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What the Evolution of Gay Marriage Means For Equality Advocates

June 1, 2012

Considering President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage it’s interesting to note how other American cultural icons have evolved. The adventures of Superman or Batman and the like have been recreated for generations in this country and they often reflect what we think of ourselves and the world around us. In the past year three mainstream comic figures have taken on same-sex marriage and their support dovetails nicely with growing approval numbers on the topic.

It’s common for newer reiterations of comic series, whether they be DC or Marvell, to include contemporary lifestyles and identities in their landscapes. When Marvel

Re-imagined Spider-Man as a teenager of African-American and Latino decent allows readers to experience a different New York.  As Alyssa Rosenberg at TP wrote:

“one with public school entrance lotteries rather than gleaming research laboratories, an initial skepticism about his powers rather than a joyful enthusiasm, a set of family issues that make him vulnerable to S.H.I.E.L.D. bureaucracy rather than to his own inner demons. “

In a similar vein exploring the lives of characters with varying sexual identities allows these franchises to continuously delve into other perspectives. And they’ve already started.

One: DC’s Coming Out Story

A coming out story offers a new perspective on multiple and secret identities and is a great move for DC Comics, especially since they had to reverse an outdated policy to do so.  DC publisher Dan DiDio announced the change at convention just last week that a loved character will become “one of our most prominent gay characters,” according to industry site Bleeding Cool.

As a reader, I did question the narrative need for the character to be an already well established one. When DC Comics said in a release one of their most identifiable (then unnamed) characters would soon be coming out of the closet. On one hand it’s incredibly edifying, but on the other it’s hard to predict if the writers will be able to properly navigate this new revelation with the character’s backstory and history.

Comic books are not novels, they are at their most popular 50 years of concrete assumptions about who someone is and it’s hard to juxtapose that idea with a startling revelation. To be effective the reveal must at its least be narratively beneficial; by learning about their sexuality readers should be able to clarifying old situations, not simply new ones.

Two: Marvel’s Long Awaited Marriage

DC’s announcement comes on the heels of Marvel Comics 50th issue of the Astonishing X-Men #51 becoming available next month. In it Canadian crime fighter Northstar, the genres first established gay character will hold a June wedding.  The announcement was formally made on last Tuesday morning’s “The View”.

The character has been out since early 1992 so its not too surprising he finally decided to tie the knot. Northstar marrying his beloved Kyle has apparently been in the works for a while.

Marvel’s project editor Tom Brevoort told fans, “At Marvel, we try to make our stories reflective of the world around us, in all its complexity. And given that so many of our heroes have made Manhattan their home, the things that affect New York City affect our characters. So it was only natural when New York legalized gay marriage last year, our thoughts would turn towards what impact this might have on Northstar and his ongoing relationship with… Kyle. The story grew organically from there…”

Three: Riverdale Welcomed Kevin Keller

Marvel is actually the 2nd strip to announce a same-sex marriage. Archie Comics announced in March that their issue “Life With Archie #16: The Wedding of Kevin Keller” actually sold out. In 2010 they introduced their first openly gay character Kevin Keller. The series introduced the character during and allowed him to marry despite a boycott by One Million Moms, which I wrote about in early March.

Polling shows that over half of all Americans approve of same-sex marriage with most groups growing more positive each year. Comic franchises are just exploring what that kind of shift means.

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