Of Comic Books, Capitalism, And Culture War Crackpots, Or : What A Bisexual Superman Means — And What It Doesn’t, Part One Of Three

I’m loathe to start things off on a “housekeeping” note, but in this case I think it’s in order : when I re-tooled my approach to this site about a month back with an eye toward broadening out its scope beyond small press and self-published comics, I figured I might occasionally look in on what the “Big Two” were up to — but I honestly never imagined that, just a few weeks on from writing a multi-part series on Captain America By Ta-Nehisi Coates Vol. 1, I’d be embarking on yet another long-form essay/rant on the funnybook mainstream. And if you’d told the me of a month or so back that my second foray into critically less-familiar waters would be to talk about a comic that I had almost no intention of reading and certainly no intention of buying, I’d have asked for your dealer’s number because for 50-year-olds like yours truly, decent connections are damn tough to come by. Nevertheless, here we are, circumstances having swayed my hand, so there’s nothing else for it but to exclaim the customary “Once more into the breach!” and take it from there —

Superman might wear colorful tights and his underwear on the outside, but up until yesterday, the idea that he might be gay — or fall anywhere within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum — was pretty much a non-starter, culturally. Both Marvel and DC have featured secondary (or less) LGBTQIA+ characters in their publications for some years now, sure, but an “A-lister” like Superman? Any level of even perceived “gayness” seemed out of the question. Hell, if any top-ranking superhero in comics was ever going to be “outed” by editorial, Batman seems a far more likely choice given he displays any number of characteristics commensurate with the psychological profile of a non-hetero BDSM “top” who’s got some serious anger issues — after all, what other sort of person puts on leather fetish gear and heads into the rough part of town to beat the shit out of guys he barely even knows (or doesn’t even know at all) every night of the week without fail? If a billionaire were looking for justice (and that’s a mighty big “if”), there are literally a billion other — and smarter — ways to go about getting it. There’s just gotta be something else compelling Bruce Wayne to live the way he does — but alas, it doesn’t look like DC is ready to go there yet.

Still, they floated a little trial balloon of sorts earlier this year when one of his former sidekicks, Tim Drake, came out as bisexual — and not only did the sky not fall in, the “reveal” apparently put just enough wind in DC’s sales (whoops, sails — how cynical of me!) for them to aim their sights a bit higher. And so they have. But not as high as it may appear at first.

“BISEXUAL SUPERMAN!!!” the rage-click headlines scream — but are they true? The jury seems to be out on that, so let’s parse things a bit : yes, in next month’s Superman : Son Of Kal-El #5, Superman kisses a dude. But the very title of the book itself should clue even somebody mercifully separated from the comics world by considerable distance in to the fact that this isn’t the Superman, but rather a Superman —specifically, Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s “YA”-aged son, Jonathan. And while the writer of this particular mini-series, one Tom Taylor, is certainly saying all the right things in the barrage of attendant press pieces since the news broke just over 24 hours ago as of this writing, in point of fact I have yet to see him anywhere refer to young Mr. Kent as gay, bi, or anything of the sort. We know he has an ostensible love interest in the form of super-powered “hacktivist” Jay Nakamura — who, somewhat creepily perhaps, is a massive Lois Lane fan-boy — but beyond that, what we know is what we see in the artwork by John Timms shown above. Taylor’s most telling quote, to my mind, is that it would have been a “missed opportunity” to make this specific second-string Superman “another straight white male savior,” but that — like this kiss heard ’round the social media world — is a far more inferential statement than it is a definitive one. Okay, Jon kisses a guy. But you know who else has done that? Plenty of straight dudes.

