This time last week, I was still reveling in the miracle that was nearly unanimous praise for my first love, DC Comics, over its new direction for the Batgirl comic book. In a manner of three days, more than 500 pieces of fan art for Barbara Gordon’s new costume were produced and shared online (and continue to roll in at remarkable speed today). What could possibly make this better?
My first thought? Am I on Bizarro World? Is this Christmas?
Are we really experiencing a complete upend of fan expectation, whereas DC Comics is everyone’s blind love and Marvel is publicly getting the crap kicked out of it? And how loud is too loud for my online giggle fit?
And then, all of a sudden, my initial, immature glee dissipated and I realized it wasn’t the utopia I always imagined a backwards hate-fest to be. I mean, there have been times where I’ve literally been slack-jawed in disbelief over how the House of Ideas could get away with the EXACT same problematic storytelling tropes as their Direct Competition — and receive not even a blink from their self-proclaimed zombie fan base.* But this wasn’t that.
In short, Marvel Comics has gotten a whole lot of crap this week online (oh, the comments. NEVER READ THE COMMENTS.) for something so admirable that it makes me not even regular Crisis-level furious, but Hulktastic-height ragey. Because the worst yet is, it’s making me admit that I admire Marvel’s choices AND want to defend them. If Julius Schwartz could, he’d roll out of his grave and slap me across the face with a fist full of grubs and dirt. And I’d still have to say it.
You did good, Marvel.
But you’re not done yet.
I want Tony Stark to come out. As gay. Now. Marvel Now.
Look, Marvel (and I will now address you as a person, because you’ve earned it), I’m over the moon with what you’ve done here so far. You’ve not just infused your line with a bevy of new characters and concepts that add to the diversity of your universe — the Young Avengers, the All New Ghost Rider, Nick Fury, members of the Mighty Avengers and New Warriors — but you’ve gone all the way to the top and made a bold statement: The Marvel Universe reflects the real world and does so AT ITS CORE. Your super-heroes, like real people, aren’t just (for) straight white guys anymore.
The Big Guns
Every universe has its central figures, and by my estimation — through a combination of multi-media presence, sales data, and multiple title placements — I believe there are 16 heroes today that you consider “The Big Guns.” Who they are says A LOT about your growing commitment to diversity in representation.
Spider-Man – White male.
Iron Man – White male.
Thor – White female.
Captain America – Black male.
The Hulk – White male that turns into a big green guy.
Wolverine – White (Canadian) male, but soon-to-be dead, so… yeah. Probably will still appear in 10 books a month.
Storm – Black female, leading several books and her own ongoing this coming Wednesday!
Ms. Marvel – Pakistani-American female of Muslim faith, with stabilized sales in mid-30Ks per issue (which, by the way, is a brilliant achievement among All New Marvel Now titles).
Black Widow – White female. Not a big seller, but kept deliberately high profile and appearing in multiple titles.
Daredevil – White male with a disability (Psst. He’s blind.)
Deadpool – White male? Maybe? I’m not sure. Whatever. Top selling solo character at Marvel after Spider-Man, if you can believe it.
Rocket Raccoon – He’s a raccoon. OK, he’s an alien that just looks like a raccoon. Or something.
Captain Marvel – White female. Also not a big seller, but been pushed forward big time, of late.
Hawkeye – White male. The whitest male.
Ultimate Spider-Man – Biracial male with Black and Latina parents, set to appear in three monthly titles and a cartoon.
Angela – White female. Just because, I guess.
Is that all?
Sure, there are other up-and-comers — Ant-Man*, for example, who is set to star in one of your next big blockbuster films — but for today, these are your big solo sellers and top promoted figures across the line. Let’s break it down.
- 7 white males (one with a disability) among 16 total heroes.
- 6 women.
- 4 persons of color – 2 male, 2 female.
- 1 raccoon (every line-up should have one).
A little under half of the headliners are the traditional white male, which is far from something I’d complain about, particularly given the roots of the medium. No one is looking for a white guy holocaust here — just a little balance. And you’ve done well. It’s damn sharp.
But there are at least two pretty big gaps in the representation spectrum here, one of which — that of the Asian community — was written about quite eloquently this week by Arthur Chu over at The Daily Beast.
