Funnybook Babylon

August 22, 2008

Tough Love: Perry Moore and Cursing the Darkness

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , , — Chris Eckert @ 5:32 pm

I think I speak for everyone on the site when I say this: historically, corporate comic book characters who aren’t straight white American males have gotten a pretty bum rap. I think things are improving, and there are reasons to be hopeful. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t call out dubious material when they see it; but manufacturing outrage does nothing to further anyone’s cause. I know that seems like a vague boilerplate, but I wanted to get it out of the way lest anyone think I am condemning the sentiment put forth by Perry Moore in his recent Newsarama interviews. I completely agree with his sentiments, my issue is the way he chooses to further his argument.

Moore is the author of Hero, a young adult novel featuring a gay teen protagonist who discovers he has super powers. He’s an outspoken critic of the way gay characters are treated in superhero books and has compiled an oft-cited list, “Who Cares about the Death of a Gay Superhero Anyway? A History of Gays in Comic Books?” It’s a list that is highly problematic: there are numerous factual errors and misleading descriptions, deliberately or accidentally skewed to inspire the maximum rage. To wit, the inspiration for the list was the following incident:

NORTHSTAR: 1st gay male hero to come out in the Marvel Comics Universe, thus making him their most prominent gay hero. Between February 16 and March 9, 2005, Northstar is killed in three different realities, during the most prominent of which, the X-Men’s most popular hero, Wolverine (star of the X-Men movies), impales him through the chest with his metal claws. Marvel’s most prominent gay hero is later resurrected as a murderous zombie assassin.

There’s nothing really untrue about this scenario; but the framing makes it sound like a systematic bashing of Northstar, if not gays in general. He’s killed three times! They send the most popular character they have to murder him! What a strong statement! They’re rounding up Northstars and executing them!

The thing is, two of the three killings took place in apocalyptic alternate-reality stories (X-Men: The End – Heroes & Martyrs, X-Men: New Age of Apocalypse). As those names imply, these were the sort of “What If?” stories where creators feel the need to kill off huge swaths of the Marvel Universe to sell how “important” the story is. To single out his death amongst the dozens of other recognizable-but-meaningless deaths is disingenuous; Gambit dies in both series, to use an example.

As for the “real” death in Wolverine: Enemy of the State, Mark Millar’s high concept pitch for EotS was to have beloved anti-hero Wolverine killed, resurrected and brainwashed into “murderous zombie assassin” by the Magical Evil Ninja Gang the Hand. The story follows him attempting to kill more heroes to convert them to The Hand’s “murderous zombie assassin” way. Northstar is one of his victims. Wolverine is pretty successful in general, though:

zombies

And eventually, both Wolverine and Northstar (Zombie Assassin Version) are defeated by the good guys and de-programmed. Both are current members of the X-Men. If anything, this seems to be treating Wolverine and Northstar pretty equitably.

But Moore seems unconvinced:

When I read things like Freedom Ring or Wolverine killing Northstar, and when you still read about hate crimes committed towards gays…you wonder if those comic books don’t add to that tapestry of hate.

I suppose that’s it possible that someone out there took a brainwashed Wolverine trying to kill pretty much every hero in the Marvel Universe, and succeeding in killing some (including Northstar) and decided “this is a good idea, I’d like to do this!” But the scene as written shows the whole thing as a pretty despicable event, one that rallies the whole Popular Marvel Character community together, culminating in Captain America pounding Wolverine down with his shield. It doesn’t glorify Wolverine, it doesn’t promote hate crimes against anyone. The brainwashed assassin who murders a gay man (amongst many other presumably straight non-hate-crime-victims) is subject to a righteous beatdown and is deprogrammed. Northstar’s sexuality isn’t even a plotpoint in the comic. The only way this seems like part of a “tapestry of hate” is if you put it in a big list on the internet.

I don’t want go through every nitpicky example of how Moore’s list is misleading, but I wanted to give a little context to my reaction to Moore’s latest statement, to demonstrate how this isn’t an isolated incident. Another character on Moore’s list is Freedom Ring, the Robert Kirkman creation from the most recent Marvel Team-Up series:

Yeah, well, Freedom Ring [from Marvel Team-Up] – take a look at him. That was terrific. (laughs) I talk to Robert Kirkman a lot – I used to talk to him more, because he was optioning out The Walking Dead, and I wanted to do something with it as a producer and then that [Freedom Ring’s death] happened. And I called him up, and I went, “What are you doing?! Don’t you understand?!” He was cool about it! He blamed his editors, and he said it was the worst mistake he ever made, and it was horrific, it was unbelievable. I can’t believe Marvel never came out and said, “We’re sorry” or anything like that. That’s really awful.

