Funnybook Babylon

July 2, 2009

Lots of Thoughts About Superheroes Kissing

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: , , , — Chris Eckert @ 12:23 pm

Last week’s X-Factor featured a “cliffhanger” kiss between Shatterstar and Rictor, something making the rounds on the Internet as “mainstream comics book world’s first gay kiss“. While any good publicity is, well, good, this is not Team Comics’s First Gay Kiss. It’s not even the X-Men’s first gay kiss: I’m pretty sure that honor belongs to 2002’s X-Force #118:

Bloke’s entire entry on Perry Moore’s frequently-cited Gay Superhero List is: “First openly gay member of Marvel’s X-Force/X-Statix. Killed on his first mission.” This is all true, but before anyone construes Bloke’s death as a sort of editorial “punishment” for his homosexuality, the whole thing about Peter Milligan’s X-Force/X-Statix is that the whole team kept dying: six other presumably heterosexual team members died in the first three issues, and by series’s end, every single character — gay, straight, bi-curious, pansexual alien blob — had died. X-Force was a satirical look at Superhero-as-Celebrity and the fact that everyone in the book struggled with public and private identity politics while chasing the incredibly dangerous fame of being a superhero was the driving force behind the book. Writing the series off as “THREE GAY MUTANTS MURDERED” is woeful. But I digress.

Thinking further, I knew that there had to be a gay kiss before 2002 in a “mainstream” superhero comic book, and turns out I was right: James Robinson wrote one between “Blue Starman” Mikaal Thomas and his boyfriend Tony back in 1998’s Starman #45:
I know what you’re thinking — didn’t James Robinson kill Tony off yesterday in Justice League: Cry for Justice #1? He sure did. And everyone all stood up and yelled “JUSTICE!” at the top of their lungs for no rea– wait, what’s that? No one is actually reading Cry for Justice?

Okay, then perhaps you were thinking “why are one half of both of these gay couples oddly colored?” That’s a valid question too — could there be some sort of trend to avoid putting two “normal” looking dudes together in a couple? After all, Wiccan is dating the scaly green Hulkling in Young Avengers. And even unattached gay X-Men, like Young X-Men’s Anole and Graymalkin, have unusual appearances. Phat’s fellow dead gay X-Statix member Vivisector was a werewolf, and lest we forget the real first gay kiss in “mainstream” comics:
Way back in 1990, Doom Patrol #34 featured Monsieur Mallah and The Brain (in Cliff Steele’s experimental new robot body) consummating their desire for each other, then exploding because the robotic Body rejected the notion that it could be controlled by a Mind. It’s actually clever, hilarious and strangely moving in context, I promise.

I’m not bringing this up just to prove people wrong, though people are quantitatively, objectively wrong and that always bothers me. But any sort of progress exists on a continuum, and when everything gets snapped back to THE FIRST __________ it ignores all the progress others have made, as sporadic and imperfect as that progress may be. I’m not even trying to make a comprehensive list of Gay Kisses in Comics — there’s Midnighter and Apollo in The Authority, Obsidian and Damon Matthews in Manhunter, lots of “non-mainstream” books from Vertigo and “independent” publishers, to say nothing of lesbian kisses, which I am sure many would discount for the male-gaze titillation they cause anyway. All of these exist.

You may not like the way that these characters were treated afterward, or that they weren’t as high profile as two X-Men — though really, Rictor and Shatterstar as “high profile” X-Men is like calling Lobot and Kit Fisto “high profile” Star Wars cast members — but they’re part of publishing history. Erasing this progress every time another “milestone” hits, or stretching to make sure that the next time something like this happens gets called “The First Gay Kiss Between Two Superheroes [Who Were in Costume and Also One of Them Had His Own Ongoing Series Within the Past Five Years]” or something seems to accomplish nothing. Except maybe keep the perception going that comics are backwards and socially conservative and homophobic. I don’t know who this benefits. Discussing the whole continuum of portrayals of gays (or women, people of color, people of a certain faith, anyone) with all the good and bad things that come with that, seems far more enlightening than “Firsts”. And really, why are there so few gay characters that look like a flesh-and-blood human could in real life?


