Many argue that politics don’t belong in comics. I hear those arguments. I even understand them. But, obviously I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. On the contrary, I think comics are a perfect medium for political reflection. Fiction and literature have a long history of social critique and reflection, using story to show society its reflection – its progress, its missteps, its blind spots… And comics (comics are literature too), as a serialized medium, are unique in their ability to keep up with the times, to keep that reflection current.
So, today being an important day, one that will forever alter the face of American society when the U.S Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, let’s take a look at how comics have kept up with the times…
Northstar and Kyle Jinadu get married!
One of the biggest moment in gay rights in comics occurred just last year, when X-men member Northstar (aka Jean-Paul Beaubier) proposed to his long-time boyfriend Kyle Jinadu in Astonishing X-men #50. In issue #51, Kyle and Jean-Paul became Marvel’s first gay married couple at a beautiful ceremony in New York’s Central Park.
The couple also claims the distinction of being one of few married couples at all, as well as being a mixed-race couple and a mixed super-powered–no-powered couple to boot! The marriage issue was a huge hit among comics readers, but it wasn’t all celebration, at least not in the Marvel universe. The issue made sure to depict that this is a fraught issue, and while Kyle and Jean-Paul had a beautiful ceremony with the support of many of their super-powered friends, the idea didn’t sit well with everyone. A keen acknowledgment that the human tensions around the issue don’t go away with a change in law.
Same-sex marriage became legal in New York in July 2011, so Kyle and Jean-Paul’s wedding, taking place in May 2012, was no hopeful fantasy land wish. in the real world, a same-sex New York wedding was already a precedent. In comics anything is possible – Asgardian gods descending from the sky to mingle among us, alien invasions, wealthy, technologically superior African nations led by Panther kings, wealthy entrepreneurs who become technology-enhanced superheroes… But I suppose, sometimes, it’s the real world that beats fantasy to the punch. On that note, the happy couple are still face some very real world issues, with Northstar, who is French-Canadian, facing possible deportation because his same-sex marriage is not (hopefully soon was not) acknowledged in national law…
Northstar wasn’t the only comic book character that got in on the action. Archie Comics was actually a bit ahead of the game. In January 2012, on the tail of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and months before the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, Kevin Keller, an openly gay active U.S. Military Officer in Archie Comics married his partner Clay Walker in the all-American town of Riverdale, NY. This was also a mixed-race couple (I wonder if there’s gonna continue to be a trend here…).
While same-sex marriage has only recently hit the scene in comics, openly gay comic book characters are much more common! This includes DC Comics‘ own Batwoman, who is probably the most high-profile openly gay comic book character. She recently proposed to her girlfriend. Wonder if she’ll be getting hitched anytime soon… DC also pulled a pretty controversial move, around the same time that Archie and Marvel were stirring things up, when the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott came out with DC’s New 52 relaunch. One Million Moms threw a foe-ful fit, of course. Unfortunately, DC faced the other side of the battle, when they hired anti-gay-marriage writer Orson Scott Card as a writer for a digital comic Adventures of Superman.
Gay characters in comics are hardly new. Many awesome creators had their eyes open from the jump and saw that LGBTQ folk have always been here and queer. Though she started off on television, lesbian superwiccan Willow of Joss Whedon‘s original tv series Buffy, now headlines her own comic Willow: Wonderland which is in it’s 5th issue. It’s also seriously awesome and you should all go pick up the trade whenever it’s out.
There are quite a few other LGBTQ characters hanging around the margins of comics. Get a brief on a few of them in this great slide show at The Week.
And speaking of the margins, there are some creators addressing love and sex in interesting and strange ways under the radar. One of the most jarring I’ve found is Our Love is Real by Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders (Image comics), which came out in 2011, with much love from industry insiders. It’s not LGBTQ exactly, but rather depicts a world where the bounds of who or what one can love are seriously blurred and open, including some who have love affairs with minerals. Clearly there’s some symbolism and commentary in there…
Gay characters and LGBTQ topics have had some presence in comics, and that representation is increasing as we become a more open society. Still it’s a pretty sad reflection that even in the fantastical worlds that the “low brow” medium of comics create, the idea of a magical green-glowing ring that grant limitless universal powers to its wearer is more fantastical than a ring that lets two members of the same-sex the simple right of legal recognition… That space habitation, intergalactic wars, and giant red crime-fighting demons have long had a place in supreme unreality, but gay marriage was a far stretch of the imagination…
Makes you wonder where else the notion of resolving some injustice is so crazy a notion that we can’t even imagine it in our most imaginative mediums… We could probably make up a whole genre of social fiction from historical examples alone.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling out this summer, here’s hoping gay marriage rights for all doesn’t remain a fiction.