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Gay and Gothic

By Shamus
on Thursday Jun 1, 2006
Filed under:
Nerd Culture


Unexpected news:

DC comics announces that Gotham has a gay hero.

Even more unexpected:

It isn’t Batman.

It’s Batwoman.

This is a brilliant move. They brought back a hero they killed off decades ago and just re-remade her as a lesbian. They can leverage the “bat” name recognition and claim that they are making a move towards more diversity, while also pandering to the young male facination with lesbians. Let’s face it, if they had simply announced Batman was gay (which everyone jokes about anyway) it would have been a fatal move. Call it homophobic if you want, but heterosexual teenage boys don’t want to read comic books about the lives of gay men.

Left: Old and busted. Right: New and busted.

(If they really wanted to have a lesbian character, she would be mannish, with a butch haircut and a male costume. That would be a real nod towards the lesbian community, but it wouldn’t entice fanboys. Since they chose the spandex, heels, and makeup route, we can discern what their real goals are, and it has nothing to do with diversity.)

But I’ve never liked these “me too” female characters. Spider-Girl. Super Girl. Hawk Girl. Batwoman. She-Hulk. Ms. Marvel. They are never going to move out of the shadow of their male counterpart. The sad thing is that the me-too ladies outnumber original female characters who have their own book. Wonder Woman is the only one I can think of that isn’t a sad pantomime of a more interesting hero, or a supporting character from some other comic that was given her own spinoff series. She stands on her own, which is all too rare for female heroines.

I actually like the concept of comic books. I love the visual storytelling. It’s a unique medium and I think after all these years their full potential is still untapped. As they have reached out to adults, they have added boobies, swearing, and gore. That isn’t what is keeping the adults away. Comic books are still saddled with the story-telling skills of Saturday morning cartoons. Evil twins. Amnesia. Nobody ever stays dead. Dialog is clumsy and ham-fisted. Villians monologue while the hero is tied up. Women fight in six-inch heels. This lesbian character is just another clumsy attempt at growing up. It proves that while comic books are decades old, their mindset is still 15.

For the record, I do read comics from time to time, but I’m always struck by how much better they could be if the writers would just aim a little higher.

Later on the DC shill has this to say:

This is not just about having a gay character,” DiDio said. “We’re trying for overall diversity in the DC universe. We have strong African-American, Hispanic and Asian characters. We’re trying to get a better cross-section of our readership and the world.

Lame. If you create a character who’s hispanic because you want a hispanic character, then you are going about things the wrong way. You already tried that. Remeber El Dorado?

Make someone who’s interesting, and who’s different from the heroes we already have. If you do this, you’ll end up with a diverse cast in the end, and they won’t be a bunch of obvious plastic stereotypes. Get rid of that Affirmative Action mentality and just write us a good story about people. (With super powers.)

Comments (24)

  1. Ethan says:

    Does Marvel comics even have a captain marvel? I’m not the oldest comic reader ever but I really don’t recall one that was ever anywhere. I really can care less about what DC does. I have never liked most of their comic heroes anyway. These sort of announcements are more proof of why I’ve never purchased a DC book. I do like the new costume, though.

  2. HC says:

    Sure they do. Billy Batson, greek gods, Shazam, all that?

    I have no idea about whether he’s often published these days, but he certainly exists.

    Googling reveals that he’s presently a DC property, was the original flagship Marvel title, and has yet to see a successful revival since Marvel stopped publishing him in 1953. So – not so common these days.

    Anyway – while I’m as interested in a good thumbs down review as anyone, what about the titles which do tell stories of people (with super powers)?

    I’d nominate Sleeper or Fables. If you’re looking for a straight capes story, Invincible.

    And if you’re looking for something which has no right to exist, let alone be as good as it is, Age of Bronze.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      I know there’s no way the original poster will ever read this, but that Captain Marvel he’s mentioning was never a Marvel character. It went from Fawcett comics to DC comics.

      Marvel has had a few characters named Captain Marvel, but they all came after that one. Though, in the hiatus after Fawcett stopped publishing and DC acquired the rights to the original guy, Marvel comics trademarked the name “Captain Marvel”, so DC was forced to rename the comic book “Shazam”.

  3. Alex says:

    Replacing a lipstick lesbian with a butch lesbian is just replacing one stereotype with another: it’s not like all gay men look or act like women.
    Sure, I laugh at people like Mokoyama in Yakitate!! Japan but I think sexuality can be incidental rather than character defining. (and yes, in this instance, one can say that they are gunning for the young male vote).

  4. Shamus says:

    Replacing a lipstick lesbian with a butch lesbian is just replacing one stereotype with another: it's not like all gay men look or act like women.

    Fair enough. My point was that the former is far, far more common, while the latter is far more appealing to young males. Perhaps this is just my own need for authenticity: A butch would make a lot of sense, superhero-wise. The butch style of dress has a lot more utility in combat. (Who on earth would fight in heels? Besides every female superhero ever created. Bare feet is better than heels.) The butch mindset is more agressive. The butch build is a lot more capable in a fight compared to the 98lb supermodel look. I guess I just find this character more appealing. A “tough guy”, if you will.

    I agree with you that sexuality can be a component of a character instead of their entire identity. I think it would be perfectly possible to have a gay character (male or female) that is interesting to read. They just need to give them more personality than “is gay”.

  5. Billy Batson is not a Marvel Comics property. Marvel does also have a “Captain Marvel” or they did, anyway, back in the day. His “name” was “Mar-Vel” and he was associated with one side in the Kree-versus-Skrull war (or Skree versus Kull, or whatever-the-hell it was).

  6. ubu roi says:

    They also had a black female as a Captain Marvel for a while. She had a silvery white costume and a big fro; this was early 80’s? Don’t think she had much to do with the Kree-Skrull war, but I don’t rememeber that much.

    Best mainstream superhero comic ever: Infinity Inc.; a DC title which followed the [b]kids[/b] of the Earth-2 (Golden Age) superheroes. The Huntress was the alternate Batgirl there; she was Bruce Wayne’s illegetimate daughter by Selena Kyle (Catwoman). Although the characters were all in their early 20’s, it occasionally had flashbacks to their teen or kid years (like the time the Hawk’s kid, WW’s daughter by Trevor, and another kid (Hourman’s?) stole WW’s invisible plane for a joyride). It also had some unusual takes on things; for instance most of the characters had public ID’s, and two of the characters were sleeping together (remember, this is early 80’s comics), which caused a minor uproar when they were shown waking up in bed together the morning after.

    It wasn’t an “adult” series in the sex-n-gore sense, but it was written for adults. The real dynamic was their relationship with their parents, and sometimes, their parents’ old enemies who came bearing grudges.

    Sadly, after a great year and a half, their continuity was destroyed by the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-story, which had to go through some incredible convolutions to re-create many character’s origins.

  7. ARJ says:

    I feel pretty ambivalent about the new Batwoman, but I have to chime in that I really like She-Hulk as a female superhero character. I have only read the recent She-Hulk issues, so maybe the She-Hulk origin story wasn’t very good, but I find the recent stuff very different in tone and theme from the Hulk. I think the only thing that She-Hulk and the Hulk have in common is the colour green and their blood type. She doesn’t strike me as a “me-too” character– rather they used the Hulk’s story as a springboard to go in a new direction.

    I’ll also ditto the Fables recommendation. Funny, attractively drawn, interesting, well written comic book series.

  8. Gothmog says:

    Get rid of that Affirmative Action mentality and just write us a good story about people. (With super powers.)

    I’ll have to check out ‘Fable’ mentioned above- I can think of two favs that fit well into this category- (tho there are more that come to mind, these are my two favs:
    Watchmen – this is probably the most well known ‘realistic’ Super Hero comic I know- It’s easy to find in trade paperback as well. It actually won a Hugo award, the only graphic novel to have done so.

    Powers – this is a great comic written by Brian Michael Bendis where the two main characters are street detectives in a world of superheroes- this world features some neat parrallels to our ‘pantheon’ of Marvel and DC Hero lineup. but written as if they were real human beings-

    Both well worth checking out.

  9. HC says:

    Watchmen and Powers are both good; I’d second that. And I should throw Sandman in the mix, too.

  10. Ethan says:

    I only read one comic. I really like it. Marvel’s New Avengers.

  11. Ron says:

    Indead, there was once a hero named Mar-Vel and he was part Kree / part human. He was caught in the middle of the Kree vs Skrulls war, but in the end he died of cancer.
    Also correct, Captain Marvel; a black female who obtaint her powers due to an accident. Currently she’s known as Photon.
    There was also a Ms. Marvel, real name Carol Danvers. She was geneticaly enhanced by the Kree and her powers were stolen by Rogue. After her coma the Skrulls played with her and gave her (accidently) divine powers. As Binary she crossed the universe, but after a while she lost most of her divine powers and went back to earth, where she became Warbird. Recently she changed her name back to Ms. Marvel.
    There was also a Marvelboy (Vance Astrovik), a telekinetic who’s currently known as Justice.
    And Jean Grey (the Phoenix) started with the X-Men known as Marvelgirl.