  1. Coincidentally I just finished rereading the miiligan/allred xfactor-xstatic run last weekend.

    It was a marvelous run, the story was fun and the art was great ( some nice cooke and fegardo fill ins as well as allreds usual magic).

    It never occurred to me that Blokes kiss was any sort of milestone though.

    BTW the ending was somewhat ambiguous and meta so when I’m reading it everyone who made it that far walks away intact ;)

    (Also the real Edie is later found frozen in a block of ice and the avengers thaw her out.)

    Comment by mike abbott — July 3, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  2. Discussing the whole continuum ….. seems far more enlightening than “Firsts”.

    Sounds pretty much dead on. To be the best of my knowledge, the only First that ever gets any play as a big deal is the Shatner/Nichols kiss from Star Trek. And even then, it’s as a bit of sci-fi trivia more often than it is a milestone of media representation.

    It does remind me a bit of all the Batwoman talk over the past few years. Sure, she’s gay and has a (semi) famous name, but until Detective 854 hit stores there wasn’t anything substantial to discuss. One character or one kiss, first or not, won’t be a big deal on it’s own. It has to all add up.

    Comment by HitTheTargets — July 3, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  3. I think there is something compelling about the idea that a lot of the gay/bisexual/lesbian characters within comic books are somewhat otherworldly or exotic looking. In some ways it feels like a commentary about the “other” and possibly the way that straight writers unconsciously conceptualize different sexualities.

    Mike Abbot: the dead girl mini crushes that dream and then gives a completely happier new one.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — July 4, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  4. Apparently something similar to this topic came up during a Q&A session featuring Grant Morrison and Clive Barker.

    “Toward the end of the session, a person asked about the portrayal and under-representation of gay characters in mainstream comics. “People are scarred,” Morrison said, citing the “Alpha Flight” incident, in which the portrayal of Northstar as gay was questionable. “Nobody wants to do it in such a way that’s preposterous.” Morrison then suggested the lack of prominent gay writers in mainstream comics is also part of the problem.

    Barker added, “The vibe which is put out by the industry isn’t very attractive to gay writers.”

    Morrison said he pitched a “Gay Authority” to WildStorm. Set in a future where the world has gone gay, the last heterosexual finds himself as the new Doctor. “A magical version of spin doctor,” Morrison said. The new Doctor and the Gay Authority must take the Carrier beyond the shores of the infinite because the baby universe which powers it has grown to a teenager. “It’s got horny. [They go] to set it loose among the other spawning universes.”

    Barker made the question broader, “Comics are relentlessly violent … in that world, I’m not sure there’s room for love — let alone gay love.” The nuances of love are complicated and difficult to express in the format. The tendency in superhero comics, Barker stated, is to use love as a vulnerability for characters. “

    Comment by HitTheTargets — July 5, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  5. We should struggle to improve, rather than condemn. The portrayal of homosexuals in comics have come a long way, and hopefully the trend will continue positively.

    The comments on Perez Hilton’s blog are… intriguing, to say the least. Especially the one about how Marvel is just doing this “TO TRY TO INDOCTRINATE YOUNG CHILDREN INTO PUTTING THEIR GUARD DOWN SO THEY WILL BE EASIER TO MOLEST”

    Comment by Lugh — July 7, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  6. Wait, Lobot kissed Kit Fisto?

    Comment by Dave Snyder — July 8, 2009 @ 10:07 am

  7. And don’t think that people didn’t go to extreme lengths insisting that Midnighter and Apollo _weren’t_ gay. I remember one comment: “…Ellis could write a scene were Apollo gives Midnighter a rimjob, and Hitch and Neary could illustrate it in nine panels, and people would STILL claim that what happened was Apollo had somehow got poison in his ass and Midnighter had to suck it out.”

    Comment by DensityDuck — July 9, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

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