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Sean William Scott

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Revisiting the Topic/Terrible Bears 

Over at Prism Comics, Andy Mangels gives a good rundown of Marvel's treatment of gay characters recently. One of the "counter-points" I keep seeing whenever someone points out that, gee, Marvel seems to have a weird attitude towards gay characters is "well, what do you want, nothing bad to ever happen to gay characters ever?"

And, you know, I can't recall any examples of anyone making that particular argument. What I have seen, however, is lots of people wondering why gay characters, in comparison to straight characters, seem to be getting worse treatment, especially given that they're far rarer. To go back to two recent examples, Freedom Ring's death was particularly brutal and graphic given the usual levels of violence in general audience Marvel books, and it does seem awfully coincidental that only the gay/trans characters from Young Avengers and Runaways were singled out for abduction and threatened torture.

The situation is really starting to resemble the same arguments, from both sides, that keep coming up in recent discussions of treatment of female characters in super-hero comics. Female characters get raped more often, turned evil more often, depowered more often, and most recently decapitated more often. And given their scarcity, gay characters get turned evil, killed or tortured with extreme frequency. (I think, perhaps, Tasmanian Devil over at DC is the only gay character who hasn't had one of the above happen to him at some point.) And in both cases, the "defense" from the fanboys is "well bad things happen to everyone in super-hero books, stop asking for special treatment."

And, apparently it must be said again, in the context of comics now as well as the wider political situation, no one is asking for special treatment. To return to that scene in Young Avengers/Runaways, I wouldn't have had a problem with the scene if any other group of four characters had been grabbed. I wouldn't have even had a problem if the villain explicitly chose those characters because they're queer. It's the appearance of homophobia while the text is "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" denying it that's noteworthy. No, what's being asked for is for female characters and gay characters to be treated with the same dignity that het white male characters are given, and for writers, artists, editors and publishers to be mindful of the messages they send when they do choose to have bad things happen to those characters.

To return to Young Avengers/Runaways, I doubt the scene was deliberately intended to be read as anti-gay. I sincerely doubt it ever even occurred to anyone at Marvel that the scene could be read that way. But in the context of Marvel's recent treatment of gay characters, that reading becomes hard to miss.

And it does seem to be a matter of corporate culture. Marvel has also taken a lot of flak recently for the dearth of female creators and the "frat boy" culture that seems to exist there. We don't seem to be having anywhere near these number of conversations regarding how gay characters are treated at DC. The worst that can be said of DC on the issue of late is that they seem to really really like lesbian characters to be in their books. And, you know, on a certain level it may just be pandering, but it's better than nothing. Which isn't to say that DC is perfect. Just as a counterpoint, we seem to be having the inherent misogyny conversation about DC far more often than it comes up with Marvel. And it would be nice if DC's writers and artists could refrain from decapitating any female characters for more than a couple of months.

Here, that went on longer than I intended, so here's a not-work-safe short film about a super-hero with a politically incorrect origin and what could easily be read as coded gay content.

"Mister Doctor Overkill, phD" is my new favorite name for a villain. And I now desperately want a "Bears Did Terrible Things To Me" shirt. There are so many social functions I could go to where it would be appropriate.


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