"Holy Queering of Pop Culture, Batman!"
June 1, 2006 6:49 PM   Subscribe

"And on the rare occasion when nonwhite heroes were included, names like Black Panther and Black Lightning telegraphed the difference" (NYT). Nonwhite and non-traditional superheroes aren't new, but a "lesbian socialite" Batwoman is. How about "The Great Ten," a "Chinese government controlled superteam" also to be featured in the ongoing "52" Series from DC comics (an alternate superverse bereft of A-league stars like Batman and Superman)? When I was a kid, it was pretty shocking to know of at least one gay superhero (and a Canadian to boot), but I wasn't aware that there were actually so many. Of course, the irrepressible Stan Lee claims he created the first gay superhero in the persona of Pvt. Percival Pinkerton. (Previous mefi discussion of Pavitr Prabhakar, the "Indian Spiderman" here.)
posted by bardic (40 comments total)
Crazy. I put down that NYT article right before calling MeFi up. Interesting stuff. For some reason, I enjoy reading about comic books more than I enjoy reading actual comic books.

I like the design for August General. Rusty armor is the new black.
posted by brundlefly at 7:06 PM on June 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

From the "Chinese government controlled superteam" link:

"Mother of Champions, who can give birth to a litter of 25 super-soldiers about every three days."

The Chinese's secret weapon is a tribble?!?
posted by unreason at 7:09 PM on June 1, 2006


It's not an alternate superverse. After the events of Infinite Crisis, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all took a year off. Every monthly series in the DC universe moved forward to "One Year Later" after the three returned. "52" is a weekly series filling in the yearlong gap in semi-real time.

posted by graventy at 7:13 PM on June 1, 2006

Anyone else find "The Great Ten" to just...erm...enforece cultural stereotypes? As far as I can tell, they're just missing factory-worker-girl and good-at-math-guy to round it out.
posted by piratebowling at 7:23 PM on June 1, 2006

/racist snark on

good-at-math-guy is on the Korean superteam. Duh.

/racist snark off
posted by bardic at 7:25 PM on June 1, 2006

Think we'll be seeing any of these guys on this site?
posted by micketymoc at 7:40 PM on June 1, 2006

For what it's worth, 52 is really well done. There is character work going on in those pages that hasn't been seen in mainstream comics in forever. Infinite Crisis was impressive in attempted scope, but the subject(s) outran the writing fairly quickly. By taking a very personal look* at a curious handful of heroes (both super and not) from week to week, the DCU is on the verge of redefining its soul ... provided, of course, that Giffen, Morrison, Johns and Company can keep up the quality.

Intimate Crisis?
posted by grabbingsand at 7:50 PM on June 1, 2006

I just got done reading the first Authority trade paperback and towards the end you see a very tender moment between Apollo and The Midnighter. It certainly surprised me to see it as nothing previous to that moment had indicated that they were lovers, only that they had been fighting together for a long time.

I'm relatively new to being an active comic reader though. Any comic book nerds here know if there was any hint of these two characters being lovers pre-Authority? Perhaps in the Stormwatch books?
posted by Sandor Clegane at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2006

"Mother of Champions, who can give birth to a litter of 25 super-soldiers about every three days."

Now that's bizzare.
posted by delmoi at 8:05 PM on June 1, 2006

Over 40 years "Mother of Champions" would give birth to 125,000 "Champions".
posted by delmoi at 8:08 PM on June 1, 2006

Yay! Horrible press-release based comics reporting prevails!
posted by Artw at 8:15 PM on June 1, 2006

Apollo & Midnighter? Always. Read that trade again from the beginning. It's subtle, but there.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:18 PM on June 1, 2006

"Mother of Champions, who can give birth to a litter of 25 super-soldiers about every three days."

Now that's bizzare.
Not really; let's give her the Mutterkreuz.

There; godwin, godwin, godwin.
posted by jouke at 8:20 PM on June 1, 2006

Now that's bizarre.

No kidding. I'm wondering how they portray that. Do these Ubermench just pop (Kapow!) into existence? Or is this lady in labor constantly? Or at least at very inopportune times?

"We must destroy Dr. Kabong's Moon base or the world will be doomed!"

"Hold on. My water broke."

posted by brundlefly at 8:26 PM on June 1, 2006

Jouke - you clearly have no idea how to properly Godwinise a thread. Plus also you are Hitler.
posted by Artw at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2006

Apollo & Midnighter? Always. Read that trade again from the beginning. It's subtle, but there.

