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Super Gay

December 1, 2009

No longer the stuff of fan fiction nor the butt of jokes, it seems a new era may be dawning for the gay superhero. Granted this may simply be anecdotal, but in my own travels through the various comic publishing universes I have noticed recently several gay capes plying their heroics. What I find most interesting and perhaps even unique about this phenomenon is the fact that sexual orientation plays such a minor role in plot lines and character development. In a sense, perhaps, though it may be more a product of a squeamish reticence to get too deep into ALL the facets of gayness, comics seem to be sending the message that sexual orientation is only one element of personality. Indeed, in the comic world, it may have little to do with traditional hegemonic notions of femininity or masculinity, and certainly has no impact on appearance, fashion [unlikely, considering the de rigeur spandex] or attitude.

Comics have been for years in the forefront of gay visibility. Northstar, the French Canadian super speedster admitted he was gay in an unprecedented story arc that dealt with gay visibility, AIDS and prejudice in the mid-nineties. And the Wildstorm company’s Justice League simulacra, The Authority, has had two prominently gay characters, Apollo and Midnighter (very obvious analogues for Superman and Batman, their stable relationship perhaps a nod to fan fiction fantasies) for nearly a decade. But Northstar was a sideline character, quite neutered, and Wildstorm, until its purchase by DC comics was hardly a mainstream line.

Gay/French-Canadian Pioneering Super-Hero, Northstar

Most of the higher visibility recently has come from Marvel comics, which as introduced four main characters into its comic line–though admittedly, only its more adult titles–in the past few years. The trend began with Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men, part of the “Ultimate” series of re-imagined iconic staples. The books are a nod to grown but life-long readers hungry for subversive plot lines to shake up the old cornball, hypocritical heroics; the hyper-patriotic Avengers, for example, undertaking black ops missions in Iraq. Thus, its not surprising that gay characters find a home in the Ultimate’s X-Men mansion. In this reality stream, Colossus, the hyper-masculine but sensitive Russian metal-man, is a former

and Northstar in tender embrace”]

A fan fiction rendition of Colossus and Northstar in tender embrace

mob enforcer, estranged from his homophobic family and in a long-term and committed relationship with Northstar. Indeed, an entire plot-line revolved around Colossus’ coming out to both readers and team-mates, and a homophobic and Catholic Nightcrawler coming to terms with his friend’s orientation. Also, interestingly, writers of Colossus in the Ultimate X-Men have not spared him any of the severe moral failings his teammates endure [and which generate many, if not all, of the plotlines]. Last year, Colossus was addicted to a power-boosting concoction called “Banshee”, and seemed poised to betray all of his teammates and even his lover due to his weakness.

More recently, Exiles, a comic based on re-jiggering famous and favorite Marvel epics in endless alternate universes, featured a gay Beast, quite open about his relationship with a Colossus from an alternate reality [though its a mystery why Colossus seems to be the gay lodestone for the Marvel multiverse].

And finally, there is Phyla Vell, the new Quasar of Marvel’s galactic saga Annihilation: Conquest. The openly gay cosmic super heroine is given lavish downtime with her lover, the bald and beautiful psychic ninja MoonDragon, a recycled minor character from Marvel’s more psychedelic seventies.

MoonDragon: Psychic Ninja, Significant Other

Phyla-Vell, aka Quasar: Out, Proud, Cosmic

A brief ass-kicking before a kiss

The lovers kiss and hold each other in panels often squeezed in between action shots. Its possible that the far more graphic nature of their relationship may just be an effect of the gay double standard, which privileges Lesbian sex in the same way it privileges any activity which makes women partially to fully naked and/or sensual. And though the comic keeps MoonDragon scantily clad it keeps the action charmingly celibate and even precludes an eventual consumation scene by transforming MoonDragon into a…winged Dragon. Interestingly, the love affair endures , as Phyla Vell states “The intimacy of your mental powers give us is so much deeper than anyone knows. And those abilities still seem to work just fine…you haven’t changed in any way that matters.” In the next panel, Phyla Vell rides MoonDragon in an obvious homage to both the poster from Heavy Metal and unconventional relationships.

Indeed, though most often chaste, comic characters seem poised to explore adventures currently closed off to them in other media, where sexual orientation so easily becomes the raison d etre for gay characters. Though Phyla Vell goes on to beat the bad guys,  she doesn’t do it because they’ve insulted her sexual orientation, she doesn’t even do it to save her lover Moondragon. Like any other superhero, she does it to save the Universe.

Note: Its been bothering me for over a year that I left Hulkling and Wiccan from Young Avengers, off this list, especially because they are part of the comic mainstream narrative, are in a relationship (or were) and are teens. I have no excuse, except that I find that comic impossible to read. Hulkling? God, what a stupid name. And he’s a Skrull, anyway, not a little Hulk.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2009 8:25 am

    Fascinating. I had no idea that comics had come (out) so far. But once there was a gay character in “For Better or Worse,” I guess anything could happen.

  2. omooex permalink*
    December 3, 2009 6:23 pm

    Yeah, but human-dragon love is still off limits. We’ll get there.

  3. bystander permalink
    December 15, 2009 2:47 am

    What a terrific column. I had no idea… Thanks for the introduction.

    Wanted to let you know the Jan 2010 issue of Harper’s is available online and I downloaded that piece I mentioned to you in Glenn’s threads. If you’d like it email me, and I’ll send it along. 969KB/6pg

  4. January 2, 2010 1:51 am

    Comics & gay heroes/villains. Interesting topic.

    While I think that the genre is largely (90%+) hetero, and that romance need not be dealt with too in-depth for most heroic comics which are primarily focussed on … defeating evil and remaining good….

    I’m more concerned with the through-lines, the underlying content, of heroic comics.

    I loved comics as a child. Why? B/c every kid wants to fly, wants to be tough, wants to get attention & wear fun clothes (& cape?), and kick the butt of anything frightening.

    But as you grow older & read deeper into these works, the “good vs evil” stuff starts to seem more & more propagandistic. The “GI Joe vs Terrorist Groups” concept starts to catch in the throat.

    The concepts of what an ‘evil’ villain is become more & more far-fetched, and the concepts of ‘hero’ expand more and more to finally include villains as potential heroes.

    And then, right when you think you’ve seen it all, the “good guy” in the comic has become the “bad guy” from reality, and the bad guy in the comic is now the good guy.

    Some examples of the switcheroo — Wolverine is a psychopath killer with berserk fury == good guy.

    Iron Man is a rich playboy arms dealer who was responsible for arming the bad guys == good guy.

    Magneto is a guy who believes in standing up for the rights of mutants no matter the cost == bad guy.
    (Occasionally a good guy, depending on the comic.)

    The Vision is an emotionless android created by an evil robot that wants to destroy the world == good guy.

    Phoenix is a woman who possesses immense powers to create or destroy anything, and she has emotional issues == bad guy.

    Professor X is a bald psychic that scouts the world for mutants, sends teams out to bring the kids to his secret private school, taking them from their families, putting children in weird costumes, and training them in strange ways. Occasionally Prof X will mind-wipe someone, put mental blocks in their brains, and give them brain trauma == good guy

    The sexuality issue to me seems a subset of gender issues in comics. Most female heroes are ‘ultra-femme’ & scantily clad, while males are super-buff and frequently macho and hard-headed.

    While the gay topic appears to now be getting addressed in some interesting ways, it really could be discussed in these terms — can a gay person be either ‘hero or villain’, can a straight person be the bad guy & the hero a gay person? What would that look like?

    I definitely think the doorway opens a whole new level of discussion about gender roles, and so on.

    Thanks for the article!

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