  12. vsoul says:

    Sandman is a really good one for adults, with a really amazing storyline, beautiful animation, and awesome female characters (gay and hetero). I’ve heard that Swamp Thing is good too, and Fables is one of my new favorites.

  13. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    In the realm of realistic superhero stories, I (personally) believe we would be remiss to exclude mention of Heroes, the TV series currently running on NBC (or on BitTorrent, in my case). I realy believe that a large part of the draw of this show is that the characters are realistic people put in a special position because of their development of fantastic abilities. It seems that the writers have managed to find the seemingly elusive link between realism and the super-heroic. Previously, there had only been mention of it in Bryan Singer’s X-Men with the “yellow spandex” comment.

  14. Miako says:

    As long as you’re going to wear high heels…

    Why not fight with them?

  15. BillionSix says:

    I agree with ARJ. She-Hulk is pretty cool. She was strong and independant with out being a stereotype feminazi before becoming She-Hulk, and she stayed one afterward.
    I think Shamus is right about the “me too” characters. They are like superhero versions of Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck.
    But She-Hulk really has her own style going.

  16. Tara says:

    I do not know if masculine lesbians ARE more common than feminine lesbians. They are just more VISIBLE. You see a woman in hells and wearing lipstick and you just assume that she is just another straight woman. Not always so.

    The butch “attitude” is NOT neccesarily more aggressive. That is superimposing sexist gender ideals onto a lesbian dynamic. And feminine does not equal anorexic supermodel FYI. I know plenty of femmes that can kick butt.

    -another invisible feminine lesbian

    (maybe they should of made “The Invisible Woman” a femme lesbian)

  17. Vladius says:

    “Diversity” is a sickening term that politically correct idiots use for their own profit. You’re completely right: if you make any kind of character a particular race, orientation, or anything else on purpose it will end up being offensive to both the target demographic and the person who just wanted some comics. I look at it this way: if you are a black artist and are inventing a character, they will probably be black. This is the naturalized method, and you would write what you know.
    I hate how much Marvel has become politicized over the years, particularly. X-Men = gay, meh. X-Men = black, meh. X-Men = people with awesome powers, great!

  18. Horus says:

    That part about butch lesbians was offensive, Shamus

  19. Shamus says:

    It can’t have been THAT offensive, seeing as how this post sat here for three years before anyone complained.

    I could have gone the other way and embraced the new batwoman, and then I’d have a different group of people complaining that I’m marginalizing butch lesbians and perpetuating male fantasy stereotypes about lesbians.

    Or do butch lesbians not exist? I forget what the politically correct position is these days.

    • BikiniKill says:

      I admit I found your comments a tad offensive as well. There are just as many feminine lesbians (and those inbetween the two extremes) as there are traditional butch lesbians. Anyone you meet on the street might be gay, no matter what they look like. I suppose a lot of heterosexual men assume that all feminine, attractive women must be straight and all the women they personally find unattractive must be gay. This is both offensive and untrue. Yet I keep hearing this same cliche all over the place. Just like how the stereotypical gay man is supposed to be effeminate and weak.

      I’m sure you didn’t mean to be homophobic, so I’ll forgive you for your ignorance. I think it can be difficult for someone outside of the gay community to understand how complex and diverse the community is. Not all gay people even follow heterosexual ideas about gender or relationship dynamics (thus the whole movement with some gay people being against the idea of gay marriage). The traditional butch/femme lesbian couple still exists, but seems to have been more common in the past. Perhaps it’s just the people I know, but most lesbians I meet don’t fit that stereotype at all. Some of them are more feminine than many of my straight female friends.

      I do love your blog (especially the posts about programming), and have been reading it for almost a year now. I’m only now going through all the archives, which is how I discovered this post.
      Do keep up the good work :)

  20. Lucien St Clare says:

    Actually I stumbled on this article looking for Butch Lesbian super heroes as I wanted to write an article for my blog and so far all i have been able to find on google is Butch Mccloud and her spunky band of Lesbian bakers.

    Otherwise I don’t think that Butch lesbians are well represented in the media in general unless they are some sort of humour reference. I don’t want to assume its down to sexual fantasy but rather sheer ignorance since I know some men find masculine looking women very attractive.
    I have lived in some parts of Africa were women with hairy chests are like hot cakes and they go around proudly showing their hairy cleavage. I am not saying all butch women have hairy chests only that everyone’s ideal of beauty is different and I would like the comics to step out of thier comfort zone and do something different that has not been done before that is afterall what draws us to read new issues is the fact that they are new and deal with new topics and not the same old things.
    Editors should experiment and not assume that we all want the same things. After all it takes all kinds of fruit and veg to make a salad otherwise its just a bowl of fruit.

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