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

Show of hands — who remembers that time when Superman died?

Okay, that looks like everybody. Now, how about when he was replaced by a handful of impostors after he died? Or when he rose from the dead like another favorite fictional character?

A few less hands, but still most of you. Let’s go a bit deeper : how about the time he got electrical powers and turned blue and adopted a new costume to go with his new look and abilities? Or when he broke into two separate beings, the other one red, when the whole “electric blue” thing started to run out of gas? How about when he became an evil cyborg? Or when he lost his memory? Or when he left Earth “forever”? Or when he quit being a hero to live a normal life?

The point here being, if you hadn’t guessed already, that while I agree that the supposed revelation of Jon Kent’s equally-supposed bisexuality is a publicity stunt, at least to an extent, it follows in a long line of Superman-related publicity stunts — in fact, it could be fairly argued that every significant change/development in the “life” of this franchise (I hesitate to call Superman a character anymore; he’s a billion-dollar property) has been a publicity stunt, even (hell, especially) major upheavals to the status quo such as revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane, proposing to her, marrying her, and having a kid with her. All of these events and more were hyped in advance to maximize sales of the issues they took place in, yet none of them — even the time he renounced his American citizenship to protest US foreign policy, even his frigging death — were met with anywhere near the level of vitriol that his son’s “coming out” has engendered so far.

Granted, social media wasn’t “a thing” back when many of these much-ballyhooed occurrences went down, but that’s almost immaterial to the central question here, which is : why was there little to no uproar about any of this stuff in any venue, while the revelation that Jon is (or could be) bi has everyone from the most popular conservative commentators to casual comic book “tourists” doing their best Chicken Little imitations? I think we all know the answer.

It’s not like this publicity-driven approach to “developing” the Superman franchise is confined solely to the so-called “Modern Age” of comics, either — back in the “Silver Age,” for instance, before 24/7 hype machines were part and parcel of every publisher’s arsenal, editor Mort Weisinger tasked writers such as Otto Binder with thinking up new gimmicks to sell kids Super-books every single month. Most of these revolved around “alternate reality” or “dream” yarns where Superman did things like grow a weird-shaped head, turn into a monkey, lose his powers, conquer the world, or even — get this — marry Lois Lane, but this monthly act of one-upmanship also carried over into issues that were “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not an Imaginary Story!” as well, a good percentage of which featured Superman undergoing similar temporary weird transformations, the only difference being they were usually brought on by exposure to ever-more-exotic varieties of Kryptonite. Stan Lee might have been plying his trade as comics’ first carnival-barker over at Marvel, but people tend to forget that his hucksterism was something of a desperate ploy to keep up with the Joneses — the really crazy shit was happening over at DC.

Which means, of course, that Superman was — and remains to this day — far from the only hero in either company’s roster to be batted about from one ridiculous extreme to another in hopes of ginning up attention and the sales that go along with it, but it sure seems ironic (to put it as kindly as possible) that the one character development that’s driven people the craziest is one that’s actually a fairly pedestrian aspect of everyday life. I mean, what happens more often — someone “coming out,” or someone transforming into a goddamn tree? I get that comic books, like all other popular media, rely on suspension of disbelief to be effective, but come on here, people.

Prior to Jon Kent kissing a boy, the most recent major “events” in Superman’s printed-page adventures were him revealing his secret identity to the world and the series itself starting over with a new first issue. The latter happens in comics far more frequently than those who don’t read them could ever possibly fathom and really doesn’t even count as a “landmark” occasion anymore no matter how badly publishers hope and pray audiences will still fall for it, but the Superman “coming out” as Clark Kent is certainly a far bigger change to the overall mythos than a secondary Superman whose sexuality had never even been established “coming out” as bi, wouldn’t you say? Yet the army of “don’t change anything” traditionalists who have sprung out of the woodwork to publicly foam at the mouth like rabid culture war dogs about Jon’s first kiss were almost nowhere to be found when Superman stood at a podium in front of every news reporter and camera they could cram into a panel and told the world his truth. Which brings me, at long last, to my final point —

Sadly and clearly, homophobic bigotry is as alive and well as we figured, in our darkest moments, that it was. So even though I take what some might consider to be a dim and cynical view toward DC/Warner/AT&T’s motivations as far as having a bisexual Superman go (I just call it being a realist), let’s not forget that there are communities where damn near everyone gets their “news” from Fox, Newsmax, or the AT&T-sponsored OAN. Communities where reactionary assholes like Donald Trump or our “friend” from yesterday’s installment, Josh Mandel, are not just supported, but supported nearly unanimously. And in those communities, LGBTQIA+ kids don’t just “have it rough” — their lives could literally be in danger if their schoolmates, in some cases even their families, knew their truth. One of the few safe refuges available to kids who don’t fit in has always been “nerd” or “geek” culture — comic books, sci-fi, video games, table-top RPGs, etc. — so reaching out to those teens and young adults and letting them know they’re welcome in comics, no matter what reactionary nitwits like the “comicsgaters” say, isn’t just the right thing to do, for some folks it’s downright essential. To the extent, then, that having Superman : Son Of Kal-El feature a kiss between the star of the book and a guy he’s sweet on helps make the life of even one persecuted, closeted, or persecuted and closeted queer young person a little easier — or even just makes them feel represented — it’s the right thing to do regardless of the reasons behind it.

The DC/Warner/AT&T trifecta of capitalistic greed may only value the LGBTQIA+ community as consumers — but that doesn’t mean the comics community itself doesn’t value them as people. Let’s make sure that we (and I say “we” because this is particularly incumbent upon “cishet” folks such as myself) all do our best every day to let them know that we do.

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

  1. MY problem with “Superman Blue” was… and keep in mind, I read every chapter of that year-long mess as it was coming out… they NEVER explained it. There WAS NO explanation for how or why it happened… how or why he then split into Red AND Blue (a tribute to a decades-old story by then)… and NO explanation for how he returned to normal.

    I call that BAD WRITING. (Joey Cavalieri was editor, WASN’T HE?)

    As for “Jon Kent”… he’s not CLARK KENT, is he? So… to me, it’s like… WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?


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