You can tell how unplugged I am from the mainstream fandom that the internet broke this week over a variant Batgirl cover, and I had no idea whatsoever.
Earlier in the week, DC Comics received a deluge of critical responses to a variant cover for Batgirl #41 drawn by artist Rafael Albuquerque. As my friend Will West points out in his blog post weighing in on the controversy, variant covers are special versions of a comic featuring unique cover art, and usually offered as an incentive to comic book stores to increase their orders of certain issues, with the idea that the increased order size cost can be recouped when the variant is sold as a specialty or collector’s item. Lately, both DC and Marvel have been issuing month-long variant cover themes, which invite artists to create art across a common focus that can span all issues; June’s theme for DC centers around the Batman villain, Joker.
In this particular case, Batgirl #41‘s variant cover featured cover art depicting the comic’s heroine being terrifyingly brutalized by the Joker in an homage to a classic graphic novel (The Killing Joke) where he violently sexual assaults her and paralyses her with a gunshot wound.
Albuquerque’s variant cover for Batgirl #41 appears after the jump.
Today, DC announced its own radical shift that would be taking hold of the DC superhero universe in the coming months. No, not another Crisis: DC announced a major roster change in the creative teams behind several ongoing titles as well as the launch of several new books, all with the general goal of “broadening” the focus of the DC universe. In layman’s terms? DC is diversifying their superheros, and it turns out that they’re going to do it the right way: behind-the-scenes as well as in front.
MarySue is all over the news, highlighting the launch of two new titles that feature strong female superhero protagonists –– Black Canary and Starfire. This will be Starfire’s first solo title, and notably, she’s received a costume redesign that (finally) covers her top half (although, of course, she’s still wearing booty shorts). In addition to a limited run Harley Quinn/ Power Girl (which may feature the new Power Girl, Tanya Spears who is Black and also apparently awesome)miniseries, these newly launched female-led titles will join ongoing series featuring Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Batgirl and Wonder Woman, making DC’s newly announced efforts one of the most inclusive comic lineups with regard to women.
More than three years after the untimely death of comics legend Dwayne McDuffie — the man who can be rightfully pointed to as the pioneer of today’s diversity efforts in mainstream comics — Washington Post is exclusively reporting that McDuffie’s Milestone Media may rise again.
McDuffie, who died suddenly at the height of his career, is credited for co-founding Milestone Media, the parent company of Milestone Comics, in 1993 during a boom in the comic book industry. However, unlike other independent comic book studios started in the era (such as Top Cow and Image), Milestone was started with a very specific and political purpose: to promote a broader racial diversity within the comic book medium. Recruiting top minority writing and artist talent, launched with a slate of comic titles focused on minority superheroes, including Static and Icon which introduced characters Static Shock, Icon and Rocket; all are now characters in the DC Comics mainstream pantheon.
Although many of Milestone’s earliest characters were Black, Milestone supported efforts to bring all forms of racial and sexual diversity to comics, which included the introduction of several Asian American superheroes. In 1994, Milestone launched Xombi, written by John Rozum and illustrated by Denys Cowan. The title focused on Korean American hero David Kim who becomes a technologically-advanced “xombi” after his body is infused with nanites; it remains one of the only comic book titles to ever focus on an Asian American male superhero protagonist.
That same year, Milestone also launched Shadow Cabinet, an Outsiders-esque team of covert superheroes. The team included several characters within the Middle Eastern, Asian and Asian American diaspora including: Blitzen, a Japanese speedster in a lesbian relationship with fellow Shadow Cabinet member Donner; Iron Butterfly, a Palestinian ferrokinetic; and the powerful and mysterious precog Dharma, leader of the Shadow Cabinet who appears to be of South Asian American descent.
Co-publisher Dan DiDio previously said that the company would not change the sexual orientation of an existing superhero and would bring in a new one altogether.
But at Kapow Comic Convention in London on Sunday, he revealed that an existing character – who was previously assumed to be straight – will become ‘one of our most prominent gay characters’, according to comic blog BleedingCool.com.
Of course, this has prompted a deluge of online speculation regarding whom Didio is talking about. Here’s my Top Five list:
#5 Kendra (Hawkgirl)
Hawkgirl was the chosen estrogen injection for the animated JLU series, so she’s definitely prominent enough to warrant a press release. Kendra is also rumoured to be reintroduced soon in the New 52 universe. Finally, the Hawk mythos asserts that Hawkman and Hawkwoman are destined to be together, and find love despite being reincarnated into new hosts; there’s much romantic angst to be had if Kendra/Hawkgirl is gay, and has to ward off the unwanted advances of Hawkman.
Unfortunately, there’s also reason to discount Hawkgirl: a few years back, DCU already introduced a major lesbian superhero in 52’s Batwoman. So, it’s likely that this time ’round, DC’s major unveil will be a male gay character.
