(Editor’s note: this article is from our archive. It was originally posted about three years ago. There have been many changes in the Comic Industry that have further advanced the general sense of equality since we initially shared this piece.)
As comic books are constantly changing, so are the times and also the roles that both males and females play in society. We have begun to see a larger portion of men staying at home with their families, and we have also seen a large amount of women begin to become the primary breadwinners for their families. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Queer, Intersexual, and Ally (which will now be referred to as LGBTQIA) community has made very successful strides in the American political arena with such acts as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and with seventeen states now allowing same sex marriage, the LGBTQIA community is standing strong in their fight for equality.
For the LGBTQIA community, what’s going on in America right now isn’t much different from the events that took place in the 1960’s with the Civil Rights movement. Comic book superheroes The X-Men made their first appearance in 1961 and soon became the face of equality in the Silver Age (1956-1970) of comic books. Jamie Coville states “These “mutants” were the next step in our evolution and had powers that society didn’t understand. The result of this was society hated and feared them. Doing this showed parallels to racism and also showed why racism is wrong.” By using mutants, Marvel Comics were able to show that racism can exist without the color of your skin having anything to do with a situation. The mutants and the X-Men were hated for being different and were used to teach readers to not let racism or their own hatred rule their lives.
As the times continued to change, so did comics. In the 1980s we saw a style begin to become more and more popular, known simply as “Grim & Gritty” and was started by writer and penciler Frank Miller. These comics were much darker, and represented more surreal and taboo topics. Some of the more notable comics to come from this time are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which was a spoof on Spider-Man and the X-Men in the title alone), Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen. Watchmen, written by Alan Moore in 1986, was a very serious and heavy story that dealt with issues like The Vietnam War, the issues soldiers faced in the field, and even more taboo subjects such as rape and child molestation. The “Grim and Gritty” style of comics has continued to be a successful style of writing today.
With all this being said, comics have always been changing and making modifications to the times they represent. In today’s society one of the more politically charged hot topics of the day is the LGBTQIA community, their representation and also the desire for equality. In comic books LGBTQIA rights are represented, but not well enough. The introduction of gay characters such as Green Lantern Alan Scott and X-Men Northstar have been major achievements for the battle of equality. Unfortunately though, the Transgender community has no representation in mainstream comic books. The two industry titans, Marvel and DC Comics, have stayed away from the topic of transgender issues.
For the introduction of the first openly gay X-Men character Northstar, writer Marjorie Liu states that “It says a lot about how uncomfortable people felt with taking risks on subjects that might be controversial. Now I think people feel a bit safer doing so because the tide is being turned. Gay rights is an issue that’s discussed more openly. Gay marriage is now legal in New York—they’re not going to lose as much by speaking about it” (Leon). With the introduction of the first gay character, this did create some backlash. A Christian organization by the name of One Million Moms weighed in on the topic of a gay superhero (Northstar):
“This is ridiculous! Why do adult gay men need comic superheroes as role models? They want to indoctrinate impressionable young minds by placing these gay characters on pedestals in a positive light. These companies are heavily influencing our youth by using children’s superheroes to desensitize and brainwash them into thinking that a gay lifestyle choice is normal and desirable. As Christians, we know that homosexuality is a sin.”
However, Marvel feels different about the topic at hand. Marvel believes that “Our comics are always best when they respond to and reflect developments in the real world. We’ve been doing that for decades, and this is just the latest expression of that,” said Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Alex Alonso (Perpetua). Marvel Comics editor went on to say that “The last thing we should do is be frightened to offend. We should be looking to create dialogue, provoke, and take people out of their comfort zone—that’s what we do with comics and that’s what we’re gonna do with this story” (Leon). Alex Alonso makes a strong argument about how comic books should no longer be afraid to push the envelope, but with the topic of the LGBTQIA community, that shouldn’t be something that is pushing the envelope, but society should be more accepting and willing to see the personal lives of comic book heroes. The characters personal life involves both personal relationships and sexual orientation.
