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

“Bisexual Superman in a kids’ comic? They are literally trying to destroy this country!” screeched one Josh Mandel from his twitter account, underneath a picture of the Jon Kent iteration of Superman kissing his purported new love interest, Jay Nakamura, taken from the forthcoming Superman : Son Of Kal-El #5.

A quick perusal of Mandel’s timeline shows that these kinds of histrionics are basically the guy’s stock in trade, with gems including “Christopher Columbus was a great American” (uhhhh — dude, don’t know how to break it to you but he wasn’t any kind of American), “You can’t spell panDEMic without DEM — is this a coincidence?,” “The Bible and the Constitution aren’t supposed to be separate, ” or the one that probably made me laugh the loudest, a poll where he asked “Of the various types of illegals flooding across the border, will more crimes be committed by Muslim terrorists or Mexican gangbangers?” The problem though, of course, is that there’s really nothing funny about any of this crap because Mandel, as you either already know or are likely to have surmised, isn’t some drooling psychopath locked in a padded cell (though he should be) or someone’s crazy uncle safely squirreled away at the far end of the family dinner table on Thanksgiving, he’s actually a pretty big deal. : he’s the prospective front-runner for the GOP nomination in the Ohio senate race.

That being said, and leaving aside the depressing reality that Republican primaries are now right wing dick-measuring contests where the winner is almost always the craziest-sounding son of a bitch running, it’s actually what’s left unspoken in Mandel’s Superman-related bit of manufactured outrage (please remind me again which side of the political ledger is the one that’s “triggered” all the time by even the tiniest little things?) that’s even more concerning than the nonsense he blurts out. No one else appears to have asked it yet, so I will : who, exactly, does he mean by “they”?

Surely it’s not DC or its parent entities, Warner and AT&T. Odds are better than good than when the next quarterly campaign finance reports are made public, they’ll probably show that he happily accepted their money, and as a “free-market conservative,” he’s a lead-pipe cinch to do their bidding whenever telecom-friendly deregulation legislation comes rolling around . Likewise, it’s doubtful that he’s referring to Tom Taylor and John Timms, the writer and artist of the comic he’s all constipated over — he doesn’t have the first clue who they even are. No, it seems pretty clear to me that the target of Mandel’s performative wrath is bisexuals, at the very least, and more than likely the LGBTQIA+ community in general. They are the “they” who are “literally trying to destroy this country.”

Which is, of course, absurd on its face. I don’t know how to break it to Mandel and his mouth-breathing ilk, but the entire country could wake up bisexual tomorrow morning and it wouldn’t “destroy” a single fucking thing. Hell, if such a thing were to happen it would probably do Mandel some good, since he might have more luck finding someone who’s willing to yank out the stick he’s so clearly got shoved up his ass. Time will tell whether or not his strategy of trolling his way into the US senate works, but if it does, that will be both a sad commentary on the overall mental health of the Ohio electorate and good news for the the nearest pharmacy to Mandel’s DC residence with a well-stocked selection of suppositories.

Still, as anyone — even a Republican — can tell you, there’s no crazier type of Republican than an Arizona Republican (Barry Goldwater, Evan Meacham, Jan Brewer, Paul Gosar — it’s a truly impressive list of thoroughly unimpressive conservative whack-jobs driven mad by the desert heat), so you can be sure they weren’t gonna let some nutcase-come-lately out of Ohio steal the spotlight afforded by the Superman news all to himself. To that end, Arizona GOP congressional candidate Josh (what’s the deal with that name?) Barnett tweeted “Why does Hollywood have to ruin everything?#superman,” never mind that Hollywood has exactly nothing to do with the present Super-situation at all, and current Arizona GOP state senator Wendy Rogers adamantly put her foot down, declaring “Superman loves Louis Lane. Period,” thus ensuring she’d be the butt of every joke in the entire country for at least the next 24-48 hours.

However, as one might expect, it’s been reactionary forces within comics fandom itself who’ve been making the most hay out of all of this, and you can almost see the dollar signs flashing in the eyes of the grifters who’ve wormed their way to the top of the “comicsgate” food chain when they gesticulate wildly and foam at the mouth to the delight of their bigoted streaming audience while trotting out their collection of Jon Kent news clippings as “proof” that their bread-and-butter narrative about the “death” of the comic book industry is finally coming to pass. Their crowd-funded books might typically be months or even years late as a matter of course, but these guys’ sense of timing when it comes to stoking up their fan base is impeccable, and while I won’t sully this site by naming the disreputable cast of characters milking their YouTube hate cult for “superchat” cash on the back of this latest culture war flare-up — you know who they are anyway — I have to say that I did find it interesting that a recent addition to this rogues’ gallery is none other than one Gabe Eltaeb, who is the colorist on the very Superman : Son Of Kal-El comic that’s got them all so upset, and who appeared the night before last (as of this writing) on a “comicsgate” livestream where he shared his enlightened opinion that, now that Jon Kent has kissed a guy, man-on-dog sex was next.

