Comics have been getting pretty gay lately.
I mean actually gay, as in filled with characters whose sexual orientation is of the LGBTQA persuasion. (sidenote: if you use still use “gay” to mean “lame,” congrats on having a flippant attitude towards hate speech!) Since I provided a general assessment of LGBTQA (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and asexual for those who love decoding acronyms) superheroes two and a half months ago, three comics have come out (pun not initially, but now definitely, intended) that have added new levels to the discussion.
The character that spurred the initial post, the out-and-proud Bunker, debuted in the pages of “Teen Titans” #3. My initial trepidation over the lavender-hued hero stemmed mostly from how inseparable his sexual orientation was from his everything. I worried that his character would be defined by being well-coifed, fabulously dressed and just gay gay gay! Great characters have multiple dimensions, just like real people. And just like all the real gay men I know (and also like the real gay man I am), I desperately hoped that Bunker would be a hero first and a gay poster-boy second. “Teen Titans” #3 provided me with an answer.
In Bunker, creators Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth have introduced a character whose appearance looks unlike any other character in comics while also looking like men I see on a daily basis here in New York City. He’s confident and charming with a completely positive outlook on life despite a less-than-stellar background. He’s also a superhero fanboy, which means a wide range of fans can relate to him thanks to a personality trait that has nothing to do with his sexuality. Proving to heterosexual comic book fans that they can relate to a homosexual character based on his personality and interests without his sexual orientation being a factor? That’s progress. What surprised and pleased me the most is that his homosexuality is not even brought up in the issue. Bunker’s debut is not presented as a polarizing political point. He is treated the way all new characters are treated: the young hero gets into a misguided fight with a main character and then joins the good guys! I hope his time on the Titans continues to put a fully-formed character ahead of a tired political statement, because presenting a gay character whose sexual orientation is placed under the same non-scrutiny as his straight peers’ is the real political statement.
I remarked in my previous article about the lack of depictions of the coming out process and bisexual heroes, and “Avengers Academy” #23 delivered on both counts. Christos Gage wrote a scene between the newly out Striker and bisexual Julie Power where they actually — talked about their experiences and related to each other like human beings. They talk like people talk! Gage put words in Julie Power’s mouth I had only ever heard spoken by my bisexual friends during confessional bar discussions. Julie Power asking, “Can’t you just like someone without it being a political statement?” is the most accurate summation of LGBTQA rights I’ve ever read in a superhero comic. Like Bunker in his first appearance, neither Striker nor Julie Power is defined by their sexual orientation. They’re multi-faceted characters bonding over and discussing a shared experience, just like real people! They really talk like people talk! With Striker, who has 22 previous issues as a ladies man behind him, Gage is able to depict his self-acceptance as it happens. If I had read this issue of “Avengers Academy” when I was still in high school, it would have probably helped with my own self-realization and spared my entire group of friends the awkwardness that was my high school girlfriend (we held hands!).
Since I didn’t have the sexuality-affirming, positive examples of Bunker and “Avengers Academy” in my life as a young teenager, my own coming out didn’t happen until the end of college. The hopeless crushes I racked up on unattainable Manic Pixie Dream Girls all came to a halt when a guy I really connected with told me he was gay. We then started dating without either of us really knowing it. So now, as a fully out gay man in a long-term relationship, I am shocked to see my own coming out process in the pages of “iZombie.” Creators Chris Roberson and Mike Allred have created a delightfully campy, horror romp with a sharp mythology and an expertly paced sense of dread undercutting the art’s bright palette. Spot, a were-terrier (see how much fun this book is?), went on his first date with another guy in last month’s issue #19. He’s spent the previous issues fawning over Ellie, the mod ghost, and has previously identified as heterosexual. Spot’s dude-ly appearance and later-than-most realization lines up with my own experience perfectly. Much like Spot, I even got the same knee-jerk, next-day-diss from the object of my affection (except my guy wasn’t possessed by an evil-doing specter disguised as a fictional hero, but he did look a lot like Patton Oswalt).
These three characters are providing the comic book community with insight into the lives of their friends, family and a sizeable chunk of comic book readership. Bunker appears to be stereotypically gay, but has a well-crafted, unique personality. Julie Power affirms that bisexuality is a real sexual orientation in its own right and not just a step towards homosexuality. Spot shows that individuals can realize a fundamental truth about themselves later in life, and that that realization is not just a phase. As 2011 comes to a close, this last month has given me hope that the medium I love more than Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits is subtly positioning itself to be on the winning side of the fight for equality, thanks to these nuanced portrayals. Heroes are heroes, no matter who they love.