Didio’s statement didn’t specify that the character was a superhero, just a prominent character previously assumed to be straight. Unlike many DCU characters, including members of the JLA, Joker has massive pop culture name recognition. Further, there has been in-cannon and fandom speculation that Joker’s obsession with Batman stems, at least in part, from unrequited attraction to Batman. Irredemable‘s Modeus, written by Mark Waid, is inspired in part by arch-nemeses like Lex Luthor and Joker, and his attraction to the series’ Superman pastiche, Plutonian, is explicit.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of stories that include sexual tension between Joker and Bats, so I would appreciate DCU making Joker officially gay.
#3 Ray Palmer (The Atom)
The Atom remains one of the few prominent DC characters who has yet to make a significant appearance in The New 52 (Wikipedia notes that Ray Palmer Atom shows up in Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. as S.H.A.D.E.’s science adviser but I haven’t read the story to know enough about how he’s characterized there), but he’s a well-known JLA member who has featured heavily in many of the DCU’s recent story arcs (e.g. Identity Crisis, 52). Further, unlike other characters, wherein a romantic interest is integral to their traditional origin story, Ray Palmer’s relationship with Jean Loring isn’t critical to his mythos (and only achieved any particular significance in Identity Crisis).
In short, there’s plenty of room to reinvent Ray Palmer Atom as DC’s newest (and super-intelligent) gay character.
#2 Ollie Queen (Green Arrow)
I’m a little behind in my comic reading, but I think the latest issue of New 52 Justice League introduced Green Arrow as a JLA wannabe who is subsequently offered his own super-team (the Outsiders?). Like the Green Arrow we are familiar with, New 52 Ollie Queen is quippy, witty and self-confident.
Reasons why Green Arrow might be gay: Black Canary — usually a pretty important part of the Green Arrow mythos — hasn’t been introduced yet in the New 52. Could it be that DC is going to reintroduce Ollie as a self-confident, gay, hilariously clever superhero and leader of his own band of superpowered vigilantes?
Reasons why Green Arrow is unlikely to be gay: His last name is Queen. I’m pretty sure DC wants to steer far clear of that potential PR disaster.
If anyone has been following the New 52 Teen Titans, the rebooted Superboy has been dealing with quite a big of angst associated with having been grown in a lab as a biological weapon of mass destruction. Thematically, Superboy has been struggling with a host of identity issues (analogous to early adolescence) while he learns to integrate into the real world; a coming out narrative actually fits perfectly into this reimagined Superboy mythos.
Further, a gay Superboy certainly achieves the kind of prominence that would warrant a DC press release. Superboy wears the “S”-shield, which is easily the most recognizable comic book icons in modern history. To make a member of the Super-family gay is just one step short of making Superman, himself, gay.
A final argument in favour of Superboy: the recent introduction of Superboy in Teen Titans and his comic title have taken great pains to note Wonder Girl’s “hotness”. Almost every male character in the title, including Kid Flash and Robin, have quipped about Wonder Girl — all, except (to my recollection) Superboy. Further, a quick Google of the aftermath of The Culling (the current Teen Titans story arc) reveals that Superboy and Wonder Girl will be stranded together on a deserted island for an extended period of time: this is either a perfect opportunity to spark a romance between these two teenaged characters, or alternatively to introduce the absence of any sort of romantic tension due to Superboy’s sexual orientation.
Personally, my money is on Superboy. Agree with me? Disagree with me? Let’s start the betting pool…
Bonus: Who It’s Not Going to Be
Superman: Lois Lane is too critical to the Superman storyline
Batman: Lots of reasons why it won’t be Bats, but I think the main reason is that Bats is simply too obsessive about crime-fighting. In my mind, he’s almost asexual — his ability to have any kind of emotional relationship or attachment to others are too damaged to be able to tell a decent story about his sexual orientation.
Wonder Woman: We already know that Steve Rogers has unrequited attraction to WW in New 52, and we know that WW was raised in an all-female culture. But, let’s face it: Wonder Woman is simply too obvious a choice. I’m going to give DC a little more credit than this.
Green Lantern: The Star Sapphire / jilted love thing is pretty important to the Hal Jordan Green Lantern mythos, and there’s lead-up to it in the DC movies. I don’t think DC will mess with this in the comics.
Martian Manhunter: Can a shape-changing martian with fairly loose affiliation to any particular gender be gay?
Aquaman: Aquaman was introduced in a stable and committed relationship with Mera, and there’s no signs that he’s dissatisfied or not attracted to her. I doubt DC has left themselves any room in his title to reimagine him as gay. Also, if you’re not reading New 52 Aquaman, you should be — it’s hilarious!
Any member of the Bat-family: one word — Batwoman. It would be a little weird if the second major gay character in the DCU was also Bat-affiliated.