Asking DC Comics The “Gay” Question

Posted by May 23, 2012 Comment

Joseph Glass writes for Bleeding Cool;

So, this Sunday just gone, a question was asked at Kapow Comic Con in London; a convention that aims to be as big as the US conventions, but over in sunny old Blighty (though I did notice the sun pretty much eluded us this year). It’s a good show, but no one really expects any of the kind of big news that comes out of, say, SDCC. Not yet, anyway.

This question on this Sunday at this Kapow, however, seemed to set off a lot of speculation and mass media attention, and still has people talking about it, from here on Bleeding Cool, to Fox, to the Daily Mail, the Guardian, New York Post, i09…nearly everywhere is making some comment on one small question and answer from a British convention.

The gist: Dan DiDio was asked about an earlier comment he made in Advocate magazine, a US gay magazine, when he was interviewed by them last year, around the time of the New 52, and in the run up to the announcement of new character, Bunker. The y asked;

DC has several popular teenage heroes such as Robin, Wonder Girl, Superboy and the other Teen Titans. With gay teens becoming more visible in the media, can readers expect to see a teenaged gay superhero in the future?

And DiDio answered:

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 it is an iatrical part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really learn and grow with her or him.

The answer to the question has been the focus of much speculation since. Bob Wayne, DC’s Senior Vice President of Sales, would state that DiDio’s views on the matter, much like President Obama’s, “had evolved”. Revealing he had since changed his stance from his earlier statement, DiDio said that a formerly heterosexual character would be revealed as gay in the New 52, and would become DC’s “most prominent gay character”.

Thus, the hounds of speculation were loosed. After the frankly lengthy and loud applause from the gathered audience, DC could pat itself on the back for a lengthy bout of media attention that arguably stole the thunder of Marvel and their frankly obvious announcement of the impending nuptials of Northstar and Kyle. All from a small question from an altogether ordinary member of the audience that no one has thought to ask why he even brought it up.

No one except Rich Johnston that is (after some mild Twitter cajoling :P).

My name is Joe Glass, a lifelong fan of comics, a big gay man, and new writer of comics too, including LGBT superhero series, The Pride. And I asked that question.

The ‘why’? Simple…for nearly a whole year now, Dan Didio’s comment kind of stuck in my craw a bit. I understood them, and respected that it intimated a desire to add new LGBT characters, a group that is still sorely lacking within comics, despite what some commenter’s may think.

But it was the ‘rather than [change an existing] character’ bit that really bugged me.

I mean, what? They changed Superman, Flash, Apollo and Midnighter from being married to single and/or dating. They changed Barbara Gordon from being a disabled, non-violent hero to a fully bodily-abled violent one again. They resurrected, vanished, killed, changed ethnicities, made skinny, gave out new dads, and changed almost any other aspect of a character as part of the re-invigoration process of the New 52, but for some reason they couldn’t or wouldn’t change a character from straight to gay?

Why not? Why was THAT the line they dare not cross? I know it’s a fairly small thing, and maybe as a gay comics reader I should just be happy to take what I was getting, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was an unintentional implication there.

I mean, as a storyteller myself, I can think of hundreds of ways to write a heterosexual character discovering this new side to them. Not everyone knows they’re gay as soon as they sashay out of the womb, hell, for some of us it’s a long, difficult and dramatic process. It’s perfectly reasonable to me that a character can have been shown to have relationships with members of the opposite sex before and be written in a same sex relationship now, if the story is told right, is dramatic, and serves the character.

And hell, this was a reboot! Things were changing left, right and centre, so what was the deal here?

In my own comic, I try to challenge the Big Two in my own tiny way, by trying to write and show a comic that isn’t that far removed from a Justice League or Avengers comic, that is family friendly, but has a wide range of representation from across the LGBTQ spectrum. But what DC were doing seemed to be purposefully limiting themselves, in a very specific respect.

And so, at Kapow, with DiDio present, I saw my chance to finally get it off my chest and ask him personally what he meant and why. I honestly didn’t expect much of an answer, or if he’d even remember the interview. I even expected to get groans from the crowd for some reason. Instead, I got an answer back that made me feel genuinely happy. Seriously, no one in that hall was clapping louder than I was, and I laud DiDio and DC for this.

And clearly I’m not alone in that respect: I was approached by a number of convention goers after that panel and the subsequent Marvel panel (where I asked another LGBTQ related question), all congratulating me on an excellent question, saying it was great to see a comic big wig answer to their previous comments, and even got thanked by one young man who told me his cousin was gay and has a hard time of it, and it was great that I ‘took a stand’. Honestly, I was completely taken aback by the amount of attention I was getting, let alone DC’s answer. It was quite amazing.

Clearly this was a sign that fans, whether they be gay, straight, bi or whatever, all wanted to see an equal and fair representation and treatment in comics, from new characters and established ones.

The fact is, for all the new characters added, LGBTQ people are still vastly under-represented within comics, and very few get to be leading heroes. These things are changing though, and that’s great. And as great as new characters are, it would be an astonishing feat to have an established character, with an existing high-visibility brand and fan-base as an LGBTQ character. A new character will sadly still run the risk of just becoming ‘the gay one’ and have almost every other aspect of their character ignored. You make Green Lantern gay and he’s the dude that patrols space with a magic ring, who reignited the sun, went mad and killed the whole Corps, and who just happens to like dudes. It may be a subtle difference to some, but believe me, for my community it’s quite the coup.

I asked this question because I thought that there was still an element of prejudice within the biggest comics companies, and I dreaded that the answer may have proved that and ruined them for me, but felt that it was something that needed to be confronted. Instead, I find myself more excited about reading DC books than ever before…and I’m a former Marvel Zombie!

A few last points: I’m fairly certain DiDio said “revealed to be gay”, not “re-introduced as gay”: I wouldn’t discount the character being someone already seen in the New 52. Could be wrong though.

People who went to the con and liked that news should have picked up Martin Eden’s Spandex…just sayin’.

And next time, I’m going to ask why there are so few transgendered characters in DC/Marvel comics.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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