I obviously don’t know what Kirkman said to Moore at the time, but when the controversy first hit the Internet, Kirkman was apologetic, but seemed to take full responsibility:

Freedom Ring was always planned as an inexperienced hero who would get beaten up constantly and probably die. I wanted to comment on the fact that most superheroes get thier powers and are okay at it… and that’s not how life works.
During working on the book, I was also noticing that most gay characters… are all about being gay. Straight characters are well-rounded characters who like chicks. So I wanted to do a well-rounded character who just happened to like dudes. Then I decided to combine the two ideas.
In hindsight, yeah, killing a gay character is no good when there are so few of them… but I really had only the best of intentions in mind.

While I’m not personally convinced Kirkman has anything to apologize for, other than being sympathetic to the concerns of his readers, Moore (and the public) got an apology from the guy who wrote the book:

I completely understand the backlash on the death of Freedom Ring, regardless of my intensions. If I had it to do all over again… I wouldn’t kill him. I regret it more and more as time goes on. [..] I think you and anyone else who complained had every right to be angry. I just want you to understand that none of this was done with ill intent and it’s all just an unfortunate string of events. As a Marvel insider (kinda–I’ve been to thier offices, do a lot of work for them, and know a lot of people within the company) I can say that I’ve never gotten so much as a hint of homophobia from ANYONE at Marvel.

But what about Marvel proper? They’re the ones who made Kirkman kill off his gay creation, allegedly. Where’s their apology? The Gay League website interviewed Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada about the topic:

Freedom Ring is Robert Kirkman’s creation and he had the story arc planned from the very beginning. When Robert told us he was creating a gay lead for Marvel Team-Up all we said was, “sounds like it’ll make for a good story, have fun.” When he then told us that unfortunately part of Freedom Ring’s story arc was that he was going to die in the end, all we said was, “sounds like it’ll make for a good story, have fun.”

I am not omniscient, and I realize it is within the realm of possibility that Quesada is not being honest here. But like Kirkman’s statements, it certainly seems that the life and death of Freedom Ring was a Kirkman-generated loop. As for apologizing, Quesada’s statement was:

We don’t preach hatred or ignorance at Marvel, we never have. Our mandate has always been very simple, we tell the stories of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances and yes, most times they triumph, but sometimes even the villain has his day. So, as more and more gay characters enter the Marvel Universe, what I can assure you is that more and more stuff will happen to them as it does to all of our characters and isn’t that what we all want in then end?

To reiterate the boilerplate from the intro, I think that’s what everyone here at FBB want, and what I believe Perry Moore wants too. But Moore seems to think that the only way to call attention to this sort of thing is by manufacturing outrage, by convincing everyone listening that things right now are bad. REALLY BAD. I’ve seen this sort of attitude in plenty of good, well-intentioned activists of all stripes; it’s as if admitting there is something positive happening means that you’re accepting the status quo as is. I don’t agree.

It seems as if the only time people want to talk about how Apollo and Midnighter (or Northstar/Phat/Vivisector/Asgardian/Hulkling/Karolina Dean/Xavin/Renee Montoya/Batwoman/etc. etc. etc.) are gay is when they’re killed or beaten up or something. If Marvel puts out several years worth of Runaways with positive and entertaining stories about a group of teenagers with varying sexual preferences, that’s not a news story. It’s only a news story when something “bad” happens, which further “proves” that Marvel and DC can’t handle LGBT characters.

This is harmful in two ways: it seems like a disincentive for Marvel or DC to ever push characters from outside of the “comfort zone”, as the risk vs. reward starts too look pretty unappealing. There are already intolerant segments of our population who will fight against the portrayal of homosexuals in comics, or the “blackification” of books, or whatever other bigoted nonsense. It’s a small and hopefully diminishing demographic, but it’s one that companies like Marvel and DC are already defying by publishing these books.

I’m not trying to say “if you don’t like it, don’t speak out”; if anyone reads anything they don’t like, they ought to feel free to speak out on it. But something like Perry Moore’s “list” is obviously compiled by someone who hadn’t even read many of the books they are decrying, and forwarded articles of outrage, and a general attitude of “I don’t need to read this to have an opinion” make stories about racism, sexism and homophobia spread like wildfire amongst the scans_daily crew, the blogosphere and elsewhere. How many of the people who clucked their tongues at Wolverine killing Northstar in February 2005 bothered taking note at his ressurection a month later, or Mike Carey’s subsequent use of Northstar in X-Men a year later?

