Monday, November 27, 2006


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Various gay comics bloggers have been noticing over the past few years that Marvel's policy towards gay characters is... decidedly mixed. Marvel's first openly gay character, Northstar, got skewered, resurrected, and turned evil. After the Rawhide Kid "scandal" (read: Andrea Lafferty proved mildly more cogent than Stan Lee on one episode of Crossfire), an editorial dictum was handed down saying that Marvel wouldn't give gay characters solo titles unless they were part of the mature-oriented "MAX" imprint. When the ruling is disposed of a few months back, editor Joe Quesada draws attention to Freedom Ring, a new gay character who made his debut in the pages of Marvel Team-Up... and who meets a gory, subtext-laden death in the very next issue, which Quesada should have known by the time he made that statement.

So, Quesada has finally been interviewed by the Gay League about the treatment of gay and lesbian characters in Marvel Comics. Let's see what he has to say for himself:

AE: Is Rawhide Kid in or out?

JQ: Out.

AE: Do you think the Kid's Marvel Handbook entry could have been written differently to reconcile both pre and post-homosexual "Slap Leather" aspects of his history?

JQ: Check out my weekly Joe Fridays column as I went into detail about this.

All right. So far, so good. Quesada realizes that he screwed up, and admits that he's setting things straight. I've still got complaints about how the original Rawhide Kid mini was handled ("Oh, he's fashionable! That's how you know he's gay!"), but that's another thing for another day.

AE: Some gay fans, bloggers, and commentators are expressing concern over the treatment (ie: torture, death, and maiming) of some of Marvel's LGBT characters. (The list of characters includes Northstar, Freedom Ring, Jarvis from the Ultimates, Wiccan, Hulkling, Xavin, and Karolina Dean). Can you understand how these events taken together can be interpreted negatively?

JQ: Freedom Ring is Robert Kirkman's creation and he had the story arc planned from the very beginning. When Robert told us he was creating a gay lead for Marvel Team-Up all we said was, "sounds like it'll make for a good story, have fun." When he then told us that unfortunately part of Freedom Ring's story arc was that he was going to die in the end, all we said was, "sounds like it'll make for a good story, have fun."

And this is where things start to fall apart. Quesada basically just admitted that he pays absolutely no attention to what his writers are doing (which would go to explain Civil War... but many other comics bloggers have bitched about that better than I have*). It's also extremely suspect, seeing as Quesada knew Freedom Ring would be gay, knew Freedom Ring was going to die, and still showed him off as an example of exclusivity in Marvel Comics. You'd think someone would have told him that was a horrible, horrible idea.

With respect to Northstar, it is a simple comic book cliché, characters are good guys and gals and sometimes they go bad only to become good again, hey, sometimes the villains become good guys too. Comic's history is littered with stories like this and all we're trying to do is something cool with Northstar who, as a character, had been out of the limelight for some time.

You mean a character who, despite having a somewhat interesting backstory, wasn't touched at all once he came out of the closet? A character whose sole character trait, according to most writers, was his homosexuality (and occasionally, his Canadian-ness)? A character who, despite all that, was still Marvel's first gay character? A character who didn't even get to make a noble sacrifice (more on that later), but got treated as cannon fodder to show how "bad" Wolverine was when he was brainwashed by HYDRA? A character who then manages to get killed off in two comic books released during the same week, released just a few months after his death in the mainstream Marvel Universe?

As for the Young Avengers, while in fact three characters are captured at the end of this issue and they happen to be gay, another character was killed and yet another dismembered, which strikes me as a far worse fate than being captured by the bad guy. To be honest, no one, even the writer, noticed that the three characters captured were the "gay" characters until a reader pointed it out to us, because that's simply not how we think. I guess what is striking me as weird is that what we should be looking at (and somehow missing) is that this is a comic book that features three gay lead characters. Also, and by virtue of that, the odds of something happening to those gay characters goes up exponentially as we do have to put our heroes in peril in order to have a story. So, while we honestly don't look at our characters in any way other than what's going to make for a thrilling, touching story, it seems that some small portion of the outside world still looks at our books and characters and wants to segregate them.