Apparently our guy Gabe’s commitment to lunatic levels of bigotry only goes so far, though — I mean, lest we forget, he was happy enough to work on the very book he was bashing and cash the paycheck he got from DC for doing so. Still, when I mentioned in our previous installment that DC/Warner/AT&T were actually no friends of the LGBTQIA+ community, I had no idea that proof of precisely that could be found this close to the source. “Superman’s Coming-Out Comic Colored By Raging Homophobe” does not a good headline make for the very company hoping to ride a wave of headlines to a big payday with all of this. It’s bad enough that a number of LGBTQIA+ creators who have worked for DC feel that the publisher hasn’t done enough — if anything — to protect them from homophobic “fan” harassment, but this? Friends, this is some seriously “next-level” bullshit right here.

Dragging it back out to a more “macro” views of the situation, though, if one has the stamina to filter out all the “sky is falling” hyperbole that tends to issue forth from the conservative “culture warriors” who’ve adopted the posture of full-time victims for fun and profit, one finds that the same “talking points” tend to repeat themselves ad nauseum with regard to bi Superman, those being : they claim the whole thing is a publicity stunt, they say it’s not true to the origins of the character, and they insist that they just want politics — all politics — out of their Superman comics.

The “publicity stunt’ argument isn’t one I’m prepared to refute, simply because I actually happen to agree that’s what this is — but the fact that the “Make Comics Great Again” types are pointing it out is actually damning to them, and therefore deserves a bit more analysis and extrapolation, so I’ll save that for our third and final installment. The other two non-points they make, however — that this new development isn’t true to the origins of the character and that Superman should be apolitical — directly tie together, so we may as well tackle them both right now.

First off, there’s nothing inherently political about being bi. Or gay. Or transgender. Or straight. Or anything. As mentioned last time around in reference to the genocidal bloodbath for any and all non-Trumpers that the QAnon crowd salivates over, it’s obviously the case that the vast majority of LGBTQIA+ Americans are progressive politically, but not all of them are by any stretch — therefore, the idea that the very existence of a bisexual character is a political statement in and of itself simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. For all we know, Jon Kent could be a card-carrying member of the Smallville, Kansas Republican Party. His sexual orientation doesn’t preclude him from holding any set of political beliefs he chooses, and who we are we kidding? If the creators of this comic did make him a Republican, the same people shitting their Depends right now would be toasting Taylor and Timms with champagne for their “bravery” and “courage.” You, me, and the very people making the claim know damn well they don’t want “apolitical” comics — what they want are comics that don’t in any way run counter to their right-wing views.

Unfortunately for them, when it comes to Superman, that train left the station a long time ago. As the panels included with this post show, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — the working class Jewish kids from Cleveland who created the character in the first place — gave him a very definite point of view, and had him battle on behalf of very politically-charged causes. In fact, the original Superman that these ostensible “traditionalists” want to see brought back would actually have them even more up in arms than his bisexual son does given that he was billed as a “champion of the oppressed” who fought such reality-based villains as slum landlords, prison wardens who treated their charges inhumanely, strike-breaking scabs, Wall Street bloodsuckers, Pinkerton mercenaries, trigger-happy cops, and other eminently relatable threats to the proletariat. The last son of Krypton, as originally conceived, was a “New Deal” Democrat all the way, as any fair and honest reading of the Siegel and Shuster stories proves. Hell, in Action Comics #1 he saved the life of a death row inmate and beat the crap out of a violent misogynist, so Superman was an “SJW’ from the word go.

Okay, sure, he wasn’t bisexual — but he couldn’t fly, didn’t have heat vision, and wasn’t vulnerable to Kryptonite, either. Those changes, among many others, came later — the biggest one being when he was changed into a flag-waving patriot after DC’s predecessor, National Periodical Publications, swindled ownership of the character out from underneath his creators just as they were shipping off to serve in WWII — and something tells me that the “we want our old Superman back” crowd wouldn’t be terribly eager to see any of them undone. But in the final analysis it’s rather immaterial, anyway — their “classic” Superman hasn’t gone anywhere, and they damn well know it. He’s still starring in two books (or more) of his own every month, is still married to Lois Lane, is still locked in a decades-long stalemate with Lex Luthor, all of it. You want old-school Superman? The Superman? Then just buy those other comics and not Superman : Son Of Kal-El. “Problem” solved.

A variation on the “originalist” argument that I’ve seen in tweets and facebook posts and the like here and there that’s also just as easily made mincemeat of is the one that acknowledges that it’s not Superman himself they’re changing by making him bi, but that they’re changing Jon Kent by making him bi, and they should simply leave him hetero. At first, that seems at least a bit more tethered to reality, but of course it isn’t : Jon Kent was created in 2015 and, up until now, had never expressed any kind of sexual or affectational orientation in any direction. He’s been a thoroughly chaste character, as was entirely appropriate for a kid his age — but, curiously for comics, he has been allowed to age, and now he’s at an age where, as the bumper sticker says, shit happens.

If that’s shit you can’t handle, okay, but honestly — that says more about you than it does about the character or the comic book. Jon Kent is growing the fuck up — isn’t it well past time for certain readers, politicians, and culture war grifters to do the same?

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Tomorrow we’ll put this baby to bed with part three of this series, but until then, if you actually enjoy reading this kind of stuff, please consider supporting me on Patreon, where I do this three times per week. https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse