Is the world ready for a gay Superman?

"We’re still struggling with basic representation."
July 02, 2013

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Over the past several years, and particularly with the blockbuster success of super-hero films like The Avengers and more recently Man of Steel, comic books have become everyday icons in the lives of many people. The resulting marketing bonanza from Marvel and DC Comics has allowed hero visibility to soar to new heights. San Diego and New York City's Comic Cons are must-attend launching pads for upcoming films and books. This past Halloween, I couldn't walk down the streets of my neighborhood without seeing a child dressed up as Iron Man or Captain America, and it seems like there are new cartoon tie-ins every day. As a life-long comic book consumer, I'm happy that my inane knowledge of various titles and characters now makes me a "cool kid."

But through all the hype and hoopla, I can't help but wonder: Will it ever be possible for a gay character to achieve this level of cultural saturation? Naturally, people (and in particular the general target audience of young boys) cling to Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Clark Kent because they're very heterosexual, very white and very male. These heroes have dominated the four-color landscape for decades, and studios and companies feel they're the easiest to translate from page to screen.

But with the current explosion of LGBT representation in comics, is the world ready for a "gay Superman?"

Naturally, it hasn't been easy to be a gay character in the world of superheroes. Since the 1980s, they've been ridiculed by their peers, bitten by HIV positive vampires and attacked for their sexuality, among other random attempts that tend to turn them into simplistic plot devices. And while we've seen Kevin Keller come out in the Archie Comics world, Northstar marry his long-time companion Kyle in the pages of Astonishing X-Men and Batwoman continue to prowl the night in her own series, I can't help but think there's something of a rainbow ceiling in comics. Meaning, there seems to be a special part of comic book universes for LGBT heroes, but those same heroes are frequently relegated to supporting character status or second-tier teams. Why aren't there any gay Avengers or Justice League-ers? Would a Northstar solo series get the same sales and attention given to the Batman titles? And, more importantly, would that hero be able to anchor his own film, replete with action figures and Halloween costumes?

"Despite the many recent successes in gay rights, we're still a ways off from a gay superhero that has the same sort of timeless recognition that Superman has," posits Jake Weatherman, a life-long comic book fan. "Right now, a gay character makes for some great stories about social issues surrounding gay rights, but ignorance will keep people from the character because being gay supersedes all other qualitative factors.  By the time a character can be gay and accepted, those issues will be less of a factor to the story elements, and more on who the hero will has a relationship with. And how many people read a superhero comic for the romantic aspect of it over the punching and flying part?"
"It’s great to see smart, progressive writers and artists in mainstream superhero comics (Young Avengers, Batgirl) dealing matter-of-factly with LGBT characters. But we’re still struggling with basic representation," added Glen Weldon, author of the recent Superman: The Unauthorized Biography. "And that’s a shame, because just getting ourselves represented in a given genre isn’t an end in itself – it’s the beginning of engagement. Indie books, art comics, 'literary' comics and manga are light-years ahead on this, telling nuanced stories about three-dimensional LGBT characters – often in a less-than-flattering (read: realistic) light.  That’s the stuff I’m excited about."

Clearly, the journey for a gay super-hero to the Justice League satellite will be a long one that as of right now only a few have even started. But then as I flip through some of my recent purchases, my eyes are drawn to the bulging muscles, the acrobatic moves and I can't help but think: Guys in tights parading around in broad daylight? Sounds pretty gay to me... maybe super-heroes are already queerer than we think.

Super Queeros is a bi-monthly column by members of New York's Geeks Out!