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.
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.
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.