The Gays are Taking Over, and Other Stories

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(Sara Pichelli / Marvel Entertainment)

The New York Times ran an article several months ago on the increasing diversity of subject matter in comics. It’s fluffier than feline Hank McCoy’s luxurious mane–when you try to distill the relevant details of what’s been a contentious (at least, contentious if you spend time on the Internet) and complicated phenomenon into something digestible for the general public, it’s tough to come up with anything more than a cursory coverage of the issue. The story is more of a survey of recent queer and minority comic book storylines than anything else, and it explores the issue with about as much examination as a wedding announcement might give a couple’s relationship.

It’s tough to blame the New York Times for this: they know their target audience. Is your average American really going to understand the complex identity politics behind Kid Flash being re-pitched as African American–or now being re-re-pitched as white–without understanding who Kid Flash is and was?

What’s important about the article, though, is its implication more than its content. Comics and nerd culture are changing, and they’re changing in a way that’s being heard far beyond their usual audiences.

The fragments that trickle out from the increasingly bitter swamp that is nerd culture and manage to ping the radars of the general population are, at best, uncomplicated. But of course, those loud, traditional nerds know better: Wally West is an essential character, and racially altering his backstory is a clear sacrilege; Captain America’s race is clearly an essential facet of his identity, and putting a black man in the stars and stripes over-politicizes what should be an inspiring American archetype; “She-Thor” is an obvious, insulting cash grab, relegating the true Thor to the sidelines in favor of flashy feminist nonsense; the gayness of Iceman voids decades of character development and prioritizes political correctness over storytelling.

Is fandom broken? Or is it struggling to keep up with a changing world?

“Just create a new character,” they cry. “Leave the established ones alone.”

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(Via linksaveszelda.com / Marvel Entertainment)

If there are nuggets of truth in these rages against the new world order, they’re buried in vitriol, in a violent clinging to old ways that can be tough to separate from valid concerns. And on the other side of the aisle, nuanced discussion isn’t a guarantee either.

Devin Faraci, Editor-in-Chief of Birth.Movies.Death., a site I mostly admire, recently published an aggressively pessimistic article about how fandom is broken. His point, though heavy handed and often as passionate as the fans he decries, is that the creators used to be treated as the authorities. He believes outrage culture has led to fans demanding and consuming stories rather than enjoying them, and that fan entitlement is draining storytelling of the creator control that allows for daring, emotional content.

“Just create a new character,” they cry. “Leave the established ones alone.”

Again, there are important points there–it rightfully (this is worth saying in every article on the subject) denounces violence, both threats and actual physical acts, as a completely unacceptable reaction to comics and film–but there’s a lot missing from the discussion. Calling fandom broken is a quick way of dismissing deeper, more complicated discussions that need to be had (a realization Faraci had himself in a follow-up piece he published the next day).

What should fans make of the implied violence of Robbi Rodriguez’s tweet to Frank Cho, or of Cho’s insistent, baiting caricatures of “SJWs?” And how can you discuss outrage culture without pointing out that the “outrage” is often coming from (or is a reaction to) those who, traditionally, have been excluded from fandom almost entirely?

Is fandom broken? Or is it struggling to keep up with a changing world?

The Internet has opened up a host of doorways to fresh voices in comics, both as content creators and as fans. Small, unique subsections of fans have formed communities of nerdy acceptance on forums and subreddits. Sites like Comics Alliance, Autostraddle, and The Mary Sue have embraced access and inclusivity as banner issues in their entertainment coverage. The industry is changing, sometimes more rapidly than it has been prepared to handle.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past week, it’s that change comes hand in and with resistance.

This blog won’t be a response to the Orlando shooting per say, or at least it won’t be beyond the fact that everything in my being is a response to the Orlando shooting–I’m bisexual, Puerto Rican, and African American, I watched my people die and felt the marrow shift inside my bones. But I’ve noticed a temptation in the industry to boil our culture down into either broad, sweeping narratives or tangential, easily digestible ones.

The creator is king. Loosen up, comics are entertainment. Sexism is rife in the industry. Political correctness is ruining good storytelling.

This algebra of diversity has become much more complex and difficult to unravel because so much of the American identity is wrapped up in our consumption of media. Entertainment forms the bedrock of America’s belief system. When change happens, whether it’s structural or emotional, it is reflected popular art. There’s no talking about government surveillance without referencing 1984, no talk of #BlackLivesMatter without James Baldwin or Ta-Nehisi Coates.

And I know how important comics can be because so much of my identity was confirmed when I swam in those pages. Cyborg and John Stewart were my blackness. Wiccan and Hulkling gave me hope. I devoured Runaways because I saw a cast full of pictures of myself, the neglected and cast-aside, the queers, the blacks and browns, the fluids, the ones in the in-between spaces.

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(Brian Stelfreeze / Marvel Entertainment)

I apologize if this post is a bit scattered, but it isn’t meant so much as an argument as it is a mission statement to myself. This blog is about analyzing the trends of comics and nerd culture–maybe eventually I’ll expand to some other topics, but for now I’ll keep it narrow–both new and old, and figuring out how they intersect with who I am. It’ll be personal, but identity politics, in my opinion, must be personal. We cannot detach ourselves from the stories we tell about our identities, even in the pursuit of objectivity. Because a) none of us are objective, and b) if we detach ourselves from the true meanings of our words, we open ourselves up to becoming objects, nothing more than ink on a page.

People try to objectify us more than enough in the world. We don’t need to do the same to ourselves.

So on this blog, I’ll be breaking down the intersection of queerness and nerd-dom. I have no intention of withholding my perspective and identity from that analysis, so prepare yourself for several posts on Dick Grayson’s fine, shapely ass.

I’ll do my best, and I’ll have no regrets.