Give ‘Em Elle: A Convergence of Questions
Welcome to Give ‘Em Elle, a weekly column that hopes to bridge the gap between old school comics fandom and the progressive edge of comics culture. I've gotten a lot of questions over the months since I started this column, and since I don't even do a question every single week, I know I'll never get to all of them. So this week I decided to take several in one go, for more of a grab bag feel. But don't worry, I'm sure I'll be back to giving one long hot (or cold) take by next week.
I've thought a lot about this question. I didn't give it a full column, not so much because there isn't enough to say about it, but because I fear such a column would spiral into an unreadable mess as I dive deeply into stories that no longer "count," and puzzle out why. But I do think there's one big obvious answer: The single best retcon in comics history is the one at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths that put the entire history of the Justice Society on the same Earth as the Justice League.
Doing it was a huge mess to pull off, of course --- it's pretty much the whole reason Crisis had to happen, and that series was 12 issues long --- but ultimately it's worth it. Bringing the Golden Age heroes into the same world as the Silver Age and later heroes basically introduced the concept of legacy that would lead to so many great superhero stories. Whereas previously Barry Allen had been inspired by comic books he read as a kid, he was now inspired by a real hero who preceded him.
Black Canary had been a mess before Crisis: A rare hero who had moved from one Earth to another, but was later revealed to be her own daughter (and she didn't even know it) to explain why she never got old (which she apparently never noticed). After Crisis she was just a young woman who was inspired by her mother being the most important female hero of a previous generation, and took up that mantle. That's a much better story, and one that could only be told after the Earths were combined.
There are a few answers to this, and I think they're all true. The basest answer is of course that Wonder Woman is a woman, and queer women can be spun as something that appeals to the straight male gaze, whereas queer men are often seen as threatening to that audience.
Then there's also the thing where Batman is already pretty subtextually queer, but then if you made him textually queer, you'd have to spend a lot of time (much more than they already have) diverting accusations about his tendency to take teenage boys under his wing. To be absolutely clear, there's no actual correlation between being queer and being abusive, and many queer men are excellent fathers, adoptive and otherwise. But these toxic stereotypes are still all-too prevalent in our homophobic culture, and they're bound to keep Batman emphatically textually straight for a while yet.
Superman on the other hand, has just never had much queer subtext. He's a farm boy who had one girlfriend in high school and another girlfriend as an adult, and he's never really seemed to be anything but a hetero dude. Except on Smallville. I only watched the first few seasons of that show, but the way that version of Clark and Lex looked at each other seems pretty loaded.
And then you have Wonder Woman, who was raised in a magical lesbian separatist commune where men simply didn't exist. Whose creators were in a poly marriage involving two women. How could she not be the queerest of DC's trinity?
This is a valid question, and one I struggle with sometimes. It's tempting, and certainly would be an ethical and entirely justifiable choice, to abandon those companies that treat us badly and seem to have no interest in us as readers. I guess I'm defining "us" here as people belonging to any underrepresented groups. And to be sure, many people have given up on Marvel and DC for their lack of interest in diversity.
But what I think it comes down to for most is that we grew up loving these comics and characters. They popularized and continue to largely define a genre that we love --- superhero fiction --- and it's within that genre, and in fact within the universes that these companies own, that we long to be represented.
Queer representation, for example, is obviously much better in indie comics, and I read, enjoy, and support those comics. But no amount of indie representation is going to make my lifelong love of the X-Men go away. And that means queer representation in X-Men comics (and Avengers comics, Wonder Woman comics, etc) is always going to matter to me. And so I hang onto each little victory, like Iceman coming out, and hope (and agitate) for more and better victories in the future.
Yes. I don't know that I ever had confidence things would go any differently, but yes. Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell's Prez is a great book, and it's a real shame it's not being completed as planned. Of course, the original Prez only ran four issues, and the new run at least did better than that.
There's a lot of answers I could give, but I think it just comes down to the two being similar in lots of ways. If you grew up with superhero comics and then discovered wrestling (like I did), or if you did the reverse, you came in with an existing affinity for impossibly athletic people enacting melodramas that revolve around (often poorly justified) violent confrontations.
Many of the best stories in both also revolve around seeing a villain get the comeuppance they deserve thanks to a likable hero. At one time, that was just about the only story superhero comics or wrestling ever told. Now things are more complicated (and often more morally gray), but that good/evil, face/heel divide still affects just about every story, even when characters are defined by their refuse to fall squarely within such a dichotomy.
Also, as someone who came to wrestling from comics, there's something to be said for the way wrestling can bring comic book archetypes and tropes into the three-dimensional world. Nothing I've ever experienced has felt more like being in the room with a superhero than seeing Fire Ant fly off the ropes at a Chikara show. He's built like a superhero, dresses like a superhero, defies gravity and behaves heroically.
As a lifelong fan of superhero comics, that's a pretty good way to get me to cheer.