On Wednesday, Marvel comics's family of gay superheroes grew. Benjamin Deeds, a gay, University of Texas at Austin student, who has the power to shapeshift and chemically induce people into liking him, came out of the closet. And in issue, turned into the best spy the team has at the moment.
Deeds's coming out wasn't treated like a "very special issue" of Uncanny X-Men. There was no angst. No awkward same-sex kisses. No parents. In fact, the characters didn't even care. The whole coming out was finished in two lines. Cyclops's right-hand woman, Emma Frost , was more interested in what he could do with his powers.
Deeds's sexuality is a non-issue for Frost. What matters to her is Deeds's job and if he can do it well. And, yes, we see what writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel are doing. "The fact that Ben has come out as homosexual is just a small facet of who he is and what he is going to bring to Cyclops’ select team of X-Men,” Marvel spokesman Joe Taraborrelli told The Huffington Post.
What Deeds brings to the table is a power that actually induces, well, tolerance. For the most part, the character has had a pretty lackluster power for the past 10 issues or so. In that time, Deeds's main power was just changing his appearance the match the closest person around him. In issue #14 of Uncanny X-Men, the same issue Deeds comes out in, readers got a little more about Deeds and his full potential of making someone feel relaxed around him:
Making people feel "relaxed" around them would be a useful power for a lot of people, but LGBT kids especially. Just imagine Deeds in the middle of a Westboro Baptist Church protest or in a meeting with Michele Bachmann. It could even help gay kids in the same universe as Deeds.
On the same day that Deeds's coming-out issue was released Bling, a bisexual mutant with the power to shoot diamond from her skin, revealed she asked a female fellow X-man on a date. That girl punched her, possibly another Marvel message that though there are people like Frost in the world, other people, even X-Men, can still be jerks when it comes to sexuality:
And that reacting violently still "not okay":
In these two stories, Marvel is showing it can poke, and prod, and play around with the potential of its LGBT superhumans. Bling's romance is still up in the air by the end of the issue, while Deeds's adventure involves (SPOILER) infiltrating a S.H.I.E.L.D. compound, and proving himself to be as valuable to the team as the girl who can stop time or the guy who can heal and bring people back from the dead (/SPOILER) .
During New York Comic-Con last month I sat in on a panel with Marvel writers who said the company has come a long way in embracing its gay characters and storylines over the last seven years. We also talked about the other, big, comic company whose gay characters seem to be struggling. But writers said they were still very conscious and careful of how they were depicting gay characters.
"I don't want to just react against stereotypes all the time," writer Greg Pak said, explaining that while he loves creating diverse heroes, he didn't want to be constantly creating social justice-ish heroes in a response to real-life discrimination. Characters and storylines like Deeds's could be the next step in making that happen.