GLAAD's Unsung Heroes of 2012

Earlier this week, GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, announced its nominees for the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards, and along with categories for film, television, music and theater is one for comics: "Outstanding Comic Book." Step into any comic book shop and ask the first sweater-wearing, bespectacled dude you bump into which books would be nominated for depicting "outstanding images" of the LGBT community, and that dude would be able to rattle off these nominees Quicksilver-fast.

  • "Avengers: The Children's Crusade," by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung (Marvel Comics)
  • "Batwoman," by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman (DC Comics)
  • "Secret Six," by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore (DC Comics)
  • "Veronica Presents: Kevin Keller," by Dan Parent (Archie Comics)
  • "X-Factor," by Peter David, Emanuela Lupacchino, Valentine De Landro and others (Marvel Comics)

There are no surprises here and also nothing to be grouchy about, but here I am, writing an article anyway. Both "X-Factor" and "Avengers: The Children's Crusade" count a gay couple amidst both of their rosters. Both books also have a combined cast that makes the Polyphonic Spree look like the White Stripes (I stopped listening to music in 2004), so none of those gay characters really get a chance to shine. But you know what, that's a-okay. If we're at a place where The Gay Character on a team can go plenty of issues without having a Special Issue or being defined by their unattainable same-sex crush, then that's a good place to be (also, apologies to Northstar for being put through nothing but those stories for over a decade).

Gail Simone should be nominated based on her internet presence alone, never mind that the characters in "Secret Six" seemed to comprise every aspect of the sexuality spectrum. Simone's been a constant cheerleader for equal rights not only for the LGBT community, but every minority. She's opinionated and doesn't back down from an argument (even on Tumblr, where discussions are nigh impossible), but she's a creator that I trust implicitly with depicting my sexual orientation honestly to a mass audience.

The two remaining nomination slots went to the only two series on the stands that have an LGBT lead. Both are also shining examples of companies sticking to their new characters despite unwarranted controversy (you're on the wrong side of history, Fox News). Neither Batwoman nor Kevin Keller existed six years ago; now, it's hard to imagine a Bat-mythos without Kate Kane's bad-assery, and the once-forgotten Archie Comics is almost single-handedly pulling the comic industry into modern times with their unflinchingly positive portrayal of gay issues.

So yes, all of these comics deserve to be nominated. I also have a hard time pegging who should win, although my money would be on "Batwoman" or "Kevin Keller" (not real money though, I have comics to buy!). But on the other hand, there's been some phenomenal work done in the LGBT area in 2011 that was overlooked by GLAAD, and I doubt we'll be seeing the Eisners award that progression. The GLAAD Awards are where those books can be honored, and I'm bummed they weren't. What books am I talking about? Well, I previously wrote about three of them. Of those three, I don't think "Teen Titans" or "Avengers Academy," despite their genuinely well-rounded portrayals of gay teens, have put out enough work to justify an award (yet). But "iZombie" is another story entirely.

"iZombie" is a consistently solid read with a quirky premise and Mike Allred art that is slowly pulling its disparate plot threads into a taut rope. One of those threads involves Spot, a were-terrier (because of course he is), realizing and slowly acting on his attraction to his openly gay friend Gavin. I related to readers in my previous article why this storyline feels ripped from my own headlines, "Law & Order" style. Whereas "X-Factor" and "Avengers: The Children's Crusade" have strong gay characters in the cast, they are both not being tokenized and not getting meaty subplots. Writer Chris Roberson has managed to tell Spot's story realistically without feeling Northstar-y (new verb, adopt it).

The other two unsung heroes of the GLAAD Awards are two that I have yet to see praised, most likely for the very reason I'm praising them. If GLAAD has an award for "Outstanding Individual Episode (in a series without a regular LGBT character)," then it should have one for "Outstanding Single Issue (in a series without a regular LGBT character). And in 2011 that award would go to Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera's "Daredevil" #2.

"What?" you ask. "Why that issue?" "Hasn't CBR given 'Daredevil' enough awards?"

To that last question I reply with a resounding "NO," because there are not enough awards in the world to give to the genius-ness of that series. Why that issue? Because Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera cast a gay man and his boyfriend in a minor part normally reserved for a straight couple! It was as if gay people actually, you know, exist in this world! It's like, if ten percent of the population is gay, then one in ten people harassed by super-beings should be gay too! In the issue, Daredevil gets information from a litigator who has been pressured into not taking a case, who just so happens to be on a date with his boyfriend when DD appears. I read that scene and, after I was done marveling at Rivera's stunning portrayal of Manhattan's new High Line Park, I was absolutely floored. This was the first time that I could recall seeing a gay character in a supporting role without him being expected to recur and without him being the focus of the story. This one detail felt incredibly real to me, a subtle acknowledgement of the wider society we now live in. Gay people are everywhere. They do every job, especially in New York City. Waid could have easily made this couple straight, or made the character single, but he did something incredibly profound instead. Gay people have been heroes and villains, now we can be lawyers in a fleeting role as well. We don't have to be the story, we can finally be in the story.

While it was released on the day of the announcements, I feel "Amazing Spider-Man" #678 deserves recognition similar to that of "Daredevil." In it, writer Dan Slott outed Peter Parker's boss Max Modell in the exact way every outing should be handled. Not in a press release, not in a last page cliffhanger, not after years of tongue-in-cheek hints. Peter simply asked Max where he got his watch and Max replied, "My partner Hector gave it to me. Early birthday present." Done! Simple! This is how people "out" themselves every day, by being comfortable with who they are and not letting it be an issue. I applaud Dan Slott for depicting Max Modell's sexuality with the exact amount of fanfare it deserves.

The comics GLAAD chose to nominate prove that 2011 was a notable year for the LGBT community in mainstream comics. With comics like "Teen Titans," "Avengers Academy" and "iZombie" showcasing LGBT issues adroitly and writers like Dan Slott and Mark Waid placing LGBT characters in new roles, next year's GLAAD Awards should be pretty crowded. And that's something to be glad about (I went the whole article without that pun, don't hate me).

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