Recently Marvel announced the addition of David Alleyne, a.k.a. Prodigy to their Young Avengers line-up. The addition of Prodigy was a welcome one…at first. Marvel announced later that Prodigy has now revealed that he is bi-sexual! This news caused an uproar with WOBH fans and black comic readers alike. The comments regarding the news ranged from comic companies forcing LGBT themes/characters on kids to the feminization of Black males to this being a representation of the population. Some mentioned the unfinished relationship with the mutant Surge as the reason for disappointment in the announcement, while others had no opinion. The news comes as no surprise coming from Marvel, who last year had the very public wedding of the Canadian mutant Northstar; who is recognized as the first gay character at Marvel; to an African-American male, named Kyle Jinadu. Northstar was created in 1979 with hints of his sexuality appearing in 1983 and confirmed in 1992.
So why the uproar? As mentioned, some fans felt as if society in general, and comics specifically, are forcing the LGBT themes on children. But what is the basis for this? Is there evidence that there is a proliferation of LGBT heroes appearing and replacing the straight heroes? It should be pointed out here that the first gay character appeared in 1941. His appearance not only signaled the acknowledgement of that segment of the population, but also tested the waters as to the success of such a character. The character appeared under the DC comics company. From that time until now, DC has consistently been in the forefront of featuring such characters, and is recognized as having the most LGBT characters in their own titles. Although Northstar was created in 1979, during the 80’s Editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter was in charge over at Marvel, and it was a well-known fact that he had a “no gays in Marvel comics” policy, even though Editor Joe Quesada said no such policy exists. Not only were there “unwritten” polices like that at work, there was the Comic Code Authority, whose tight policing of comics monitored the interactions of all characters and character behavior, and regulated it. This policing usually resulted in LGBT characters being assimilated into the larger heterosexual community. With these facts in place, to say that LGBT characters are being “forced” on our kids is a stretch. Also, with the inception of the ratings system, books deemed to be “more mature” are rated so as kids shouldn’t be exposed to them.
When speaking specifically about the race of Prodigy, and his character now being turned into a LGBT character, fans point to this as being another example of the feminization of black males, although this is usually reserved for conversations concerning black males in film. Whether or not this has merit in the comic industry, I can’t say; I will say that of the numerous black hero characters that I personally follow and collect, I have not noticed this; as for films/movies; I will keep my eye out on this point. I have noticed a societal trend. That trend places more emphasis on men and grooming habits, as well as styles of dress, referring to these men as “metrosexuals”. The label, to some, is threatening enough, but it is not to be confused with homosexuality. The feminization does not come from this trend, but from the stereotype that is perpetuated throughout the black community regarding men, and hence makes any who do not fit the stereotypical description as being outside the said community. Then again, maybe it is true. With roles that are well-defined and engrained into the consciousness of the black community, maybe this behavior lies outside what is acceptable and serves only to weaken said roles and keep the community unstable. Who knows which is right?
Comics have also dealt with social issues. Its history is rich with books and characters that have addressed a plethora of social topics. No one is immune. Even the Black Panther had to deal with drugs in Wakanda, and Steel’s battles with the gangs in Washington D.C. launched his career. Who could forget the images of Superman or Spiderman as they peered at the destruction of 911? One of the saddest examples is that of Jim Wilson; trusted confidant of the Hulk; contracting and eventually dying of AIDS. Given this, it is not surprising that comics have dealt with the LGBT community. While limited at the big 2 (DC/Marvel) companies like Malibu, Image and Dark Horse have taken it on and been successful with it. There are even companies like Prism Comics who deal in books that exclusively promote LGBT comics and creators.
Back in the Marvel universe, it is widely recognized that its mutant population is the representation of how society treats its minorities. The minority most associated with this has always been the black community; this is even acknowledged in issue 3 of the “District X’ series by the mutant Bishop. He states plainly, “Being a mutant is like being black. You can be a black checkout clerk or the black heavyweight champion of the world, but first thing you are is black.” Powerful words, and true for both black people and mutants, but in recent times, it has grown to represent the LGBT community as well. This association mirrors the attitude of a segment of society which relates the real life struggle of the LGBT community with that of the black community. Both oppressed, both discriminated against. Both suffering from violence and injustice, the comparisons are fair. Some still insist that you cannot look at a person and tell they are LGBT, but you know a black person when you see them. This attitude may seemingly disregard the plight of the LGBT community, or may minimalize it, but it is just as valid as the other view, and cannot, itself, be dismissed. Society’s view, or more so, the fans view of comics, also has a major influence. Editors of comics which prominently feature LGBT characters note that it is often the fans who determine the direction of its characters, and the writers are either pushed on or pushed back from what they will do. This is true for a lot of things and cannot be overlooked. After all, it is the fans that purchase the material, and the goal is to sell the books.
The inclusion of LGBT characters in comics in not new. It is something the comic book companies have done; albeit at a lesser degree during the reign of the Comics Code Authority, for decades. The development of the characters and the exploration of their relationships mirror the acceptance of its community by society. Is it a trend? Comics are a fickle sort. No longer are stories of gang violence and drugs prevalent in the books. The mention of a character contracting AIDS no longer carries the fear and stigmatisms that prompted so many stories. Will this fade as well? I doubt it. As long as there are heroes that aren’t trying to bed every woman while in their secret identity or the woman warrior raised on an island of women (isn’t it funny how that same assumption isn’t made when it’s a man) there will be at least rumors of LGBT characters. If there are indeed LGBT characters, then, as one WOBH fan inquired, wouldn’t it make sense that a teen who may question his sexual identity, be included in a group of teens who would accept him for who he is and not shun him for his sexual orientation? If comics truly mirror society, wouldn’t the acceptance of LGBT characters become more and more common, instead of hiding them in the group? Like it or not, it makes a lot of sense, and when you think about it, if only teens in real life had such a diverse yet accepting group of kids to hang out with (and fight crime with to boot!), and the accomplishments of a hero are based on merit and not outer appearance or who they date or marry. Want a sign that things are changing? Look no further than the new Hub network carton named Shezow! The adventures of a boy who turns into a superwoman! Ready or not world, here it comes!
Here is the list of Black LGBT heroes we know in comics:
Bling – Jr. X-Man [Lesbian]
Kyle Jinadu– Northstarr’s husband [Gay]