Which isn’t me saying that DC is going to back away from the idea of a bi Superman — but it sure looks like they’re not exactly committed to it at this point, either. I’m reminded of Stan Lee’s rejection of Jack Kirby’s first character and costume designs for the Black Panther (who Kirby, in a characteristically bold move, modeled on the great Patrice Lumumba), which showed T’Challa’s full face, and even of Kirby’s second proposal which put a half-mask on him, in favor of a fully masked design that left Smilin’ Stan the option of revealing the character to be white at a later date. Again in this case, the publisher is hedging its bets — and the smart money bet for any readers out there is on DC having multiple story outlines ready to go as far as this whole relationship is concerned. Will they go for the gusto and let these two fall in love and find happiness together? Will they have Jon slowly back out of it? Will Jay tragically die just as things are getting good? Anything is possible — hell, they might even have Jon wake up the following issue and realize it was all just a dream.

Okay, talking of bets and all, my own marker (I do have house credit here, after all) isn’t on that latter option, but you never know. The point is, anything and everything is infinitely malleable in the forever-roiling cauldron of corporate comics continuity, so if you’re one of those folks who’s really excited about the idea of a bisexual Jon Kent, I would urge you not to get your hopes up too terribly high for the long run, no matter how positive things might appear in the near term. At the end of the day, we all know that sales are going to dictate whether or not this is a big(-ish) moment in comic book history, or a blip on the radar screen. For my own part, I definitely think it’s cool that a lot of readers — LGBTQIA+ or otherwise — are stoked about this simply because, while I’m admittedly a cishet old curmudgeonly white dude, I’m not so curmudgeonly that I don’t understand and appreciate why media representation matters to communities that have either gone unseen or, worse yet, been portrayed in mainly negative (or even nefarious) terms in the past. A hell of a lot of people were tweeting sentiments of the “I finally feel seen” variety yesterday, and I’m happy that they’re all happy. Sooooo — could there be a shittier place to insert a “but” than here ? Probably not. But

The follow-up question that never gets asked in these discussions on representation is “what are you seen as?,” and in this case it seems to me that the uncomfortable answer to that, any way you slice it, is “a license to print money.” I’m not saying this is the attitude of this particular comic’s creators toward the LGBTQIA+ community (although it might be worth pointing out that said creators are apparently all straight, which one could argue is somewhat tone-deaf on its face), and it may not even be the attitude of DC editorial, but their corporate paymasters? You’d have to be naive to believe they see them as anything else. If the higher-ups at DC’s parent company, Warners — or their parent company, AT&T — thought there wasn’t cold, hard cash to be made here, they’d have put the kibosh on this happy bit of inclusivity already. Predatory multi-national media conglomerates are not “friends” or “allies” of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people — and I can say that with full confidence because they’re not “friends” or “allies” of most straight people, either. How quickly everyone seems to have forgotten, for instance, that it was revealed just last week that AT&T is responsible for nearly 100% of the funding for noxious far-right “news” outlet OAN, a neo-fascist platform that is loaded to the gills with “stolen election” conspiracy BS and QAnon lunacy — and in case you weren’t aware, the over-riding core belief of the QAnon crowd is that sooner or later a genocidal event called “The Storm” is coming that will see anyone and everyone opposed to Donald Trump rounded up, sent to Gitmo, brutally tortured, and summarily executed without trial. Think that “enemies list” might include some LGBTQIA+ folks? Like, I dunno, maybe a good 80-90% of them?

The political and “culture war” aspects of this “Superman Is (Maybe) Bi” phenomenon are something I’ll delve into more fully in tomorrow’s segment of this series, but for now I think it behooves everyone to remember that AT&T pays for this QAnon shit to be pumped out into the body politic via OAN, and QAnon wants to see the overwhelming majority of LGBTQIA+ Americans tortured and killed. Want to support Jon Kent’s coming out by purchasing the comic featuring his first same-sex kiss? Okay, feel free — but keep in mind where that money is going as it makes its way up the corporate food chain. All is not lost, though, I promise — in fact, I’ll have far cheerier things to say in our next installment. Sort of. It’s complicated.

3 thoughts on “Of Comic Books, Capitalism, And Culture War Crackpots, Or : What A Bisexual Superman Means — And What It Doesn’t, Part One Of Three

  1. Pingback: From My Laboratory In The Castle East – This Week’s Links - Avada Classic Shop

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