Welcome to Barrett vs. Comics!!!!!
That’s right, I’m Brutal Barrett and I’m here to fight comic books [Editor’s Note: wait, what?]!!!! You already know me from all my gloriously insightful reviews on the site [Editor’s Note: they have typos and run-on’s everywhere] but I just have oh so much more venom to spit about what happens between them panels.
Now J-Bracc’s won’t admit it, but I’m his best writer. 100% [Editor’s Note: Never even hinted at this]. And that title, my dear reader, is a title I take very, very seriously. Like super seriously. Maybe even mega seriously. So, every week I’m going to take it upon myself to beat some sense into comics. Comics, I’m calling you out bub!! [Editor’s Note: Why do we let you talk!?]
Today, I want to talk inclusion in comics and how we can best represent our LGBT brothers and sisters in our stories. This is a very serious topic that is near and dear to my heart so listen up. [Editor’s Note: We condone none of this. Jay’s off the reservation. Please, please, please don’t unsubscribe to the Patreon]
I got into a fight at Barnes and Noble about a year ago. Seriously, a full on, “please sir, lower your voice”, pier-6-brawl with a squad of three grown, albeit, unhygienic men. The topic? Gay Iceman vs. Gay Daredevil.
Brian Michael Bendis revealed that Iceman was gay and gave the comic book community hive mind about three different aneurysms. The traditionalists struck first began crying “bloody retcon! bloody retcon!” Remember, this Shawn Ashmore looking fellow has been throwing ice everywhere since 1963 and he’s had a ton of romantic entanglements with the opposite sex during that time. Meanwhile, the progressives were fractured into two factions. The vocal majority were aflame with how the revelation actually happened (Jean Grey reading his mind blah, blah, blah) while a surprisingly quiet and small minority actually praised the character change. And how did I react to this pandemonium? I was with the third party that didn’t give a s***.
This is what made my neck-bearded antagonists angry enough to break the solemn sanctity of a Barnes and Noble. I just didn’t care. I knew that it wouldn’t change his storylines and that it would ultimately be forgotten. And I was right. It’s only been a year and half and did you remember that Iceman was gay? No, you didn’t. Before you decide to shank me in a back-alley Barnes and Noble, let me explain how I knew you’d forget.
You forgot because it’s not relevant to Iceman’s character. Bobby Drake is the perennial goofball, underachiever of the X-Men. He has a fantastic power-set that can, and has been, the difference maker in many, many battles but he’s just too far lost in a haze of his under-confidence to ever reach his full potential. Fans love him for his antics and keep their faith in him because writers have always been smart to characterize him in time travel-based storylines as a fully realized, powerful, and competent fighter. But that’s where his character starts and stops. This is an internal struggle that Drake has to overcome and love interests have a minimal, tertiary role at best. They’re only there for the anecdote to show “oh look, he can’t have a relationship because he’s trying too hard to overcompensate, what a oaf.” Troubles in his love life are secondary to the primary thread of his character arc; Bobby not believing in himself. So pray tell, how does the story change if the love interest or male or female?
This enraged the BN-3 further. With their combined weight of, probably, 550 lbs they started dropping wild haymakers like “why can’t Iceman be gay?!?”, “why do you hate gay characters!?!”, “they should make more characters gay!!”, “you probably don’t even know My Little Pony!!” Ok, the last one didn’t happen but that penultimate one gave me an inspiration. Gay Daredevil!
Follow me everyone. Daredevil, at his core, is a good Irish-Catholic boy. Religious overtones and Murdock’s struggle with his own Catholicism often infuse his stories with meaning and commentary on the role of religion and faith in the increasingly decaying, godless (figuratively speaking) Hell’s Kitchen. I mean, look at it from Matt Murdock’s perspective. He was raised to be Catholic and abide by the principles and tenets of the church yet he lives in a place literally called “Hell’s Kitchen.” He can’t reconcile his faith in Christianity with the fact that he needs to dress up like a devil in order to preserve justice in the ‘Kitchen. All three blocks of it. But all jokes aside, you can see a very literal, in your face, “duality of man” parable as this man of faith is forced to walk the darkside. Now, imagine if you added secret, long suppressed homosexual desires.
Modern Catholicism has taken a more progressive stance on Homosexuality. That’s a very good thing but there are definitely religions out there that still have
unfortunate prejudices against that way of life. I’m happy to see that those trends and feelings are becoming less commonplace but they are still there and Murdock can be used as a conduit to discuss those prejudices within organized religion. Daredevil inherently has issues with his religion as I’ve already talked about. And this new character revelation could add those issues and be used to provide commentary on them. In contrast to Iceman, Daredevil’s character is defined by his struggles with his own religion’s practices and principles and revealing that he has struggled with suppressed homosexuality can provide kindling to that fire. In other words, Daredevil being gay could have a point rather than being inclusion for inclusion’s sake as with Iceman.
Finally, the BN-3 wore themselves out but in their wake left that Barnes and Noble a bloody and ravaged wasteland. Circular logic, faulty reasoning, and stubborn ignorance were aplenty. But genuine insight was born from that carnage. The fight wasn’t about writing Daredevil to be gay or retconning Iceman’s homosexuality. So please, please don’t send me weird slash fiction. This is about how to best write LGBT characters (and other underrepresented characters) in a way that best promotes inclusion. To do that, you need your characters to reflect a portion of that community’s struggle. They need to be a window into their thoughts and feelings to best depict their relationships with their friends, loved ones, and the world around them. Iceman’s character just can’t do that for the LGBT community because nothing about his story-arc is equipped for that. He doesn’t have a family that would react positively or negatively to this. His fellow X-Men are too busy dealing with laser beams shooting from their eyes to even be phased by this. So what narrative point would it have other than shock-value?
We as a society are becoming more tolerant and inclusive and, thankfully, media is reflecting that shift. Every day, social movements are coming to the forefront of our newsfeeds demanding more LGBT characters, better representation of minorities, and storylines that depict the often precarious nuances of their daily lives. I am wholeheartedly endorsing such movements and look forward to viewing such media, however more thought and intent needs to be placed when writing these characters, especially established ones. It’s not enough to say “hey, this person is gay now,” for the sake of inclusion. There needs to be clear and purposeful motives with an overall narrative designed around these character traits to do their stories justice. Otherwise, these stories will be forgotten and dismissed the same way Iceman’s was. Comics, our LGBT brothers and sisters deserve better.
Ok, I’m all out of punches for this week. But don’t worry, Brutal Barrett will be back next week to beat some more sense out of comics. But till then, I want you to think and post.
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Got hate mail/ slash fiction you want to send? Email Joey@talkingcomicbooks.com