Last time on IN YOUR FACE JAM, I conducted my third annual “Who Is Marvel’s Wonder Woman?” stats-fest designed to measure the strides made by the publisher’s female superheroes — and oh, the strides they’ve made! Just since 2013, Marvel has nearly tripled the amount of monthly series with female leads. Additionally in the past year “Agent Carter” became the first woman to headline a major Marvel Studios project, a “Captain Marvel” feature film was announced, and Marvel published just over 70 comics with a female hero’s name on the cover. There’s still a long way to go; “Captain Marvel” actually has to hit theaters and, yes, Marvel needs to keep greenlighting shows and movies with women in charge both in front of and behind the camera and, yes, there needs to be more merchandise featuring Black Widow — but I’m cautiously optimistic.
So while I don’t want to make this sound like a competition for “who has the worst representation,” AKA the saddest competition ever, I want to apply this train of thought — on a smaller scale — to another underrepresented group. Comparing comics released this month in 2013 to those released in 2015, Marvel has gone from having zero comics with a queer lead to one (“Loki: Agent of Asgard”). Marvel is publishing 36 solo series in March 2015, only one of which stars someone that is not a straight, cisgender person.
DC fares a little better; they had the recently canceled “Batwoman” for over three years and writer Genevieve Valentine just made Catwoman canonically bisexual. The also bisexual John Constantine has his own ongoing series and will still have a new one post-“Convergence.” DC publishes far fewer ongoings — 22 this month, by my count — and seems to keep their number of gay and/or bi leads at around three; “Batwoman” has ended and “Midnighter” is on its way.
So… what’s the deal, Marvel? I would try to work up a “Who Is Marvel’s Batwoman?” stats-a-palooza, but we’ve just learned that Batwoman isn’t a mainstay of DC Comics, not in the way that Wonder Woman is. Everything starts with the comics, and that’s why Marvel’s lack of multiple, diverse LGBT leads is a continued head scratcher for me. Over the past five years, the company has given us over a dozen female-lead series, series with minority leads (“Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man,” “All-New Ghost Rider,” “Storm,” “Deathlok”), a series with a Muslim lead (“Ms. Marvel,” who is also a woman of color) and, yes, “Loki: Agent of Asgard,” a book that portrays Loki as both genderfluid and bisexual. After seeing the incredible success of “Ms. Marvel,” I honestly don’t think Marvel is afraid of publishing anything — be it books with unconventional artists or lead characters, or series with heroes that have never held down a series or been perennially overlooked, or comics written by people that have very little in common with the Stan Lee-model people picture when they hear the phrase “comic book writer.” Marvel has been fearless when it comes to their lineup.
Where Marvel has — I assume inadvertently — shied away from giving series to queer leads, they’ve historically been a-okay with putting them in team books. Karolina Dean’s self discovery in “Runaways” back in the early ’00s was the first time I ever read LGBT content in a comic book. Peter David’s “X-Factor” had an actual gay couple — Shatterstar and Rictor — on the team for years. Marjorie Liu’s “Astonishing X-Men” had both Karma and Northstar in its cast and featured Northstar’s highly publicized wedding to his partner Kyle. Marvel also published Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s “Young Avengers,” a book starring a nearly 100% queer — and openly so — cast. Just this year, bisexual writer James Tynion IV wrote a fantastic issue of “Amazing X-Men” dealing with teen mutant Anole’s struggle with dating — because of his mutation, not his homosexuality. This isn’t subject matter that I’m accusing Marvel of being afraid of. Heck, Mystique, Daken and Hercules have all had ongoing series at one point — even if some of those series didn’t necessarily address the leads’ bisexuality head-on. I’m actually just admitting my surprise that Marvel isn’t doing more.
This also concerns me because team books, which used to be where you’d find these characters, have become predominantly straight over the last year. Mystique and Daken are in “Wolverines” and Brian Bendis introduced Benjamin Deeds in “All-New X-Men,” but characters like Miss America, Karma, Prodigy, Shatterstar, Rictor, Hercules, Wiccan, Hulkling, Karolina Dean, Xavin, Striker and others have all disappeared from ensembles. Visibility for Marvel’s LGBT heroes seems to be at a low point — especially the T part of that letter cluster, as Marvel has yet to introduce a transgender hero.
I know that detractors, of which I am sure there are more than a few lurking in the internet’s sewers, will say that Marvel can’t publish a comic that represents every minority. I’ll counter by saying that Marvel does publish 17 solo series starring straight, cisgender white men. Detractors will also say that it sounds like I want Marvel to fill a quota, like I want them to publish one book starring every minority in every combination of minority flavors. That’s not the case either; when you’re used to not seeing yourself reflected back at you in the media you consume, you learn to adapt. I’m not a lesbian, but I — as a gay man — related to Greg Rucka’s “Detective Comics” run starring Kate Kane so much it made me cry. There are four letters in LGBT and I don’t think it’s crazy to ask for at least four ongoings focusing on characters that don’t fit into the straight cisgender mold. Even the term “LGBT” is, truthfully, limited, omits asexual and questioning and intersex people, and it’s inaccurately used as a quick placeholder term to cover an entire chunk of the population that identify in hundreds of different combinations of dozens of different gender and sexual identities. I’m not asking for Marvel to create superheroes that perfectly match and mirror the millions of unique queer people out there, it would just be kinda cool to have more than one to read about.
Back in late 2011, Marvel was left with zero female ongoings after the cancellation of “X-23” and the female-led “Ghost Rider.” Marvel rightfully saw this as a problem to correct and, a year later, began to aggressively push their female heroes to the forefront. For every female-lead series that was cancelled, Marvel seemingly launched two more. This has been a real turnaround that, back in the dark days of every-year-before-2012, I never thought we’d see. It would be great to see moves like this happen again. Marvel proudly proclaims Northstar as the first gay superhero, so give him an ongoing series with A-list talent behind it. Establish Storm as canonically bisexual and give the Ultimate Universe’s Jessica Drew a prominent place in the post-“Secret Wars” landscape. Have Hercules come back from limbo and actually show him carousing with both men and women in between brawls. Give the Hulkling and Wiccan fanbase the co-lead book they’ve been waiting ten years for! Marvel has proven over the past few years to be game for anything, now I’m just waiting for them to do anything gay.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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