DC Comics made headlines in recent months with story lines that reveal Batman’s sidekick, Robin, and Superman’s son, Jon (who also goes by the name Superman) are bisexual.
For those not up on current comics lore, this Robin is not the original character either. Tim Drake is the third person to wear Robin’s red-breasted costume.
DC has a history of queer characters appearing in their comics, but this is the first time that characters with names that even non-comics readers know have come out. There has been a lesbian Batwoman and a gay Aqualad (maturing into a new Aquaman), a lesbian Green Lantern, and a few more, but this is the first time that the publisher has taken a calculated risk by making any Super-character anything but straight.
The internet being what it is, there has been plenty of reaction across social media, from comics fans to politicians. The loudest noise often comes from the people who enjoy being outraged—conservative politicians, and many Twitter users. But what about queer comics fans?
To get a taste of what these characters’ coming-out means to the queer community, I turned to my favorite queer geek Facebook group on the web, the Gay League. Created and administered by Joe Palmer (first as a Yahoo Groups listserv more than 20 years ago), Gay League has long been a safe place for LGBTQ comics fans to talk, fantasize, and argue about their favorite characters. I asked the group for their thoughts and reactions.
Palmer immediately went to the writer behind the Superman story. “Tom Taylor is a consistently strong LGBTQIA ally, so finding a queer character in his Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 [scheduled to go on sale November 16] isn’t shocking. To learn that the son of Superman—the hero who inspired countless people to dream—has fallen in love with a young man is a wonderful surprise.”
Andrew Lopez expressed interest in both the name and the dual heritage of the new Superman. “I love that we don’t have to dig deep to spot a queer character anymore.” he says. “It’s also great that this is Superman’s son, and with that Lane blood in him he’s got her keen way of looking at the world and questioning why things are the way they are.”
Another Gay Leaguer, Mitchell (who asked to be identified by first name only), a comics fan for more than 40 years, was delighted to see more bi representation. “As a pansexual man, I am elated that bisexuality, rather than just the L and the G, is now getting considerable representation in comics. Robin and Superman are such icons that, even if they’re not the originals, their disclosures gain so much media coverage for bisexuality.” (Robin/Tim Drake was revealed as bi in Batman: Urban Legends #6, released this past August.)
Mitchell also expresses the feelings of many comics fans who remember when there were no queer superheroes when he adds, “Yes, I wish that there had been LGBTQ comic-book heroes when I was a kid and a teenager. It would’ve meant less confusion for myself, and more understanding from others.”
The lack of LGBTQ heroes can cause some comics readers to lose interest in superhero comics. Leaguer Mary Cohen noted that all of those superpowers were not the only way that the genre felt unrealistic. “One of the ways I felt that world was contrived was [the complete lack of queer representation]. If more prominent gay characters had been around, I would have latched onto them.” Cohen adds that she found greener pastures elsewhere as a college student. “Inclusion was a big part of why I latched on to manga in college.”
As in all interest groups, there are multiple voices to be heard—and not all of them cheerleading the changes. “I’m not a fan of it, because it seems too much, too sudden, too broad.” says Jim Drew, a DC Comics fan for over 40 years. He noted that new characters related to Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Flash (among others) were also revealed to be queer in the last few years. “It feels a little forced to have the entire new slate not be straight. And when it feels forced, it feels doomed.” Drew also adds an interesting twist to this complaint—his concern that bisexuality might be too easily reversed or ignored. “The cynic in me says ‘bi is just a stage,’ but in reverse of how we usually mean it: a step out of the closet that makes it easy to step back in when the wind changes.”
Another Leaguer counters that concern, though. David Branson says, “I think trying to make up for lost time is not a bad thing. Sure, they could introduce LGBTQ characters over a period of, say, thirty years to make it more ‘realistic,’ but do readers want to wait around till then to see representation?”
A local voice with more than a casual stake in comic-book stories sums it up well. Byron Canady, co-owner of Gulf Coast Cosmos Comicbook Co. in Houston’s Third Ward, welcomed the current focus on diversity (not only in sexuality, but also in race) that his store emphasizes. Canaday, who identifies as bi, says, “As a kid, it was hard for me to completely identify with superheroes because they didn’t look like me, and they didn’t exist like me. Having a superhero like Aquaman and Superman’s son and Robin, living and existing and loving as their whole, complete selves, is a whole new revelation. It’s about time that we have more superheroes that represent more of who we are in the real world.”