mean, it just wont happen. So please do read on and I will explain what is happening.
This past weekend at London’s Kapow Comic Convention, Dan Didio responded to a fan’s question during a DC comics’ panel. The question was in regards to a comment made in this interview Dan had in the Advocate (see page 2 of the interview). Dan had originally stated, in response to a question about gay teenage characters in DC’s Teen Titans:
One of the things we’re very focused on doing for these types of stories is rather than [change an existing] character, we want to make sure that this is the basis of who that character is right from the start. So if we’re going to introduce a gay character in Teen Titans, we want to make it a new character and make sure that is an intrical part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really learn and grow with her or him.
Now you must keep in mind this was before the New 52 began, and Dan lived up to just this as Scott Lobdell created the out, gay character, Bunker. Yet the question was raised at Kapow, by said fan at the panel, as to why DC would be willing to change races, costumes, ages, etc, but not be willing to alter a characters sexual orientation. Dan’s response was that they had recently changed DC’s policy on this and intended to INTRODUCE a previously established, straight character to the New 52, that would now be “one of our most prominent gay characters” (I am paraphrasing from Rich Johnston’s reporting of the panel, as he was physically in the room for the announcement, unlike 99.9% of the news media reporting on this).
Now let’s analyze this. Yes, a once straight character will be turned gay, which is somewhat disappointing on DC’s behalf, but is hardly the first time this was done in comics. Marvel’s Northstar was the first openly gay superhero in comics (perhaps even character in general in American comics). He was not necessarily gay from the get go, but was made so by his creator, John Byrne, in many subtle hints. However, it was Scott Lobdell who finally outed Northstar in Alpha Flight #106 in 1992, after the policies that restricted Byrne from blatantly stating as such had been removed. Unsurprisingly, this was part of a HIV/AIDS awareness storyline, which comic companies and modern media in general have often gone to, disappointingly, with gay characters (I say disappointingly, because it is unfortunate that this is the number one idea associated with homosexuality in media). Never-the-less, the character has grown into a very strong part of the Marvel Universe and positively depicted a gay male. Another example of the retconning of sexuality can be seen in Marvel’s X-factor series with Shatterstar and Rictor (who are in fact, bisexual). Created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld in New Mutants vol.1 #99 (1991), Shatterstar was revealed as gay in Peter David’s X-factor vol.2 #45 (2009). Liefeld was not appreciative of this fact, and said as much in several interviews, but the character has never-the-less been portrayed quite well in Peter’s hands since, despite being written as straight for 18 years. Rictor had an even longer career of being written straight, as he was created by Louise Simonson and Walt Simonson back in X-Factor vol.1 #17 (1987), and changed to bisexual in the same X-factor issue as Shatterstar’s outing, an entire 22 years later. All three of these examples prove this can be done tactfully and work beautifully for those looking for more homosexual or bisexual characters. Furthermore, this can be done to add to a character, bringing them into a spotlight they had not previously had, without entirely upsetting long time fans.
The problem becomes that I truly believe DC is not making this decision for good story telling reasons, such as Peter David’s choice, or because of a need, as with John Byrne and Scott Lobdell’s choice. Instead, this feels very much like it is a DC editorial decision in response to outcry from the gay community (much as many decisions were made last year because of “outcry” from female fans hoping for more gender equality) and the upcoming Marvel announcement about the intended gay marriage of Northstar and his boyfriend, Kyle (who we first met in Uncanny X-men a few years back), in Astonish X-men #51 (which will also be an interracial marriage, as well as a gay marriage). However, both of these reasons seem foolish for DC to react to. DC comics has a good history with gay characters, having their own gay protagonist in an on-going series, in the form of Kate Kane (Batwoman), even. They have introduced a fair number of gay characters, which I don’t feel needs to be belittled through quantifying them, and shouldn’t feel a requirement to introduce more as if to meet quotas. This is something that should be done as it fits the story, otherwise it becomes more of a tedious task that would almost come off as a more insulting form of affirmative action. When Warren Ellis introduced the gay couple of Midnighter and Apollo (thinly veiled nods to Batman and Superman) it was done perfectly, fitting the story and not being forced because of some unexplained notion of requirement. In fact, because of these two characters, DC technically has the first gay comic marriage in Authority vol. 1 #29 (in 2002, from their subsidiary, Wildstorm Comics), before Archie or the upcoming Astonishing X-men. Just as the recent introduction of Bunker, by Scott Lobdell in Teen Titans, and Batwoman, by Greg Rucka in 52, these characters enter the universe smoothly and become strong characters with minute opposition because they were written well and fit in their stories. If DC’s future attempt to introduce a previously established character into the New 52 feels at all forced or awkward in his or her stories, this will undoubtedly cause a backlash that will hurt the company and character far more than gain them the hard reach for PR they’re attempting to gain.
Now going back to why Superman won’t be the character? Didio wants to INTRODUCE (as I emphasized earlier) a previously established character into the new 52. While Superman, and many other names being thrown out there foolishly, are previously established characters, they have all already been introduced into the New 52. This character would have to be someone who has not already seen their entrance into the new universe, such as Captain Comet, Stephanie Brown (Batgirl), or the Elongated Man. Now before anyone goes off on those examples, THEY ARE JUST EXAMPLES, I AM NOT MAKING PREDICTIONS. Personally, I would hope that DC refrains from this action, and simply introduces new gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual characters when they are appropriate to the story. While I do love Rictor and Shatterstar, amongst many other characters retconned from their original sexuality, I do not feel that is the best course of action unless absolutely fitting of the stories being told. Remember, this is comics, the first priority should be telling a good story, not making a political statement or grabbing for the highest sales numbers. I appreciate that a few new readers might be brought into the medium by such actions, but you’ll turn away a greater number if it is not handled appropriately. As always, Speak Geeky To Me will keep you updated as news actually develops related to this.
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