For the curious, this was the image. The in-comic explanation for the capture and torture is that the characters brought together are all aliens, and thus have no rights as part of some weird Marvel Universe law... despite the fact that Wiccan**, one of the gay characters, is not an alien. Technically, he could be considered the son of an extradimensional entity, but then again, so's his (straight) brother, so why isn't he strung up?

And here, ultimately, is where Joe Quesada and the entire gay comics (and likely some of the feminist comics) blogosphere differ:

Let me put this out there using myself as an example. As someone of Hispanic ethnicity, I've always felt that there should be more Hispanic characters in comics, especially with the booming Hispanic population here in America.

Now, by hoping for that I'm asking for everything that comes with that hope. Super hero characters, Marvel characters, by their very definition, have a lot of crap that gets dumped on them only to hopefully someday triumph over all of it. They have to be put through their paces, especially at Marvel where our characters all have feet of clay. And yes, sometimes they die, sometimes they're hurt and sometimes they¹re villains. So, for me to desire inclusion but then to hope that my inclusion is treated differently than everyone else's is then asking for the kind of segregation that I'm fighting against.

We don't preach hatred or ignorance at Marvel, we never have. Our mandate has always been very simple, we tell the stories of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances and yes, most times they triumph, but sometimes even the villain has his day. So, as more and more gay characters enter the Marvel Universe, what I can assure you is that more and more stuff will happen to them as it does to all of our characters and isn't that what we all want in then end? If so, how will you intend to change this?

So, Joe's basically arguing that all gay heroes, like all Marvel heroes, get the chance to take arms against a sea of troubles and, even if they die, make a heroic sacrifice. All right, then, Joe. Show me.

Therein lies the problem, with both gay characters and, if Women in Refrigerators indicates anything, some female characters, in comicdom. Whenever a gay comics blogger or a feminist comics blogger raises their hackles, someone inevitably says, "Well, what do you want, plot immunity?" We don't want plot immunity, we want plot equality.

Barry Allen, the original Flash, gave his life to stop the universe from being destroyed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Superboy, Kon-El, gave his life to do the same thing in last year's Infinite Crisis. Superman gave his life to stop Doomsday, an unstoppable weapon (and then he got better). Jean Grey, one of the few truly heroic sacrifices among female comics characters, killed herself the first time she died because she knew she couldn't control the Phoenix, and died the second time trying to stop Magneto.

Compare and contrast. Northstar gets impaled and killed because, despite the fact that he has super speed, he can't dart out of the way when he sees Wolverine's claws go through an intangible Kitty Pryde. Freedom Ring gets horribly, horribly mutilated because he accidentally spills his secret to the villain. Sue Dibny picks up the phone and gets an aneurysm, then charbroiled, for her troubles. Gwen Stacy snaps her neck when Peter Parker tries to save her. Black Canary gets tortured, possibly raped, and loses her supersonic screech.

Ultimately, the problem is not that Joe Quesada is a horrible bigot-- hell, he seems like an okay guy-- but the problem is that he sees no problem. He doesn't see the homophobic subtext, he doesn't put two and two together when the writers tell him what they're going to do, and he doesn't understand that it's all well and good talking about gay equality in comics when gay characters aren't exactly equal in his comics.

It's good that we're actually there. But until a gay character makes a noble, willing, world-saving sacrifice that gets people talking like Barry Allen's did, then we'll talk about equality.

*Well, I'd just like to say that apparently, Tony Stark is such a Machiavellian genius that, the first time he met the Avengers, he thought he'd take a hair from Thor, the God of Thunder, if the event that he would need to clone him. But, I believe we all know that Mark Millar licks goats.

**Yes, he's actually named "Wiccan." Yes, I know it's like naming The Spectre "Christian." He's still a pretty good character, dumb name aside.

Reading this makes me angry, because the Quesada/Jemas regime at Marvel had so much promise at one time (they handed over one of their cash cow franchises to Grant Morrison, for God's sake). Now things really don't seem that much better than they were under Shooter's homophobic watch; Mystique and Destiny, despite being fully in the closet, were used in more interesting and dynamic ways than most of the LGBT characters existing under Quesada.
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