Regular readers of my stuff will know that I am a comic book fanatic and have argued many times that comics have historically been at the forefront of social progress, often addressing issues that television and other mediums have been unable or unwilling to. Yes, they can also be problematic, but I contend that finding the right book with the right author can lead to a wealth of fantastic characters representing all sorts of diverse types of people and ideas.
So welcome to the beginning of what will hopefully be a monthly feature in which I describe the wonderful things that are happening in the comics I read that send a positive message in the social justice arena. I should point out that I can only really write about the comics I actually read, so if you have a book that you think would be great that I don’t cover, mention it in the comments. Otherwise, all comics and characters are the property of their respective companies and are being reproduced in part here under Fair Use guidelines.
Now, let’s jump right in.
Kevin Keller #10
I have had a deep and abiding love of Archie Comics by entire life. I own far more Double Digests than I do trade paperbacks of other things. They’re goofy, they’re pun-erific, they’ve over the top, and they are absolutely full of heart and good will. Nothing makes that more clear than how they’ve treated openly gay character Kevin Keller, since his introduction in Veronica 202. The character, who’s introduction caused Archie comics to have to run a second printing for the first time…well, ever, was given his own book and in August we were given Kevin Keller #10, “First Kiss.”
The plot revolves around Kevin giving his boyfriend a quick goodbye kiss in Pop Tate’s Chocklit Shoppe and a woman freaking out all over them about it. This particular story was lampooning when “One Million” Moms decided to throw a fit and demand that Toys R’ Us remove the issue of Life With Archie where Keller comes home a war hero and marries his partner (Life With Archie is a book that takes place in the future and shows the kids as adults). As is wont to happen in the Archie-verse, the Riverdale kids rally, do something clever and implausible, and then everybody ends up happy at the end. It’s a good read, and one I highly recommend for just the pure pleasure of reading about positive things.
Teen Titans #23
Up until now, the only avowed atheist hero in the DC Universe was Booster Gold. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Booster Gold, but I wouldn’t call him a role model, especially since he admitted to it in a conversation with Blue Beetle about how he married a rich old lady for her money.
So to see incredibly popular character Garfield Logan (aka “Beast Boy”) come out as an atheist was really exciting for me. He sort of discovers his own atheism while in conversation with Miguel Barrigan (aka “Bunker”), who is Catholic, but also a gay Mexican immigrant that in those other panels gets news that his boyfriend has just awoken from a coma.
Beyond that, I also want to point out that this issue has Cassie Sandsmark (“Wondergirl”) exhibiting a really good sex positive attitude. She admits to Kon-El (“Superboy”) in conversation that yes, she is attracted to Red Robin (Tim Drake), and in no way seems embarrassed by her desire to sleep with him because of it. She also recognizes that just having these feelings doesn’t make it a good idea, almost as if teenagers are capable of making rational decisions about sex.
In this issue, we’re treated to a scene of Barbara Gordon (“Batgirl”) shopping with her roommate, Alysia Yeoh, a social justice activist and transwoman of Singaporean descent. I should point out that I love Alysia so damn much, and I am so glad that Gail Simone created this character. They run into a couple of assholes who start to harass them, first trying to “flirt”, then suggesting that Babs and Alysia might be a couple, something these two rejects could “fix”. I don’t have the following panels, but Barbara eventually turns on them with a broken dish, doesn’t attack them, and they run off. It was nice to see her react rather than just run away, but on the other hand I worry that this sets the expectation that street harassment should be met with threats of violence, thereby making anybody who doesn’t do that “at fault.” That being said, like many problems women face, there is no right answer and the MRA contingent could just as easily say that she “overreacted” to two guys who were “just complimenting her.”
Young Avengers #9
I have the biggest love in the world for comic writer Kieron Gillan. He writes interesting and diverse characters, and really I cannot more recommend Young Avengers for a fantastic team with a lot of different people on it representing a whole spectrum of racial, sexual, religious, and gender variances. Also Kid Loki. Kid Loki makes everything better.
In the last issue, Teddy Altman (“Hulkling”) and David Alleyne (“Prodigy”) were trapped in another dimension controlled by the big bad of the series. Thinking they were going to die, David kisses Teddy, even knowing his serious and long term relationship with Billy Kaplan (“Wiccan”). This issue picks up there with awkward silence and David apologizing, followed by what’s happening with the rest of the team, then back to David and Teddy. David explains that he thought it was the end and didn’t want to die without kissing Teddy, who he is very attracted to. He then comes out as bi, which made me squee all over to see a an established hero also be bisexual rather than gay (we’re even less represented in media than gay men and lesbians). Also, I love that it’s a hero of color, and one who has done some pretty impressive things in the Marvel universe up to this point.
The rest of the issue does some great character stuff, especially when Teddy lets Billy know what happened and his reservations about the relationship that has nothing to do with the kiss or that it’s same-sex.
Now, before I sign off, while I want to keep this mostly positive, there is negative news to comment on. DC comics, who despite being well represented on this list does something dumb nearly daily, has driven the creative team off of Batwoman. For those who don’t know, Kate Kane (“Batwoman”) is an out lesbian socialite in her secret identity that is engaged to another woman (Gotham is in New York State). Among the many things that the editorial team did to drive away the fantastic people working on this series, was tell them that Kate and her fiance, Maggie Sawyer, would not be allowed to be married.
Now, I want to point out here that this isn’t because they’re a gay couple. DC is not allowing any of their characters to get married since the reboot. That being said, there is a huge difference between not allowing a straight couple to be married because you want all of your characters to be swinging singles, and not allowing a gay couple to be married. Susana Polo over at The Mary Sue covered that topic much better than I could.
A college classics professor one told me something that’s stuck with me for a very long time as a lover of superheroes: the point of heroes, narratively, is to break boundaries, so that we normal people will know where the boundaries are. He was talking primarily about tragic heroes like Achilles, but this applies as well to comedic heroes (in the old sense of comedic, i.e., heroes who get to win) in a slightly different way. Superheroes break boundaries so that we know what boundaries are possible to break. For many years now, merely getting equal legal recognition for their relationships has been a boundary that the gay community has been fighting to break. Now imagine that I am saying this very slowly: If you are a person who has ever had your life touched by a fictional hero, you should be able to understand how very important it is to allow gay heroes to break that boundary.
Dan DiDio’s foolishness aside, there are some amazing comics out there that give positive portrayals of people who are not white, straight, cis, and male. There are good examples of fantastic characters who are not sexualized and who deal with real issues affecting minorities while not taking away (actually adding to) the stories being told.
So go out, read more comics, and let people know that there is at least one medium that is really pushing the boundaries of who will be represented in our entertainment.