Harley J. Sims

The latest trend in comic books—gay superheroes

Harley J. Sims
By Harley Sims

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June 20, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - DC and Marvel, the comic book publishing giants owned by Time-Warner and Disney respectively, have apparently agreed on something: June is Gay Month in the multiverse. First came DC’s unveiling of a gay Green Lantern, which followed a month-long media circus of publicity and speculation. In May, DC had announced that one of its most famous and longstanding superheroes would soon be coming out of the closet. “Could Superman be gay?” headlines blazed.

The partnership of Batman and Robin has long been subject to such innuendo—would this be the final unveiling? And of course there’s Wonder Woman, the Amazonian dominatrix no man could beat in an arm wrestle, much less sweep off her feet. As the Hollywood tattler TMZ suggests, DC’s decision to go with the Green Lantern made all the publicity into something of a shell game, since the Green Lantern is more of an intergalactic police corps than an individual, and that there are more than 7200 Green Lanterns on the roster. The Green Lantern shown kissing another man in the second issue of DC’s Earth 2, is not, in fact, the Hal Jordan most associable with the franchise, but rather a reinvented version of another man, Alan Scott (who, first introduced in 1940, was nevertheless a married father of two).

The gay Green Lantern is thus a reboot of a reboot, a reimagined figure of a reimagined DC Universe—which, as any comics fan will tell you, is actually a multiverse. The new figure is thus so far removed from the original, only Stephen Hawking could theorize introducing them to each other. As with Kate Kane, a lesbian and the current Batwoman introduced by DC with comparable hype in 2009, the figure’s peripheral status suggests a largely commercial purpose.

Not to be outdone, Marvel Comics will host its first gay marriage proposal in Astonishing X-Men #52, due out on June 20. The issue, complete with an open-cover illustration of the ceremony and all its colorful attendees, will showcase the nuptials of the Canadian superhero Northstar and his civilian partner, Kyle Jinadu.

No longer to be contented with a simple coming-out party, Marvel is able to amp up its own exhibition of gay themes because gay characters have longer standing in its universe. Though he doesn’t have the recognizability of the Green Lantern, Northstar was first introduced in 1979, and has been portrayed as being openly gay since 1992, only a couple of years after the Comics Code Authority dropped its prohibition of such content. He is foremost among a number of what one might call ‘non-heterosexual’ characters, including shapeshifting bisexuals Mystique and Hulkling, as well as at least one artificial, bio-engineered humanoid from a dimension incidentally known as Mojoworld. The character, whose name is Shatterstar, has made clear to readers that he is anatomically equipped and sexually functional. He recently shared a kiss with teammate Rictor, a bisexual mutant with the ability to generate localized earthquakes.

The fact that homosexual characters and themes have been around in superhero comics—for decades in some cases—may cause some to ask why these publications and their campaigns are happening again. Something of an answer lies in the fact that, for the most part, these characters are being treated as sociopolitical mascots rather than as fictional beings. The majority of debates about their validity concern issues of homosexuality and gay marriage in the real world. DC Comics’ vice president Bob Wayne speaks of the decision to reveal one of its heroes as being gay as evidence of an evolved perspective, echoing American president Barack Obama’s words on accepting gay marriage. This reversed a policy outlined only last year by DC co-publisher Dan Didio that any homosexual characters would be newly introduced.

Whether or not audiences accept the new Green Lantern, there is no denying that Wayne’s words—like Obama’s—are intended to insult those who disapprove. He might have spoken of one’s perspective changing, shifting, or even becoming more compassionate, but to use the language of evolution—that’s a calculated jab, doubly so if one considers Christian audiences to be their intended target.

Whether this sort of publicity is good or bad for comic sales and gay rights movements, there remains a matter that, for its complexity, is much easier to ignore. This is the matter of imagination itself—that intensely private activity that is responsible for the very existence and appeal of superheroes.

Contrary to popular belief, literature—and this includes comic books—is not simply a conduit by which authors can instil values in readers. It is instead a medium of communication whose significance, whatever the intention of the writer, is very much shaped by the existing experiences and positions of the reader. We are not slaves to what we read; a work of literature may ultimately lead to the alteration of one’s pre-existing beliefs, but this power is no more within literature itself than the power to change reality is within any single reader.

Introducing gay characters such as the new Green Lantern may not ‘turn readers gay’ as some advocates have quipped, but nor will his introduction fall upon so many empty canvases. As the froth of pop culture, superhero comics are never very substantial, and the reasons given by publishers and writers for including gay characters — that it is more like the real world, that it is current, or that it will encourage acceptance and open-mindedness — fail to respect the very humble limitations of their very humble medium. While readers of comics are geared to be alternative — comic-book worlds explore multiple realities, and one must be open-minded in the basic sense to have a good imagination — they are not without their own identities. They might, as publishers have claimed, have no problem with the Green Lantern being gay, but not because they’re taking their cues from DC.

Second, and more importantly, imagination is metaphysical. Sexuality, on the other hand, is fundamentally physical. While imagination and sexuality might cooperate in many ways, actual portrayals of sex in comic books remains an embarrassingly taboo fringe element of comics subcultures — in essence, geekiness among geeks. Erotic anime, or hentai, has its own small corner in your local comic book shop, just like pornography in a video or magazine store. Publishers of superhero comics are not blind to this segregation. They recognize that most readers of comic books would, despite their vivid imaginations, still prefer relationships with actual people.

Superhero comics will show kisses, hugs, and occasionally some nudity, but they are still in the business of saving the Earth from shapeshifting aliens, not exploring the potential Kama Sutras of multi-limbed beings. When, in the 1995 film Mallrats, Brodie (Jason Lee) pesters Stan Lee about the erotic abilities of various superheroes, it is ridiculous and pathetic. “We never really tackled stuff like that in the old days,” the comics icon replied, waving the questions away. Even today, and despite the occasional headline-grab, comics still don’t. Stan Lee later tells Brodie’s friend, “you know, I think you ought to get him some help. He seems to be really hung up on superheroes’ sex organs. But he’ll outgrow it.”

The irony is that if there is one thing the industry can truly be condemned for in all this, it is for failing to portray the diversity of the real world. For example, the Green Lantern franchise has handled gay issues before. In 2000, the series introduced Terry Berg, an openly gay seventeen year-old assistant to another version of the Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner.

When Berg was beaten into a coma by a gang of hateful thugs, even Lex Luthor condemned the attack and its motivation, suggesting it’s far worse in the DC universe to be a gaybasher than a supervillain who routinely plots the deaths of millions (gays no doubt among them). Marvel, meanwhile, has its own examples. Among the attendees of the gay wedding on the cover of Astonishing X-Men #52, the superhero Wolverine stands prominently. Hailing from northern Canada and in almost every way a stereotype of the tough-talking, hairy-chested, tanktop-wearing, beer-drinking working man, Wolverine is nevertheless fine with all this. Somehow, his adamantine claws seem more plausible. To offer dissenting perspectives from heroes or villains, even in the names of diversity and credibility, is simply too unfashionable. For those in the business of superheroism, it all seems pretty cowardly.

Harley J. Sims is a writer and independent scholar living in Ottawa, Canada. He can be reached on his website at www.harleyjsims.webs.com. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license from Mercatornet.com.

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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website, www.babycaust.de, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” Katholisch.de editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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