A recent spate of internet chatter involving something Darwyn Cooke said about making Batwoman gay got me thinking about homosexual comic characters in general. Cooke was worried that DC was being exploitative of Batwoman’s lesbianism, rather than sensitive and intelligent about it - something he’s concluded without reading the actual Detective Comic series, I’ll wager, or he’d know it’s being done quite well. But I’ll give Darwyn the benefit of the doubt, as the pre-release Batwoman hype seemed more aimed at titillation than acceptance, and it’s not like comics haven’t had an appalling track record when creating gay characters.
LGBT people were routinely played as odd, creepy or predatory in our biz, if they were even mentioned at all…check out Jim Shooter’s infamous Bruce-Banner-Nearly-Raped-in-the-Shower scene in the Rampaging Hulk to get a typical view of the subject from the Seventies.
And if they weren’t sinful weirdoes, they ended up dead from AIDS or being killed off-panel unceremoniously, because, well… no one will miss them. Count how many X-Men have come out over the years, and now count up how many of them are dead. The numbers don’t add up well.
Even when strong, positive gay characters showed up, there was still something “off” about ‘em. Spider-Man’s cop friend Jean DeWolff was brusque and unpleasant (and has since been killed off). The Flash’s gay pal, Pied Piper, (written excellently by Mark Waid) was an evil Rogue named after a character who lured young children away from their parents by blowing on something. (Flash Rogues with more problematic names if they’d popped out of the closet: “the Top”, “the Rainbow Raider” and “the Golden Glider”.…)
It’s been a long road to get to where Batwoman, Midnighter, Rene Montoya, Apollo, Anole, Obsidian, and John Constantine can be out and still be decent characters with more or less regular lives, and who are not portrayed as creepy, or bad or sinful. Well, except for Constantine, but that’s how we like him. Along that road, there have been bumps and mistakes — Attempts to be inclusive that ended up making LGBT folk seem odder to mainstream readers. And of course, wherever there is awful comics…I’ll be there to share them with you….
THE SEVEN MOST MISGUIDED ATTEMPTS AT GAY CHARACTERS IN COMICS.
7) Sebastian O
Created by writer Grant Morrison in 1993. (Grant shows up again later in this list so keep an eye peeled). I believe he’s the first gay character to have his own comic series from a mainstream American publisher (Vertigo), if you don’t count characters ret-conned into their GBLT status (such as DC’s Shade the Changing Man/Woman).
Sebastian O is set in a steampunk version of Victorian England, wherein Sebastian is more or less a revenge-killer version of Oscar Wilde, only more gay…Oh sure, his mission is to hunt down and slay someone who got him tossed unjustly into prison (mostly for writing a “sinful” book), but it’s hard to be on O’s side when he’s friends with an admitted (and unrepentant) child molester, and when he murders innocent people, and feeds their bodies to his cat if it suits his needs. There’s too much overt pederasty through the story for it to be helpful to anyone’s understanding of a gay lifestyle, and I’m not sure a homicidal Wilde is even the best place to start…
Here’s the strange part: The series is actually readable, and Mr. O is easily the least annoying character on this list.
6) Tasmanian Devil
Taz was the first openly homosexual member of the Justice League, and it sure made him into a household name in the world of comics, didn’t it? After coming out, the Devil was continuously played as a background character (rarely with even a single line of dialog), who shows up to be beaten senseless during REALLY BIG crossover events, and that’s about it. You can find him buried in rubble on page eight in any book with the word CRISIS in the title. After his second class status in the Justice League went nowhere, he was relegated to the astoundingly forgettable GLOBAL GUARDIANS, where he did nothing there either. Eventually he’s killed and turned into a throw rug by Prometheus in the recent miniseries, JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE.
It’s not like Taz was ever a good character to begin with, but if they were going to make him gay, for god’s sake, don’t make him SO F***ING LAME!
5) Monsieur Mallah and the Brain.
Dateline: Early Doom Patrol. The Brain (when he was a regular mad scientist with a body) did some mad science-y experiments on a regular mountain gorilla until the ape became a simian genius with the power to speak French, and the desire to do evil. Then the scientist lost his body in some sort of science-y accident and ended up a brain in a jar. You’d think that would make this pair weird enough…
But during Grant Morrison’s 80s run of the DOOM PATROL, the Brain was put into one of the spare robot bodies belonging to Doom Patrol member ROBOTMAN and the fun began. As soon as he had arms and legs (and other body parts), Brain tells Mallah that he has been secretly in cross-species love with the furry beastie for years, but couldn’t confess it when he was just squishy lumps of tube stuff. Mallah sends his bestial gay love right back at Brain, and they move in for the weirdest kiss in Western fiction… until … well, you’ll just have to read it to believe it…
…yup. The Robotman body self destructs the moment the monkey plants a smacker on the android’s lips, as it simply can’t exist in a world that odd. It sure brought home the idea that homosexuals are JUST like you and me. A great leap forward for tolerance.
(NOTE: The characters have since been revived and killed again, this time Mallah being beaten to death with Brain as the weapon. They always die together, though…so it’s KINDA romantic.)
