I am very much a geek. And for this diary I am looking at an evolving genre of the gay superhero. Comic books are a huge part of pop culture. The number 1 and 2 grossing movies this year are based on comics. The Avengers has made over $1.5 billion worldwide and The Dark Knight Rises is on track to bring in $1.1 billion. That influence on pop culture is part of why I happen to think that comic books, or graphic novels if you will, are a literary form that doesn't get its due.
Growing up there were two types of comic collectors: Marvel or DC. Dark Horse and Image weren't out or big names yet. I was a Marvel fan and the comic I loved more than any was the X-Men. The X-Men were all about outcasts from society for being born different. Mutation didn't care about your gender, race, creed, or class it was a genetic variable. But if you were a mutant then you were Other. Can a gay boy relate to that!
But also part of the X-Men was the Legacy virus. It looked like an incurable disease targeting mutants only. So an outcast population was hit with a devastating virus and it appears that most people didn't care. Thousands died and many thought that the mutants deserved it. More on this later.
Here are some of the characters that have had a make over recently.
Northstar - Marvel's first openly gay character and perhaps most famous. Jean-Paul Beaubier, a French Canadian, is a mutant and a former Olympic skier. When it came out that he was a mutant, he was stripped of his Olympic medal. Jean-Paul faced discrimination from fellow mutants because of his sexuality. Even among outcasts he was an outcast for some of them. But Jean-Paul was also an arrogant SOB, so don't make it out that he was a saint. I think that is what made Marvel comics compelling for many people was that the heroes had real problems.
It should be noted that once Northstar was out as a gay man, he really didn't have any storylines. Consider him like Will from Will & Grace. He was a main character that wasn't allowed to express who he was. And that was thanks to the Comics Code Authority. It was this Code that prevented many comics from exploring themes such as gay characters because without the approval of the Code the issues would not be published. The Code began to lose its grip on what could and could not be shown or written in the 1990's. It is now defunct. But part of the reason that Northstar languished as the token gay character was that he could be an action hero, but the sex part was ignored for the most part.
This is Northstar marrying his partner.
Colossus (Ultimate X-men) - Marvel launched the 'Ultimate' series of many of their titles to reboot for new fans. I thoroughly enjoyed Ultimate X-Men, Fantastic Four, and the Ultimates (Avengers reboot). Colossus (Peter Rasputin) in the 'normal' universe was straight and had an on again/off again love affair with Kitty Pryde. He was a Russian farmboy who was an artist at heart. In the Ultimate universe, when he was recruited for the X-Men, he was working as an enforcer for the Russian Mob.
As the storyline unfolded, Colossus had a crush on Wolverine. They openly hinted at it. He was teased a bit about it from Storm and Jean Grey. But he didn't come out all at once. He actually left the team for a bit because he was having a difficult time with his feelings. Eventually, he did come out and actually went out on a date with Ultimate Northstar. What I enjoyed most was one of Marvel's strongest, most powerful tanks, was now also a gay man struggling with coming to terms with his feelings.
Mystique - The shape-shifting lesbian villain or anti-hero, Mystique is a femme fatale. She has had a very long running relationship with Destiny. She is an assassin and highly intelligent. She is loyal to Magneto and to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She wants to liberate mutants from the tyranny of humans. So on one hand she's a freedom fighter and on another, she's a terrorist. But one thing she is not is weak.
Mystique is one of the most complex characters in all of the Marvel Universe. She is the mother of Nightcrawler and the adopted mother of Rogue. She has an iron will to resist the likes of Charles Xavier and his telepathy. She may be hard as nails, but her relationship with Destiny was decades long. However, in a nasty twist of fate she is also the mother of one of the greatest enemies of mutants: Graydon Creed, leader of the Friends of Humanity.
Young Avengers (2005 GLAAD award winner) Wiccan and Hulking. A teenage couple that was openly depicted from the beginning. They met when a new team was formed by the Avenger, Vision. Credit to Marvel for having a teenage gay romance. The background for the characters is complex, but I think Marvel planned for the boys to be a couple from the get go. (I've always been a fan of the Scarlet Witch and Wiccan is somehow related to her.)
As I said before, I was a Marvel junkie, but DC does have some charcters that have Come Out in recent years. Now, to me, Wonder Woman is a icon to gay men, but I won't be listing her here.
Alan Scott (New 52 Green Lantern) - This made news earlier this year when Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern was made into a younger man and openly gay.I have mixed feelings about this to be honest. Alan Scott is the Golden Age GL. However a larger impact would be a member of the Justice League Coming Out. Then again, I am a huge fan of Kyle Raynor, the artist amd current GL.
However, credit where credit is due. Alan Scott is an old school hero who just received a major makeover. Though how he gets his powers is a huge kick in the pants.
Batwoman - Katherine R Kane is the current Batwoman, not to be confused with Barbara Gordon's Batgirl. You have to love comics with the ability to completely rewrite history with a wave of a hand. DC had the Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the 1980's and the Infinity Crisis in 2005. While I like huge crossover comics, the complete overhaul of continuities can be a bit trying. However, universes get cumbersome so I get the rewrites. It was after the 2005, reboot of the DC Universe that Batwoman came out as a lesbian. She is a part of the Bat Family.
(I am not touching some of the issues concerning the leader of the Bat family.)
The is another series that DC has called The Authority. What makes this series unique is that the two most powerful characters are in a relationship with each other. Apollo and Mignighter were married something akin to Superman marrying Batman. (I could insert all kinds of comments here, but I shall refrain.)
I know I said this was about gay superheroes, but Archie Comics are a slice of Americana. Riverside was that small town that was Everywhere USA. And they went and brought in a new character that was a homerun.
Kevin Keller - I have to mention the latest resident of Riverside. Archie comics had to reprint the issue that introduced Keller, a first for that comic publisher. Kevin is an "Army brat" and has the support of his family. Veronica has set her sights on Kevin, but he told her flat out no thanks he was gay.
I was never much of an Archie fan. I kinda liked Jughead. But when I heard about Kevin showing up, I smiled. If comics drive part of pop culture they also reflect changes in culture. Kevin Keller is a reflection in the changing landscape of America.
What all of these characters show is how times have changed. Diversity has become a goal for many writers. Kids and adults read comics. Many of these get tagged with Adult warnings on them, but issues that used to be ignored are now addressed.
On a final note, as an X-Men fan I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of their graphic novels: God Loves, Man Kills. It was the basis for the X2 movie, but in the graphic novel a Rev. William Stryker uses religion to preach hate against mutants. When I first read this it struck a chord. Religion is used as a weapon repeatedly against mutants in the X-Men books. There is a deeply moral tone that the enemies of mutants take. They claim that mutants are abominations of God. And when the Legacy virus shows up they use that as the ultimate sign that their crusade against mutants is a just one. Sound familiar at all?
Comics have been used as morality plays in modern times. Good vs Evil, a person vs his own demons. All of these things play out on the illustrated panels. They reach an audience that may not want to read a 'novel' but still inspire some of the emotional connections. I know I learned much from many an afternoon reading my comics. Be it science, biology, history, or tolerance. I for one am very thankful for having them to be able to relate to what I was feeling. And that is, at heart, what literature is all about.