Is Coming Out Gay Just Another Comic Book Stunt?

Astonishing Gay X-Men?

To be a man in your fifth decade and still reading comics is slightly embarrassing and that was reinforced when sitting next to my 13-year-old nephew at The Avengers and realizing I’ve forgotten more about every major character in the movie than he will ever know (or care) about.

I gave up comics this year.  I didn’t give up buying them every so often.  Old habits do die-hard.  I just took myself out of the never-ending cycle of 52 Wednesdays a year burning up gas and spending money to bring home another $20 to $40 worth of four-color funny books that after being read once or twice end up in filling storage bins in my basement.    Throw in the ridiculous cost ($3.99 for something that used to cost 12 cents) and giving comics up wasn’t a tough call.

I still read comic books.  Most of them are my brother’s “New 52” line from DC Comics.   Last year, fueled by desperation as much as inspiration, DC zeroed out its existing universe and rebooted their line with  brand new Number One issues, new costumes for Superman and his other super-friends and in doing so generated a buzz that garnered a ton of favorable coverage from the mainstream media and the interest and excitement of fans.

That’s how you create a buzz about comics.  You come up with a stunt.  Kill Superman and bring him back.  Kill Captain America and bring him back.  Kill Batman and…are you starting to see a pattern here?

Anyway,  The New 52 worked great.   DC knocked industry leader Marvel on its backside and out of the top spot, which for as minimal comic books have on pop culture is like being the tallest pygmy.   Movies based on comic books are big business.  Comic books themselves struggle to sell 75,000 copies a month, but DC is owned by TimeWarner and Marvel by Disney and they could give a shit if Superman sells in the thousands or in the dozens.  What their comic book companies contribute to ledger sheets of  their corporate masters wouldn’t pay for a week’s worth of office supplies.

What Disney and TimeWarner care about are the comic book properties.  You think they give a toot in a tornado about a damn comic book when one Friday evening of The Avengers puts more cash in The Mouse House’s pocket than 40 years Avengers comic books.

“Dick, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

The New 52 was a great hook, but it wasn’t a revolutionary concept.  Many of the same artists and writers whose lousy stories ran the company into a ditch were now being tapped to pull it out.  Zeroing out their universe and starting from scratch liberated DC from decades of confusing and convoluted comic continuity .   Continuity is important to the educated in comics lore fan base, but their numbers are too small and the demographic too old for Hollywood to give a shit if a geek gets upset because Superman no longer wears his underwear on the outside.  The purpose of comic books are to provide concepts that can be mined by movie studios and turned into movie franchises. DC has failed to successfully follow Marvel in making the transition from comic book company to feeder system for million-dollar movies.

It no longer matters what happens in comics.  Not that it really ever did, but particularly not now.  Spider-Man, Batman and Iron Man generate millions in ticket sales and that second life on the silver screen means whatever happens to them in their paper and staples form don’t mean a thing.

What’s left for comic books?  Stunts.  Tricks.  Big cataclysmic events that shake up the status quo, shatter worlds, and change everything as we know.  Then six months later someone comes along and changes it all back.

The newest stunt:  Make someone gay everyone thought was straight or take a second or third-string hero and marry him off.   To his boyfriend.   HEY KIDS! GAY COMICS!

Marvel is allowing Northstar, their French-Canadian mutant speedster to marry his Black boyfriend.  Gay and interracial marriage?  Two taboos broken for the price of one.

DC’s response?  Follow the leader and announce a “major” character will come out the closet as a gay man.

Gay supporting characters and even gay heroes aren’t new.  Northstar has been out for years.  DC’s Wildstorm imprint featured a openly gay couple named Apollo and The Midnighter who were overt Superman/Batman stand-ins.   But their love affair ended when they were incorporated into the DC mainstream.  Odd that there weren’t many protests from the continuity-obsessed fans about that reboot.

Not Superman and Batman, but just like them.

Who will come out of the comic book closet?  It could be Batman.  It should be Batman.  But because it’s both so obvious and so perfect it won’t be Batman.  Batman is now on his third or fourth Robin.  He just keeps picking up young boys to be his “partner.”  What would you call a billionaire who’s never married, only uses women as props, enjoys dressing up head to toe in leather and prefers the company of athletic youths?

One of Bats current writers, Grant Morrison, fessed up in Playboy  the Dark Knight”s antenna isn’t picking up the wavelength of the opposite sex.

“He’s very plutonian in the sense that he’s wealthy and also in the sense that he’s sexually deviant,” Morrison said. “Gayness is built into Batman. I’m not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay. There’s just no denying it. Obviously as a fictional character he’s intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay.”

“I think that’s why people like it. All these women fancy him and they all wear fetish clothes and jump around rooftops to get to him. He doesn’t care — he’s more interested in hanging out with the old guy and the kid.”

As someone with no skin in the game, I’m all for gay fans of comics being represented with gay characters they can relate to   An openly homosexual hero isn’t going to corrupt a kid’s mind anymore than most of the other crap DC and Marvel poop out every Wednesday.

Just don’t stop there.  Let’s see what happens when a gay superhero faces discrimination from a straight superhero who doesn’t want to team up with him.  Instead of fighting alien invaders, let’s have the Justice League or Avengers take on a homophobic hate group.

There have always been gay themes in comics as long as there have been comics.  It was just nodded and winked at and never spoken of in a serious way.   This feels like the latest in a long line of contrived stunts the major companies engage in passing it off as being socially conscious.   We’ll see if DC and Marvel are as seriously committed to their “evolution” as gay couples are to getting married.

Don’t look for the happy couple in the next X-Men movie.