In June, the Batman was replaced by a police officer dressed like a robotic bunny rabbit.
Besides that, in June, the comics industry, long a home for a varied swath of humanity, together respectfully celebrated the anniversary of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Riots and the remarkably timed June 26th U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that states allow same-sex marriage, a historic and uplifting moment that--
Oh wait, I’m very sorry. I got my notes mixed up. Correction:
In June, Image Comics published a comic where a superhero gets tricked into sex by a nameless transgendered woman (or as the comic indelicately put it, a “tranny”), propagating destructive cliches about the trans community. It was enough to make you long for the good old days, when Image would just stick to publishing 9/11 truther propaganda.
In June, Marvel mascot Stan Lee purportedly told Newsarama that he had a problem with Spider-Man being presented as gay (also adding, “We originally made him white. I don’t see any reason to change that”), prompting a series of articles throughout the media with headlines like “Peter Parker’s Father Announces: My Boy is White and Hetero”, though it was hard to get too upset about any of those articles, knowing that the next substantive news article we’re going to read about Stan Lee will probably be an obituary.
And in June, comics-embarrassment John Byrne asked fans on his website what he described as “a REALLY hard question”, namely: “Many people are tortured and driven by a desire to have sex with children. Our society frowns on this, and such people are considered mentally ill. We do not accommodate them, we do not respect them. How is being ‘transgender’ different?” Luckily, working with a team of scientists, Disney Imagineers, and scientists on loan from JPL, I think I might possibly have figured out how to start to answer that: “They don’t fuck little kids, you has-been baboon."
So June 2015 was a mess, but maybe the comics industry is saving the quiet and respectful celebration of our common humanity for Superman’s birthday, or the anniversary of Spider-Man’s circumcision? Fingers crossed.
The Image situation was probably the most dismaying, if for no other reason than that June was merely seven months after comics’ previous run-in with LGBT issues: the December 2014 publication of Batgirl #37, a young-audience oriented comic where Batgirl fought an evil crazy-crazy secret-trans supervillain. After an outcry, the Batgirl creative team apologized on December 13, 2014, assuring readers that they were “listening carefully” to fan reaction to their “sordid and misguided tropes”, and were “indebted to those who stand up to speak out about their perspective on stories like this -- their commentary leads to universal better storytelling, from both ourselves and others, and we hope to live up to that standard in the future."
Regrettably for fans of universal better storytelling, among those not listening carefully were Airboy #2 creators James Robinson and Greg Hinkle, which had misguided tropes and then some, tropes galore. The “trans sex-villain” cliches spun by Airboy #2 have led in real life to actual murders. But to be fair, “it reminded me of murders” is the nicest thing that could be said of any of the “jokes” in Airboy, a persistently unfunny comic book with fewer laughs to it than the wikipedia page for scaphism.
Airboy tries to capitalize on transgression-- but thinks that alone is enough to make up for a brutal lack of jokes or wit. And to be clear: transgression can be life-affirming, if (a) jokes remind us of the arbitrary boundaries of our thinking, let us laugh at the absurdity of all things, knowing as we must of our inescapable mortality, or (b) if a grown man shits on a baby and the baby tries to fuck the shit with his adorable little baby-dick. Either one. Whiff on the jokes, though, skimp on the craft necessary for a good joke-- setups, punchlines, Wayans brothers-- and the risk is that all that’s left is snide, clueless people expecting to be congratulated for the smell of their farts, because that’s what they’ve been taught to unfairly expect, because that’s how our sick world operates, in a state of constantly congratulating morons for their heroic efforts to reach for the mediocre.
(“Congratulating morons for their heroic efforts to reach for the mediocre” is an official trademark of Dark Horse Comics, all rights reserved.)
Robinson would have to issue an almost-identical apology as the Batgirl creators did, saying, “I hope comic book fans and creators will think more critically about the way trans characters are portrayed. I consider myself an ally to the LGBT community and I promise to work harder in the future to ensure that any trans stories or characters in my work are portrayed in a thoughtful and accepting way.”
Even the apology letters in comics are all starting to sound formulaic.
1. Start by talking about how seriously you’re taking the concerns that have been raised. Uh, never explain why you didn’t take the concerns seriously before, i.e. why you didn’t ask anybody you were writing about to look at your work before it got published.
2. Talk about how you had creative “intentions” for what you were doing but then glumly pout that somehow your “good intentions” went awry. Uh, never bother to spell out what those good intentions were exactly.
3. Express some brief contrition about the actual negative “tropes” appearing in the work. Uh, but never actually reference in any real depth what those negative tropes might be or why anyone reading the comic might mind them. Avoid making your apology something anyone can actually learn anything from.
4. Flatter the people you’ve offended by talking about how “important” their expressing offense is. Discuss how valuable that is, how great the future’s going to be because of that. Uh, except two nearly-identical problem comics in seven months? That sure seems to suggest one side’s not participating in that “conversation,” all that much. Oh, but let that be a problem for the next asshole who has to apologize.
