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Comicscape: Cheating Hearts

By Joel Rickenbach     May 30, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Marvel is about to present the first same-sex marriage in mainstream comic book history, and DC will shortly reveal that a “key” character is gay. The timing is interesting, if not downright calculated, the bloggers are playing “Guess who’s gay” and the ladies from The View finally put some comics in the hen house. Some people are ecstatic, some people are outraged and some people are completely blind to “Gay” or “Straight”, all they see is dollar signs. Honestly, all this doesn’t matter, or at the very least shouldn’t, but we’ll get to that. Lets rewind a bit to March, 1992…

 

We all have a comic store we consider “Home base”, walking in the door is reminiscent of George Wendt walking into “Cheers”, but instead of a cold brew waiting for you at the bar, there’s an overstuffed pull box behind the counter. The store counts on your clockwork-like business to stay in the black, and you appreciate the level of service they provide. Plus, everyone shouts your name when you walk in, how sweet is that? Apparently not sweet enough, because admit it- you cheat. It’s ok, we all do. Sometimes your favorite spot just can’t satisfy your needs, or sometimes you just want something “different”. In March of ’92 I was cheating. My shop had sold out of Alpha Flight #106, and I, much like everyone else, had to find out what this whole “gay” character was all about. I knew the shop down at the Farmer’s Market was fast, loose and out of control, just the kind of place I was looking for. If you need a visual, just think of the scene in Mallrats when Jeremy London and Jason Lee visit the “Dirt Mall”. Walking in you were greeted with a mix of patchouli, marijuana and, well… comics. Was it any wonder I strayed from my local comic book shop? My affair had paid off, sitting on the new release shelf was a huge stack of Alpha Flight #106, and they were being sold below cover price! At the time I thought the bearded gentleman behind the counter was off his nut, maybe the wacky tabacky had dulled his price gun prowess. What I realized much, much later was that he was celebrating.

Alpha Flight #106 was another book in the long line of early 90's must-have issues for the pan-handling speculators. Superman was killed, Batman had his back broken and an obscure member of the Canadian super team Alpha Flight (Northstar) announced to the world he was gay. Actually he shouted it mid-brawl against the menacing Major Mapleleaf (Read: Not menacing), this was just before he found a discarded baby girl in a dumpster that ended up being HIV positive and died of AIDS. You see, Alpha Flight #106 was a landmark moment in comics, it sold through the roof and had a striking cover, which was reason enough for the Jerry Garcia-esque fellow behind the counter to be happy. Unfortunately, Alpha Flight #106 was not very good. In fact, in this day and age, it's almost painful to read. The ham-fisted dialogue has all the subtly of a punch from the Hulk, and the art is very 90's style anatomy posing. I mean no offence to the creators, what Scott Lobdell and Mark Pacella pulled off is commendable, the issue is just a product of its time. It actually feels like they got away with something, because Jean Paul Beaubier's homosexuality pretty much disappeared for the next decade or so. With any luck, Major Mapleleaf will also disappear for the next decade or so, or two, or three...


 

Here we are, 20 years later, there's two big "gay" storylines concordantly playing out from the two major publishers, and it feels like we haven't progressed at all. There are quite a few things that bug me about Marvel and DC's choices, but before I keep you here all day reminiscing about my flirtations with purple hazed comic stores, let me try and lay out the major grievances:

Marvel's same-sex marriage event is feeling more and more like a publicity stunt. Of course it does, there's gold in them homosexual hills! Get ABC's The View to announce Northstar's proposal to his boyfriend Kyle (Astonishing X-Men #50), then plaster the comic world with "Save the Dates" for the June wedding (Astonishing X-Men #51). Am I even remotely shocked that Marvel has tried to turn this hot button topic into the event of the year? Hell no, but they shouldn't be so quick to pat themselves on the back. It's taken them twenty years to do something that, at this point, should be commonplace. Don't get me wrong, if you are gay, and this event is making you the happiest camper this summer has ever seen, then I couldn't be more happy for you. If you frame the two page spread of Jean-Paul and Kyle tying the knot on your living room wall, I truly hope it brings you everlasting joy.  But step back for a moment and think about how it would feel to turn the page of your favorite comic and see that same two page spread without any of the hype and publicity. Imagine if it was presented the same as Magneto being at odds with Professor X, or Wolverine calling someone "'Bub". Now that would be an accomplishment.

 


 

 

DC's "event" is even worse. "We've re-launched our entire universe... Given you all new stories... Given new twists on your beloved characters... and now... One of them is GAY! Be sure to buy up all the New 52 books to find out who it is, and how this will shake the New 52 to it's very core!!!" The bloggers and journalists are no better- "Read our 'Top 10 DC characters that could be gay'! It might just be your favorite character! What will it mean? How will this change them?" Newsflash- It doesn't mean, or change, anything. If Catman ends up being gay he's still Catman. You don't have to ponder for hours over how this will alter the character. I can assure you he will still have a dumb name and a dumb costume, only now he prefers men. If this is not the case, and the character's homosexuality is some cosmic-level event, then the DC writers are simply doing it wrong. This is all even more puzzling as DC has had an openly gay character for years- Kate Kane (AKA Batwoman), and it didn't require any kind of event, or special treatment, or even a tussle with Major Mapleleaf.


