Saturday, September 3, 2011

Annulled Marriages & Homosexuals

The Internet has been filled with the irate rumblings of comic book fans ever since DC announced its relaunch plans for September. But as information was sparsely tossed to the rabid masses, some fans’ rage took focus on something I (ignorantly) hadn’t previously thought mattered much to fans of tights-donning men who battle renegade aliens and super-villains: romance.

And ho’lee SHIT, Batman, was I wrong!

It was announced that three iconic marriages would be displaced by the New 52: Barry Allen and Iris West, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and Midnighter and Apollo (who apparently don’t have names.) Now, up until recently I had no idea there was more than one Flash, let alone that he was married, but Superman’s relationship with darling reporter girlfriend Lois is significant enough outside the realm of mom’s basement that I didn’t need to Google it.

But Google DID show me that people were more than displeased - they were absolutely furious.

Initially, I could understand fans’ frustration. After all, the characters had all undergone massive trial to reach the pulpit and tie the knot; or, in the case of husbands Midnighter and Apollo, their marriage itself was a testimony to the importance of love even in the most violent of superhero lifestyles. Additionally, I felt like I couldn’t disagree - after all, “Barry Allen” means the same to me as “Justin Bieber” does to my grandfather: a resounding “who the fuck is that?” How could I disagree with the tear-streaked rants of others who had cherished the marriages of their favorite characters for so long? Who are inspired by the unshakable partnerships represented in the pages of the comics they so love? Surely, surely, I could not.

And then I got selfish.

During one of my many lengthy trips through the intimidating abyss that is the Internet, I came across an interview writer Paul Cornell did with Comic Book Resource, found here. In it, he passionately details his excitement to explore the build up of romance between Apollo and Midnighter, who have previously been represented as an established couple from the start.

In said interview, Paul crowed, “I think that in the past Apollo and Midnighter were used as kind of shock value gay people. ‘Oh look, they’re gay, we can have two men kissing!’ But, y’know, sometimes when that happened, that was all there was to them, they didn’t get to be real people. What I’m going to do is the romance… where we actually see them fall in love, we see the first kiss, we’re there for the emotional beats, we’re going to really, really care about them, I hope.”

Allow me to take a moment to say Paul is now on my (depressingly short) list of personal heroes. As a lesbian, I’ll admit to frequently feeling a little put-out by the fictional representation of homosexual couples. Occasionally, we’ll see pre-relationship subtext, often through lingering glances or campy humor (cue two male characters ending up pressed together in a tight place - like a janitorial closet - and looking startled but lingering together with a panel of blushing), but mostly the build-up is behind the scenes, with characters suddenly together and politely holding hands in a panel. Non-threatening, fluffy homosexuals, in smoothed-out relationships that seem almost sexless.

(Of course the opposite is also true; there are plenty of examples of obnoxious, front-row-center homosexual entwining used for shock value; but Paul himself addressed that in the quote, so I will address the other point.)

For example, take the first full arc I ever read, about three months ago: Marvel’s Young Avengers. The team’s gay couple (who would later become a fan-favorite), Wiccan and Hulkling, are first hinted at with a few jokes and some shared panel glances. Suddenly, they are later (and abruptly, if not rather meekly) confirmed as a healthy, hand-holding, non-threatening homosexuals. There was no build-up, no flashback page of iconic moments in their relationship. Apparently there’s no room for two boys to fall in LOVE - if you wanna be gay, you’re either in subtext phase or you’re healthy and established. Love is for straight couples, with numerous pages devoted to their smoldering saga and eventual relationship; you boys go sit over there in that panel and randomly use the word “boyfriend” in conversation because that’s tolerant enough of us as it is.

But Paul has the BALLS to not only keep Midnighter and Apollo as gay, but to feature the build-up of their romance. He’s actually setting out to revolutionize how we see gay comic book characters by giving them the chance to fall in love like HUMAN BEINGS. Through these characters, he’s going to indirectly give MY romance - and my ability to fall in love like anyone else, but in a way that’s just a bit different from the majority - a VOICE in the white/straight-dominated world of comics.

And he couldn’t be doing that without restarting their relationship to square one.