I always wonder most about point #2. The Batgirl team: “Our presentation of this character was flawed.” Robinson: “I have inadvertently hurt and demeaned a community that the real non-fictionalized version of myself truly respects and admires.”
This is always just a problem in execution, and never a more fundamental problem in worldviews that need expanding. These issues never arise because people are under-informed, playing with dynamite they didn’t understand. The faults never lie within ourselves.
Everyone’s so perfect on the internet. It must be exhausting.
I’ve made my own mistakes, in the past-- I can think of a couple just in this round-up alone! (Send your complaints about the Charlie Hebdo stuff to staff at-symbol tcj dot com). And I made all those mistakes because I’m some kind of resounding fuck-up. I’m basically wrong about everything all the time. I can’t claim to be as perfect at being human as the folks making transphobic superhero comics.
But even though I’m a fuck-up, I just can’t help but wonder: If you make your apology about how you’re an unflawed gem of a person who just “inadvertently” missed in executing on an unspecified and unknowable “good idea”, doesn’t that negate the obligation on anybody to, like, ever learn anything? Doesn’t that reduce a larger problem of worldviews that need expanding down to a mere technical mishap— should’ve turned left, turned right by accident, ended up driving into a big pile of hate, whoops? Don’t these apology letters ignore that these controversies should lead not just to the contrition of aspiring saints, but maybe to education, insight, personal growth?
If nothing else, you would think people would be more worried while writing these apology letters, considering we all know where this strange desire to “be right” all the time gets you: trying to figure out the precise difference between a pedophile and some punk teens who mouthed off to you at 7-11, using a graphic calculator, a protractor, and a soiled copy of National Geographic.
But luckily, we all learned something from the conversation! What a valuable thing it is that comic creators had all these conversations and learned so much from them in June.
Thanks to the conversations, comic fans had to wait until late July before the next LBGT issue came up. Progress!
Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso insisted in an interview that Marvel’s Hercules character was straight, and that Hercules had only ever been bisexual in an alternate universe. Of course, in an alternate universe, we’re all bisexual -- it’s an alternate universe I call my Sex Closet, and you’re all invited. Bring a Halloween mask, and be clean.
But legitimate concerns were raised since many saw this as “bi-erasure,” which is when you erase a sexy person twice. (Thanks, Google Translate.) Complaints included a passionate editorial on the subject from Comics Alliance, a source that Alonso had cited on other occasions in 2015 when it flattered his decisions. This time around, however, these complaints were greeted by Axel Alonso and Chris D’Lando (a member of Marvel’s PR Department) retweeting an image from a Gamergate Twitter account, an image which was seen as mocking the issue. (Those tweets were later deleted).
Alonso was in a small bit of PR trouble, thanks to, uhhh, his PR Department (whooopsie-dooo). Comic creators to the rescue! Yaaaaay! Dan Slott! Oh.
Yes, at this point, Dan Slott jumped in to yell at people for daring to care that they had been made to feel like an unwelcome audience to Marvel, including by tweeting, “You want to DO something to fix the problem? SUPPORT diverse creators at the register when their books come out. That will get it done.”
Historically, this has been only comics-creator-approved solution to any issue on Earth: buying more comics. “Someone stabbed you in the abdomen with a herpes toothbrush? Have you tried buying a comic book for that? Why don’t you want to fix the problem, you coward? You can use this issue of Spider-Man as a bandage, if you buy enough of them. Look at you shitting your own blood and piss-- why didn’t you just support comics before it was too late? Support us at the register and live again!”
Dan Slott also decided this was an opportune time to tweet a Teddy Roosevelt quote that comic creators are psychotically fond of, that “it is not the critic who counts… the credit belongs to the men in the arena.” The references to the arena were very strange in this context. Slott missed that the only thing gayer on Earth than Tales of the Mighty Hercules are gladiator movies, making the quote especially inappropo.
Comic creators love that quote, though, you know, since I guess they live in the “arena” and all. I’ve seen it from them all the time, for years now, each time stupider than the next. One time Teddy Roosevelt said critics were bad, and for any comic creator that only got three-and-a-half stars from Comic Book Resources when they’d fucking earned four… well, Teddy Roosevelt is still their president.
Sure, some historians might remember Roosevelt as America’s second-most racist president, on account of times like when he referred to Africans as “ape-like naked savages who … prey on creatures, not much wilder and lower than themselves.” Or there was the time he said, “I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.” Or his treatment of the Chinese or Filipinos. Or his descriptions of whites as the “dominant world race.”
But comic creators fucking love the guy. They think he’s a righteous dude.
Slott would delete his tweets. And so our segment on LGBT issues ends the only way it could: with a final generic and oh-so-believable apology note, this time from Dan Slott, who told people, “I was so focused on seeing a situation from my side of the equation, I didn’t come up to the table with enough empathy for others.” Oh, he was just blinded by an equation! “We Offend People + You Give Us Money = You Stop Caring about How We Offended People.” Solve for X.
After giving this apology about the importance of empathy, Slott returned to his regular activities: bullying women who mention they don’t like his comics on the internet.
Just like one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
(The 2015 Year-in-Review Spectacufuck continues in Part III.)