Before I offer my two cents on the Darwyn Cooke situation, let me put out the obligatory disclaimer for a topic this controversial.
These are my thoughts and my opinions based on my impressions and my experiences. By no means am I asserting that my opinion should be the universal standard for anyone else. This goes without saying but the next person’s mileage may vary for valid and legitimate reasons. I respect that and all I ask is that you pay me the same courtesy.
For those of you just joining us, Darwyn Cooke was recently interviewed at Fan Expo and gave his thoughts on what Marvel and DC needs to change:
I completely cosign on that comics must “stop catering to the perverted needs of 45 year old men.” In addition Mr. Cooke doesn’t like to see:
- Batman fucking Black Canary
- Batman swearing
- (Batman) Feeding a boy rats
- “Characters raped in the ass”
- “Characters that have been straight for over 60 years becoming lesbians because the writer is either too stupid or uncreative to come up with something decent”
I was with him until that last bullet point which caused me to raise an eyebrow. Said bullet point has been the subject of debate on the blogosphere. That said, I decided to reserve judgment and give Mr. Cooke an opportunity to follow up.
1. I’ve been a huge fan of his for a number of years. I’m a proud owner of autographed copies of his run on the Spirit. Quality storytellers are rare and I really don’t want to lose this one.
2. I met him last year at Dragon Con and he struck me as a very kind and decent man and certainly not one who would begrudge the inclusion of LGBTQ characters and fans and other marginalized people.
3. He’s Canadian. And most Canadians by default are totally wizard. Yeah I should note, I really love Canada or as I affectionately refer to it as, Canadia: The Magical Land of Awesome.
But seriously, the primary reason I reserved judgment is because I got the impression from the video that was he was on a roll and was commenting off the cuff before thinking things through. I also got the impression there was a legit point he was getting to but failed to communicate it properly, if at all. It happens. We all fuck up. We misphrase things and hurt folks in the process. And in lieu of the other excellent points he made, I wanted to allow him to clarify his position before delivering the final verdict.
Which he does here:
I see this little sound bite is making the rounds and there seems to be some confusion regarding some of what I said.
My comment about making a character a lesbian has outraged some so I thought the following clarification might help-
Consider this- After sixty years of being a lesbian, a beloved character is made straight for sales or creative purposes- wouldn’t that be wrong as well?
I think gay characters are an important and welcome part of any contemporary expression. What I want is to see creators and publishers creating new characters that are gay and lesbian, and spend the decades needed creating and supporting stories about these characters. It strikes me as opportunistic and somewhat wrongheaded to take someone else’s creation and after decades of established character action make that drastic a change.
I’ve always believed that if another creator’s character can’t bear the spectrum of expression I need to reach, then I don’t use that character. Find another or create a new one. If you tie my comment into the context of the other things I’m saying, I’m also not sure what the corporate motivation is for such changes. If we look at the reading demographics for superhero comics, this becomes an intriguing topic.
Hope this helps add some understanding to my point. Feel free to post this around to other sites that may find this of interest.
I’m of two minds about this.
On the one hand, in regards to corporate and other nefarious motivations, Mr. Cooke is absolutely right.
Because if you honestly think for one second that many of the queer female characters are portrayed in a good faith attempt to include and celebrate queer women as opposed to scintillating and appealing to the misogynistic and heterosexist fantasies for cis-straight fanboys, then I’ve got some beachfront property in Idaho to sell you.
And let us not forget the epic fail that was the Rawhide Kid. If you recall Rawhide Kid was reintroduced as a gay character in 2002 and there was a lot of buzz in the media. At the time, Queer As Folk was a huge hit on Showtime and their comic Rage was getting press. Terry Berg was still receiving a lot of mainstream buzz one year later for the Green Lantern 154 issue where he was bashed. So it was no shock that Marvel (like much of the media at the time) wanted to capitalize on the gay phenomena and the gay disposable dollars. I remember when the original Rawhide Kid miniseries came out and I was immensely excited and I gave kudos to Marvel for being progressive and showing diversity in its universe. I saw this as an opportunity for the comic book company to present a three-dimensional LGBTQ character to an audience who may have little (if any) contact with us. This would be an invaluable chance to once again prove that heroes come in all ages, races, genders, orientations, etc. I was beyond ecstatic about the decision.So you can imagine my horror when I actually read the comic. Virtually every derogatory stereotype imaginable was included in the narrative. That series was a gay minstrel show and was a slap in the face and a fist to the gut.
