Comic Fodder

The Press Gets It Wrong Again

So I’m scanning the Drudge Report, as I tend to do every couple of days, and spot a front-page article that claims, SPIDER-MAN creator Stan Lee is to unveil the world's first gay superhero. I just have to check this out, because the headline alone is incorrect, for sure. Just to start things off on the right foot (Editor’s Note: try to contain sarcasm for at least two sentences in a row), the picture is of a suggestively-dressed Robin from DC, even though the subject is a gay Marvel superhero. I’ve written before about how the media reports get all the details wrong, and there’s a slew of examples here. But this takes the cake for getting so much SO wrong, in so few words. By the third sentence, they are calling Stan Lee the creator –instead of the co-creator- of the Hulk and X-Men, and the last sentence is pure fiction: there is zero buzz among comic fans, especially since most of them haven’t heard about this until now. The news is less than 24 hours old, how did they create any “buzz,” let alone have the time to quiz comic fans about this alleged “buzz?”

But let’s set aside these numerous small mistakes and focus on the big pink elephant wearing the tutu: this is not the world’s first gay superhero. That dubious honor goes to Extrano, who was created for DC’s mini-series Millenium (which Ryan recently read for the first time, and was less than pleased with it). The creative team did not overtly say he was gay in the actual series, but settled for leaving no doubt in his mannerisms, such that any ten-year-old could figure it out. He was a minor character, though, and DC to boot. Does he count? How about Hooded Justice from Watchmen? The Hooded Justice character originally appeared in Smash Comics in 1939, so he certainly has precedence chronologically, although it wasn’t until Alan Moore used him in 1986 for Watchmen that he was revealed to be gay. If memory serves, Millenium came out in 1987 or 1988, so maybe Extrano didn’t quite make it first, but he usually gets the credit, since any gay characters in Watchmen were secondary or tertiary characters.

This is how wrong the news article is: we can quibble about DC or Independent characters all day long, but this isn’t even Marvel’s first gay superhero! Let’s move over to Marvel and talk about Northstar. Northstar was originally a mutant (which is an entire column to itself about how homosexuals were lumped in with descriptions of mutants, but I don’t want to digress right now), and he had a twin sister, Aurora. He was a primary member of Canada’s Alpha Flight team, and the writer wanted to make him an openly gay superhero. John Byrne was forbidden by the editor to state this, but later Bill Mantlo took over the writing chores, and introduced an illness into the storyline.

The illness was supposed to be AIDs, and at first the idea was approved, or somehow went under the wire, because the story built up until issue #50, when it was suddenly changed from AIDs to his secret origin making him half-Elfin, and his sickness was due to him being a magical creature who had been away from his homeland for too long, sort of like Aquaman not getting his required dosage of water. So whatever the behind-the-scenes machinations at Marvel, the creative team still managed to make him a fairy in some sense, which may have been Mantlo’s best attempt to poke fun at Marvel’s editors. The AIDs angle was quite obvious at first, and the way the story ended by issue #50 was very artificial and strange, which can happen if a writer gets told down the line that he has to change his plot, which is part of what leads me to believe Mantlo originally got a green light from someone for his story.

Fast-forward to 1992, and Northstar finally gets to admit he’s gay in Alpha Flight #106. He’s been pretty overt about it ever since, so it’s not like this has been a naughty secret. More overtly than even that, Apollo and Midnighter are gay Superman and Batman archetypes over in the Authority, and by now they are actually married and have custody of a daughter (although they may actually be divorced at this point, I lost track). Heck, why not just visit this website and check out long lists, not just of gay and lesbian characters in comics, but also all bisexual characters, all with uncertain orientations, “fixed’ characters, and transgender/transsexual characters in comics.

What’s even worse is that DC had a huge publicity stunt a couple years ago, unveiling a major new character as a “lipstick lesbian.” Since CNN doesn’t keep their pages up for very long, here’s a copy through a secondary source. This news was plastered all over the Internet, and DC ended up… doing almost nothing with the character. So there was a lot of fanfare not amounting to much, but it was all over the comics pages and many other Internet areas that don’t normally concern themselves with comics. I actually lost track of how many days kept it plastered on their Entertainment page.

