Give ‘Em Elle: Wonder Woman Is Queer, And That’s Amazing! Now Say It In The Comic
We seem to have missed a step somewhere. Just a few years ago, having a queer character in a superhero comic was a huge deal. There would be boycotts and mainstream news stories. And now we’re told that it’s totally not a big deal for Wonder Woman, the most important female superhero in history, and a third of DC Comics’ trinity, to be queer. It’s so not a big deal that you should have already known (and sure enough, we wrote about that back in July). It’s so not a big deal that it doesn’t even need to be directly stated in a DC comic, and in fact to do so would be clumsy and unnecessary.
But shouldn’t there have been a step in between? A moment when it was no longer forbidden for Wonder Woman to be queer, but not yet such a casual affair that to even state it in her comic would be passé? A moment when it would be appropriate to show Wonder Woman’s queerness in a comic book, rather than telling it in an interview?
I’m a big fan of Greg Rucka. He writes great comics, and by all accounts (although I’ve never met him myself) he’s a really great guy. He’s also one of the best Wonder Woman writers of all time. He has a handle on that character like few ever have, and when he’s writing her she always feels like exactly who she’s meant to be.
And I think it’s great that he’s writing her as queer.
Rucka’s recent interview with Matt Santori-Griffith at Comicosity is a huge deal, and I want to emphasize that. Wonder Woman isn’t just any superhero; she’s one of the biggest. She’s part of merchandizing, animation, and the big live action film franchise, which includes her own upcoming movie.
And the current writer of her comic did an interview in which he says very directly that she’s attracted to women as well as men, and DC Comics approved the interview and appears to be totally okay with that. That’s a huge step forward in terms of queer representation in comics, and I can't imagine it happening even just five years ago, let alone ten.
But what’s odd in that interview is how dedicated Rucka is to the idea that Wonder Woman’s queerness, which he acknowledges as inherent and obvious, need never be directly stated in a comic book. And I want to take Rucka at his word, when he says that he has DC’s support to write a queer Diana:
And I really don’t like the idea that there are people out there who might think DC is being mealy-mouthed about this. They’re not. No one wants to be taken out of context by ignorant people, but nobody at DC has ever said, “She’s gotta be straight.” Nobody. Ever. They’ve never blinked at this.
And when they’ve had questions about how we represent this, it’s always been about representing what the story needs. I think every publisher can be lit up for moments of negligence and mistakes they made, but it matters a great deal to me that DC be given their due here.
They would, I think, like any business, prefer this not be an issue to anybody. But most of us human beings would also really rather this not be an issue for anybody anymore. It is what it is. This is how the Amazons live.
But you have to admit there’s some hedging in here. DC doesn’t want "to be taken out of context by ignorant people." DC has "had questions about how we represent this," but those questions were put in terms of "representing what the story needs." And of course DC would, "like any business, prefer this not be an issue to anybody."
Within those parameters, it's still possible that somebody at DC insisted that "what the story needs" is for Diana’s queerness to only be suggested and never stated. I don't know if that's the case, but it remains on the table.
Because the other option here is that Greg Rucka, a great writer who’s deftly handled queer characters in the past, is buying into this idea that for a character to come out as queer on-panel makes their story worse:
We’re talking about the “Northstar Problem.” The character has to stand up and say, “I’M GAY!” in all bold caps for it to be evident.
For my purposes, that’s bad writing. That’s a character stating something that’s not impacting the story. I get nothing for my narrative out of that in almost any case. When a character is being asked point blank, if it’s germane to the story, then you get the answer. But for me, and I think for Nicola as well, for any story we tell — be it Black Magick, be it Wonder Woman, be it a Batman story — we want to show you these characters and their lives, and what they are doing.
We want to show, not tell.
First of all, there’s nothing wrong with Northstar standing up and saying “I’m gay!” It was melodramatic, and the panel looks really silly out of context because it was the early ‘90s, and that’s what comics were like. When we look back at that Alpha Flight story, it doesn’t hold up well. But that moment was a relevant part of the story, and he had been closeted for a long time.
As representation of LGBTQ people in superhero comics evolves, as it should over time, what we want to lose is the self-serious melodrama, the questionable art, and the ham-handed handling of “gay issues." The part where a superhero protagonist comes out as gay when it’s relevant to the story? Let’s keep that. That’s not a part of the problem.
But for anyone who really thinks directly coming out makes for poor storytelling, there are plenty of other way to accomplish it. For example, given that Diana is from a place where same-sex relationships are totally normal, wouldn’t she refer to her past girlfriends like it was no big deal? Maybe referring to another Amazon as “my ex-girlfriend” doesn’t come off as very Wonder Woman-like, but surely the word “lover” is within her vocabulary?
Or take a panel like the above. That’s Diana and Kasia, whom Rucka and artist Nicola Scott clearly intend to portray as her girlfriend, in Wonder Woman #2. If DC is fine with Diana being queer, why does that kiss need to be on her cheek, and the unseen cheek no less? If it’s so not a big deal, why can’t Wonder Woman kiss a girl on the lips?
And for that matter, why are her female love interests relegated to flashbacks? If Diana is bisexual, she clearly didn’t stop liking women once she met her first man. The Superman she was involved with is dead, and she doesn’t seem to be in a monogamous relationship with Steve Trevor in the present, so there’s no reason she couldn’t meet and date a woman. If it’s no big deal, and DC has no problem with her not being straight, then why not?
Or what about a story where Wonder Woman protects a queer couple from anti-queer violence? It must have been weird for Diana to come from where she did and realize how differently same-sex relationships are viewed in “Man’s World.” If you’re going to have a queer Wonder Woman, why wouldn’t you want to tell a story as moving as that? A story where it makes sense for Wonder Woman to say to another queer character, and by extension every queer reader, “I am no different from you. I have loved women as well as men. No one should hold that against either of us.”
If none of this happens, we can only be so excited about Wonder Woman’s current writer outing her as queer in an interview. That’s not much different than J. K. Rowling saying that Dumbledore was gay. Sure, there was some subtext in the books, especially in his relationship with Gellert Grindelwald, but everyone understands that the author’s word is not what makes something canon. What is in the book is what becomes canon.
And while I'm talking about canon, I should acknowledge that Diana is more overtly queer in Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette's Wonder Woman: Earth One. And the fact that it could be directly stated in an out-of-continuity comic while it's still being danced around in the main one is not irrelevant to the point I'm making.
I’ve seen people saying, “Of course Wonder Woman is queer! How could you not know?” And they’re not wrong either. I’ve known Wonder Woman was queer for decades, but everyone saying that knows as well as I do that it’s never been stated outright in the Wonder Woman comic.
If it’s not a big deal, then put it in the comic. If DC doesn’t care if she’s queer, then put it in the comic. Whether you want Wonder Woman to be queer because it makes her a better hero (as Rucka said in his interview), or because it makes sense due to her origins, or because we need more queer heroes and she’d be the most high-profile one ever, the way to let Wonder Woman be queer is to put it in the comic, not to state it in an interview.
Put it in the comic, and then we can really celebrate.