I will. It was hard enough just understanding the story on the first read much less catching all the subtleties.
posted by Sandor Clegane at 8:35 PM on June 1, 2006

Like Scott Shaw!, I always thought Percy was just British.
I always wondered what he was doing in a Yank outfit.

And yeah, 52 is pretty good so far; it's the first time in a long time I actually almost felt bad for DLing a comic.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:06 PM on June 1, 2006

I had no idea Northstar was gay, wow. I think I stopped collecting AF about two issues before he came out...huh.

(surprised, but not really)
posted by stinkycheese at 9:12 PM on June 1, 2006

Okay, Northstar is Canadian because he can get married here.

Jeesh. Even superheroes get to be happy, right?
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:22 PM on June 1, 2006

Northstar was gay. Then they had their walking penis, Wolverine, kill him. It could have only been more blatant, had he actually stabbed Northstar with his actual penis instead of the ones shooting out his knuckles.

Of course, dead in the Marvel universe just means stepping out to have the suit dry cleaned before returning. But dammit! That really sucked.
posted by FunkyHelix at 9:31 PM on June 1, 2006

"Mother of Champions, who can give birth to a litter of 25 super-soldiers about every three days."

I saw this comic before. They called it the Yellow Peril back in the 20's and drew Chinese as rats, because they thought we'd breed like rodents and overrun the country...

I feel so represented!
posted by yeloson at 10:24 PM on June 1, 2006

An out lesbian who is a main character, rather than a supporting character or a closet case, is a big step forward for the superhero mags. But given that the first lesbian comics character I know of appeared in 1939, I'm still a little miffed that it took them this long.

Of course, I'm also miffed that they made Mystique straight for the movies, but ... *shrug* no one cares what I think.
posted by kyrademon at 10:55 PM on June 1, 2006

Everyone seems to be forgetting that the current Catwoman (Holly Robinson) is already an out lesbian, and very much a hero - DC didn't do a press release about that, though, so nobody seems to have noticed.

I'm very much giving the Great Ten the benefit of the doubt for the moment - the other characters are being completely overshadowed by the furore around Mother of Champions, before we've even seen a hint of them in an actual story context. It's easy to scream 'racist!' when you can make your target anything you like, because all you've actually seen is a concept sketch and a vague description.

Anyway, these characters were created by Grant Morrison, who's never been one to conform to stereotypes in his writing. Considering he's responsible for one of mainstream comics' pathetically few queer male pairings (in Mallah and the Brain, however piss-poorly they're being exotified and the bones of his Doom Patrol run dug up and pissed on in the in the current Teen Titans), not to mention its only (human) hermaphroditic character and transvestite street, I think it's fairly likely a lot of the people raising a stink right now are going to be left bereft of anything to complain about when the actual narrative portrayal of these characters comes around.
posted by terpsichoria at 12:45 AM on June 2, 2006

FunkyHelix: The original Captain Mar-vell is still dead, right? I heard Marvel would never bring him back and AFAIK 23+ years later they haven't.

Reading all those Infinite Crisis entries made my head spin. Makes me just want to read the last few Astro City TBs.
posted by infowar at 5:47 AM on June 2, 2006

Isn't the Green Lantern Black? Was he always?
posted by Gungho at 6:04 AM on June 2, 2006

Gungho, Earth has had more Green Lanterns than I can keep track of. At least two (?) of them have been black, I believe.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:18 AM on June 2, 2006

First Green Lantern was white - Alan Scott (also had magic based powers and his weakness was to wood and not yellow). Next Green Lantern (after the silver age scifi reboot) was also white, Hal Jordan. Hal's the one most often associated with being Green Lantern. Jon Stewart is black, and I think he was either the next one after Hal...

I could look this up. But I am too lazy.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:24 AM on June 2, 2006

brundlefly, that was hilarious.

