Last Sunday, a lesbian joked about her sexual orientation as she hosted TV’s highest awards . The next night, a transgendered man cha-chaed on “Dancing with the Stars.” Hours later, a Navy lieutenant and his domestic partner got married the minute the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” went into effect.
And that’s just what happened in the real world. Meanwhile, in Gotham City, a lesbian crimefighter patrols rooftops with her young female sidekick. And in Riverdale, all-American home of perpetual teenager Archie Andrews and his pals, a gay classmate is graduating to his own comic book.
Aren’t comic books supposed to be fantasy?
Not necessarily, according to the publisher of Archie Comics. “This is entertainment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be inclusive,” Jon Goldwater told TODAY.com. “I am very proud of the fact that we are as close a reflection of the world as we can possibly be.”
Last year, a handsome new student enrolled at Archie Comics’ mythical Riverdale High and caught Veronica’s fickle eye before breaking the news to her that he was gay. Since then, Kevin Keller has developed a fan following and, having starred in a 4-issue miniseries, will graduate to his own ongoing series in February.
And in another Archie comic that peers into the Riverdale gang’s future, it’s revealed that Kevin will get married — to another man. Set to hit newsstands in January, “it’s actually the story I’m proudest of since I’ve been at Archie Comics,” Goldwater said.Story: Archie Comics unveils gay character
Gay characters are not a complete novelty in mainstream comic books, but they are a relatively recent development: Prior to 1989, the industry’s self-policing Comics Code Authority forbade any reference to homosexuality. The Code was in created in 1954, the same year the Senate held hearings on whether comics encouraged juvenile delinquency — a belief fostered by psychologist Fredric Wertham, who wrote that “Batman stories are psychologically homosexual” and called Wonder Woman “the lesbian equivalent of Batman.”
Wonder Woman may not be a lesbian (even if she does come from an island populated solely by women), but Batwoman is: DC Comics is touting her as “the first LGBT character to star in an eponymous series published by either of America’s Big Two comic book publishers.” According to J.H. Williams III, the comic’s award-winning artist and co-writer, “her being a gay character is not the number one formative aspect; it’s only one aspect.”Story: DC do-over: Superman and friends start over from scratch
Williams’ writing partner, W. Haden Blackman, said the pair feel “a lot of responsibility to show her in meaningful adult relationships.” So in “Batwoman” No. 1, currently on sale, the Jewish redhead (not to be confused with Batgirl, a separate character with her own series) flirts with a lesbian police detective in her civilian identity in between battling bad guys.
“One of my aunts is a redheaded lesbian; she’s been in a committed relationship for 18 years,” Blackman said. “Seeing how she lives her life has helped.”
Though Batwoman’s crime-ravaged Gotham City and Kevin Keller’s wholesome Riverdale are polar opposites, the two characters share a bond beyond sexual orientation: the military. Kevin’s father is a war hero, and in his future storyline, he’ll become one as well. And Kate Kane (Batwoman’s secret identity) is a colonel’s daughter who was dismissed from West Point under “don’t ask, don’t tell” when she refused to lie about her sexual orientation.
“A lot of my friends came from military backgrounds,” said Blackman, who grew up near a military base. “It really informs who she is — her desire to serve.”
At Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, a gay soldier drew boos from the audience when he asked the candidates if they would “circumvent the progress that has been made for gay and lesbian soldiers” by reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Similarly, Peter Spriggs of the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbying group, deplored the “obvious social and political agenda” of Archie Comics’ gay marriage storyline, telling Fox News that “a comic book series usually seen as depicting innocent, all-American life is now being used to advance the sexual revolution.”Video: GOP debate audience boos gay service member
“We do not have a political agenda in any way, shape or form, but we do have a social agenda, frankly,” Archie publisher Goldwater said in response. “I will admit to unconditionally making certain that people of every race, creed and color are represented in Archie Comics.
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“Thankfully, by and large the reaction has been overwhelmingly popular, but some people don’t like it,” Goldwater added. “You just have to understand that’s going to come with this and not take it personally.”Story: New Spider-Man boasts big multicultural changes
As for DC’s Batwoman, Goldwater said: “I think they should be proud of it, but we paved the road; we had the courage to be out front.”
Even so, Williams and Blackman do not shy away from the notion that Batwoman could become a gay icon in much the same way Wonder Woman has been adopted as a symbol of the feminist movement. But, Blackman, said, “the danger of labeling a character an icon is that there’s a tendency to not have them evolve or show weakness — it’s a really fine line to walk.”
“To show her as a real person as much as possible — to me that’s a much more powerful statement,” Williams agreed. The goal, he said, is to craft “a story that anyone could relate to, regardless of sexual orientation.”
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