Before she was a mind-possessing badass who was the first recruitment to Charles Xavier’s new X-men team the New Mutants, X’ian Coy Manh had a tough life. Growing up in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, her mind-control powers manifested when protecting her twin brother Tran Coy Manh from an attack by a Viet Cong soldier. Tran went on to abuse his own identical powers, and Xi’an, along with her mother and younger siblings escaped from Vietnam by boat after her father a South Vietnamese colonel was killed.
On the journey she and her mother were sexually assaulted and her mother killed, leaving Karma an orphan and the caretaker of her siblings. This is the state that led her desperately to possess Spider-man’s mind to protect her little brother and sister. After a showdown between her, the mind-controlled Spider-man and the Fantastic Four who were possessed by her evil brother Tran, Xi’an absorbed her brother’s mind completely and became Karma. Later, in a Battle with Cameron Hodge, she was severely injured and had to have her leg amputated. It was replaced with a bionic prosthetic.
She’s been a loyal member of the X-men for decades, with brief stints away from the team to pursue other interest, including a job as a librarian at the University of Chicago, where she met and fell in love with Kitty Pryde (currently known as Shadowcat).
The two have been close friends, but Karma believes that Kitty would not be able to reciprocate her feelings and so has not pursued her own. Karma has been in no other known romantic relationship. Recently, Kitty had returned the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, where she has had a casual and undefined relationship with Iceman, and is appearing in Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel‘s X-men series.
Love doesn’t always work out for everyone, not even superheroes.
Today Karma is a member of theAstonishing X-men team, along with Gambit, Iceman, Northstar, Wolverine, and Cecilia Reyes. Created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, Karma first appeared in 1980 in Marvel Team-Up #100. Coming out and confessing her feelings for Kitty in 2003, she was one of the first lesbian characters in a mainstream comic.
May and the official Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month are coming to a close, but we can continue celebrating Asian American culture year-round and we can do it all geeky like with some on-going comics featuring Asian American & Pacific Islander heroes!
Non-stereotyped or side-kick-ed Asian/ Asian American heroes are a rare thing in comics history and present, but right now there are two major ongoing series with leading AA heroes – the slicing and dicing Japanese transplant Katana in her own self-titled series Katana(DC Comics) by Ann Nocenti and Alex Sanchez and the crime-fighting cibopath Tony Chu in Chew (Image) by John Layman and Rob Guillory.
Tony Chu – Chew
If you’re not already reading Chew, go pick up volume 1 now. It’s amazing. The storytelling, the art, Tony Chu… Often disgusting, usually hilarious, always incredibly imaginative, Chewis one of my favorite comics four years running. John Laymanhas created a world where birdflu ran rampant killing millions of Americans and turning the FDA into one of the most powerful agencies in the country. And that’s where Philadelphia police detective Tony Chu’s story starts off. A scrawny sickly looking guy, Tony Chu is a cibopath, meaning he can get psychic visions from anything he eats. Anything. Yep, just imagine all the potential for gross. But beyond the disgusting, Chu is stone-cold cop with a wacky ability in an absurd world, and he isn’t the only one with “special” talents…
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 Jinaduget 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 Momsthrew 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 ofSuperman.
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.