DC Comics’ PR has taken multiple hits this week, and this weekend is a major convention, so you know what that means: DC higher ups giving unsatisfying responses to fan outcry at Baltimore Comic Con. Specifically, we’re talking about Dan DiDio saying that superheroes should never have happy personal lives, Aquaman and Mera aren’t married, and that a new writer will be taking over Batwoman with issue #25.
From the Beat, DiDio’s statement, made from the floor of the DC Nation panel before it commenced:
Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.
That’s very important and something we reinforced. People in the Bat family their personal lives basically suck. Dick Grayson, rest in peace—oops shouldn’t have said that,—Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.
DiDio also spent time affirming his, and DC’s, commitment to gay characters, daring listeners to name a comic company who “stands behind” LGBTQ characters in the way DC does. And I’ll give him that truth at least: Kate Kane is the only gay character in superhero comics who stars in her own, eponymous ongoing series. But I might quibble that Williams wasn’t setting up a 100% perfect marriage with Kate and Maggie. The comic establishes very well that they’re both extreme workaholics with enormous trust issues, and that that’s likely to be a tension that they return to going forward. I might also point out that for a member of the Batfamily, Kate Kane hasn’t been involved in a single tie-in issue for any of Bat-crossover events, unlike, say, Batwing or Harley Quinn, who’ve both been graced with the honor. (It’s been pointed out to me that this may be because J.H. Williams was adamant about not involving his title in such events, and my answer is if that is true, it means that DC editorial is more hardheaded about a marriage ban than about a crossover system proven to increase book sales.) But that’s not really my primary problem with this.
(My primary problems also do not include getting into the debate over whether marriage is necessarily the end to interpersonal drama for a character, though that’s a significantly open question.)
As I said at length on Thursday, straight characters in all mediums do not have a history of being disproportionately depicted in either no relationships, failed relationships, prematurely ended relationships, or terrible relationships. Gay characters do. Not simply because the canon of stories where an LGBTQ character is at the center of the story is very small, or because in the last thirty years getting permission from publishers, censors, studios, etc., to have a gay supporting character in your work meant accepting that you would never be allowed to show them living a “gay lifestyle,” or because so many stories about gay people are set in historical eras or made up settings in which they would be imprisoned, shunned, tortured, or killed for being out. But also because many stories about gay characters who never wind up with their true love, never date, live with unhealthy relationships, or whose partners are killed or otherwise narratively disposed of were written with the express purpose of demonizing homosexual relationships and making sure that the dominant narrative about homosexuality was “If you accept your LGBTQ sexual orientation you will never be happy and it might even kill you.”
The fact is that a blanket ban on happy, stable relationships does not mean the same thing for straight and gay couples in comics, and it is insensitive, myopic, and tone-deaf to insist otherwise, regardless of the original intent of the editorial mandate. The fact is that it does not require supernatural/superheroic powers for straight couples to get married anywhere in this country, but it does for many gay ones. The fact is that there are kids out there right now who believe that because they are different from their peers they will never find anyone to love them, will never be accepted by their community, and may never be accepted by their government.
Those kids need heroes who do the things that their environment tells them are impossible. They need gay heroes who grow up to be loved by the men and women that they love, in stable, healthy, and, yes, legally sanctioned relationships. They need heroes, as well as real people, to show them that it gets better.
That. Is what heroes. Are for.
I say that as a person whose favorite superhero is Batman, one of the most misanthropic unhappy loners in comic canon who flagrantly uses women to protect his secret identity and can barely maintain a relationship with his adopted children. Lets just move on, to what I am hoping, fervently, was a misspeak by DiDio.
In his pre-panel statement, the Co-Publisher named the writer who will be continuing the series after Williams and W. Haden Blackman take their leave. Under other circumstances I’d be very excited about Marc Andreyko, the openly gay writer behind last decade’s Manhunter ongoing, featuring the adventures of superhero, prosecuting attorney, and single mother Kate Spencer, taking over from Williams on Batwoman. But DiDio said Andreyko would be starting with issue #25, which is one issue earlier than Williams and Blackman said that they would be wrapping up their last story arc on the title. I’m hoping, against hope, that DiDio simply got some numbers mixed up, because I think it goes without saying that the way to convince fans to continue buying the title at this point is not to scrap the final two issues of the old creative team’s run after they’ve already stated that they’ll be bringing it to a “satisfying conclusion” that will “leave a lasting impression.”
I’ll end on this final note: the current DC universe is not without stable long term relationships, or at least that’s what I thought. It was widely pointed out, when I posited that a mandate against marriage for all might be the reason for a ban on Kate and Maggie’s, that both Animal Man and Aquaman are married in the New 52. Animal Man is currently physically separated from his wife following her disillusionment with the superheroic life after the death of their son. Aquaman and Mera? They’re perfectly happy co-habitating co-regents of Atlantis and were even featured in DC’s Valentines Day special. Just, according to a recent DC reveal to Bleeding Cool, not married.