Tales From The Four Color Closet: Closeting The Classics

By Joe Glass

4d25038a5448fThis week saw Marvel EiC, Axel Alonso, spend another week of his weekly CBR interview, Axel-in-Charge, discussing Marvel and their commitment to diversity. This is something he’s had to do a fair bit recently, as Marvel seems to be making some pretty big missteps in regards to showing that commitment to diversity…one of which was actually in the interview.

As part of the interview, they discussed the recently announced Hercules book coming from Marvel by Dan Abnett and Luke Ross, and the much noted pondering about whether the book would focus on the characters bisexuality at all, making it a bisexual lead book. It elicited this response from Alonso,

Hercules and James Howlett’s relationship in “X-Treme X-Men” took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616. Same goes for Hercules here.

Essentially, you could argue that there is nothing wrong with this. As he points out, Ultimate Colossus is gay, but the main, 616 Colossus is not – same with Herc, right?

Wrong. Because Hercules has been suggested as being bisexual in the 616. During Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente‘s Hercules: Fall of an Avenger, and drawn by Ariel Olivetti. During a scene where several of the women mourner’s get together to reminisce on Hercules as a lover, Snowbird intimates that Northstar should be with them too, which prompts Northstar to make excuses and rush off in embarrassment.

fallofanavenger-90d88This certainly alluded to the idea that Herc had hooked up with the snarky speedster, and really, one could argue that this made sense for the character, who obviously derives from Classical myth. After all, this isn’t just some tough guy who calls himself Hercules, this is meant to be the actual Hercules of Greek legends, the demigod son of Zeus. And in Ancient Greece, bisexuality, or at the very least a more open idea of sexuality, was common. Many of the gods themselves take lovers of both genders in the many myths (of course, they also tend to take lovers across species too).

For Alonso to completely shut down any discussion on Hercules as a bi character (it’s worth noticing how CBR notes that Marvel refused to answer any further questions on the topic) and a bi-lead book at Marvel felt not only rude and offensive to bi-readers in particular, especially given his Classical origins, but a foolish step given that they had a good thing going with a bisexual Hercules, and could have seen it as a potential answer to DC’s Midnighter.

This comes after comments made by another Marvel editor, Tom Brevoort, on his tumblr towards the start of the year about how the world isn’t ready for a gay-lead book (despite the fact that DC already had one and have now followed it with another that is getting a lot of positive attention), and Marvel’s previous insistence that Loki: Agent of Asgard is a bi-lead book, despite the fact this has never once been touched on or shown, and I don’t believe even mentioned about the character since Young Avengers.

Bi-erasure and biphobia is a big problem in media, and among even the LGBTQ community. Media portrayals of bi-characters often see them as villains, and Marvel has no shortage on that trope, with two of their biggest bi characters being Mystique and Daken. They had/have the chance here to have a heroic bi character leading a title, as part of their All New, All Different relaunch. Instead, it will be another book led by a straight, white male, apparently – just like how the lead book of this ‘diverse’ relaunch is a straight, white male.

So far, their All New, All Different relaunch is not really showing a great deal of that, which has been pointed out by many. In fact, one of the other main elements of criticism Marvel has been under of late is their lack of black writers working there. Again, to actually quote Alonso,

We are experiencing a lull in African-American writers at this moment

I am hoping he means in terms of ‘currently working at Marvel’ rather than in general, because if it’s the latter I extremely doubt that. Plus, there is that focus on ‘African-American‘…America does not have a monopoly on black people, and certainly not black writers, so is this to suggest their only looking for black, American writers? And what is with this blinkered approach to diversity, seemingly focusing on one element of diversity at a time: a year ago it was women writers, now it’s black writers. How long do Asian, gay, trans writers have to wait for the spotlight to fall on them?

Instead, much of Marvel’s line are being written by the same writers we’ve seen before, rather than them making a commitment to finding new writers and new voices, which may expand on the diversity of their creative talent, and one would hope the diversity of the stories told and characters getting some spotlight.

After all, Marvel does have a fairly diverse range of characters, they just have a tendency to focus heavily on the same ones again and again, and Marvel apparently is not in the business of taking a risk of finding new creative voices for the medium, and would rather stick with the tried and true old guard (obviously, there is an element of business sense to this method, but it certainly is not conducive to pushing the medium forward into newer territory).

DC on the other hand have had their mini-relaunch with DCYou, where the focus has been on diversifying the line of storytelling and the creative talent, with many voices new to DC or even comics working on titles, and it’s been pretty successful and praised for it so far. And it is certainly more diverse than Marvel feels to me as a queer reader at the moment, with not one but several LGBTQ led series. This is potentially going to get even better in the future, if the Creator Development Program DC briefly mentioned at SDCC is everything that some writers (myself included) are hoping for.

Marvel have said they have a commitment to diversity, but as yet, All New, All Different has really felt anything but. Really, any books that were diverse in terms of creative talent or leading character should have been made a priority to announce in the first wave of announcements. It’s not like anything is drawn yet on some of these series; many of the images released were promo pieces and not covers, and some of the announced books didn’t even have a full creative team announced yet. Instead, it seems we will have to wait until Black History Month (or at least late this year when next February’s books are solicited) to find any of these secret black writers Marvel apparently has….and who knows how long we’ll have to wait for LGBTQ writers, or leading characters, to be announced at the ‘House of Ideas’.

Joe Glass is the creator and writer of LGBTQ-lead comic series, The Pride and it’s sister title, The Pride Adventures. The books are available on Comixology (where it was one of the Top 25 Comixology Submit Titles of 2014), or you can get them directly from Joe at The Pride Store! He is also the co-writer on Welsh horror-comedy series Stiffs, because he likes writing about zombie-hunting monkeys, available online and on Comixology.


About Joe Glass

Joe Glass has been contributing to Bleeding Cool for about four years. He's been a roaming reporter at shows like SDCC and NYCC, and also has a keen LGBTQ focus, with his occasional LGBTQ focus articles, Tales from the Four Color Closet. He is also now Bleeding Cool's Senior Mutant Correspondent thanks to his obsession with Marvel's merry mutants.

Joe is also a comics creator, writer of LGBTQ superhero team series, The Pride, the first issue of which was one of the Top 25 ComiXology Submit Titles of 2014. He is also a co-writer on Stiffs, a horror comedy series set in South Wales about call centre workers who hunt the undead by night. One happens to be a monkey. Just because.