"Mother of Champions" is a ridiculous concept. Stereotyped, goofy, pretty pointless... Maybe they'll do better in the execution. It's cool when comics actually break through barriers instead of reinforcing ignorance.
posted by jiawen at 6:31 AM on June 2, 2006

Green Lanterns:
- Alan Scott
- Hal Jordan
- John Stewart
- Guy Gardner
- Kyle Raynor

Of the five so far, Stewart is black.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:50 AM on June 2, 2006

Mother of champions seems to be pretty consistent with Cultural revolution propaganda. And it seems like that is the era he is trying to simulate with "The Great 10". Is it offensive to point out that mao thought the chinese people should have as many babies as they could to strengthen China?
posted by afu at 8:09 AM on June 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yes afu, it is - at least a little. Like having Wolverine kill North Star, there may be plenty of plot related reasons to have a thing a certain way, but the symbolism is still relevant.
posted by Chuckles at 8:50 AM on June 2, 2006

5 bucks says Collective Man could kick The Great Ten's asses.
posted by jrb at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2006

Do they just arbitrarially decide someone is gay? I mean why would Batwoman be gay? And how is it at all relevent since superheros sex lives are rarely an issue. The trunks over spandex make them fairly neuter anyway.
...oh, wait, sales, yeah.

Gosh I wonder what the social ramifications of country-loyal or ethnically connected superpowered individuals are...?
I mean you could actually get into social issues that...oh, wait, sales.

Yeah, Astro City continues to blow my mind. Religious sectarian superheroes (or, really, any non-mainstream superhero) not treated like kneejerk hollow stereotypes. Wow. And the wise cracking guy is heroic, but a jerk and no one likes him - that’s magnificent.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:31 PM on June 2, 2006


Smedleyman - if you can get ahold of Garth Ennis' 303 I'd strongly recommend it to you - I would guess it's something you'd appreciate. Dammit if Ennis doesn't write the best Real American Hero (tm) archetype characters in history. Jesse Custer? Tommy Monaghan? Rockin'

Midnighter is by far the coolest gay superhero in a major serial but since I've only just started reading comics again after a long time off he's probably one of the few I'm actually aware of

(although there's Karolina Dean in Runaways now I remember).
posted by longbaugh at 2:48 PM on June 2, 2006

/thanks longbaugh.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:32 PM on June 2, 2006

Smedleyman : "superheros sex lives are rarely an issue"

That's not how I remember things. Everyone knows Peter Parker had the hots for Mary Jane. It was even a central tenet of the movies. Everyone knows Clark Kent had the hots for Lois Lane. It was even a central tenet of some of the movies. I haven't seen the Xmen movies, but I'm assuming there was something between Cyclops and Jean Grey (or whatever her name is). Comics are aimed at preteens and teens, so there's plenty of mushy romance between all the superpowers and explosions.
posted by Bugbread at 10:17 PM on June 2, 2006

I should work on clarity - I agree: romance, ‘love’ lives, etc. big part of comics.
I have yet to see someone grab the back of another superhero’s head and say “Fuck me!” sort of thing - not literally, but there is very little ‘heat’ in the romance - other than the adolescent kind as evidenced by, say, lace gloves or such.
Kind of a romanticised version of lust in comics as opposed to the - I hesitate to say mature because I’m not trying to imply comics are only for children - but in this aspect it does seem to need to catch up.
You don’t need skin or explicit material to show that, just the attitude.

Although I have seen flashes of it in Peter Parker & MJ - now that you mention it - but only after they were married.
Which is fine if ‘no sex until marriage’ is their thing.

But lust/envy/ etc - just the crazy shit sex makes you do - has started more fights than anything else I’ve ever seen.
Oh, sure, alcohol, but alcohol was invented because of sex (Pan predates Dionysus).
And is used to socially lubricate situations toward sex.
And then there is conflict.

Really, quite an overlooked issue.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:49 AM on June 5, 2006

Check out Preacher, Smedleyman.
The relationship between Jesse Custer & Tulip O'Hare may well be the most realistic, heartbreaking, funniest, sexiest ever depicted in comics.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:19 AM on June 5, 2006


Roger on that. I agree that there's not much sex in Marvel/DC mainstream comics. I only meant that sexual orientation is important to the extent that it influences dating. That is, people who are straight usually don't date people who are their same gender, and homosexuals who are out of the closet generally don't date people of the opposite gender. Traditionally, folks in comics only dated folks of the opposite gender, so one got the impression that either everyone was straight, or that there was a mix but every single gay was in the closet. Having an out homosexual comic character is relevant, not because of who they fuck (as that doesn't come up in comics), but who they date (which does come up).
posted by Bugbread at 7:22 PM on June 5, 2006

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