So what does that mean for Barry/Iris and Clark/Lois? What do they have to do with my gay agenda? (Admittedly, nothing.)

They are connected by the same thing that connects all of the New 52, and the answer is in the title of the relaunch itself: Newness.

This Barry Allen guy may have been married to Iris for the last several decades, and they may have been madly in love and adoringly supportive of each other and gone through ground-breaking revelations and endured crisis together, but I don’t know him, and I sure as heck don’t know his wife.

What DO I know? I know the Flash runs really fast and he wears red. And those two facts are still intact for this relaunch.

But what I WILL know will be spilled out for me in the pages of his new title, where his character will have room to fall in love (possibly with someone else) while I have time to not only get to know him and his lover, but cheer them on as their relationship sparks and progresses. I will not be spoon-fed stale references of their long-ago established-off-stage relationship in an attempt to make me care about their marriage. I will not be made to swallow towering assemblies of canon that were formed before I was old enough to read. Instead, DC is giving me the chance to be there with them as that option - marriage - is introduced and may some day come to fruition. Just like we all will be there with Apollo and Midnighter.

And maybe that makes me a dick, to appreciate DC airing out the universe so I won’t choke on the dust of multiple decades of established canon.

But, hey, I’m heading out to the comic book store to fork over hard-earned cash because the door is being held open for me; you’re welcome to sit outside in the cold with your back issues and fester. But I’d prefer if you came with me so I have someone to share this new experience with.

Justice League #1

Mild spoilers ahead.

In a move debated endlessly by long-time fans, DC has recently chosen to relaunch their entire universe, keeping core elements of iconic characters while also freshening them up with new perspectives and tweaks to more than their costume designs. 52 brand new titles - featuring both classic characters and some lesser-seen faces - are rolling out over the next month, and I have a grocery list of - currently - 33 of those titles.

But the ball was sent rolling with the release of Justice League number one, featuring the powerhouse team of Jim Lee (artist) and Geoff Johns (writer.) I picked up a copy early Wednesday from my local comic book shop, and sat down in the living room to enjoy it with my girlfriend.

Initially I was pleased with the sharp art. Having browsed back issues in my various trips to the shop, I’d learned fairly quickly that not all comic books are penciled alike. Sometimes a human face looks more like a pinched-up potato, and a gun is indistinguishable from a character’s ill-placed arm. Here there was no mistaking Batman’s expression as the spotlight fell across his face, the city in flames around his retreating figure.

As I turned the pages, I realized the art was more than sharp: it literally blazed, action represented so flawlessly that I could hear Batman’s cape rustle with his quick leaps, feel the roof shudder as his body collided with his target’s massive frame and they toppled together.

The dialogue leapt up to meet the fantastic art, with Batman’s brisk dismissal of the arrival of Green Lantern, and Hal’s “I can handle this” flippancy in sharp contrast. Effortlessly I was introduced to these characters, verbal clues dropped at necessary moments to clue me in on their personalities and backgrounds. Never enough to overwhelm, never too little to leave me lost. They are a mystery to me, but not to the extent that I feel disinterested in their identities; instead I am intrigued.

I laughed as Batman continued to brush his unlikely companion off, functioning as the fantastic detective we all know him to be while Lantern fussed in the background, drawing his own conclusions and taking Batman along for the ride - literally.

At precisely the right moment, the tension was brought into a new scene, flipping as easily as a movie sequence into the football triumph of a lonely teenage boy balanced between patience and bitterness with a work-obsessed father. The cliché was handled well, young Victor Stone’s easy-going smile to his coach relieving the reader of any assumption that the scene was too typically angst-driven.

The issue ended with a decent pop, a panel featuring Hal’s confident “I can handle this” smirk leaving me grinning and, a page later, enticing me with an apprehensive Batman crouched but certainly not disarmed in wreckage, peering up at a man he has every reason to be wary of.

And honestly? I’m not sorry to see Superman’s outer-panties gone. The new costume is fantastic, fresh, and young.

So color this comic book newbie pretty darn impressed with the first book of DC’s New 52; I’ll definitely be picking up issue two as early as my comic book store opens on its release.