"So, is there anything you want to tell us, Hercules?"
Wouldn't it be easier if you could just ask fictional characters questions instead of getting answers from the dozens of human brains that possess varying levels of authority over them? It'd make incidents like last Friday's AXEL-IN-CHARGE a lot easier to straighten out.
And yep, that last bit was a pun because I'm talking about the inferred outing and subsequent definitive closeting of Marvel Comics' Hercules, a fictional character that's been overseen by a dozens of creative voices in just his lifetime as an Avenger, Champion and all around hearty chum; when you factor in the classic Greek myths and Kevin Sorbo, the number of creative voices involved quadruples and then some.
So when Marvel's Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso definitively stated that Hercules -- the primary one we've seen in Marvel comics since 1965 -- was straight, it would have been wonderful if we could reach out to the mountainous man and ask him himself. We can't, sadly, because that's one of the drawbacks of fiction. Instead we're left with the closest comic book fans have to the truth: the truth is whatever the last guy said.
Superhero comics are art created by committee, passed from mind to mind -- appropriately in this case -- like the Olympic torch. The thing is, Herc's previous torch-bearers hinted that he's down for whatevs in the 2010 one-shot "Hercules: Fall of an Avenger." Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente wrote a scene featuring numerous female heroes talking about their trysts with Hercules. On this page is a panel wherein Northstar, Marvel's gay male lead, awkwardly zips away when his teammate Snowbird verbally nudges him to open up about his Herculean encounter. And that's it. That's what we're talking about here, one inference of bisexuality on one page in one issue from 2010.
It's understandable that Alonso wouldn't be familiar with that one page from one comic from five years ago. As a straight man, his relationship to that page and the character is drastically different from, specifically, the relationship that I have with that page and the character since I am a gay man. You could see this demonstrated on Twitter, too, after Friday's interview went live. A lot of queer comic fans were hurt by the "straight-washing" of a prominent character that had a hint at bisexuality.
Negating this hint and straightening Hercules hurts queer comic fans because we are already fighting to see scraps of our existence reflected back to us. When there's an implied instance of any type of queerness, we cling to it -- even if it's played for laughs. I get that of the thousands of pages Hercules has even been tangentially involved with, the one in question probably doesn't even rate with a lot of comic book readers; to queer readers like myself and many others, though, we remember that one page of implied representation because we're desperate for anything even remotely resembling ourselves. Herc might be bisexual? There's one mention that he might swing both ways? Update the Wikis, reblog the fanfic, bust out the fan art! We've been waiting for this and we are prepared to support the hell out of this probably queer character!
And this leads to what I wanna talk about -- my relationship with Hercules. With a midweek column, news that breaks on Fridays has usually already been thoughtfully analyzed by the time I open up Word on Wednesday. So yeah, I'm gonna get laser-focused here and hope that with specificity of experience comes universal relevance.
I never cared about Hercules. I mean, I grew up not caring about any superheroes that didn't wear an "X" symbol -- my lack of interest in Hercules makes sense. I can't even tell you what I thought about Hercules during my first 15 years of Marvel fandom; the guy never came across my radar. I became aware of him when Pak and Van Lente changed "Incredible Hulk" into "Incredible Hercules" because I was working for the comic magazine "Wizard" and my co-workers raved about it. I read chunks of that run and enjoyed it greatly, but I fell off of it at some point in-between losing that job and cutting my way through NYC's temp agency jungles.
You know when my interest in Herc perked up? When I found out he was bisexual. This would be a much better piece if I could set the scene for this discovery ("It was raining, I was heartbroken and alone -- alone except for a copy of 'Hercules: Fall of an Avenger'..."), but I don't remember it. I write about gay heroes a lot, which means I most likely discovered it by clicking around various lists of LGBT heroes on the Marvel wiki. But while I don't remember when Herc came out to me, I do remember that it flipped-turned upside down my perception of him.
I fell for bisexual Hercules. Hard.
Regular readers of this column either know or have been able to piece together that I have a type. Colin Meloy. Nick Offerman. Rich Sommer. Lately, "Orphan Black's" Kristian Bruun. I know from the life I've lived and the dating sites I used to scour that the Venn diagram overlap of "guys I find attractive" and "guys that are down with guys" is thin-ish. Honestly, knowing that Herc was probably down to clown with dudes feels way too similar to when I found out that a guy I liked was also DTC with dudes. Guys I liked were straight -- what am I to do with this newfound information-slash-opportunity?! To tie up this brief personal aside: I came out and spent seven months fumbling my way through a very complicated whatever-that-was with that guy, but I've been out for 10 years this November and am engaged to an awesome man so it gets better or something!
Similarly, comic book characters I had crushes on were always straight -- and also very few and far between. You don't get many chubby heroes or super-types without chiseled features or crime-fighters with hairy chests. Modern comics -- specifically dear god comic book movies -- have a wild aversion to chest hair. While Hercules ain't chubby, he's definitely big and broad -- a barrel-chested man's man. I enjoy that the way my cousin Matthew enjoys Todd McFarlane drawings of Mary Jane Watson. And the best thing? Hercules doesn't wear pants. As a big proponent of leg-baring costumes on men, Herc -- with that amazing beard and those legs -- is everything this gay guy wants in a queer comic icon.
That's why Hercules came in at #5 on my top ten list of hottest comic dudes. Dude can get it as far as I'm concerned.
And just like that guy my senior year of college, realizing that Herc was possibly represented by a letter in LGBT -- just like me -- was a big deal. I could potentially read a story where a character I find attractive could have a male love interest! That never happens! Yes, seriously, that has happened zero times in the 23-ish years I've been reading comics. I've seen some steamy Foggy and Matt Murdock fan art (thanks, randomness of Tumblr searches!) but that's about it. Greg Pak changed all that in "X-Treme X-Men" where he made alternate reality versions of Hercules and Wolverine a couple -- and allowed Kalman Andrasofszky to illustrate the only comic book cover in history that I personally call "hot." So yeah, not only was I looking for queer representation, I was -- on top of that -- also looking for representation of my specific type of queer. Bisexual Hercules means a lot to me.
I showed my support in the only way I know how -- I bought a Hercules action figure. I swooned my way through back issues, reading Hercules as a bisexual hero (it's not that big a stretch considering just how much flirtatious bravado the guy packs -- and also that pink tank top he wears in "Thor" #411). And yes, I do hear Nick Offerman's voice when I read Hercules' dialogue because it's my comic-book-reading experience and I can do that. I will be getting a Swimsuit Special commission of Hercules eventually to go with my Banshee, human Beast and Foggy Nelson ones -- probably from Russell Dauterman (this is my way of asking you, Russell). All of this happened because I found out Herc was hinted at being bisexual. I like his personality and a lot of his other characteristics (this demigod is still a hirsute hottie no matter his orientation), but he never would have gotten on my radar if he hadn't pinged my gaydar.
So I have all that invested in this character. If there were more queer characters, more queer lead characters, and enough queer characters to at least partially represent the incredibly diverse queer population on this planet, I might not have responded so strongly to Hercules. If Storm, Gambit, Namor, Nightwing and the dozens of other insinuated-but-never-confirmed queer characters were representing canonically, maybe this Herc kerfuffle wouldn't sting as much as it does (it would still sting, though). But those characters aren't out, and Marvel has zero queer leads in their "All-New, All-Different" lineup and very few in supporting roles. I wondered where all the LGBT heroes went back in March, and it's a question I'm still pondering today. I really hope to get an answer soon.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).