Impact (and placement) of gay male characters in comics

One of the surprise hit titles out of Marvel recently (especially given the low expectations of the premise in the beginning) is Young Avengers. It’s gained quite a following, mostly due to the writing of ex-O.C. scribe Allen Heinberg.

From the first issue, readers with developed gaydar have sensed something more than friendship going on between two of the characters, Hulkling and Asgardian, both male. This has led to rampant speculation, and a lot of debate in comics-related circles, about gay characters in comics. A lot of it is the usual stuff about necessity, appropriateness, portrayal, what defines “in your face,” whether a gay relationship is a sensitive issue towards the target audience (the title is rated T for teen), and so on. Reports have it that Heinberg, formly coy about the question, confirmed that the two ARE gay, and in love, stating his surprise that his subtle early clues were picked up so quickly (the relationship wasn’t supposed to be officially revealed for another 8 issues).

So I’d like to toss out the basis for a discussion about this whole thing, and the larger issues. What do you think of the hubbub (exemplified in message board threads like this and this? Would the controversy be as big if it were two female characters? How will this affect sales of the title? There seem to be, in my eyes, a lot more positive visible fan reaction than negative, but of course, that’s visible.

Whaddya think?

What? No one’s going to make a joke about the names? Ah, I’m too high class for this. Asgardian. snicker

This is purely speculation, but the only people I know who read comic books these days are urban hipsters and, well, most of them are at least bi. I cannot speak for the 13-year-old boy demographic, though I think if it’s good enough for them to be buying and reading regularly, they won’t suddenly stop because there’s a storyline they don’t like.

I’m no expert on comics, but assuming the relationship is depicted in the same way as other romantic relationships in comics, no more overtly sexualized than the industry standard… what of it? Kids aren’t blind to the existence of gay characters, and having a positive depiction of gay characters seems valuable. And to a gay teen, still struggling with how he feels… it could be very affirming.

I’m not so sure comics can change lives, or anything, but I sure don’t see any reason for concern.

I can’t speak to the impact, but a few gay male characters in my very limited readership have been in Sandman (the Faerie Claracan, the evil old Alastair Crowley wannabe who keeps Morpheus captive and later his much younger lover [who’s very old now]) and in Shanower’s Age of Bronze comics (a graphic retelling of the Trojan War in which Patroclos and Achilles are lovers).

A few other gay characters that come to mind:

Northstar, the Canadian mutant from Alpha Flight and the X-Men (recently killed by Wolverine)
Pied Piper, a reformed Flash villain
Terry Berg, a friend of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner
Maggie Sawyer of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit
Sarah Rainmaker from Gen13 (bisexual)
Vivisector and Phat from X-Statix (both deceased, along with the rest of the team)

Ultimate Colossus is pretty undeniably queer - the hints are pretty subtle, but get less so as the series continues, and UltX-Men 61’s lettercol all but admitted it.

The reactions to that on one of the comics boards I read were pretty…vile. (‘Ruining the character to pander to PC idiots’ about sums it up.)

There’s also the Authority’s Apollo and Midnighter - if I’m not mistaken, the first openly gay superhero couple in comics. I think their relationship has been handled quite well. They’re not “gay characters;” they’re characters who happen to be gay. Their sexuality and relationship are presented matter-of-factly without being “in your face.” It just is what it is.

I’m trying to think of a way to work Tom of Finland into the conversation…

Hey, don’t forget the most popular (At the time of his heyday) cowboy, the rawhide kid.

Why did Wolvie kill Northstar?

He was being controlled by someone else. Details have escaped me. I am sure Northstar will be revivified soon, though.

One of the main characters in *Gotham Central * is openly lesbian too.

Fortunately, most of today’s comic readers aren’t completely backward crackers, but I wouldn’t categorize them all as “urban hipsters” either. Sure the letter columns still publish a few letters from people who think it’s icky to be gay or to “promote” such a lifestyle in a comic, but the majority seem to be positive. As usual, it’s only the people who have really strong feelings about an issue that bother posting their outrage. They’ll get bored with it and move on to something else to bitch about soon enough.

While it doesn’t “ruin” the character slapping something on a pre-existing character that isn’t an existing part of the continuity is bothersome and poor writing. And before I’m accused of being vile and whatever, I really had no problem with Northstar, or, in 1602 in which Warren (who is different than the Warren we know) was attracted to Jean Gray while he believed her to be a boy.

My reaction to the Colossus news was the same reaction I had when Colossal Boy was suddenly declared Jewish out of nowhere. I have no problem with a character being concieved as something, but I do have a problem with a character being forced for “hip or relevant” reasons into someone they have not been.

Colossal Boy from the Legion is JEWISH? I thought he (like most of the Legionnaires) was from an alien race!

The head of Gotham Special Crimes Unit, Maggie Sawyer (moved from Metropolis) is a lesbian, but you’re probably talking about Renee Montoya, who was outted as a lesbian by Two Face. IIRC, making Montoya a lesbian was fairly controversial among fans.

You’ve just hit on a completely SEPARATE annoyance about people who complain about Ultimate Collosus - the fact that some people seem to think that he’s the same person as 616 Colossus. The Collosus who’s always been straight still is, the one who isn’t never has been. Just like the Nick Fury who’s always been white still is, and the one that’s black always has been.

And ‘slapping something on a pre-existing character that isn’t an existing part of continuity’ isn’t poor writing, in and of itself.

To use your Legion example - it was almost 4 years before most members of the Legion got NAMES, let alone religious beliefs. Star Boy’s was given in his first appearance - because it was a plot point, then he was the only one (aside from Superboy and Supergirl) until Sun Boy’s was given - again, as a plot point. The entire roster was given in a ‘Know your Legionnaires’ infodump some time after that. It wasn’t poor writing when they were given - it was fleshing out an until then unexplored aspect of the character.

Behold the Gay League, a compendium of non-herterosexual characters. It doesn’t seem to be updated too often, however. Montoya’s not on it, for example, and Flatman is listed as “Uncertain”, but he came out this week (only to be one-upped by Immortal Man’s declaration that he was “homo supreme”!).

I had a big problem with the Northstar “coming out”. Up until that time, Northstar was portrayed as a major league as <ahem> jerk who had a past that included terrorism and cheating at the Olympics. Then Marvel needed a gay character, and Northstar had no pre-existing relationship, so they announced he was gay. No problem so far, but then they couldn’t have a gay character also be a jerk, so ---- Ta Da — he was just misunderstood and the terrorism and cheating was gone.

Up until the Waid reboot, he was from Mars, with family on Earth. He’s human and Jewish.