I’ll never forget how great it felt when I first discovered El Gato Negro, my first experience with a Latino superhero. For a kid that rarely saw people that looked like him in any form of mainstream media, it meant the world. I reflected back on that day in the library after hearing about DC and Marvel Comics’ recent announcements about their comic books.
Earlier this month, DC Comics revealed that a “prominent” character would be coming out of the closet (it was officially revealed last week that the Green Lantern would be reintroduced as a gay character). Not to be outdone, Marvel Comics announced that Astonishing X-Men #51 would feature the first same-sex wedding in the company’s history after X-Men member Northstar (who has been openly gay since 1992) proposed to his longtime boyfriend in the previous issue.
Although there is a preexisting history of openly gay characters in comic books (including the ongoing Batman and Robin debate), their treatment in comic books hasn’t always been too, um, positive. So what makes things different this time around? For starters, DC and Marvel are the two biggest comic book companies in the world. Archie, for example, featured a same-sex marriage earlier this year, but the reality is that Archie cannot compete with the Big Two. Secondly, it seems as if both DC and Marvel are going to do a better job with how they treat and develop these story lines (in other words, the Green Lantern isn’t going to be killed off anytime soon…I’m hoping).
These announcements by the comic book giants are in line with an approach to make the comic book universe more reflective of our modern society (as we pointed out with the new Spiderman). But there is a difference between changing the race/ethnicity of a popular character and changing her/his sexual orientation.
This has been evidenced by some of the backlash from conservative groups like One Million Moms who are pressuring the comic book companies to “change and cancel all plans of homosexual superhero characters immediately.” Because, you know, kids look up to superheroes and the last thing we want is for them to admire a gay superhero.
Even if DC and Marvel’s motives behind these decisions aren’t 100% pure (their number one goal is to make money of course), I still applaud their efforts. It’s just another example of art imitating life, and it’s a good thing it’s happening. The unfortunate part of it all is that groups like One Million Moms are more worried on the “negatives” of a gay comic book superhero instead of considering the positives.
It’s no secret that we live in an extremely heterosexist society, and while a gay Green Lantern may not change the (real) world, it is a step in the right direction. At the very least, the Green Lantern may have the same effect for a kid that El Gato Negro had for me. And if that’s the case, who is anyone to say that gay superheroes don’t belong in comic books.