Tag Archives: LGBT Comic Book Characters

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.

Helping Bullied Kids Find the Power Within Is Everyone’s Responsibility

22 Sep

Bullying's Latest Victim

This week yet another young member of the LGBTQ community took his own life after dealing with years of bullying. Last Sunday, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide after returning from a family camping trip. Jamey was an outgoing, apparently confident young man. After coming out last year, he recorded an It Gets Better video encouraging other LGBTQ youth to look for their support systems and to learn to love themselves. His family were supportive and he drew inspiration from the positive messages of pop superstar and social justice champion Lady Gaga.

It is heartbreaking to see any young person surrender to despair. When someone with as much strength and joy as Jamey succumbs, it sends a very powerful message. Words are weapons, and weapons can kill. Despite the increased awareness about bullying and teen suicide, the problem persists. Violence against the LGBT community is on the rise, so it is unrealistic to believe that verbal and emotional abuse are not a continuing problem.

Fortunately, we have champions who are doing their best to give our youth the tools they need to cope and to thrive. Regular TSM readers may remember the efforts of Zan Christensen and Mark Brill to print an anti-bullying comic book. Fortunately, their project exceeded its funding goal and The Power Within is now available. It’s an amazing work, managing to tell a compelling story about an interesting character while still achieving its advocacy and outreach goals. All of this without coming across as strident or preachy.

The Power Within tells the story of Shannon, a boy starting the eighth grade. It is clear that he had problems during his last year of school, and this year doesn’t start off any better. He is different from his peers in many ways – smaller, artistic, gay (although not out) – and is bullied daily. The authority figures take a sadly typical “you should try harder to fit in” approach to the problem. Shannon copes by imagining himself as a superhero with the power to defeat the bullies, but this survival daydream also increases his isolation.

I won’t spoil the powerful impact of the story by going into more detail, but as a 45-year-old man with bits of a damaged gay 14-year-old still lurking inside him, every panel rang very true. The art is beautiful and perfectly suited to moving the story forward. The plot and dialogue are appropriately simple without being simplistic. In a few short pages, Shannon is a more compelling character than many who have volumes dedicated to them. (Fair warning, this was a keep-the-tissue-box-handy read for me…)

Christensen and Brill have created the perfect message of hope for anyone struggling with not fitting in and suffering for it. Anyone who cares about LGBTQ kids should get their hands on a copy, read it, and share it. As an added bonus, a variety of comic writers and artists (including Gail Simone and Dan Parent, creator of Kevin Keller) have provided some supplemental pages. The book ends with a valuable list of discussion questions and additional resources. Congratulations, Zan and Mike, this comic is an absolute winner.

For more information about The Power Within, including how to order copies for teachers and youth services organizations, please visit Northwest Press.

Women In Comics: Batwoman Relaunched

15 Sep

Batwoman was originally conceived for the worst of reasons. In response to the pressure brought to bear on the comic industry in the early 1950’s, DC comics created Kathy Kane, aka The Bat-Woman, as a female counterpart to and potential love interest for, Batman. Having Batwoman (as her name compressed to fairly quickly) around supposedly defused the “homosexual mystique” around Batman and Robin. It should be noted that this bleak period in Bruce Wayne’s career also featured the first “Bat-Girl” as Kane’s sidekick, the horrific sprite Bat-Mite, and (wait for it) Ace the Bat-Hound. Really.

When Julius Schwartz took over the editorial helm of the Bat-books in 1964, he jettisoned most of the peripheral characters and refocused the books on Batman and Robin as crime-fighters and detectives. Batwoman faded away, popping up a few times over the next forty years as DC continuity re-re-re-booted. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, she was brought back, totally re-invented.

Katherine “Kate” Kane is a Jewish socialite in Gotham City. She also happens to be a lesbian, a nice twist on the reasons for the original Bat-Woman’s creation. Her Batwoman is a strong character in her own right (not pulling exploding lipsticks and the like from her “utility purse” like her predecessor). In the five years since her debut, she has built a solid fan following and generally positive critical reaction. When DC announced its total recreation of its universe with this fall’s New 52, Batwoman was given her own title for the first time (having featured in Detective Comics most recently). Having seen the many changes served up for Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon, how does Batwoman fare?

Amazingly well, actually. Perhaps because she lacks the lengthy history and iconic status of some of the other characters, the reinvention of Kate Kane seems pretty minimal. The first issue does a nice job of (re)introducing the character and her supporting cast while introducing an intriguing (and creepy) new plot. The art is breathtaking. From a purely artistic standpoint, this issue is worth a look. J.H. Williams III serves as co-author and penciller and does an outstanding job of stretching what the page can do without overwhelming the reader.

Batwoman also remains a lesbian in this reinvented DC Universe. Given some of the less-than-delightful changes some of the female characters have experienced (the ridiculously skimpy new costume for Starfire and the apparent radical weight reduction of Amanda Waller, for example), this is a very good thing. More importantly, her sexual orientation is treated as a simple fact rather than a bludgeon. That’s true integration and good storytelling. I’ve had a good look at about half of the new DC titles so far, and Batwoman stands cowl and shoulders above the rest. Let’s hope DC can keep up the good work on this surprisingly innovative and interesting character.

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