In spite of what the dark inked artwork and buxom side characters might have you believe, superhero comics are very traditional. The art might have undergone several transformations in the last fifty years, but the storylines rarely ever deviate from the obvious - lanky suburban white boys in spandex suits, complex back stories often involving a radioactive substance, and lady villains with cleavage down to their toes. Apparently, readers who have no problem accepting the possibility of time travel and an intergalactic police force have found it difficult to accept a gay or coloured superhero.
Over the last few years though, all of our favourite comic universes are slowly filling up with more diverse characters. The first gay superhero is said to be Northstar, who made his debut in the 1970s as a minor character on the X-Men series, but the authors were not allowed to make obvious references to his sexuality due to a Marvel Comics policy. Now, the list of gay characters in comic books spans several universes: The newly created Batwoman is lesbian, the Teen Titans have a new gay member and Wolverine’s son Draken is a bisexual man who uses his pheromones to manipulate villains. Even the most recent cover of Archie shows a gay wedding. The racial diversification is even more significant – last year Marvel, the creators of Spiderman announced that they were killing off Peter Parker, and replacing him with Miguel Morales – a half Latino- half black Spiderman. The announcement caused an uproar – which proves just how important the change is.
While some fans applaud the new characters, many are concerned that it is a shallow, symbolic gesture, carried out without much thought of the character. It’s hard to disagree, especially when the newly created superheroes come loaded with stereotypes. Miguel Bunker, the Teen Titan comes with a flamboyant, sequined costume in an odd shade of pinkish-purple. And he’s Latino, which makes it seem like the DC executives are trying to tick off two boxes at once. They seem to be following the same rule with Batwoman – lesbian, Jewish and a redhead, all at the same time.
The criticism doesn’t seem to be stopping the creators, who see it as a great opportunity to approach different sections of the market. The real test, of course, will be to see if any of the characters will make it to the movies. Will Smith as Superman, anyone?
Image: Superheroes at the gay pride parade in New York. Jason Pier via Creative Commons.