DC’s Newest Gay Hero: Diversity or Tokenism?

27 Nov

DC's Newest Gay Hero, Bunker

As we noted here at TSM a while back, DC Comics’ “New 52” relaunch of all their titles has been a bit of a mixed bag. Many of the characters are getting truly fresh starts (especially Superman and Wonder Woman) while others are barely being tweaked (Batman and Green Lantern). One stated purpose of the relaunch was to make the DC universe more appealing to a broader cross-section of readers. The first month did a mediocre job in terms of bringing in more female readers and the subsequent two months haven’t improved on that much.

So how do LGBT characters fare in the New 52? As we reviewed before, Batwoman is still a strong lesbian character with a clear history that includes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Former gay couple Apollo and Midnighter have been fully rebooted, so their new versions have just met, but the editors promise us that they will remain a couple. In the 31st Century, Legion members Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet are pretty clearly still a couple; recent additions (just before the relaunch) Gravity Kid and Power Lad have yet to be seen.

The biggest gay splash in September came from a character who was not actually seen in the comics until just last week, new Teen Titans member Bunker. Co-creators Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth indicated that they would be introducing Bunker, a gay teen from Mexico, in Teen Titans #3, which was released on November 23.

So how does Bunker stack up on a first read? Also a mixed bag. He’s a fairly flamboyant character, which is a departure from other gay superheroes. While some readers will find this an irritating stereotype, I actually found that aspect of the character refreshing; some gay men are flamboyant, and having one hero represent that part of the community is fine. Topping that off with a purple and pink costume and the power to generate purple psionic constructs, however, is a bit over the top. His dialogue is also pretty improbable, even for the character as briefly defined. He makes a casual reference to his own “cute butt” when speaking to a hobo he’s just met on a train, which screams stereotyping to me.

His Mexican heritage also reads as tokenism in this first appearance. His dialogue is pretty improbable, coming across more like an American teen who speaks Spanish as one language than someone from a “very small village” in Mexico. He peppers his speeches with random Spanish phrases (like “Madre de dios!”) which serves only as an irritating reminder that he’s part of a larger cultural fabric. We’ll see how his background is fleshed out; over a few issues many of these concerns may be eliminated, but the initial presentation feels very self-congratulatory.

I’m also concerned about writer Scott Lobdell’s ability to create a three-dimensional gay character. He did write the famous issue of Alpha Flight in which Northstar comes out, but the dialogue and characterization were pretty cardboard. He’s also responsible for the horrific rewrite of Starfire in the New 52, and his treatment of female characters (including Wonder Girl in a nurse’s uniform in this issue) is built heavily on objectification. Given his defense of that approach as “empowerment,” it’s clear that he doesn’t understand feminism; we’ll see how he does with a gay character.

Bunker’s first appearance lacks the subtle complexity of Marvel’s young gay couple, Hulkling and Wiccan, introduced a few years ago. The character may develop well, but the overt stereotyping in the first appearance isn’t promising. Fans of the Teen Titans will find Red Robin and Kid Flash compelling as characters but no real meat in the series so far. Readers interested in a strong gay character would be best advised to take a wait-and-see approach. The New 52 has a long way to go before it demonstrates diversity that even begins to approach the world it purports to reflect.

2 Responses to “DC’s Newest Gay Hero: Diversity or Tokenism?”

  1. Sean Ian Mills November 28, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    I rather liked Bunker’s introduction. I liked how they didn’t come right out and say that he was gay in his first appearance, as they’re clearly not trying to make that his defining characteristic. And as you point out, being flamboyant isn’t a bad thing. I liked the team-up between Bunker and Red Robin. It had a real ‘hijinks’ sort of feel to it. I hope that gets fleshed out as the series continues.

    And it doesn’t get more cliche than characters saying, “Madre de dios” to indicate their ethnicity. That they went ahead and used in his first appearance.

    • rhulshofschmidt November 28, 2011 at 5:42 am #

      I agree, it could have been worse. The optimism of the character is a nice contrast. I just hope he develops some real depth and interest as things progress.

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