Long story short: Perry Moore, we love you and support your message. But you’re spending a lot of time cursing the darkness and pretending like no one else is lighting any candles. And you haven’t even read half of the candles.

8 Comments »

  1. I was interested until you mentioned that this is the guy who compiled that ridiculous list. Sorry, but his agenda is showing far too blatantly and I have little use for zealots.

    Comment by Aaron Poehler — August 26, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  2. Some of those entries are pretty heinous, but most of the really bad examples are from years and years ago. And the inclusion of Ultimate Iron Man just by virtue of the fact that Orson Scott Card is homophobic is really, really reaching.

    Comment by Abby — August 27, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  3. Sometimes when I see lists or websites like this that are about negative portrayl or this minority or that and how they’re doing it so wrong, I always want to ask the people who made “Hey? Do you ever talk about it when people get it right?”

    Comment by NeoKefka — August 28, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

  4. I do not believe this

    Comment by fornetti — August 31, 2008 @ 3:15 am

  5. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for joining in the discussion.

    The list I compiled was a cursory tool, a companion piece to my novel HERO, meant to facilitate discussion and corrections.

    I’m often surprised at how many folks take the list at face value without reading the tool.

    For instance, NeoKefka’s comment: “Hey? Do you ever talk about when people get it right?

    In fact that’s just what I did when I wrote HERO. That was the whole point of writing the epic coming of age story of the world’s first open and out male gay teen superhero where he’s the title star of his own book. It can be done, and it can be done right. I wish you could see all the inspirational e-mails I receive on a daily basis. There are so many — gay and straight, old and young, black and white, big and little — who need to know there is a HERO in them despite their perceived differences.

    Please e-mail me if you want to discuss further, and it really helps if you read HERO first. You can reach me at perrymoorestories.com.

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

    All the best,

    Perry Moore,
    author of HERO

    Comment by perry moore — February 4, 2009 @ 3:03 am

  6. I read Hero, and I understand why you would make such a list, but this list has been used by yourself as a promotional tool and used at face value.

    You rarely if or ever update the list or fix “errors”.

    Chris also comments on things outside the list itself, interviews that you have. At some point, you have to admit you are being intellectually dishonest about the role homosexuals characters and creators play within modern superhero comics. I understand what advantages you gain by presenting yourself as the only source of positive but it’s hardly true.

    Thanks again for your response.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — February 4, 2009 @ 10:55 am

  7. Dear Readers,

    I asked in the intro to the list for help in updating it. I want it to be something we all take part of, something we all see evolve into something better. You don’t like it? Feel free to say whatever you want about me. I still believe it’s a topic worthy of discussion.

    To quote one of my favorite Larry McMurty Books “Horseman Pass bY” and the subsequent film, “HUD,” which earned Patricia Neal and Mevlyn Douglas Academy Awards, “they lay of the land is determined by whom we choose to venerate.”

    Things have gotten much better in may ways since I wrote that article (i.e Anole graduating to the X-Me.)

    I invite commentary. I will post it when I receive it. The list should grow.

    And for the record, the way I believe a gay protagonist should be handled well is found in the novel HERO. His sexuality is neither sensationalized nor his defining treat. Many focus on the list, and lose sight that my primary goal was to show what amazing potential lies ahead in the pages of HERO.

    I ask with utmost respect: Please make sure you get a chance to read the book before condemning the list. Reading HERO was supposed to come first. Since it often didn’t work out that way, I wish I’l held off on the list until people had the chance to read about thom Creed’s remarkable journey.

    Thanks for being patient and bearing with me. I believe we’re on the cusp of making storytelling just that much better.

    All the best,
    Perry Moore,
    witerr of HERO

    Comment by perry moore — February 15, 2009 @ 4:46 am

  8. ANd dear Pedro,
    PLEASE send me some update and I’ll post them on my website pronto. Between Narnia and the HERO pilot and some family issues, I haven’t been as diligent with the list as promised. I would love to cite you as a bold writer who has broken the seal, and made it possible for all contributors to send in their thought!
    Thanks again, Pedro,
    Perry,
    Author of HERO

    Comment by perry moore — February 15, 2009 @ 4:51 am

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