To be honest, a scene involving two comic book characters who are in a long-standing, committed relationship kissing is not interesting. The kiss getting nearly a full page devoted to it is nothing special, especially when one considers the dozens of comic covers published every year depicting the same act. It’s something that, unless shamefully gratuitous, I never think twice about while reading my stack of comics every Wednesday. That is — if the couple is straight.
Wiccan and Hulking, two teenage male characters who have been in a relationship since their 2005 debut in Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s “Young Avengers,” got the full-page smooch-stravaganza treatment in last week’s “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” #9. They’re a couple, they’re in love, they kissed. The thought that the lip lock might be newsworthy didn’t occur to me at all until I saw somewhere in the labyrinth of the internet that it was their first kiss. Marvel’s been progressive in depicting their other two prominent gay couples (Shatterstar and RIctor, Northstar and Kyle). They are affectionate when the story calls for it, and kiss each other in-between action plot points.
But Wiccan and Hulkling, perhaps due to being published infrequently, didn’t kiss until last Wednesday. I’m certain that the delay wasn’t Marvel-mandated, as evidenced by the publisher’s full support of gay characters in other books. I know it wasn’t due to the creators having bigoted heebie jeebies, as writer Allan Heinberg is himself gay and has gone above and beyond to portray gay characters with the same amount of respect as their straight teammates.
So what’s the story here? Wiccan and Hulkling finally kissed, just like other couples. The way the world should work, the way I believe it is headed, and possibly even the way younger members of the LGBT community perceive it, this kiss means nothing more than what it is: it’s a kiss. But as someone who lives in the overlapping part of the “Gay Person” and “Comic Book Fan” Venn diagram (and also as someone who loves talking about themselves), I feel a need to talk about where my brain goes when I see gay characters be affectionate.
When I see a gay couple kiss in comics, it should read the same as Clark kissing Lois. But it doesn’t, because the society we live in has made love a politically-charged issue. When I see a gay couple kiss in a superhero comic book, I wonder if it’s going to get protested. I wonder if the comic is going to get tons of hate mail. I become hyper-critical of the kiss and put way too much thought into whether or not they are characters or caricatures. I wonder if there were meetings with executives in stiff suits, discussing how big the panel should be and how advertisers would react. I wonder if anyone on the creative team felt awkward about drawing, inking, coloring or lettering a page showing a couple of dudes expressing their love for each other. My sexuality has been politicized to the point where I can’t read a kiss between two fictional characters without thinking every insane thing I just listed. And yes, I think all the things I think are insane, because Marvel and the creators have given me no reason to doubt their sincerity. But I’ve seen bigotry on television, in comic book letters pages and in my own life. Even though the comic book industry has been incredibly supportive of the LGBT community and has made great strides towards diversifying their characters, I still let the words of the people currently vying for the Republican nomination spoil what should be a celebratory, progressive moment.
I’m glad that Hulkling and Wiccan kissed. I’m glad that comic books are now regularly depicting diversity. It’s important to know that the gender of the kissers should not be news. It’s two characters kissing, and that’s awesome (as long as you think those two characters are right for each other, like Kitty Pryde and Iceman — yep, I went there). But also keep in mind that right now, in 2012, the world at large is not necessarily so accepting, and there are politicians running for president on the promise of nullifying same-sex marriages if elected. Comic books are leading the progressive charge right now and I just hope that the rest of the world can catch up. When I read my comics, I want to stop worrying about the underlying politics; I want to start being happy for the characters.