Queer Comics = Queer Comic Book Movies?
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT!
Summer is always a big box office season. Afterall, K-12 students are out of school, teachers don’t have to work, and many families are able to enjoy a leisurely time at the movies. But college students are also a target market in this, and let’s not forget the LGBT target market either.
This summer movie season features quite a few selections from comic books. Thor has already come out, but we’re still looking forward to movies such as the reboot of the X-Men movie franchise in “X-Men: First Class”, as well as “CaptainAmerica: The First Avenger” and “The Green Lantern.”
Now, when many people think of comics, they also think of the nerdy people who read them, or they think that comics are a waste of time. In all actuality, comic books have a very queer history that many people don’t know about.
I, personally, am a big fan of comics. Not just because I like seeing a bunch of hunky super heroes in spandex… but because they sometimes have a very queer undertone to them. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:A segment of the human population is hated and feared because they are born different than the rest of humanity. It’s something they can’t control. They discover their difference right around the time of puberty. Some of these youngsters get kicked out of their homes and end up on the streets. They’re demonized for it and the governments of the world are having a difficult time figuring out what to do about it. Some governments are stripping basic rights away, but other much more conservative governments are resorting to executions of these individuals.
Sound familiar? If you didn’t know the plot of the X-Men comic series, you might think I was talking about the current plight of the LGBT population of the world. I’m a huge fan of the X-Men for this reason. Readers of the comic book series can see the X-Men for who they are: hard working individuals who are just trying to fit in with a world that rejects them. It speaks to a lot of people, and it especially spoke to me.
But now let’s dissect X-Men a little further. We’ll take three characters from the series. 1) Jean-Paul Beaubier (AKA Northstar) 2) Raven Darkholme (AKA Mystique) and 3) Senator Robert Kelley.
Northstar was developed in the early 1980s to be a part of the Canadian mutant superhero team “Alpha Flight”. A policy in place by the Marvel Comics head, as well as the “Comics Code Authority” (which we’ll discuss a little later) resulted in Northstar being ambiguously gay, because the writers weren’t allowed to just come right out with it and say it. Later, he began to start getting progressively sicker. Many people thought he was sick with AIDS, which by this point was running rampant… and due to stereotyping of the time, would further imply that Northstar was gay. The writers shrugged this off by saying that Northstar was really partly a magical creature whose illness stemmed from homesickness on steroids. And they specifically referred to him as “a fairy.” Ha! See what they did there? In the early 90s, Northstar was finally given a special dispensation to come out, which sparked a firestorm of media coverage because he was the very first openly gay comic character in American comic books.
Mystique is a shape-shifting mutant who had a long-lasting relationship with another mutant named Irene Adler. Marvel intended on Mystique and Irene (also called Destiny, due to her power to foresee the future) to be the biological parents of another X-Men character named Nightcrawler, but the Comics Code Authority (I’ll get to it, I promise!) as well as Marvel policy required that there be no explicit gay (and lesbian) or bisexual relationships. In this originally proposed plot, Mystique would have morphed into a man to be able to conceive Nightcrawler. Instead, they dashed that idea and little mention was made of Mystique’s and Destiny’s relationship, although the two have frequently been seen together in a variety of media.
Senator Robert E. Kelly can be analogous to any politician who has ever tried to criminalize or legislate against homosexuality. Kelly has had various “spin-offs” in the various continuities of the Marvel multiverse, but usually, it centers around one theme: an ignorance of those whom he claims to hate. Marvel has identified him as being politically conservative, and often he is the most outspoken in Marvel’s fictional version of our government, although he is politically in the minority when it comes to his stance on the issues of “mutant rights.”
But enough about Marvel! DC comic fans have to have something to look forward to, right? While Marvel can boast the first openly gay character, DC boasts the first openly gay couple. In the late 90s, writers Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch created Midnighter, who was a dark vigilante with some pretty awesome super powers. He could anticipate his opponent’s next move, and he had an auxiliary heart… you know… for just in case you ever need a second one. But eventually, the two superheroes actually got married and even adopted a child.
Ladies, I haven’t forgotten you, either. Have you ever heard of Kate Kane? She’s Batwoman, the female version of the dark knight we all know and love. She’s totally kick ass and totally a lesbian! She comes out after trying to join the military, moves back toGothamCity, meets and dates police officer Renee Montoya, and when she gets mugged, she handles herself just fine, managing to incapacitate the assailant just as Batman gets to her. She’s inspired by Batman to become a hero in her own right and steals some military weaponry and sets out to do just that.
But Batman is, in part, where all of this truly began. In the late 1940s, comic books were going through what is known as “The Golden Age of Comics” and subsequently began hitting the attention of politicians. These politicians began to look at comics as the cause of juvenile delinquency and several cities and counties banned any comic books with gore, horror, or violent themes. In 1954, Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent came out, in which he asserted that the material shown in comic books was harmful to the children who, after all, were a huge block of comic readership.
One scene that caught the attention of concerned adults everywhere was a panel from Batman #84. The intro to the panel says “Morning. And it begins like any other morning in the lives of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson.” It has both Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Dick Grayson (the original Robin) waking up–in the same bed. Batman then, while stretching, says “Ah, that was a good sleep! C’mon, Dick – A cold shower, a big breakfast!” That alone is homoerotic enough. And I have to wonder exactly why Bruce needs a cold shower right now. But this scene, according to Wertham, was evidence that Batman was “psychologically homosexual”. Also… Batman went through a rainbow phase in ’57. Detective Comics #241 show Batman in a pink (or is it red?) bat costume. Need I say more?
The Comic Code Authority was created out of this scandal and was a self-policing group of people from all the major comics publishers of the time. They censored any comics that depicted any of the following: “policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions … in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority, good must always triumph over evil, law enforcement officers dying was discouraged, but not banned outright, “excessive violence”, “lurid, unsavory, gruesome illistrations”, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, “sexy, wanton” comics, “sex perversion”, “sex abnormalities”, “illicit sex relations”, seduction, rape, sadism, masochism, the “sanctity of marriage” was to be glorified, and any adjective synonymous with “scary” could not appear in a title. Now, I would be completely amiss if I didn’t mention that the CCA didn’t really have any true power over comics publishers and many publishers had their own rules regarding these topics. But it was difficult to get any distributors to sell comics without the CCA seal of approval.
Reading comics with a queer lense can be eye-opening at times. So this summer, while you’re sitting in the movie theater to watch one of the comic-based movies try to see if you can catch any gay subtext. Or you can gawk at the incredibly sexy men and women in skimpy outfits. That’s always an option, too.
Wikipedia articles were a major source of information regarding the CCA and DC comics
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