4) Freedom Ring:
Though at first glance, the character of Curtis Doyle’s FREEDOM RING (first appearing in Robert Kirkman’s “Master of the Ring” 5 part story arc in Marvel Team-Up a few years back) seemed like a decent character to make into a gay-positive super-hero. He’s well adjusted, intelligent and casually “out” about his lifestyle, when he acquires a bit of the Cosmic Cube in the form of a ring, and is ready to save the world as essentially Marvel’s version of a Green Lantern.
It could have gone well, except Curtis is killed dead, penetrated by many phallic looking “things” (tendrils, spikes?), shooting out from a bad guy’s body (another subtle one there, guys) exactly one month to the day after he was being promoted as Marvel’s new Gay Superhero by Joe Quesada in interviews. The story in which he was killed had already been written and drawn when Quesada felt the need to do the media promotion thing. It’s hard to believe they weren’t aware of the F*CK YOU involved when they quickly impale Freedom Ring dead, in one of the worst bait-and-switch messages since Bill Jemas’ MARVILLE was described as “readable”. Author Kirkman now claims he “didn’t mean it” to be so bluntly homophobic, it just sort of turned out that way…
3) The Rawhide Kid
Probably the worst dialog for any gay character in comics belongs to Rawhide Kid….perhaps for any straight character as well.
The “Kid” had been a Marvel Western mainstay since the late fifties, usually taking third place behind Kid Colt: Outlaw, and the Two-Gun Kid in popularity. But, in 2003, editor Axel Alonzo and writer Ron Zimmerman took this somewhat outdated Atlas era gunfighter and made him into a prancing joke, supposedly to introduce more gay-positive characters into the Marvel world. For a book about straight shootin’, it’s ironic how MUCH THEY MISSED THEIR TARGET.
The mini-series “RAWHIDE KID: SLAP LEATHER” (beautifully drawn by the legendary John Severin) is an aimless generic plot (about saving a rancher from evil land developers or something) that has no reason for existence, beyond fruity double entendres and an obsession with keeping one’s leather gear looking fabulous. It’s as though Zimmerman’s entire knowledge of homosexuality came from a screening of THE BIRDCAGE, and then he checked with a Westboro Baptist minister to ensure he was writing a script “faggy” enough to be absurdly hateful.
What DIDN’T Marvel handle badly about this character’s history? Let us count the ways…
1) John Byrne created him to be Marvel’s first openly homosexual character, but the editors refused to let Northstar’s orientation be discussed for more than ten years- until issue #106 of ALPHA FLIGHT. Northstar had been gay since Alpha Flight #1.
2) A few years before he was officially “out”, he got a mysterious illness that was very AIDS-like, and he was only cured of it when…
3) …It was revealed that he was actually a ….I swear to god….FAIRY. The kind with little fly wings, you know…like Tinkerbell? Being part fairy gave him some sort of immunity in his blood or something, I don’t remember the details, only that I threw my copy across the room when I read it.
4) Bless his heart, Northstar adopts a baby girl he finds in a dumpster, but the kid dies of AIDS before long. AIDS and Fairies, folks, that’s what being gay in the Marvel Universe is all about.
5) He’s never had a date, or a romantic moment in his entire publishing history so far as I know, and his orientation barely comes up in his own mini-series. For Marvel’s first “gay” character, he’s sure not very gay. But at least he’s currently alive (though Wolverine DID kill him once). That’s fairly rare for olde-tyme homosexuals in the funny books…
Created by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton in the DC MILLENIUM mini-series of the late 80s, and later spun-off into THE NEW GUARDIANS super-hero team with fellow token character “Pieface”, the Inuit mechanic from Silver Age Green Lantern comics…(clearly the Spirit’s EBONY WHITE was busy.)
Extraño is the Spanish word for “strange” or “queer”, so you know you’re in for thoughtful writing from the get-go. This caricature of a flaming queen was the first openly gay super-hero in DC history (and I think in comics generally), and boy-howdy was he a sensitive portrayal. First there’s his whole “look”: a billowy purple cape, bling that would embarrass Flavor Flav, thigh-high leather pirate boots (rolled down), and a goofy mustache that would someday inspire Prince. Oh, and he’s constantly referring to himself as “Auntie”. I think the editors were going for gay-positive but they clearly had no idea what that was. I guess they figured a flamboyant, hair-obsessed Hispanic with magic powers would simply write itself. He was kind of a Dr. Strange character that could levitate and do mystical shit, but that was never what he was about. It was the gayness. The gay clothes, the gay attitude, the ASTOUNDINGLY large blow-dried ‘do… Aaaand, of course, because he was, you know…GAY…, he’s trying to kill himself when we first meet him (stopped by the Flash) aaaand he eventually had to contract AIDS, which he got from a possibly-gay vampire called Hemo-Goblin. Though after he got himself the AIDS, he never seemed to ever suffer from it in any way…and kind of forgot he had it.
I guess the suicide attempt was Englehart’s attempt at insight, but it came off as a patronizing cliché, even in the 80s.
BONUS POINTS: Since Extraño wasn’t just an collection of homosexual stereotypes, but also Hispanic stereotypes, they managed to knock down two minorities in one go.
Of course, readers got tired of this crap, and DC recently killed him in a big explosion that dropped most of a house on his ass.
The Seven BEST Gay characters in Comics…because the glass is finally half full.
Ty the Guy OUT!
Here now, your comic book moment of zen: