Needs More Colors in the Rainbow: Jessica Jones and LGBTQ Representation

Originally posted on Panels.net

Warning: SPOILERS for the entire first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones.

If you’ve finished the entire first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones: are you okay? Have you remained hydrated? Did you take yoga breaks in between episodes? Blare some Enya? Practice your rhythmic breathing? If not, soothe yourself now before you, with fistfulls of napkins and waffles, wind up sob-screaming at an innocent IHOP waitress who just doesn’t seem to understand that NO you do not want the grape jelly right now because it is purple and GET. IT. AWAY.

I speak hypothetically.

Jessica Jones (indulge me in ditching the wayward “Marvel’s“) is a lot of things: the second-entry into Marvel’s Netflix plan, the same plan’s only female-led entry, a rousing success for Krysten Ritter, the most emotionally-taxing bingewatch I’ve ever undergone, and the source of my nightmares.

It’s also the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) property to feature a major queer character (in Carrie-Anne Moss’s Jeri Hogarth) and the second to feature a visibly queer character at all (beat out by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just two months ago).

Jessica Jones, however, does nothing in half-measures. By my last count, the show features seven queer characters: one major (Jeri), two recurring (Wendy Ross-Hogarth, Pam), and four minor (Sissy Garcia, Zack, Justin Beaudoin, and Justin Beaudoin’s unnamed husband).

After finishing the season, I find myself both happy for the quantity of queer representation on the show, but also even more desperate for representation in other MCU properties.

Jessica Jones is a show that’s dark and complicated. It’s swimming—drowning, even—in brutal topics and moral complexity. There’s no black-and-white, just many shades of grey. And people of all backgrounds should get to occupy all of those shades.

Unfortunately, I am a bit disappointed at where the show does leave its queer characters: in either exceedingly dark shades of grey or dead.

Two of the show’s most sympathetic queer characters are the women on either sides of Jeri Hogarth—Wendy and Pam—and my use of “most sympathetic” underscores how morally murky the show gets. Wendy blackmails Jeri (I can’t say I blame her) and Pam is the Other Woman in this relationship (though she’s quick to turn on Jeri’s shenanigans).

Wendy gets abused by both Jessica Jones and Kilgrave and winds up with her head split by a table; Pam ends up in jail for uniting Wendy with that table (it was self-defense from a mind-controlled Wendy).

The minor queer characters don’t fare better. Sissy Garcia is a violent, predatory butch lesbian. Justin Beaudoin gets mind-controlled by Kilgrave and is then framed for double-murder—one of the victims is his husband. Zack escapes the show unscathed, but that’s mostly because he’s totally irrelevant—so much so that I imagine most viewers of the show have no idea who I’m talking about. Hint: He’s Trish’s assistant.

jeri-hogarth

And that leaves Jeri, one of the most fascinating characters on this show.

In the final episode of the season, Jessica describes Jeri (to Jeri) as “a sack of dark, oozing shit in an expensive suit […] which makes you the best shark in town.”

In practice, viewers see way more of the “oozing shit in an expensive suit” than they do the “best shark in town” part. Jeri has small moments of savvy throughout the show, but nothing that manages to eclipse the colossal stupidity that was freeing Kilgrave. She knows that Kilgrave mind-controlled a college girl, held her hostage, raped her, and forced her to murder her parents. She knows that he basically forced a surgeon to perform vivisection on an ambulance driver. She knows that enough to want to keep the aborted fetus carrying his DNA. And yet.

If the show’s trying to sell her as brilliant, calculated, and logical, her decision to free Kilgrave wholesale unraveled that.

Throughout the series, I found myself waiting for the show to humanize her. Not to excuse her actions or even make her sympathetic, but to show us more about how she came to be. Why did her marriage with Wendy fall apart? What did Pam see in Jeri? Is this mic even on?

If she was supposed to come off as a vaguely incompetent monster, I wish we could have seen more of why. If she wasn’t, well, whoops, that’s what we got.

Looking at the bleak landscape of jailed, dead, and monstrous queer characters (this sounds like the saddest take on F**k, Marry, Kill ever) before me, I struggle to recommend this to queer friends as much as I’d like to. Tired of dead or tragic lesbians? Well, this show is chock full. Want to feel better represented here than the rest of the MCU? If you’re looking for quantity? Sure. Anything else? Not really.

Spoilers for season two of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel’s Daredevilahead

Even the faint sparks of queer representation throughout the MCU fall into these same unfortunate categories. Victoria Hand and her girlfriend Isabelle are queer women in the comics. In Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Victoria Hand and an Isabel are never confirmed to be queer, but they are both murdered. Daredevil‘s queer-coded character Wesley is a villain—who might be in love with his boss—that winds up murdered. Iron Man 2 villain Justin Hammer, in the Thor: The Dark World Bluray/DVD one-shot “All Hail the King,” is shown to be “prison gay.”

It’s not that I don’t want villainous or morally dark queer characters; I do. I just also want us to get to embody the (complex) heroism that Trish, Malcolm, and Jessica had this season. And for us to get to embody villains and corpses less—especially the nameless ones.

Allowing queer characters to exist in all shades of the human experience requires showing them as heroes too. Something that Jessica Jones, and the MCU at large, has failed to do.

Tippy-Toe: Hero, Revolutionary, Glamour Squirrel

Originally posted on Panels.net

Every Wednesday, readers march into their local comic store to find the racks dominated by new comics starring their favorite heroes—one of whom is very famous for dressing as a small mammal. This Wednesday, a different mammal-inspired hero dominates the stand: Doreen Green, a.k.a. Squirrel Girl.

Yes, two separate series come out today starring Doreen: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1(the second of its kind this year) and New Avengers #2 (the first of its kind this year). This has to be a first in the comics industry.

That means double the Squirrel Power, as Doreen’s faithful partner, friend, and confidante Tippy-Toe is also starring in two series out on the same day. We here at Panels write a lot about Squirrel Girl; to change things up, I think it’s fair to celebrate the seven ways in which this rodent rocks.

1. She’s just an average squirrel.

Tippy Toe Squirrel Girl
Art by Erica Henderson / Script by Ryan North

See! It says it in this panel below. She’s just a regular squirrel who puts her bow on in the morning just like the rest of us—right before we go out to save the world.

2. Or is she?

Wait, do squirrels’ proportional speed and flexibility allow them to perform Matrix-esque dart dodges seamlessly mid-air? That come from master sharpshooters like Kraven the Hunter?

Art by Erica Henderson / Writing by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson / Script by Ryan North

And do squirrels also have thorough knowledge of advanced technology like gravity belts?! Consider me in awe—and terror—of our skittish rodent neighbors.

Art by Gerardo Sandoval / Writing by Al Ewing
Art by Gerardo Sandoval / Script by Al Ewing

Tippy-Toe does not have superpowers or any magical boon; she just works her tail off to become the best squirrel hero she can be. #LifeLessons

3. She’s super cute.

Easy, breezy, beautiful: Cover Squirrel.

Tippy Toe Squirrel Girl
Art by Erica Henderson / Script by Ryan North

4. She’s got serious style.

All the squirrel fashion industry titans—Bark Jacobs, Squirrel Lagerfeld, Twiggy—agree: Tippy-Toe is fashion’s It Squirrel.

Her pink ribbon accessory is minimalist and feminine. It affords her optimal mobility against her ordinary foes, and it defends her against her greatest one: tackiness.

When push comes to shove, Tippy-Toe’s not above suiting up in style either. When necessary, she “makes it work” like a contestant in one of Project Runway’s unconventional materials challenges; she just slips on a Stark-style glove and matching helmet and she’s set to stomp on galaxy gobblers like Galactus.

Tippy Toe Squirrel Girl
Art by Erica Henderson / Script by Ryan North

5. She cares about her friendship, even if that means calling Doreen out.

There is arguably no friendship in the Marvel Universe stronger than the one between Doreen Green and Tippy-Toe; the only pair close enough is Carol Danvers and Jessica Drew, and they are clearly also in love with one another.

Friendship requires loyalty, compassion, and, most of all, honesty. Tippy-Toe does not tippy-toe around the hard conversations; she knows friendship is more than just sunshine and acorns.

Art by Erica Henderson / Writing by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson / Script by Ryan North

What’s more important: preserving your secret identity, or preserving your personal identity? Tippy-Toe asks the tough questions.

6. She has her own Twitter account.

Move over, @common_squirrel; there’s a better social media savvy member of the Scuridae family, and you can find her @yoitstippytoe.

Tippy Toe Squirrel Girl

7. She’s a pioneer for non-human female characters in the Big Two.

Two of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s breakout stars are a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree; both have had recent series and will be getting their own duo title in January 2016. A cameo character in that same film (Guardians of the Galaxy, if you haven’t caught on) was Howard the Duck—an anthropomorphic duck who will soon be starring in his second series of 2015.

The upcoming Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. stars a whole gaggle of ghoulies, including Man-Thing (swamp monster), Manphibian (lagoon monster), Orrgo (a space god…thing), Teen Abomination (self-explanatory), Hit-Monkey (mostly self-explanatory?), and some humanoid folk.

Between the Big Two, Marvel by far has the lead on non-human characters—definitely in prominence, likely in quantity too. But DC has some mostly in the form of villanous gorillas (Grodd, Monsieur Mallah), peripheral Green Lantern characters, and Krypto.

But regardless of who owns them, non-human comics characters overwhelmingly skew male—arguably moreso than their human counterparts. Male alien characters get to jellyfish, rage cats, fly people, and even sentient planets. Female aliens get to be sexy humanoids in wacky skin colors, if they’re present at all. Rare exceptions tend to be distaff counterparts (often love interests) to more prominent male non-human characters. See: Lyla to Rocket Raccoon, Mary-Crane Watsow to Spider-Ham.

Technically speaking, Tippy-Toe is Squirrel Girl’s second squirrel sidekick. The first was a male squirrel by the name of Monkey Joe (RIP). From the ashes, readers got Tippy-Toe—a squirrel sidekick who’s now more prominent than her successor.

With her new rank as (New) Avenger, Tippy-Toe is more poised than ever to inspire non-human ladies universe-wide. May she never go “nuts” with that power.

Revealing Pros’ Pros with a Nose: Perfect “Imperfections” in Comics

Originally posted on Panels.net

I have a big nose.

I don’t really think about it too much, as it doesn’t crack my insecurity fave five—but it’s there. It’s there in the mirror, in off-guard kitchen reflections, and in every photo. Lost in the woods with a dead phone battery and need the time? Lay me flat and I’ll do my best sundial.

Do you know who else has a big nose? Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms. Marvel a.k.a. the Literal Best. And that’s part of what makes her the best, and part of why I adore her and characters like her.

Art by Adrian Alphona.
Words by G. Willow Wilson / Art by Adrian Alphona.

In the Big Two’s shared universes, different characters pass from one set of creators’ hands to others’ all the time. Sometimes character traits are lost to friction, and other times they’re altered intentionally—hopefully for the character’s benefit. When it’s intentional, it can be genius; ditching Red Sonja’s battle-won sexuality and adding a dash of bisexuality is a brilliant part of Gail Simone’s recent Red Sonja run. When it’s unintentional, however, it’s often homogeneous.

In life, there is no default person. In fiction, there is no default person either—but major franchise owners struggle to realize that, no, your story doesn’t need to star yet another straight cis white guy.

As a result of this ingrained default, characters who deviate—especially in comics—are constantly at risk for being “washed” into something they’re not. Bisexual characters see their sexual identities treated as “phases,” “creative interpretations,” or one-off jokes. Light-skinned or mixed race characters of color progressively see their skin lightened further—often by accident because they’re assumed to be white by unknowing colorists. Rose Wilson, the former daughter of a Cambodian woman, found herself whitewashed to the point where the New 52 formally finished the job; her “new” biological mother, like Rose’s father, is white.

This penchant for homogeneity manifests in smaller ways, too. Unique facial features—like Kamala Khan’s nose—barely survive transitions between artists. When Gail Simone envisioned Scandal Savage (from Secret Six), she intended her to be short and stocky; as time marched on, Scandal got taller and more “traditionally feminine” in shape.

Kamala Khan has a big nose. Squirrel Girl has buck teeth and short hair. Zephyr is fat. Amanda Waller, in her best iteration, is also fat. She-Hulk is ripped. Wolverine is a runt.

Those qualities inform a character’s history, personality, and station. Too often, character designs are treated as latex suits that can be stretched and torn and bleached to fit every artist’s muse.

Adrian Alphona, of Ms. Marvel and Runaways fame, is brilliant because he gets why character designs matter; not only do they break from the status quo, they also vary within his stories.

Kamala has a big, curved nose. Her father has giant hands attached to giant ham arms. Her mother’s so small that she’d make Wolverine feel like a giant. Best friend Bruno has unflattering hair and will-it-won’t-it facial hair. Other best friend Nakia is angular, tall, and reserved in body language. Frenemie Zoe has a large-ish forehead—what Tyra Banks would call a “fivehead.” Alphona’s universe is rich with visual cues that make the world authentic and human (and Inhuman).

My favorite way to gauge illustration diversity is to see how the noses…go-ses. They’re the easiest detail to skimp on and make generic, and the best artists don’t.

In the recent run of Batgirl, as illustrated by Babs Tarr, Barbara Gordon has a bit of a button nose with a short—but steep—concave curve. Dinah Lance has a long, very steep nasal bridge. Roommate Frankie Charles has a wider nose, and occasional acquaintance Sevin has a bulky, convex one.

Sophie Campbell’s visual take on Jem and the Holograms does the same: Jerrica’s schnoz is the cutest of buttons, Roxy and Shana’s are wide and pronounced, Rio’s steep, and Clash rocks one that’s large and in-charge.

Is Kamala’s nose her most valuable feature? Absolutely not. Her heroism, her loyalty, her embiggening sense of self, her kindness, her humor, and her authenticity rank significantly higher on that list.

But it does make her more relatable, more accessible. Ms. Marvel teaches that you don’t have to be a supermodel to be a superhero; you don’t have to subscribe to society’s standards of beauty to have a story worth telling. You just need to be a awesome (teleporting dog is preferred, but optional).

As Kamala (rightfully) gets more popular throughout the Marvel universe, I hope every artist—no matter their style—keeps this is mind. I’m already beginning to see covers that give her westernized standards of beauty, an uncomfortable bust-to-waist ratio, and a costume that’s skewing towards spandex.

A person’s features are part of their identity. And, future Kamala Khan artists, you don’t want to know what happens with people who mess with Kamala Khan’s identity.

ms-marvel-15-power
Words by G. Willow Wilson / Art by Takeshi Miyazawa

They get THUNK-ed.

9 So You Think You Can Dance Routines for Your Comics OTP

Originally posted on Panels.net

Over the course of twelve seasons, dance reality show So You Think You Can Dance(SYTYCD) has woven stories about pretty much everything: terrified crash test dummies, raucous bellhops, the budding romance between a hummingbird and flower, and countless more.

Companionship, rivalry, and romance are core elements of most SYTYCD routines; they’re also core to a great many “ships” (short for “relationships”) in comics fan communities—perfect for combining the two.

Below are nine routines that I think sync neatly with some of comic fandom’s most popular “ships.” Some are romantic OTPs (One True Pairs), some are brOTPs (the platonic version), and others represent more tragic relationships—one, in particular, is a definite personal NOTP (No OTP, a.k.a. a disapproved ship).

Thor & Loki
Music: “Are You the One?” by the Presets
Choreography: Mia Michaels
Dancers: Season 3’s Neil Haskell and Danny Tidwell

Take two brothers—a blonde and a brunette—and pit them against each other in a battle over the throne. Add something gothic styling and many ruffles, and bang! you get one dance routine for Thorki fans.

Mob Boss Selina Kyle & Anyone In Her Way
Music: “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics
Choreography: Mandy Moore
Dancers: Season 3’s Sabra Johnson and Neil Haskell

As she’s currently written by Genevieve Valentine, Selina Kyle is a boss—both in station and in personality. As head of the Calabrese family crime gang, Selina is frequently put at odds with rival crime bosses, Batman, and even Gotham’s newest Catwoman, her girlfriend Eiko Hasigawa. Here’s “Sweet Dreams” to anyone who stands in Selina’s way.

Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter
Music: “No Air” by Jordan Sparks
Choreography: Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo
Dancers: Season 4’s Katee Shean and Joshua Allen

In this routine, a woman mournfully sees her beloved go off to war; in the comics, Steve and Peggy go to war together. For me, this routine doesn’t capture Steve leaving for war—it captures the moment where he’s saying goodbye to Peggy as he plummets into the ocean.

In a sense, this is their last dance.

Dick Grayson & Koriand’r
Music: “Hip Hip Chin Chin” by Club Des Belugas
Choreography: Dmitry Chaplin and Heidi Groskreutz
Dancers: Season 3’s Lacey Schwimmer and Danny Tidwell

Most mainstream media requires its female participants to be sexy when it’d never ask the same for its male counterparts; the mainstream comics industry does this often. Latin ballroom dances, however, ask women and men to amp up the sex appeal.

Who’s the only male cape comic character I can imagine stepping up to the challenge? Dick Grayson, of course—paired perfectly with once flame Starfire.

Dick Grayson & Barbara Gordon
Music: “Fix You” by Coldplay
Choreography: Travis Wall
Dancers: Season 7’s Robert Roldan and mentor Allison Holker

Do not fret, DickBabs shippers, I have a have a dance for you too.

This iconic SYTYCD routine follows a woman’s struggle through surgery and the recovery process afterwards. It’s emotional, artfully choreographed, and likely to affect anyone who’s wanted so desperately for someone they love to heal and move forward.

The sensitivity with which Robert treats Allison reminded me a great deal of Dick Grayson, and how he likely approached Barbara after her accident. I’d definitely say this routine captures the spirit and sweetness of their relationship.

Scott Lang & Cassie Lang
Music: “Time”
Choreography: Mia Michaels
Dancers: Season 3’s Lacey Schwimmer and Neil Haskell

In comics, death is often nothing more than a revolving door, and few families understand this more than Team Lang. It’s Scott Lang’s love for her daughter, Cassie, that transforms him into Ant-Man. After an accident involving Scarlet Witch, Scott dies and Cassie emotionally retreats until she dons his gear and becomes Stature of the Young Avengers.

In a subsequent mission, the Young Avengers time travel and she rescues her father from his death; very shortly afterwards, Doctor Doom attacks her father, she believes he’s killed again, attacks Doom, and is killed. But, as of this past year, she’s back again!

Even if it’s not an exact 1:1 comparison, this routine about a father and daughter reuniting in heaven definitely serves up some Lang feels.

Harley Quinn & the Joker
Music: “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles
Choreography: Mia Michaels
Dancers: Season 5’s Kayla Radomski and Kupono Aweau

The Harley Quinn and Joker dynamic is an abusive one; from her origin story on, the Joker has emotionally manipulated Harleen in almost every single story she’s in, and often physically abuses her. And, for whatever reason, she’s addicted to his influence.

This routine takes on addiction, and reminds me of a more tragic take on the Harley/Joker relationship. For those dissatisfied with my take on their dynamic, consider this routine for a more triumphant take and this one for a take that aligns more with New 52’s origin of their romance.

Clark Kent & Lois Lane & Superman
Music: “Libertango” from Forever Tango / “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
Choreography: Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo / Mandy Moore
Dancers: Season 5’s Janette Manrara & Brandon Bryant / S5’s Melissa Sandvig & Ade Obayomi

It’s impossible to boil down the most iconic comics romance into one routine, so I chose two! The first, an Argentine tango, captures the combative dynamic portrayed between Lois and Clark in some versions the Daily Planet. It’s fiery, flirty, and a lot of fun.

The contemporary routine captures the relationship between Lois and Superman—or, specifically, after they’ve known each other and grown enough for Lois to know that Clark is Superman. Here there’s sensitivity, mutual support, and a strong emotional core.

Note: For the title’s sake, consider one of these routines a friendly bonus!

Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes (or any other popular M/M ship)

Music: “How It Ends” by DeVotchKa
Choreography: Travis Wall
Dancers: Season 7’s Kent Boyd and mentor Neil Haskell

According to the introduction, this routine is about two male “best friends.” Read “best friends” like you’d read Batwoman and Renee Montoya as “gal pals.” Trust me, you’ll be able to tell when you watch the routine.

Though I think Steve & Bucky fit ideally for this heartbreaking dance, I’d also say its fair game to match it with any other tortured, unacknowledged-by-bigwigs male/male pairing in a comics universe. Prepare ye for feels!

The Great Comics Hunk-Off: #DashingDC vs. #MagicMarvelXXL

This piece was originally posted on Panels.

Mere weeks after its release in theaters, Magic Mike XXL, the money-making movie about male strippers and their money-makers, is still ab-dominating social media.

It’s also the single-best advertisement for the upcoming Gambit movie, starring comics grandpa chaperone Channing Tatum, as confirmed by female relatives after I alerted them to Fox’s film.

Now that there’s a chance that Tatum will inject some overt sex appeal into a comic book movie, this begs the question: Who is better at aiding those who like ogling dudefolk, Marvel or DC?

Last March, DC Comics actually paid homage to the original Magic Mike in their film poster variant series.

Justice League? More like Thrust-ice League. | Art by Emanuela Lupacchino
Now that is Batman at his scariest. | Cover by Emanuela Lupacchino

Though it may not seem like it to the naked (or the semi-nude) eye, this cover matters. The mainstream comics industry has a long-standing tradition of pandering solely to a heterosexual male gaze. Illustrated women in centaur contortions, brokeback poses, and widely disproportionate proportions are not reserved for “adult” reading; they’ve been quasi-regular fare for comics over decades.

As the industry is just now beginning to recognize that female fans exist in significant numbers, readers are just now—slightly—seeing nods to androphilic (read: dude-ogling) tastes. The Thrust-ice League up there is just the tip—of the iceberg.

A character of any gender need not simply be in a state of undress and/or physical peak to fit under a gaze. A vein-popping, head-decapitating shirtless warrior is not the same as his bikini-clad female counterpart bending forward to give readers a peak at her cleavage.

Often, receptiveness is the key ingredient to any beefcake or cheesecake recipe—enter the variant cover for Constantine: The Hellblazer #1.

All eyes, and ooze?, are on him. | Art by Ming Doyle
All eyes (and ooze?) on John. | Cover by Ming Doyle

As someone who was on Twitter and Tumblr when this variant was released, I can share that the general reaction was this:

There Go My Pants

Ming Doyle’s illustration proves that leaving the pants on a character can still knock the pants off of others. John Constantine has an open, receptive body language; he’s also making eye contact with the viewer. “Tight” would describe both his fashion sense and his pants. His facial features are soft, and his hair is slightly tousled. Doyle has crafted a Constantine who’s inviting the reader to look at him.

Despite Marvel’s recently improved emphasis on female fans, the publisher has barely put a horse (or “Pony,” if you’ve watched Magic Mike) into the beefcake race. Many openly queer male artists are in its employ, but most of their work is reserved for female characters (which is, ultimately, a Higher Cause, but…what’s a cover or two?). Fortunately, Kris Anka has ushered Marvel partially into this race with a literal race on August’s House of M #2 cover.

House of M Marvel comics Anka
Male gaze? Female gaze? How about Magneto’s gaze? | Cover by Kris Anka

Not to be outdone, DC is also releasing a cover featuring a shirtless version of theirKing of the Seas.