And speaking of gay minstrel shows don’t even get me started on Northstar.
And to top it all off, Marvel later retconned RK as a heterosexual again, which indicates it was a publicity stunt that didn’t pay off the way the Marvel brass was hoping.
So on THAT score, Mr. Cooke is absolutely right.
On the other hand…
In regards to changing pre-existing characters to LGBTQs, I’m going to respectfully but strongly disagree with Mr. Cooke. As illustrated by the Rawhide Kid, it can be a monstrous disaster. But in the case of Batwoman, it can be something incredible and positive. And the fact that her story was one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling stories. WIN!!!!
Ultimately it goes back to motivations and executions. Is the comic book company making a good faith effort to be inclusive of marginalized people in a respectful manner as well as capitalize on an opportunity to do good work or are they just looking to do a publicity stunt and turn a quick buck?
There is a huge difference.
Comic book characters are retconned and redesigned all the time. Look at Supergirl’s origins and try not to have your head explode. Batgirl wasn’t always Barbara Gordon and Batman wasn’t always grim and dark and hardcore. So why is it when it comes to introducing a legacy character who hadn’t been seen or heard from in years, suddenly suspension of disbelief is impossible for them to be an LGBTQ?
And while I agree comics should be focusing on introducing new characters, specifically minority ones, let’s be real here, for the most part, it’s not happening.
The comic industry and its fandom has this twisted obsession with the “Silver Age.” Not only the characters but the mindset of that period. The failed mindset of that period. Too often said obsession for the Silver Age is code for: All white cis-gendered straight, abled heterosexual males with the occasional white girl thrown in. Sorry but in the Silver Age, my gay black ass would’ve been lynched, bashed and raped for merely existing. Hell that’s still a reality in this day and age. The powers that be at the Big Two, specifically DC, are adamant about legacy characters and typically only introduce minority heroes as a last ditch effort to boost sales. However the storytellers think that plopping a minority face on a legacy character is gonna just boost sales by itself. You see when white characters get introduced, they get shoved down our throats whether we want them or not. Writers will put them as key components in every major storyline and will actually take the time to develop them. Yet they rarely give the same exposure, care or opportunities to minority characters and then they wonder why said marginalized characters don’t generate sales. And then when the impossible happens and said minority characters beat the odds and manage to be a success, then they just get flat out thrown under the bus. Don’t believe me? Then explain to me why Cassandra Cain, a powerful and engaging character who happens to be a woman of color, gets dismissed and have her mantle of Batgirl passed over to Stephanie Brown an inferior, inept blonde white girl?
So no. With legacy characters, there’s a better chance (albeit slimmer) of them not getting killed off or erased, as we’ve seen time and time again. Case in point: Freedom Ring.
Furthermore, legacy and pre-existing characters coming out later is a reality of many adults who don’t come out until later in life because of the bigoted world we live in. If there was a trend of 60 percent of all comic book characters were being retconned as queer with no reason or explanation, that would be one thing.
But the reality is I was up until 2am Sunday night searching for comic books that feature gay heroes. Want to know what I found, most of the titles were worth reading (and they are a abysmal few), I had already read. Excellent gems but rare. Even today too many queer characters (specifically gay males) are still the punchline, the sidekick, the queer minstrel shows, the avatars of straight male privilege.
The fact is, we desperately need more characters like Batwoman, Jack Harkness, Satsu, Willow Rosenberg, Lafayette Reynolds, Achilles, Wiccan, Hulkling, Renee Montoya, Midnighter, Ultimate Colossus, Kevin Keller, Xavin, Karolina Dean, Rictor, Shatterstar, Victoria Hand, Gear, Daken, Destiny, Mystique, Danielle Baptiste, Holly Robinson, Scandal Savage, Tara McKlay, Xena and my boy Wallace Wells.
So I agree that we need to be more inclusive and there needs to be a drastic overhaul of the status quo, hopefully this post illustrates that this issue is far more complex than most people realize.
And if the ocassional character is retconned and reintroduced as an LGBTQ in a tasteful and well-executed manner, I’m okay with that too.