Big Gay Superheroes Part 2 – The Dangerous Lives of Queerish Heroes!

One of my favourite writers (comic book or otherwise), is Gail Simone, a woman whose grasp of dialogue and nuances of character is so sharp she begs few parallels amonsgst her contemporaries – yup, she’s that good folks. In the late 1990s, Gail created a website with the rather disturbing title “Women in Refrigerators”, a site that took a rather sharp and disparaging look at the ill-advised treatment of female characters in the comic book industry, many of whom had been injured, killed, raped, sexually assaulted or depowered as some form of “plot device” to “further” some story. Her unblinking view of the portrayal of women in the medium encouraged both creators and fans, for better or worse, to reevaluate the effect and impact of these stories, and encouraged and spearheaded some widespread, positive change for the better throughout the industry in regards to the respect and treatment of these important female characters. And so, inspired as I’ve been by Gail’s quiet but forceful movement for change, I couldn’t help but ponder over the treatment of LGBT characters in this industry that I’d loved since my childhood.

And first of all…can I just say it’s 2011. And times, they are a-changing. And that’s not to take away by any means from the gay rights movement and the many issues faced by gay, lesbian bi and trans people on a day-to-day basis. But in my mind…really, who CARES at this point? Hasn’t gay culture saturated the media enough, with at least a handful of recognizable to most real life role models of actors and singers and athletes now loud, proud, and out…and yet still loved and admired by their adoring fans? Knowing this, how bad could the comic book landscape be?

Pretty bad it seems.

And if you belong to Marvel, downright dangerous to your being.

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Big Gay Superheroes Part 1 – Where Are All The Sisters??

I’ve been a comic book fan, or more precisely, a super hero fan, most of my life. As part of my pop culture oeuvre, I am a reigning expert in most things spandex-y and superheroic, and my vast knowledge of these amazing creatures in capes and tights dates back to one icy cold December day in the late 1970s, in the beautiful seaside town of Baddeck.

At that time, I, along with my parents and younger sister, were visiting my great aunt Jessie, who lived in the neighboring community of South Haven. It was almost Christmas, and we were delivering presents to this woman who was like a grandmother to me, and at the same time running about this small town doing errands and stocking up on winter supplies for her modest, turn of the century farmhouse. Because I was so helpful carrying bags and boxes and holding doors for others, I was rewarded with a whole dollar – a king’s ransom at the time I assure you- to splurge on anything that caught my fancy at Stone’s Drugstore, our final stop for the day, and the closest thing to a shopping experience in this sleepy little town. Wandering the aisles, my eyes darting up and down and all around, as I considered candy treats and coloring books, yellow parachute men and silver slinkys, until finally I came, face to face and dead in my tracks, to a large “spinner rack”, full to overflowing with brightly colored and ever so inviting comic books. As I scanned the various titles starring Spider-man and Fantastic Four, Superman and Batman, I found myself drawn to one called the Justice League of America, and within a story titled “2000 Light Years to Christmas” (I’m not even kidding!) Being the holiday season, I took the whole story theme as a sign, and snatched the book up and ran off to the counter to pay the massive cover price of 60 cents, not caring to spend my left over change on candy or chocolate bars, but instead jumping up and down pleading COULD WE PLEASE GO so I could snuggle up in the back of the car and begin to consume my new treasure. But instead of consuming it, it seemed the book, and the very comic book world itself, was about to consume me.

I had seen comic books before of course, and was familiar with most of their costumed adventurers, but never had I seen them gathered together before so gallantly, fighting for truth, justice and the American way (whatever that meant!) Superman! Wonder Woman! Batman! The Flash! Green Lantern! Green Arrow! Black Canary! Firestorm! It was a pantheon of heroes, eager to transport me away on their noble adventures. And truly god like and heroic they seemed….not the Marvel everyman that Spidey represented, or the cutting edge sci fi technology of the Fantastic Four or Iron Man, the utter Id run wild of the Incredible Hulk or the rah rah Americana of Captain America himself. No, these mythical creatures seemed to watch over and protect all mankind, to walk among us but not be one of us, and I was truly captivated by that very divide and distinction in their nature.

But then I grew up. Sort of.

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Nerd Nation: Rise of the Geeks!!!

Truth be told, i’m a bit of a geek. A nerd. A lover of all things so uncool they actually become cool. But, at first glance, you wouldn’t know this. In fact, upon closer inspection, I bear a remarkable resemblance to some youngish upwardly mobile urban professional. Yet still,even though you might have to scratch the surface a bit to see…peer deep into my inner soul even… you’ll find it. My inner geek, shining ever so brightly, in his ripped jeans and faded Superman T, totally getting his nerd-adelic freak on. A side not readily, not easily shown to everyone. In fact, truth be told again, I traverse these two secret worlds, one foot in each other, but never truly a flag waving, card carrying, look-at-me-I’m-in-da-HOUSE member of either. Therefore, I can stroll into some fancy dinner party or extravagant fundraiser, wearing my (borrowed) Armani shirt and Hugo Boss tie, and fake my way through some intellectual conversation on world politics, the economic crisis or how stunningly prepared the bacon wrapped scallops truly are (which technically I…um…licked the bacon grease off of, spit the rest in a napkin, and stuffed it into the nearest potted rose bush plant). Or I might hunker down in my favourite comic shop Strange Adventures, listen to some heated discussion between two portly bespectacled and surprisingly hairy middle aged gents, and try not to interfere but instead burst out with “it was Greedo OK? NOT Han! Greedo shot first!”