The topic of superheroes’ personal lives has recently been brought into the limelight after DC Comics decided to scrap the idea of Batwoman and her marriage. DC Executive editor, Dan Didio stated “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests” (Polo). This is a serious problem in the comic book community, as we see straight characters such as DC’s superstar Superman who is often depicted in a happy relationship with either Lois Lane, or Wonder Woman. We also see Aquaman in a very happy relationship with his “queen” Mera. For Aquaman to refer to Mera as his queen would have to imply that they are both married, since Aquaman is the King of Atlantis. Other heroes such as Green Lantern and The Flash are shown with their significant others at times, for it to be said that heroes shouldn’t have “happy personal lives” is a cop out. We read superhero stories because they are relatable, we find common ground with the heroes we see in comics each month, and we also keep coming back to them for what is going on in their lives.
In the article “DiDio Attempts to Explain DC’s Marriage Ban; Will Scrap Last Williams/Blackman Batwoman Issues?” writer Susana Polo makes the argument that there are both straight and gay kids, teens and adults that read comic books. For the younger generation of people who are reading comic books, they look to the comic book universe as an escape, and they want to know that things are ok. The LGBTQIA community wants to be represented and they want their own heroes, their own villains, and they want people to better understand them. As an avid supporter of the gay and lesbian community I want my gay friends to have the same rights and representation that I am given, being a major comic book reader and collector, I also want them represented better in something that I hold so close to myself and a community I am deeply tied to.
Susan Polo stated that “The fact is that there are kids out there right now who believe that because they are different from their peers they will never find anyone to love them, will never be accepted by their community, and may never be accepted by their government,” (Polo) and this is a very interesting view on the situation at hand. If kids don’t see people like them represented in comic books, then they might not realize there are more people like them. When a person “comes out of the closet” it’s one of the most difficult things they will face, and this will leave them feeling, most of the time, ostracized and alone. If they have never seen the influence of a gay character in the comic book community, who has gone through the same situations, then the reader may become more comfortable in who they are.
One of Marvel’s most popular characters ever created is just a teenage/young adult who is in battle with the simple struggles of life. Spider-Man isn’t super strong, he’s not super smart, and he’s not overly successful. Spider-Man is just an average character who struggles with work and with personal relationships. He also suffers from the mistakes of his past, he blames his uncle’s death on himself, and he blames the death of the girl he loves (Gwen Stacey) on himself as well. This character has his own demons that he is facing, and struggles that often bring him to his lowest point, but he is able to remain strong and move past his own defeats. The fact that Spider-Man is so relatable helps him gain a larger and more diverse reader base, because he is so much like the readers themselves. If Marvel or DC could include a gay comic book hero, they could easily create a more popular and a well known new superhero.
If a comic book writer would take the risk to create an openly gay character, who is not a second level character, readers of all ages could become exposed to a way of life that they were previously not aware of. Companies such as Marvel and DC need to focus on the fact that the majority of their readers are not from a small town in Kansas, but rather a large majority of the readers are in the inter cities and groups like We Are Comics have been created in hope to help make sure that all forms of diversity are represented equally in comic books. Their founder Rachel Edidin stated that “We Are Comics is a campaign to show—and celebrate—the faces of our community, our industry, and our culture; to promote the visibility of marginalized members of our population; and to stand in solidarity against harassment and abuse” (Chamber) and Rachel Edidin goes on to discuss that the easiest way to create a safe place in comics is to become the change that we want to see.
When the fans become accepting, and willing to understand a different way of life, then comics will be able to change and become more accommodating to the LGBTQIA community. Fans are both the problem and the solution to LGBTQIA rights in comic books. Once the fans are ready for change, the major publishers will no longer be in fear of pushing the envelope and potentially losing readers that are still stuck in 1950’s America.
Chamber, Becky. “Comic Book Fans, Assemble! The “We Are Comics” Campaign
Needs You!” The Mary Sue. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
Coville, Jamie. “The Silver Age.” Pennsilvania State University. Pennsilvania
State University, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <http://www.psu.edu/dept/
Leon, Melissa. “DC Comics’ New Gay Green Lantern & Marvel’s First Same-Sex
Marriage.” The Daily Beast. N.p., 1 June 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
Perpetua, Matthew. “Marvel Comics Hosts First Gay Wedding in ‘Astonishing
X-Men.'” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone Magazine, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
Polo, Susana. “DiDio Attempts to Explain DC’s Marriage Ban; Will Scrap Last
Williams/Blackman Batwoman Issues?” The Mary Sue. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr.