Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Lavender League

The Gay Bloggers Union has officially requested that I weigh on an issue I have been punting on, one of the truly novel phenomena in contemporary comics: the sudden proliferation of gay legacy characters.

Now, we have had gay characters before in the DCU, and not just fly-by-night ones.

Not quite what I meant. Besides, Mr. & Mr. Estate-Sale are hardly "in the DCU" as much as they are "owned by DC now and kept in the attic". You know it's true.

At first it was supporting characters, like The Great Extraño (1988), Maggie Sawyer (1988), Mitch Sekovsky (1989), Pied Piper (1991) Terry Berg (2000), Renee Montoya.  

We all love "Auntie" Gregorio (IN RETROSPECT), but let's not kid ourselves. Despite all the in-story hype, nobody really believed the "New Guardians" were going to amount to anything or even last long and we were right.  They just props in a miniseries to make a point about about diversity and bigotry.

I'm not counting all the revisionist bisexual box-checkers like Constantine, Ice (Maiden), Blue Starman, Cat-Man, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quin, et al., because I think that's a different and much less significant phenomenon and if you'd like to argue about that, let's do.

But the first real high-profile DCU gay hero, of course, was Batwoman who was introduced in 2006 as a crime-fighting socialite (NOT yet Bruce Wayne's cousin; that was an ingenious retcon that happened in a later universal reboot, I forget which one-- so..many...reboots...).  

She had an immediate, widespread, and lasting impact on lesbian fashion.

There have been new gay characters with tenuous or no dynastic connections (e.g, Bunker, Anissa Pierce, Grace Choi).  There have been some pre-existing heroes now revealed to be gay, like the Tasmanian Devil, the Ray (current multiversal status uncertain?), or, most prominently, Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott and his son, Todd "Obsidian" Rice.  

That awkwardness when your date intercepts and misinterprets a hologram message from your actual dad, who happens to be a serious zaddy.

Prominent or not, such characters are still in the 'suburbs' of superhero-dom; they are on the edges of the real metropolises: the dynasties of DC's Big Iconic Heroes. That's the classic Justice Leaguers, of course: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman; Green Lantern & Flash; Green Arrow & Aquaman. Arguably others could be included, but over time they are DC's most consistent roster of royalty.  

Characters like Batwoman and Alan Scott are certainly well known and pedigreed; they are definitely dukes and duchesses in DC's royal houses.  But they are not in the line of succession, so to speak; they will not inherit that seat at the Justice League table.

Who wouldn't want THAT thrilling opportunity to watch Hal stare at his own beautiful hands?

Naturally, NO ONE will actually inherit that seat, as repeated attempts to oust the original JLAers have proven over the years (including several recent spectacular failures).  "Batman/Superman/et al." aren't just costumes and skill sets, they are actual individuals. You can give the codenames 'Superman', 'Aquaman', 'Green Lantern', and 'Flash', to Jon Kent, Jackson Hyde, Girl with Weird Glasses, and Wally West (yeah, I went there), but that's all you are doing.  Superman is still Clark Kent, Aquaman is still Arthur Curry, Green Lantern is still Hal Jordan, and the Flash is still Barry Allen. Despite 70+ years of various creators/editors to 'fix' the "problem" they feel that consistency represents.

Nowadays we're not just talking about Odd Man's nephew, Queer Fellow, or Woozy Winks adopted pansexual son Flirty, or even some Black Canary-lite with short dark hair, butch skillz, big boots, a motorcycle, and a leather jacket, who immediate pair-bonds with literally the first available person she meets.

That IS Black Canary.

No. Now,  we are talking about the "heirs apparent".  We are talking about: 

Batman's protégé, Tim Drake.  A long-standing character (1989) who served as Robin--many believe as the best Robin--for twenty years. He's been buried in the background for years since Bruce Wayne's son Damian began his reign of terror as Robin (2009).  His recent emergence from Damian's shadow has coincided with the reveal of his bisexuality.

13 does NOT look like the minimum age for that ride.

Aquaman's protégé, Jackson Hyde. A comparative new character (2016), son of Black Manta and a Xebellian rebel, Jackson was introduced as a gay teenager.  He seems to have had some trouble gaining traction, probably because his look, power set, and origin are clearly based on the "Kaldur'am" character in the Young Justice cartoon and yet... he is very much NOT that character.

For one thing, Jackson understands how important it is that Aquaman-characters have fabulous hair.

and Superman's instant-son, Jon Kent.  Through temporal shenanigans driven by fan-service, Clark Kent and Lois Lane wound up with a pre-pubescent 10 year-old son after some reboot (Convergence 2015) without they or readers having to slog through the real-world tedium of, you know, pregnancy and infancy and toddlerhood and childhood.

 I mean, any SILVER AGE writer knows those are the FUN part. Aren't those playsuits ADORABLE?