The last thing I want to address is some of the outrage surrounding these events. I've read and heard some comments that leave me rather stunned. I know I've already started to stir the pot, and I also know that people's opinions are formed by such a wide array of things that I can't even begin to truly understand. I know I'm not going to change your mind with this column, nor is it my motive for writing it. Personal experiences, beliefs and encounters with Major Mapleleaf are far more profound than a few paragraphs about comics. However, allow me this- Being a geek wasn't cool until very recently. If you're over the age of 20, and read comics, you know what it's like to be the uncool. The thing you loved the most, the thing that gave you the most joy, was deemed an unacceptable pursuit by most of those around you. At best you were laughed at, at worst you were ridiculed, maybe even outcast. I know I was. I had the plague-like combination of comic books, video games and cult films to keep me firmly at arm's length. Do I think the plight of a geek even compares to the daily life of a minority or someone with a different sexual orientation? Of course not, but at the very least it taught me empathy. It's a pact I think us geeks have always had, and always should have, with the rest of society, and it blows my mind when I see someone like me act so intolerant. Seriously, have you not paid attention to the past 50 years of X-men comics?


For those of you wondering what happened with my brief comic store infidelity- I eventually got back together with my one true love. His tables of longboxes as far as the eye can see, and understanding of my tastes as a customer won me back. It's true love, and after twenty years of issues, we may even get married.


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Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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DarthoftheDead 5/30/2012 9:33:44 AM

*said in a bored lispy voice*   "Jesus....Jesus Christ"

Wiseguy 5/30/2012 9:47:26 AM

Marvel seems to be the one always breaking new ground.

I do wonder how if it all this will affect sales. Some folk are really entrenched in their views and may boycott or even worse ban their kids from reding their stuff.

And I wouldn't call a gay wedding common-place just yet.

The one point where I'd agree is that it would've been nicer if they snuck that on us. The comic would still sell and if popular the 2nd, 3rd and 4th prints would've been in huge demand as well, sort of like that Obama cover Spidey a couple years back. And the publicity would have been even bigger IMO with all the outlets vying for time with the EIC and all reporting it. Instead of this slow burn since the news has been out a while

jedibanner 5/30/2012 10:41:14 AM

I think though Marvel did try to ''sneak the wedding'' under us but in this day and age, the preview magazine and blogs and spoilers are so hard to keep, even if they really wanted to it would've been hard to not leak this.

I salute Marvel for doing this but it's true the idea to make it a huge event seems rather misplaced. Treat it like a normal thing and then it makes it a more poignat read and circomstance (I do believe it is normal so if you hate gays and lesbians...maybe this isn't for you)

As far as DC goes...even if they make Batman gay (he is rarelly with womens...hint hint wink wink), they should've done this in the new beginning of 52, not halfway through. It just seems more planned to say, ''hey, look here, we are making something cool''.

I will admit I am surprised to see Marvel do this when it's owned by Disney...I always though this type of thing would've never pass under disney and the suits over there. I'm sure there must've been a few meetings on that one. Congratulation Disney for not interfering on this.

It's nice to see evolution of human kind now in books also...one day...one day.

CaptAmerica04 5/30/2012 10:42:03 AM

Considering the fact that the Supreme Court is expected to publish by the end of June its decision on the case against California's anti-gay marriage act ("Prop 8"), this is SO heavy handed in its timing, I feel like Superman just decided to lean on me. Hard.

Whatever.  The current comics publishers are SO focused on the dollar signs and publicity that might bring them dollar signs, good storytelling is taking another hiatus like it did in the 90s.  The art has again gone to shit, like it did in the 90s, too.  Dan Didio and whoever his counterpart at Marvel is, are sucking the life, the spirit, and the true joy out of comics.  They're like the nerdy kid at the end of an 80s movie who got the girl... after the film they turn into just another bullying douche bag now that they're on the inside of the "in-crowd."  I'm one more bad issue away from stopping my collecting for another 10 years.

I definitely plan on going to ComiCon next summer... I want my kids to experience the geek buffet that occurs just a couple hours south of us every summer.  But while I'm there, I may seek out one of the Marvel or DC forums with some big honchos... and chew their asses out.  I think that just once they need to hear outloud that they are F%^&*'n up the entire train ride for all of the rest of us.  Again.

DarthoftheDead 5/30/2012 10:58:23 AM

@CaptAmerica04 - I couldnt agree with your 2nd paragraph more!!!

Thats why I stopped collecting comics a long time ago, I just was'nt getting enough bang for my bucks, lol.

karas1 5/30/2012 11:00:24 AM

Weddings are always an event.  Season finales and sweep month stunts and very special double sized issues in annuals and issue 100s and stuff.  That this particurlar wedding is a gay wedding is only and added extra.

monkeyfoot 5/30/2012 11:14:48 AM

I see no problem with the hype or publicity Marvel and DC are getting -and asking for- in their gay events. It is a business and comic book sales aren't always that great. Even though I haven't really collected comics for years I understand the need for the various events in the medium. Whether its a Civil War or Skrull war or death or rebirth or wedding its all part of the business of show.

As long as it doesn't mess up or interfere with the show - the artistic creation and writing that makes for great storytelling - I don't mind. I doubt anybody hear got upset with the commercials, trailers, talk show appearances, web ads, and news artcles hyping The Avengers movie. 

spiderhero 5/30/2012 11:18:34 AM

The companies can print whatever they want, it's their prerogative. As with any comic that contains content I do not wish to see or read about, I will not buy it. That's my prerogative.

My money is on Cyborg being gay. DC can get triple bang for their buck that way as he would be a triple minority: Black, gay & a cyborg.

FerretJohn 5/30/2012 11:26:23 AM

spider, my bet is on Batman.  There always have been those rumors about him and Robin  :o)

joelr 5/30/2012 11:44:18 AM

Ha! Many of your comments made me realize I forgot to make one of my main points- The one thing that really matters is telling good stories. Whether gay, straight, black, blue or orange- we just want good stories with thoughful art that has it's own style.

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