Aquaman DC Comics
Between the trident, the “A,” and the water, I’ll let you make a joke here. | Cover by Ant Lucia

Aquaman’s cover is actually an entry in DC’s second wave of the “Bombshells” nineteen-fifties-style variant covers. The first wave came out in June 2014, and it featured only female characters. Though the covers themselves were stylish, fun, and largely less sexualized than the comics status quo (some heroines even gainedclothing in their redesigns), they still sent a sad message about who the covers were—and weren’t—intended for.

DC listened to outcry, as August 2015’s Bombshells line-up features at least eight covers with male pin-ups on them. Given, Aquaman’s design is more the shirtless exception than the rule, but it’s a start. I’m still waiting on Marvel to commission some Milo Manara-esque designs for their male-led titles (I’m not, actually).

No conversation about comics beefcake, however, is complete without Dick—Dick Grayson, that is. Here’s Grayson #13:

For the unfamiliar, that is a very specific kind of rope. | By Mikel Janin
For the unfamiliar, that is a very specific kind of rope. | Cover by Mikel Janin

All the previous DC covers are variants; if fans wanted to, they could avoid them.

This is Grayson #13‘s main cover. It isn’t a spin-off, surprise, or one-time wink at the audience. This portrait is a pretty spot-on indication of Grayson so far. And, this series is what thrusts DC furthest past the competition and into the top position.

Tim Seeley, series co-writer with Tom King, has spoken openly about appealing to female fans in the past, admitting that the team tries to depict Dick shirtless at least once an issue. For almost all of Grayson #5, a stubbly, shirtless Dick carries and cradles a baby through a desert. In another issue, a crew of female spies-in-training chase a teasing Dick throughout their campus. In a later issue, that same crew nicknames the two halves of Dick’s derrière as “Jim and Juan.” It should be noted that Jim and Juan are basically supporting characters.

The purpose of this “Hunk-Off” isn’t to suggest that the industry need be more sexual; just to make it equally so for fans who aren’t straight men. And, maybe incidentally, to also show “sexy” characters in ways that aren’t objectifying, dismissive, mean, out-of-character, or reinforcing of unhealthy gender dynamics. In the preceding covers, the subjects retain their agency—some are even “in” on what the cover’s doing.

For those disappointed by Marvel’s loss here, take heart—at least this cover for Wolverine #6 happened (if by mistake):

The focus of the next Wolverine movie? | Cover by Esad Ribic
The focus of the next Wolverine movie? | Cover by Esad Ribic

This year has brought fans #HotArchie, #DapperDick, and #ComeHitherConstantine. Who do you hope (or think) is next?

2015 So Far: A Queer Comics Midterm Review

This piece was originally posted on Panels.

Now that Empress Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Lord Macklemore have flooded the United States with rainbows to the tune of “Same Love,” it’s time to reflect on what’s gotten us to this point: in comics. How has 2015 been in terms of queer representation and the comics industry?

DC COMICS

Of all the major publishers, DC didn’t start the year off too poorly. Way back in January, the publisher had two solo titles starring (out) queer characters:Batwoman (which had a queer writer) and Constantine. Its monthly slate also featured many ensemble titles with prominent queer characters: Secret Six, Earth-2, Teen Titans, Justice League Dark, Aquaman and the Others, etc.

At the end of February, Catwoman writer Genevieve Valentine gave her own valentine to the queer community by officially confirming Selina Kyle as bisexual; in the current run, Selina Kyle is in a romance with new Catwoman Eiko Hasigawa. In March, theJustice League 3000 iteration of Wonder Woman also came out as being attracted to both men and women.

Months later, DC introduced its two-month Convergence event. For a shtick rooted in nostalgia, it didn’t do too poorly with queer representation. Renee-Montoya-as-the-Question had her own solo title, and several teams summoned benched queer characters into (temporary) action.

The post-Convergence landscape brought with it many casualties and new recruits. If it weren’t for Selina and future!Diana’s coming out, there wouldn’t have been any queer lady protagonists in DC’s Divergence roster, as Batwoman, Justice League Dark, andAquaman and the Others all met their end.

Midnighter DC comics Kevin WadaOn the plus side, DC announced Midnighter andConstantine: The Hellblazer—two titles starring queer male characters as penned by actual queer male authors. Later in June (the month of Divergence), the remaining members of the former Gotham City Sirens (Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy) would be revealed as polyamorous girlfriends by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti over DC’s Twitter account.

Overnight, DC’s lineup got much more queer, as Harley stars in Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, New Suicide Squad, and whatever five tie-in’s DC has in a given month.

All of this, combined with teases of an Alysia Yeoh storyline in Batgirl, would end DC’s past six months on a pretty sweet note. But little at DC comes without a catch, so the last Wednesday of June brought with it atransphobic Superman in Justice League 3001.

MARVEL COMICS

January marked the one-year anniversary of Young Avengers‘ cancellation and the onset of queer representation wasteland. This January also saw the cancellation of All-New Ultimates, thus removing the one lesbian protagonist (Ultimate Jessica Drew) Marvel had in its entire publishing slate.