The other is that of the LGBT community. It’s an area of representation you, Marvel, have certainly dabbled in of late, with a nearly all queer (although short-lived) team in Young Avengers, and with the wedding of D-list X-Man Northstar.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of the work you’ve already done. It’s been creative, well-publicized, and well-received. But it’s merely a step compared to the leap you could be making.
Have Tony Stark come out as gay.
This is a golden opportunity, Marvel. You already took your biggest movie franchise line-up and essentially announced to the world: We want our heroes on the page to look like your heroes in the world. We want to live up to the claim that the Marvel Universe, a world that has always been primarily set in the most diverse city in the nation, represents all of us. It has always been figurative. Now, let’s make it literal.
A female Thor. A Black Captain America. A gay Iron Man. Your Heroic Trinity showing the world who can really be heroes (Answer: anyone).
It’s time. Your foremost competitor has two solo ongoing titles at the moment starring LGBT characters — Batwoman (lesbian) and Constantine (bisexual male) — although neither of which are what you’d consider top sellers. Archie Comics has their own gay male lead in Kevin Keller, one of the first Archie support characters in years to receive his own ongoing title. All of these are great, but don’t you consider yourself the industry leader, Marvel? That’s always seemed to be a point of pride for you, and you’re falling behind both your competition and yourselves.
Simply put, there is no better time to stress the importance of gay leading characters than while doing the same for women and persons of color. You have the momentum. Use it.
And Iron Man, quite honestly, is the perfect candidate. A man who’s built himself into an icon through force of will and ingenuity, moved out of the shadow of his father, battled demons, and still makes time for a bit of decadence — that’s the American gay story, Marvel. You’ve already written it. All you have to do is go on to the next chapter.
Tony Stark has lived a life of womanizing, bravado, and quite a bit of self-torture, but come through with the self-confidence of a man who wants to live his truth. The transformation that could come with a coming out revelation could propel his story into the next stage of its evolution, and make a mark on the cultural zeitgeist all in one fell swoop.
And I truly believe — as bold a statement as you’ve made about Thor and Captain America with this week’s changes — Iron Man deserves the same. Tony Stark is an insanely kick-ass character who has a fan base that far exceeds the monthly sales of his comic book. From toys to DVDs, Halloween costumes to T-shirts, Iron Man is everywhere. You did that from more or less nothing, Marvel. But resting on your laurels isn’t doing your line any great service.
What do you want Marvel to mean for the next generation of kids, adults, and every one of us in-between that reads your comics, sees your films, and loves your characters? Don’t you want to be known as the company that took one of its most popular characters and showed the world just how inspirational he can be? The bragging rights alone should make it worth it. But honestly, the glow you’ll feel at night when falling asleep that comes with knowing what kind of impact you made on the world — that’s the stuff of Iron right there.
And back to the fans…
Now that I’m done speaking to Marvel directly, I still have a few things to say to the fans who spent the week losing their minds, to any degree large or small.
First off, get a grip. If comic book characters were meant to never change, move in and out of the page, and have new stories, then there would be no point to the periodical nature of their publishing. These characters in particular are 50 to 75 years old. Stuff needs to happen. Even in real life, a lot of stuff happens in 50 years. I dare you to get together with your high school friends at age 65 and say, “You’re still hanging out around the gym after fifth period to smoke, right?” People change. And comic books have a duty to be EVEN MORE interesting than real life. Why read them otherwise?
Wait wait. Black Captain America. Female Thor. Iron Man set in San Fran. If @Marvel’s SUPERIOR IRON MAN is gay, I’ll never doubt them again.
— Matt SantoriGriffith (@FotoCub) July 17, 2014
Secondly, in the brief moments on the Twitter that I proposed the possibility of a gay Iron Man, I got to witness a whole lot of comic book fan undies getting twisted up in rapid succession. And I suspect there’s a few more happening right now. So, let’s run down the objections, shall we?
Being gay is unrealistic given Tony Stark’s history with women.
A man who’s never been able to settle down with one woman, who gallivants from one unhealthy relationship to the next? How could he possibly be overcompensating for something? But seriously, I stopped counting at 20 in numbering up my gay male friends and acquaintances who have ex-wives and came out later in life. This is not a rare phenomenon, and while it is not my gay story, it is a very real one. And one fraught with hurt feelings, personal conflicts, and dramatic moments — just like the best comic book stories.
If Iron Man has dated women, then he’d be bisexual, not gay.
For real, I’d be just as thrilled if Marvel decided Tony Stark could come out as bisexual as if he came out as gay. Bisexual men are just as underrepresented in comics, if not more, and there is just as much drama to be found in that story as the one I’ve proposed.
But make no mistake. Just because a man has dated, married, and/or had sex with women doesn’t make him any less gay, if that’s who he deeply believes himself to be. You don’t get to dictate what the parameters of “gay” is. Nor do I, for that matter. Sexuality is a complicated thing, and what we do is not always congruent with what we feel. Or how we describe it to ourselves and others.
A change like this would be devastating when undone later on.
Well, that’s damn simple. Then don’t undo it. We have to stop thinking of stories as necessarily fleeting upon solicitation, before they even get read. It’s discouraging to the fans, disrespectful to the creators, and is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for what companies think its readers want. Not everything has to be put back into the toy box the way you found it every time. Otherwise, nothing matters.
We don’t want a self-proclaimed asshole like Tony Stark representing gay men, do we?
This is a tough one, because my gut says no, but my head says, “Well, why not?” How many gay men do you know that are kind of assholes like Tony? Um, too many. Am I right, ladies?
But the truth is, I want a hero that reflects reality, and that’s what Marvel is known for. Real characters with real problems. They do it better than anyone. And aside from Kevin Keller, EVERY lesbian, bisexual, or gay character who has scored his or her own book is pretty much an asshole. Batwoman and John Constantine are. Marvel’s own Dark Wolverine (bisexual male) and Mystique (bisexual female) certainly are. Lord knows DC’s Midnighter (gay male) and Voodoo (bisexual female) are.
Eh. What’s one more?
Why can’t you just create a new gay hero?
Who says it’s either/or? Is there a maximum allowance of gayness in the Marvel Universe that I’m not aware of? Let’s do both! Both methodologies are important, and both have their advantages.
Having an existing, well-known hero come out as gay has the same effect making the bearer of the Thor name a woman does. It shines a huge light on a representation that newer characters may take 30 years to achieve. How many of the 16 characters I mentioned above were created in the last 5 years? One — Ms. Marvel, and she’s using a legacy name. How many more in the last 15? One — the Ultimate Spider-Man, and he’s using a legacy name. In the last 25? Only two more, and they’re both white. It takes a lot to get fans to latch on to a new character. Do you really think it’s fair that the gay community should check back in 2039 to see what’s what?
It’s just a marketing stunt.
So. What. That fans even care so much what goes on behind closed doors at Marvel and DC Comics — and seemingly so little for the end product — still baffles me to this day. The reasons for any of this don’t matter. The result does. The story does. Your reading pleasure does. Quit worrying about the whys and get on board with the whos and whats. You’ll find you’ll enjoy comics a hell of a lot more.
In the end, is the Superior Iron Man going to involve Tony Stark coming out? Probably not. Writer (and personal favorite of mine) Tom Taylor has a story to tell, and I’m on board no matter what that story turns out to be. Yes, Tony is relocating to San Francisco (I can hear the Village People beat now), but do I honestly think we’ll get our queer leading man that way? No. But I think it’s important — for fans AND for the future of Marvel Comics — that we get one somehow. And soon.
Take the shot, Marvel. You’ll be happy you did.
*Ant-Man is, in fact, the BEST example of how Marvel completely and utterly blew it in the process of evolving their top characters in recent years — and nary an outrage did I hear, by the way.
By killing Cassie Lang (then known as Stature, member of the Young Avengers) in favor of returning Scott Lang (her father, now newly granted a raison d’être in the grief of losing a child) to life, Marvel Comics lost the chance to develop a significant heroine. Call her Stature, Ant-Girl, or whatever, but this was an original character who played a unique role in the universe. All getting Scott Lang back did for us is ensure we would have THREE Ant-Men running around in time for the movie.
Three Ant-Men. Zero Ant-Girl. That’s math, baby.
I’m still bitter, as you can tell. Make it up to me, Marvel. Have Tony Stark come out. I’m just saying, you kind of owe me one.