The real deal is that the television series isn’t even an original creation by Stan Lee, but based on openly-gay film producer Perry Moore’s novel, Hero. The main character is Thom Creed, whose power is to heal by “laying hands on somebody,” and if that isn’t enough suggestive innuendo for a gay character, I don’t know what is. The original plan was to turn Moore’s novel into a movie, but when the dust settled, they made it a TV show, and Stan Lee is simply the producer. So the article is doubly misleading, in that it first suggests Stan Lee is the whole creative force behind this movement, and then claiming “Lee developed the idea from… the novel.” No, the way it works is that Moore and his agents pitched his book to several networks, and one or two liked the idea, and after negotiations, one network won out and agreed to produce the idea.

Not only is this not the first gay comic character, but gay characters have been tripping over each other with increasing frequency at both DC and Marvel in the past few years, between characters in Exiles, Manhunter, Batman and the Outsiders, etc. So we are left with an attempt at a buzz-worthy press release that is, in fact, entirely incorrect in just about every sentence, wrong about how TV shows are started, wrong about giving credit where it is due, making false claims with its headline… SUCCESS! WE HAVE FINALLY ARRIVED!

One of the things that happen when mediums become popular is that the press stars to pay attention to you. TV and movies have always been glamorous, but the media always needs more stories. They found their way to books, and they have finally found their way to comics. The end result is that comics will continue to take over the world, but their press coverage will be wrong more often than right, whether they are suggesting Batman has died (or any of the dozen incorrect variations of that story that came out), or trying to claim comics have never had an openly-gay superhero before. Maybe a good editor could come to the rescue and explain that what they perhaps MEANT to say is that television is getting its first ever openly gay superhero. Anyone know if there was a gay superhero on TV before now? (No quips about Batman and Robin!)

This is what we have to look forward to, true believers. Since almost everybody knows about Northstar, we can not only be assured that there is no “buzz” among comic fans about this event, but we can also be sure that nobody who read, produced, or copied this article knows anything about comic books or their characters at all. We also know that nobody bothered to do any fact-checking, because if they had gotten their hand on a single true comic fan, they could have been set straight (no pun intended) on the facts. Hey, maybe somebody did rattle off a dozen gay comic characters, but the writer figured he had no story without that hook, so he ran it “as is” anyway. But come on, even if a newer reader didn’t know about Northstar or Extrano or hooded Justice, or even the awkward Rawhide Kid gay retcon, someone would have known about Apollo or Ultimate Colossus or Renee Montoya.

But this is what success looks like: comics will become more accepted and news-worthy with every year. You know how you always want to throw something at the TV because the idiot newscaster just read something that you know for a fact is wrong? Get ready for that feeling in spades for the rest of your life where comics are concerned. It’s what the media does.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

As clumsy as attempts were to introduce racial minority characters into comics in the 60's and 70's, I'm not entirely surprised at the bumpy road we've seen with homosexual characters.

Two items:
1) I'm never surprised when a news source just prints a press release verbatim as a news bit these days. But the real thing to see here is that the PR company is trying to hook the rest of the populace by telling the public that comic fans like something. This is the first absolutely blatant false claim I've seen of this kind, but its kind of mind boggling.

Good call out on this.

2) "Laying of hands" is rife with religious connotation, not gay connotation. Traditionally seen (check out Genesis and the story of Isaac) as a form of blessing, Jesus ups the ante and His laying of hands was traditionally seen as a healing power to all who would come to see him.

And that, no doubt, will open up a whole different can of worms.

-- Posted by: Ryan at January 15, 2009 11:30 AM

Yes, how many of us thought we would see the day where comic geek cred was so sought after? Let alone the idea that they would try to manufacture it as a selling point to 'regular' people?

The religious connotations are classic, Ryan, but how could I pass up such an easy target for perverted innuendo?


-- Posted by: tpull at January 16, 2009 11:27 AM

Indeed! We shall need to see about more double entendre here at the Comic Fodder.

-- Posted by: Ryan at January 16, 2009 4:20 PM

But Travis, I have it on good authority from a representitive of my local paper that there are no such things as facts or truth. Getting a story "right" is not possible because of differing opinions.
To be fair he was a photographer, not a reporter, but I suspect the sentiment is shared.

-- Posted by: Jim Brocius at February 3, 2009 3:44 PM