Loki Agent of Asgard Marvel comicsOn the slow march to Secret Wars, queer representation dwindled until the associated titles were cancelled. This includes X-Men (Psylocke), Wolverines (Mystique and Daken), and Amazing X-Men (Northstar). Loki: Agent of Asgard, starring the genderfluid and bisexual trickster himself, is still going and will do so until August.

For the creator side of things, Marvel has employed many openly queer artists, including Phil Jimenez, Kris Anka, and Russell Dauterman. Noelle Stevenson wrote a short story for the Thor annual and is now writing aRunaways miniseries.

In February, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin writer Kieron Gillen confirmed on his Tumblr that Angela’s gal pal very-likely-lover Sera is a transgender woman. I hope we get textual confirmation on the “lover” side of that equation sooner than later.

In April, a younger, time-displaced version of Iceman was outed (oh, Jean) as gay, which is a pretty big deal as he’s one of the original five X-Men. Its execution ignited many conversations on outing, biphobia, and ethics in telepathy. Unfortunately, the storyline has been put on ice until after Secret Wars.

Secret Wars is…a tricky beast. Virtually every one of Marvel’s prominent queer characters are missing or relegated to minor roles. On the flipside, some series star queer-alternate-versions of recognizable characters (Pixie, Jubilee, Tempest), and, though positive, this worries me for when Marvel returns to one core universe.

Marvel’s made solid strides in portraying women and PoC in their comics; it’s about time queer rep catches up.

BOOM! STUDIOS

Lumberjanes comic boom studiosAs mainstream, monthly comics publishers go, you really can’t beat BOOM! Studios. Ongoing series entering 2015 were The Woods (a sci-fi survival series with multiple queer teen protagonists), Lumberjanes (critically-acclaimed all-ages series that’s been optioned for a movie), and Bravest Warriors (bisexual mermaids, anyone?).

In February, the KaBOOM! kids imprint launched Help Us! Great Warrior, a miniseries based on the hit webcomic. Alongside our lima bean-shaped protagonist is her close friend Leo, who’s a badass transgender warrior woman.

That makes at least four ongoing series with multiple queer protagonists, many created by queer folk (James Tynion IV, Kate Leth, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis), several of which are all-ages, which is incredibly important.

EVERYONE ELSE

Image Comics continues to be a generally positive mixed bag in terms of queer representation. Single-character-focused titles include Kaptara, a sci-fi adventure series starring a gay man of color, launched in March, and ODY-C, starring a queer Odyssia. Other comics with queer ensemble leads include The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw, Trees, The Wicked + The Divine, Bitch Planet, Rat Queens, and Saga, though the last few have either experienced massive delays or have seen their queer characters fade from prominence. The publisher also boasts a great number of supporting transgender characters in series listed above.

jem and the holograms comic kellyI’m unaware of many (or any?) openly queer creators at Image.

IDW Publishing publishes Jem and the Holograms which is Very, Very Queer. In the comic’s eleven-person cast are two lesbians, one bisexual woman, and one transgender woman. The series’ artist, Sophie Campbell, is a transgender woman and an incredible talent, to boot.

Kickstarter has been an incredible source of successfully-funded queer comics (and a convention!) in the past few months. Notable examples include Beyond,The Less Than Epic Adventures with TJ and Amal,FlameConFresh RomanceFlutter, and many more.

GOING FORWARD

I would love to see publishers take a more active effort in hiring openly queer creators. It’s not hard to find them; the roads to them, especially on the indie side of things, are all there. BOOM! Studios deserves great credit in this arena, and I’d even throw a bone to DC, too. All other publishers (especially Marvel), you can do a better job.

All shades of LGBTQ deserve more representation, but no one more than those in the transgender community. DC, make Alysia Yeoh a superhero already. Marvel, re-capture the success of Ms. Marvel and launch a solo series with a transgender teen.

And, industry, no more Airboy debacles. That’s going to be a lousy way to start off 2015 – Part 2.

LGBTQ Rights and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

This piece was originally posted on Panels.

No, not those kind of LGBTQ rights (you know, human rights).

I’m talking about Marvel’s divided film rights, and how that affects LGBTQ characters appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that’s owned by Disney.

In its current state, there are no openly LGBTQ characters in all eleven films and four seasons of television. By my count, that’s slightly over 4,300 minutes/roughly 72 hours/3 straight (rimshot) days of programming featuring only straight and cis people.

There are no prominent, openly queer characters in Asgard, the far reaches of outer space, across an international spy organization, or even, most astonishingly, Hell’s Kitchen. What kind of Nicholas Sparks-flavored hellscape is this?

