I made a comment in a previous column that came back to haunt me, in a manner of speaking. I made a joke at the expense of the Klu Klux Klan (not that there’s anything wrong with that) in which I insinuated (okay, I came right out and said) Batman and Robin were gay. ‘Cause, hey – two bachelors living together, dressing in tights and running around in a little sports car all night … come on.
No, I don’t really think they’re gay. Bruce Wayne surrounds himself with pretty socialites, after all, and I have it on good authority that Robin had the hots for a curvy young alien chick named Starfire. (Comic inside joke.) Oh, and by the way, let’s remind ourselves that these are fictional characters.
But maybe my aim was a little off. Here’s the first line of an Associated Press article I read just days later:
“Batwoman is coming out of the closet.”
Oh my. It seems DC comics, in a bid for diversity, is resurrecting the classic character of Batwoman, who first emerged in 1956 and was killed off in 1979. She’ll be the same Kathy Kane underneath, but … different. As in “likes girls” different.
I collected comic books for many years, and never really gave diversity a second thought. Yes, I noticed the female characters – most were built and dressed to be noticed -- but I didn’t worry much about their race, creed, color or orientation. In fact, back in those days the biggest question about male or female characters had to do with their powers. We’re talking teenage boys here, who liked to see fights in their comics and usually reserved thoughts of womanliness for pilfered editions of Playboy. (Loved those articles, by the way.)
So back in my collecting days, the questions usually started with “who would win in a fight?” That often came down to contests between characters of the two major comic book companies, DC and Marvel. Who would win? Batman or Spider-man? The X-Men or the Teen Titans? Sgt. Rock or Sgt. Fury? Sure, they would have gotten more readers by having Wonder Woman and Marvel Girl battle it out nude in a mud pit, but the Comics Code Authority prevented such contests.
Eventually, diversity became an issue, and forced changes in comics, although many readers didn’t really give a hoot. It was seen as unfair – and it was unfair – that there were no black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. superheroes, so some were invented. Kitty Pryde of the X-Men was Jewish, for instance, but it went far beyond that with the New X-Men, who were so diverse they were almost a cliché in themselves. There was an African, Native American, German, Russian, Irishman, and Canadian, joining Professor Xavier, who was bald.
Hey, there weren’t a lot of bald heroes back then. At the time, the captain of the USS Enterprise had hair.
It reminds me of one comment I read, from a reader who suggested ugly superheroes would be truly groundbreaking. Imagine Captain Marvel with a spare tire, a big nose, and male pattern baldness, and you get the idea. The problem is – let’s be honest here – no one would buy the comic. It would be like putting me in a Playgirl centerfold, and let’s all be thankful that’s not going to happen.
I didn’t know a thing about this trend until one day, in the late 70’s, when a black character was introduced to my favorite comic, The Legion of Superheroes. Comics were turning from general camp silliness into something that could be thought of as serious literature, and would eventually evolve into the very adult and serious graphic novels of today. Me, I was just looking for a little escapism.
So this new hero shows up and accuses the LSH of being prejudice because there were no black members, and I thought: Well, that’s just dumb. First of all, the LSH is set a thousand years in the future. No way will any but the narrowest minded care about skin color a hundred years from now, let alone a thousand. Second, while it was true the LSH had no blacks among its two dozen odd membership, they did have people with green and blue skin, and wings, and NO skin. What’s the big deal? Did I mention these were fictional characters?
I didn’t see it because to me comics were about escaping from real life, not dealing with it. Besides, fantasy geeks with no life tend to think ahead of their time, so they don’t have to think about their time. To put it another way, I was clueless.
But things do change. Comic characters of color are now normal, so I suppose a lesbian superhero was inevitable. Some people will decry this, saying children shouldn’t be exposed to such an idea at an impressionable early age. Well, I no longer collect comics, but from what I’ve seen and heard comic books haven’t been made for kids for a long, long time – not to mention kids aren’t kids for as long as they used to be. I suspect adult readers will accept the change, and younger readers will have no idea there’s even a fuss, just as it was with me.
It was three decades ago that DC defied the Comics Code Authority by having Green Arrow’s teen sidekick become addicted to drugs, an event that became an effective anti-drug message. The comics haven’t looked back since. They’ve tackled every kind of social issue there is, with the possible exception of body odor -- this is just the latest.
One thing that hasn’t changed about the comics is that the women are still stunningly beautiful. If they wanted to make Batwoman a truly original character, they wouldn’t make her lesbian: They’d make her ugly.