Welcome to the two-hundred and thirteenth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and twelve.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com.
This week’s legends are dedicated to commenter Shelly. I hope you enjoy ’em, Shelly!
COMIC LEGEND: DC Comics had a customer survey in 1970 that inquired how interested its readers were in reading about black people.
Well, reader Andrew Collins hit me up with a look at how rather bizarrely DC Comics was treating the issue of race in their comics in 1970.
In Justice League of America #83 (and I’m sure other issues from that month, as well), DC included a customer survey. A customer survey, I might add, is a really smart idea, as DC did not exactly have much in the way of a market research department.
However, it was what’s ON the survey that is so striking.
Here is the survey (click on it to enlarge – thanks to Rachelle from Living Between Wednesdays for the scan!)…
There it is, in the “How Interested Are You” section…
Isn’t that amazing?
“Hey, kids, what are you interested in reading about? Space flights, pollution, black people? We want to know!”
Thankfully, that was nearly 40 years ago, so now that we’re in the 21st Century, comic companies surely won’t let audience reaction to the inclusion of minorities have any influence on them….
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel has a policy where any comics starring gay characters has to be “adults only.”
STATUS: False Now, and Perhaps Always False
So the “controversy” began when Marvel came out with a mini-series in 2003 starring the old Marvel Western character, the Rawhide Kid.
Only now, the Rawhide Kid was going to be flamboyantly gay.
Stan Lee even went on CNN’s Crossfire to talk about the topic.
The topic was more or less done when, in 2006, Marvel did a “Marvel Western” mini-event, with a number of one-shots featuring their Western heroes.
In his reader Q&A column at Newsarama in February of 2006, Marvel Editor-in-Chief was asked if Rawhide Kid was going to be involved in the event.
Quesada said no, explaining:
Well, understand that if we were to go with the gay Kid we would have had to label the books MAX and that’s not what we wanted for this event. So, for the commercial betterment of this mini Western event, we felt it was best to keep it out of the MAX world for now. Granted we could have gone back to the traditional version of Rawhide, but with so many other characters to choose from, there seemed to be no need… I don’t think Rawhide is “radioactive” though I like the term because it does describe properly the incubation period some characters need away from the spotlight in order for fans to be in a desirable mood for them.
This, naturally, led to a collective response of “Wait, so you’re saying that books featuring gay characters are automatically rated MAX, which basically means NC-17?”
Quesada said that no, it’s only if the book is ABOUT the sexuality of the character that it would be rated MAX.
That still did not exactly go over well, and things were worse in August of 06 when Quesada stated that no ongoing titles starring a gay character would ship without a MAX or “explicit content” label. Quesada at the time stated that he hated the idea, but it was a decision made over his head. And really, when we live in a world where, as I noted in a bit the other day, Where’s Waldo? is on the Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 because of an almost microscopic amount of nudity in one of the scenes, I suppose I could see how Marvel would think that they would get trouble over this content – doesn’t make it right to try to hide it, but I can see how they would think it would result in trouble.
Two weeks later, though, Quesada revealed that said policy was gone now, stating that the controversy over his earlier statements had:
given us the opportunity to spark some internal discussions and revisit this issue, especially in light of the fact that we have characters like Freedom Ring, who is the current star of Marvel Team Up without much fanfare mind you, and that we’ve had more gay and lesbian characters appearing in Marvel comics than ever before. In many ways, the old policy over the last few years has just sort of faded away, so let me just say that there is no longer any policy.
Which was good, but it was weird because basically, in the time between Rawhide Kid and August 2006, Marvel had come out with a book called Young Avengers that featured a gay couple (the comic even won an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)!! And that book had only Marvel’s equivalent to PG on it!
So if Marvel had a policy, it wasn’t a particularly strong one.
About a month later, Marvel corporate issued a statement from a PR guy stating that Quesada was mistaken about there ever being a policy about warning labels for books starring gay characters.
PR guy Jeff Klein said:
The best way to find this out is to go to the comic book store, and you will not see a warning label on any title with gay characters. On the record, Marvel never had warning labels on comic books with gay characters, and we never will.
Since then, Marvel’s had a number of gay characters in non-MAX books, so Klein and Quesada are right about that.
But I can’t tell, really, what the deal was in the time between Rawhide Kid and August of 2006 – it doesn’t really SEEM like there was any policy, but there might have been an unofficial one and Young Avengers just slipped through the cracks or something like that.
Anyhow, it’s great to see Marvel have gay heroes like Freedom Ring still aroun…oh, wait, never mind.
We’ll always have Wiccan and Hulkling, though!
Thanks to Andy Mangels for his excellent timeline on the topic.
COMIC LEGEND: Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum had a character switch genders in the Legion of Super-Heroes to have a character they felt was gay be with a man.
Ever since 1964’s Adventure Comics #326 (written by Jerry Siegel) had Element Lad say he was “out of his element” when it comes to girls, fans have speculated that Element Lad was gay.
The idea was picked up and developed by fans of the Legion, and it became a common topic for discussion at the Legion fan magazine, Interlac (which began life as LEAPA, LEgion Amateur Press Association).
In the second issue of the fanzine, there was a piece of fan fiction involving Element Lad’s homosexuality, and in the third issue, longtime Legion writer Jim Shooter gave his thoughts about different members of the Legion and for Element Lad, Shooter mentioned that he had always assumed that he was gay, partially for the aforementioned line from Adventure Comics #326, partially because he did not seem all that interested in repopulating his race (Element Lad was the lone survivor of a planet) and yes, partially because of the outfit Dave Cockrum gave him, where he had a giant arrow on his chest….
However, later writer Paul Levitz introduced a female love interest for Element Lad, the Science Officer Shvaughn Erin.
Well, Keith Giffen and longtime Interlac members Tom and Mary Bierbaum (who became the scripters for Giffen on Giffen’s “Five Years Later” Legion of Super-Heroes) did not agree with that idea, and in 1992’s Legion of Super-Heroes #32, they revealed that Shvaughn Erin was actually SEAN Erin, and he had taken a drug that changes you into a woman, as he was under the impression that Element Lad was heterosexual.
Element Lad pretty plainly said that such a ruse was an unnecessary one…
So, through a pretty convoluted plot, the end result that Legion fans had been expecting for decades was finally the case!
Of course, soon after, Zero Hour wiped this Legion (which also had the lesbian relationship of Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet) off the map, and later incarnations of these characters have been a lot different.
But now that the Levitz-era Legion has more or less returned, maybe we shall see a re-visiting of Element Lad’s sexuality!
Thanks to Matthew Peterson at Major Spoilers for saving me a LOT of legwork with the scans he has of Element Lad’s history.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Happy Pride Week, everyone!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you next week!