That does not mean, however, that queer identities aren’t mentioned in the MCU. In the “All Hail the King” one-shot extra story of the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray/DVD, there are several references to the “prison gay” trope. In Daredevil, heavily-queer-coded character Wesley asks one Russian mob boss if his mob boss brother is missing because he’s out celebrating with “some girl—or boy.”

Queer people exist as faint whispers on the lips of snappily-dressed hitmen.

I’ve spent many moons frustrated by this universe I otherwise love, and started thinking about queer comics characters who could, one day, make the transition from page-to-screen. Unfortunately, for the MCU, there aren’t many.

20th Century Fox — The X-Men and the Fantastic Four

From both lenses of prominence and quantity of queer characters, the X-Men reign supreme. Northstar famously got married in 2012, and was largely considered Marvel’s highest-profile gay hero. Barring comic book-y complications, however, a recently-outed (and time-displaced) Iceman may have usurped that title.

Mystique is arguably the highest-profile bisexual character, though you’d never know it in the films. Psylocke is set to appear in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse movie, though her outing as bisexual was recent and likely won’t make the film. X-Men Fox Mystique

Another far-in-the-future film is an adaptation of the X-Men’s New Mutants run, which has the potential to feature Karma, Shatterstar, Rictor, andProdigy.

Other queer mutants include Bling, Anole, andGraymalkin. So far, none of the X-Men films have included any of these characters or, in the case of Mystique, have acknowledged their identities.

Fox also maintains the rights to the Fantastic Four; this may not seem like much, as the FF are all straight, but it does affect the MCU’s access to the Skrulls—an alien race with two notable queer characters.

Hulkling is a staple Young Avengers character and boasts both Skrull and Kree lineage, though the former is highlighted much more than the latter. The MCU has access to the Kree, but mostly not to the Skrulls. Altering his heritage might be possible, but I don’t see the MCU finding him worth the trouble.

Another queer Skrull teen is Xavin, a genderfluid fan favorite of the Runaways. She is 100% Skrull, though, and much less likely to make the jump to film—especially since the comics, too, have forgotten about her.

Sony Pictures — Spider-Man

Good news: Marvel and Sony have been communicating to have Spider-Man appear in MCU films and Avengers in Sony’s Spider-Man films. Bad news: there’s little information explaining how this affects other Sony characters and, honestly, they don’t have many LGBTQ characters to begin with.

The only ones I can think of are an alternate universe Mary-Jane and the Ultimate Universe’s version of Spider-Woman. And neither are likely to appear over their straight counterparts.

Disney’s Marvel — Everyone Else

If I were a betting man, I’d say the MCU film most likely to introduce pre-existing queer characters would be Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

James Gunn, the creative force behind the original and the sequel, has hinted that the Guardians gain at least one new member (possibly two), and that member is likely female. Providing he goes by the Abnett/Lanning run from which the original is based, that leaves three candidates: Phyla-Vell, Moondragon, and Mantis.

Before the MCU got into fully gear, there were talks of a Runaways film. If that were to still materialize, Karolina Dean would no doubt be a vital member. Unfortunately, all conversations have since, well, run away.

The ultimate wildcard candidate is Wiccan, the child of Scarlet Witch and Vision. In the comics, Scarlet Witch and Vision (the robot) magically have twin boys who are later somehow killed. But that’s not it! Through magic yet again, their children were reincarnated as twin boys to another, totally unrelated couple. Comics.

If Wiccan (a relatively prominent gay comics character) were to make it to the MCU, his origin would need some streamlining. Since Scarlet Witch is very young and not-pregnant right now, maybe have her form a pseudo-adoptive relationship to twin teen boys, say, in a solo movie? As a…babysitter?

One last major candidate would be Victoria Hand, of S.H.I.E.L.D. fame. In the comics, she and her girlfriend Isabelle were the only out queer agents. Given how important S.H.I.E.L.D. is in the MCU, she’s bound to turn up sometime, right?

I feel the exact same way, Victoria.
I feel the exact same way, Victoria.

Spoiler warning for seasons one and two of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Victoria Hand was introduced in the show, but was murdered before her sexuality was ever addressed. Early in the second season, a woman named Isabelle was also murdered before her sexuality was ever addressed. And yes, the showrunners were aware these two characters were out in the comics, they just didn’t choose to address it in the show.

The MCU’s Future

If set photos are to be believed, the universal “straightout” across the MCU’s properties may finally come to an end with Netflix’s Jessica Jones series. Which is neat.

But it’s also not enough. We needed more over the past seven years, need more now, and will need more in the future.

My suggestion? Cast Moondragon and Phyla-Vell in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, reveal both Darcy Lewis and Foggy Nelson as bisexual, cast new LGBTQ characters inAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and, in a Scarlet Witch solo film, have Wanda befriend and form a motherly bond with the twin brothers who live in the apartment next door to her. They’ll both be played by Michael J. Willett.

And give that Runaways movie some legs.