At a Marvel-dominated panel on LGBT characters and allies in comics at New York Comic Con, we couldn't help but talk about what that other major comic company was doing — and how an exec there said a gay marriage can't happen in its pages because heroes aren't supposed to be happy.
"It's just lazy storytelling," Marvel writer Marjorie Liu said of Marvel rival DC Comics, drawing the loudest applause of the night. Liu, to be sure, is one of Marvel's most progressive writers. In the pages of Astonishing X-Men, Liu wrote the company's first gay wedding for its gay Canadian superhero Northstar. And she also wrote plots and storylines for the lesbian X-Man, Karma, and the bisexual son of Wolverine, Daken.
"What kind of stories are you telling?" Liu wondering, questioning the plots and usage of LGBT (and heterosexual) characters in DC's world. Here's the audio:
Room 1A-14 in the bowels of the Javits Center was filled with people wanting to find answers to Liu's question for DC — and, for that matter, the rest of the comic world. How are LGBT issues like the dissolution of the Defense of Marriage Act and the current state of anti-gay Russia finding their way into the pages of comic fiction? And what kind of freedom do writers have in pursuing these stories?
The answers varied by company. Liu actually revealed that she wanted to create a girlfriend for Karma, a Vietnamese lesbian with the power the possess other people's minds, but didn't get to. She and her Marvel colleagues also said that major LGBT rights-changing events like same-sex marriage in New York and the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA played major roles in conceptualizing storylines for their LGBT characters.
And, still, there are struggles. Archie, for example, which has an openly gay character, was the target of a vocal One Million Moms campaign. But Dan Parent, the artist who introduced Kevin to the pages of Archie, explains, "We just want Kevin to be Kevin in America," Parent said, noting that his favorite stories are when Kevin just gets to be one of the kids at Riverdale.
Parent is right. Ultimately, the goal for LGBT people in real life and LGBT characters fighting the good fight frame by frame is to have homosexuality be as regular as heterosexuality. That's equality. And equality means that gay characters should be allowed to have just as miserable marriages and relationships as their heterosexual counterparts do. And comic book writers, editors, and artists can play a major cultural part in making this happen.
At Marvel, editor Daniel Ketchum will tell you that a lot's changed in his seven years there. He's seen a time when there was an order not to show the company's two gay teen characters, Wiccan and Hulkling, kissing. Flash forward to present day, and Ketchum is getting to fiddle with a Hulkling-Wiccan storyline that now involves a young man named Prodigy, a black, bisexual former mutant who has an interest in Hulkling.
"And all of a sudden it's not just ... a gay couple just because they're the only gay guys on the team, but holy crap we have three guys who can explore and how they fit," Ketchum said, realizing his double entendre.
But characters are still at a point where writers like Greg Pak still have some concern mainly because mainstream entertainment has a history of gay and lesbian characters who have been portrayed as murderers and connivers (see: Rope). That gives him some pause in creating gay characters who may be villainous—he doesn't want to be enforcing a stereotype or damaging the work of the gay rights movement. Then again, part of gay characters being like any others should also allow them to be awesome villains.
"I don't want to just react against stereotypes all the time," Pak said, referring to an Asian American character that he re-created as a genius. "No one character should have to sustain the hopes and dreams of a community." Unfortunately, for gay characters and LGBT people, it sometimes feels like we're still at that point.