Heroes For All
The big comic news of the week was the announcement that Marvel’s Young Avengers won the 2014 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book. Young Avengers is an amazing book with a cool cast of characters, and while I think that it gets a little too 90210 at times, and not enough smash-boom-pow, all credit to Kieron Gillen and the rest of the Young Avengers creative team for making something worthy of recognition.
Of course, the Young Avengers’ LGBT crew are hardly the first or only successful gay heroes in mainstream comics. I personally have quite a fondness for the crushingly badass Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority. That said, a critical distinction between Apollo and Midnighter’s portrayal, and the relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan, and complicated by the advances of Prodigy, is the centrality of the relationships to the story. In The Authority, the Apollo and Midnighter’s relationship really only surfaced to propel the story in certain arcs. At the time, perhaps it seemed significant enough to acknowledge their sexuality at all. In contrast, under Gillen’s stewardship, the Young Avengers title has seen the relationships of the youthful cast come to center stage—and that is a critical distinction. It’s long past time that LGBT young people have heroes they can see themselves reflected in, in titles that aren’t curated in the ‘special interest section’ of the comic store—even if one of those heroes is a Skrull…
Perhaps it’s a consequence of the mainstreaming effect that the Marvel films are having on comics as a whole, but it seems to me that the ways a lot of people are being portrayed in comics and in genre media as a whole, are radically shifting. DC used the New 52 to reinvent several previously white heroes as characters with diverse ethnic backgrounds. While Marvel itself has a legacy of somewhat…uh, jive black characters, moves likes making Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man, and reinventing Falcon for The Winter Soldier are great ways to move past the legacy of heroes invented in the 60’s and 70’s under certain cultural frames, towards depictions that are more reflective of today’s society. I’m still holding out hope that Ward’s villainous turn on Agents of Shield portends a more diverse cast for that show (for a jet that’s black on the outside, it’s paaainfully white inside…).
It’s easy to understand why (if uncomfortably so), that seventy years ago at the dawn of the comics industry as we know it, comics were marketed exclusively to straight, white males. In the intervening decades, however, not only have we seen dramatic demographic shifts, but significant social shifts, as well. And while indie comics and the zine scene have always been a disruptive force in comics, the mainstream publishers have always lagged when they should lead–due in no small part to the Comics Code, but also I suspect, a perception from within about who the audience for comic books are. What the big publishers have realized, and not a second too soon, is that for the medium to thrive, new readers need to see characters who look and feel like they do. That is the only way to keep the audience healthy and vibrant. Heroes for all—that should be mission and the message.