Comic Publishers

May 31, 2012

Gay Characters In Comics: Diversity? Or Publicity?

More articles by »
Written by: Boyblunder
Tags: , ,

With all the news coming out recently involving diversity in comics, specifically the inclusion of gay characters and/or their marriages, one has to wonder if this is the industry’s way of ushering in more diversity, or if it’s simply a ploy to sell more books. Whether it be Marvel’s marriage between Northstar and boyfriend Kyle, or DC’s announcement that one of their “iconic” characters would be revealed as a homosexual (Insert Martian Manhunter joke here), no matter what good intentions the companies have, I personally can’t help but feel that maybe this is less of a way to expand the range of their characters, and more of a way to receive publicity for “groundbreaking” strides in comics. Is such obvious, tacky promotion a necessary evil of inserting diverse characters into comics? Or is it just a desperate cry to boost a book’s sales?

I’ve been beginning to think that unfortunately, the latter may be the case. For example, Northstar and his boyfriend getting married in Astonishing X-Men. This is a book that has traditionally not been a big seller, it’s one of Marvel’s fringe books that is nowhere near the heavy hitters in its own line of mutant books, let alone Marvel as a whole. So knowing that you have an openly gay character at your disposal, having him get married may seem like an easy way to boost the sales and notoriety of said title. Not an awful idea from a business standpoint, but something about it seems a little exploitative. Then again, what if the marriage was indeed more of a creative decision? Is it wrong to promote it in a way that will boost up a book with declining sales?

One could even argue that characters get married in comics all the time, regardless of their sexual preference, and it can be equally as self-promoting. We don’t necessarily view such mini-events as exploitative when the characters are heterosexual. But let’s be honest…do many people even give a crap about Northstar? Or do they just care that a gay character’s getting married? If you switch it to a lesser-known straight character getting married, I doubt there would be an increase in promotion.

Marvel’s far from the only company using such ploys, though. After DC announced that they would be making one of their previously existing characters gay, the internet was abuzz with speculation. It’s all but been confirmed now [Editor’s note: By the time of this article’s posting, it has been confirmed.] that the character in question will be the New 52’s version of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. If this is the case, this choice seems particularly back handed. This is an easy way to stir up some discussion, and open up discussion in outlets even outside just comic book news, reaching the rest of the world in mainstream media. Of course you’ll see headlines shouting “DC Comics Makes Original Green Lantern Gay!”

One can’t help but argue that this could be DC’s way of taking a character with a recognizable name like Green Lantern, who isn’t in fact the “real” Green Lantern, and turning it into a “bold controversial decision,” without having to suffer the back lash of making an actually “bold controversial decision.” Alan Scott is not Hal Jordan, but he is a Green Lantern. So it’s a bit of a technicality. DC pleases the main stream audience and gets the notoriety, while delivering a much less controversial change to comics lore. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the series Alan Scott will be appearing in doesn’t even take place in the main DC continuity! It’s in a book that’s literally called Earth 2, and holds no bearing in DC proper. There’s no arguing that this is a smart move financially for DC…but is that all this is? A financial move? Of course DC Comics is a business first and foremost, but they are also a house of artists. I suppose we won’t know the answer to that until we see the actual quality of the work.

My qualms with these creative choices have nothing to do with the characters being gay. My favorite female super-heroes are gay (Batwoman and The Question), and one of my favorite villains happens to be gay (The Pied Piper). My problem is the overwhelming sense that the main reason these companies are doing this has little to do with expanding their collective universes. Maybe it’s naive of me to think that it should be, like I said these are businesses, and the goal of a business is to make money, but there’s something lingering that I can’t quite put my finger on that just makes such decisions seem a little skeevy. Seeing how appropriately and respectably companies have dealt with gay characters in the past, such as Batwoman and The Question.

These are both perfect examples of characters that weren’t defined by their orientation, but instead their orientation was a natural progression of their characters. They weren’t gay for gay’s sake, they were gay because it was pure, natural, storytelling, and their sexuality was used as an element, not a whole of who they are. I just wish these characters could be treated with the same dignity, and not the “hey look we got gay characters!” approach Marvel and DC are taking this time.

Then again, this is all very speculative. When these books come out, there’s a very good chance these stories could be intriguing reads that add onto the tapestry of these characters. As always, time will tell. That being said, I’ll be first in line to get that blank cover variant of Astonishing X-men…I just hope whichever artist I give it to has no objections drawing Dan Didio and Joe Quesada tying the knot.