Jon's principal narrative function in the DCU seemed to be as saccharine poured over Damian Wayne stories to make them less bitter and easier to swallow.  As previously discussed, Damian's clearly on his way out of favor as l'enfant terrible among DC's editorship, so some more temporal shenanigans were employed to have Jon suddenly become a POST-pubescent 17-year-old son of Superman. Puberty came with the reveal of bisexuality (his love interest is male; that he is bisexual and not gay is known only through external evidence from the creator and publisher, not internal story evidence).


You know, Jon, I'm sure Jackson would be glad to go through a stylebook with you at Supercuts.
Heroes are here to help those in need, after all.

How do I feel about all this?

Let's discuss that tomorrow; but feel free to tell me your thoughts today.


Anonymous said...

Straight white guy here. I don't mind that more characters are other than straight white guy; it's like sliding over on the bus to make room for someone else (slightly more work than just sitting still, not so much work that I have any business objecting). So, retcon characters as LGBT; it's fine. And by all means create new LGBT characters.

My biggest concern is when characters are retconned without it making sense. For example, Alan Scott as gay ... at least prior to new 52, there wasn't any sign that he was gay (and indeed there were strong signs to the contrary, like being a dad), so it feels more like he's wearing gay like a costume. I guess he wouldn't be the first gay man who had to keep up straight appearances, but even so, it feels forced.

Could we turn Hal gay? (More to the point, would you even want that?) His relationship with Carol has always been dysfunctional as heck, and if Hal has never been one for settling down, there could be reasons. I also like the idea that Hal can be gay and also just friends with guys, for example Ollie and Barry.

Barry is less of an option these days. Granted, I remember the days when he was so deeply in love with Iris that, immediately after the revenge story arc following her murder, he decided to set his sights on Fiona Webb; now there's a love for the centuries. Could be he simply never found the right woman, because he was looking for a man. Of course, these days Barry Allen is best known for marrying his sister, so let's not even.

About this "Wally West (yeah, I went there)", I'm totally with you. Wally was always a stand-in for Barry, and never his own man. Wally took on Barry's name, Barry's costume, Barry's city, Barry's JLA gig, Barry's rogue's gallery, and even Barry's type of girlfriend (journalist) ... it's only of late that they're figuring out who Wally West is if Barry's still in the picture, and I say it's long overdue.

Scipio said...

"when characters are retconned"
I mean, technically, they aren't being retconned; their past isn't being changed per se, they are just discovering/revealing something about themselves that was always true but not known to us. But it does feel like a retcon from the readers perspective. I suppose that's also how it feels when someone REAL comes out to you.

"without it making sense"
That IS the tricky part, isn't it? That's part of what I'm struggling with, I think. Figuring out what 'makes sense' and how much that should matter. What makes senses as a coming out story for a character to one person may not ring true to another. For example, I can certainly understand exactly what you are saying about why the Alan Scott reveal seems forced. And yet, to me it seems pretty natural now, perhaps because I know guys like Alan. My senior year college boyfriend's father came out as gay, in fact, so basically, I dated Todd Rice.

Barry and Wally, on the other hand, seem like quintessential ladies' men, and I wouldn't buy their being gay (or even bi) for a second. And Hal? Really, the most suitable sexuality I can imagine for Hal is: anyone; anything, in any combination. Hal's a BIG fan of aliens, if ya catch my drift; I'm sure GENDER would be a minor detail. As long as they/it/he/she appreciates how beautiful Hal is.

Kidding aside, these questions can only come up because the characters are fictional. The reality is: other people's sexuality doesn't have to make sense TO YOU, nor does any resultant coming out story.

Anonymous said...

"Kidding aside, these questions can only come up because the characters are fictional. The reality is: other people's sexuality doesn't have to make sense TO YOU, nor does any resultant coming out story."

Agreed; in the real world, the only fair approach is to take people as they wish to be understood.

I think the real issue in my mind, when it comes to changing established traits about a character, is that I dislike not-technically-retcons that feel more like author whim. It's something like how, as others have noted, there is a tendency for new writers to come on a title and then they write whatever new characters they always wanted to create, in the skins of existing characters. That's not real respectful of the characters, or the readers. If a writer wants to tell me that, say, Hal is gay, I feel the writer's got a little obligation to make it make sense against Hal's history. I'm not going to be hostile to the effort, but I do think the writer owes the readers a little more than, "that's how things are now, get used to it".

Anonymous said...

Small pedantic note: Jon is bisexual because he had a brief relationship full of not “pure thoughts, chum” with Saturn Girl while on semester abroad in the future before meeting his current boyfriend.

Anonymous said...

Small pedantic note: Jon is bisexual because he had a brief relationship full of not “pure thoughts, chum” with Saturn Girl while on semester abroad in the future before meeting his current boyfriend.