Yes, living this double life can be stressful. And at times, I tremble every so slightly in fear, as I sip my sparkling wine spritzer, gossiping and looking about with an air of boredom and feigned disapproval, along with Mitzi,LuLu and Bernard at some high class over priced function, half expecting some burly security guard type in European shoes to tap me on the shoulder and say “you and your Batman underwear wearing self are out of here! And furthermore… no swag bag for you!!” Or perhaps the aforementioned comic book dudes to suddenly start pelting me with half eaten veggie dogs and Sun Chip wrappers (those noisy, crinkly, eco-friendly bio-degradable kind) and say “get outta here you yuppie bastard, or I’ll lift my stomach and show you my hidden piercings!” Yes, as you can see, living two secret lives can be stressful indeed

But what if I’m not alone in this? What if, on any given day, you’d find tons of inner geeks wandering silently but nerdiliicously amongst you? What if that nice middle aged accountant type that finds you all kinds of hidden rebates at tax time is actually and Orc Overlord of the 13th Dimension in some Dungeons and Dragons fantasy? Or that shaggy haired thirty something dude, slightly too mature maybe for that tramp stamp tattoo you can’t help notice above his ever creepin’ lower skinny jeans, that nearly ran you over whisking by with his moch choco latte a la skateboard transforms magically at night into this amazing, toast of the town wunder chef at your favourite restaurant, preparing this beef tenderloin that makes you want to open your pants after comsuming and sobbingly weep your way into hysterics for the mere joy of it?

But what does all that mean? Sure it’s easy to say never judge a book by its cover and call it a day, but that’s too easy a life lesson. I think there’s more to it then that. What if Geek Culture is truly on the rise? What if all things uncool were suddenly – GASP- cool, not just to me but to everyone?
Superman S Symbol

To investigate further, let’s look at the evidence. On television, that love it or hate it barometer of all things pop culture worthy, shows like Glee (a show centred around a high school glee club people – how the hell did show choir become cool????) and The Big Bang Theory, (so very geek-tastic, I don’t even get half of what they’re referencing!) rule the airwaves. Can you imagine a show like Dynasty, or worst, LA Law, premiering these days? Why, the nerds would have that mutha off the airwaves in weeks I tell you! Go to the cinemas, and you can’t possibly escape the glut of superhero movies that abound (Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America) with more scheduled to come next year and the year after that (The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Superman: The Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Thor 2)….it may be sad I know this, but trust me folks, the list simply goes on and on. Who are they making these movies for, dear reader? YOU? I didn’t think so! So, at this rate, look out when Entertainment Weekly is saying you must run, not walk, to the latest adventures of “The Yellow Armadillo” or “The Rainbow Chandelier”. And as for comic books themselves, DC Comics is making world news with a massive rebooting of their entire universe come September – a back to basics for their entire superhero line. Newsworthy? Sure. These much beloved characters have existed in some form of another for 75 plus years keep in mind. But the front page of the New York Times people, as well as all major media outlets around the world? What….there was nothing else newsworthy to report on that day?? And look to the music industry, and Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga, our current Queen of Haute Couture. I saw Gaga perform live last March and got to hear her describe firsthand her insecurities in her youth, and what it was like being an outsider and being bullied by peers growing up in upstate New York, where she was a suprising good student (she even spent summers in “nerd camps”, aka enriched learning courses learning about NASA and cow dairies and the like) and was often viewed as too provocative or too eccentric, and therefore a freak of nature, and that didn’t fit in. Well, let me tell you, this uber-freak is gathering an army – an armada even – the likes of which we may have never yet seen in our pop culture world. And this is after Michael Jackson made red leather jackets sell like crazy. And her message to the disenfranchised is powerful, heartfelt, ever reaching, and real. Enough to move a nation even…a nation on the rise. But, it’s important to note that Ms. Stephanie Germano would know a little something herself about traversing these two worlds. She described her childhood as lower middle class, yet she grew up in one of the more expensive neighborhoods in New York City and attended the same private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton. But then again, who’s to say she didn’t pop out of the womb a first class nerd and decided then, the self aware genius that she is, that the time had come to infiltrate society right from the very beginning? I mean, who’s to say that she didn’t look around with wide unblinking eyes to all those pocket protectors and taped glasses and empty champagne glasses and discarded boas and said “You know what? I can work with this!” Hmmmm….

Lady Gaga, Mother Monster

Lady Gaga in Boston, MA, March 8, 2011

So maybe, all things considered, this double life of mine isn’t such a bad thing. Hell, it seems to have worked for Gaga, didn’t it? Perhaps straddling that twilight world between all things cultured and all things geektacular, between what’s seemingly all grown up and possibly pretentious to all things simple and childlike and downright silly, really isn’t such a bad thing after all. Maybe a good plan would be to keep that Superman shirt with its bright S logo on underneath that borrowed Armani shirt, so I might easily slip and slide into whatever disguise the moment calls for (damn, where’s that phone booth when you really need it?? Stupid cellular age!) Maybe keeping my CNN app and Anderson Cooper’s favourite Twitter updates at the ready, along with my links to AintItCoolNews and PerezHilton will keep me prepared at a moment’s notice for some heavy intellectual commentary or some hard hittin’ nerd throw down. Seems I DO have a plan to navigate through this strange and wonderful new world. So what the hell am I worried about. But….do you, dear reader, do YOU? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂

Know Your Geeks!

Know Your Geeks!