Avengers Academy #26’s Letter Column
By now it is very clear to me that I have a favorite writer at Marvel Comics – Peter David. His work on X-Factor has been absolutely amazing. Not only has he really explored the character of Jamie “Multiple Man” Madrox, but he brutally brought up and answered the question of what would happen if one of Madrox’ dupes were to impregnate someone. He was willing to go somewhere no one else would have and concluded it beautifully. The baby was essentially a duplicate, and Madrox immediately absorbed it like any other dupe. This was within a hour of the kid’s birth. No one else does that.
David has also outed a couple of the members of X-Factor Investigations. Shatterstar and Rictor have been revealed to be lovers, but their simply being gay is not the whole story. What is being explored is the relationship of one man who recently realized that he prefers only men after several years of believing himself to be bi (Rictor) and another man who is not only openly bisexual but also seems to push in the direction of polyamory (Shatterstar). This is a layered relationship that unfortunately gets glossed over as just a frou-frou gay couple in superhero comics. Never mind how mindfully it is written.
A year or so following this reveal, the revelation that two of the teens in the Avengers Academy book are not straight was not very shocking. In fact, it was quite mindfully done itself. Striker, a guy who repeatedly threw himself at women for 22 issues, opened up to Lightspeed, a girl still trying to figure out her sexual identity, it really meant quite a bit. It added depth to Striker and really laid out who his character was from the beginning. Meanwhile, Lightspeed is also being approached realistically, in that she knows how she feels and really would prefer to not be forced into choosing anything. She likes people, not genders.
The letters columns in issues to follow were filled with praise for writer Christos Gage in making this happen. Adult heroes are not the only ones struggling with crises of identity. It does make sense for the teen heroes to figure out who they are as well. And Gage brought it about without shocks or heavy-handedness. It was graceful. So graceful that I remember the conversation clearly but at the same time didn’t notice it was at all a big deal.
Then I read the letter column of issue 26. I say letter instead of letters because, well, see for yourself:
Former reader Jerry Smith has every right to complain about a comic that he feels does not suit him, and the letter was surprisingly polite given the subject matter. Smith appears to be a conservative who takes issue with alternative sexualities being explored by younger individuals in a mainstream superhero comic. He is voting with his wallet and refusing to fund something that displeases him. Given what I say, I cannot help but respect someone who understands how the system works. People could learn from that example.
Except that I disagree with him otherwise.
Labeling something as an alternative lifestyle is similar to saying gay marriage. These are expressions that use modifiers to emphasize straying from the norm, which is a backhanded way of saying, “It ain’t right.” However, it is also an incredibly good euphemism to employ so one is not called a homophobe or bigot. It is a vague expression of disapproval without revealing what the issue is. Of course, the rest of Smith’s letter made it very clear what his issues were.
But he tried to hide his issues in attack on Gage’s politics. Putting homosexuality into comics and treating it as a real issue is a political move. Never mind the movement to make stories meaningful and discuss real issues in comics because Smith wants capes and explosions! Everything else that is remotely out of line is a political move against his beliefs. After all, he doesn’t understand why conservative Christian businessmen aren’t celebrated. Gage addressed this quite well, so I needn’t needle into it much.
Except that I’d say celebrating being beyond the middle class happens too often. Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, and Warren Worthington, III, are but a handful of characters who show off how great it is to be rich. Peter Parker’s new high paying job has proven to be the best thing that has ever happened to him. While there are clearly some evil businessmen in comics, the 1% is not shown to be completely evil.
And what Smith seems to fail to realize is that almost anything can be seen as a political action. While I do not believe that sexuality should be politicized, I understand Smith’s reaction to its portrayal as being political due to the light politics has cast on people’s personal lives. So it is true that portraying homosexual and bisexual characters in a sympathetic light is some sort of political action. Specifically, it can be seen as a form of propaganda that normalizes non-heterosexuals. On the flip side of the coin, not showing homosexual and bisexual characters in a sympathetic light can also be construed as a political action. Specifically, it can been as a form of propaganda that there is only one right way to have a relationship, alienating those who feel otherwise and strengthening the resolve of those who agree with that world view.
Diversifying casts of characters and introducing interracial relationships (see, another phrase with a modifier to show its being beyond the norm) is also political. The truth is, there is more to the world than Caucasian heterosexual Christians. And men are not the only heroes in the world. Comics have always had political leanings, and they have always been some form of propaganda. More often than not, the leanings have always been liberal. Two non-heterosexual teens holding an intelligent conversation about their sexualities in a mainstream comic should not be surprising. In fact it’s pretty disappointing it had not already happened. After all, in Young Avengers Wiccan and Hulking have been a couple for years. No one talks about their relationship. I would love for someone to point me to the issues I should read to see how they got together, because right now it seems like it simply happened and that was it. Following that they’re just protective of one another.
I am incredibly impressed by Christos Gage’s work on Avengers Academy, especially these far-reaching, well-laid plans for character development. The approach taken for Striker and Lightspeed was remarkable in that I did not find it initially remarkable. And after reading his response to Jerry Smith, I have no choice but to say he is establishing himself as my second favorite Marvel scribe. He’s no Peter David, but he’s a good writer and just seems like a good guy.
As for Jerry Smith, I’m just disappointed that mere discussion of homosexuality and bisexuality (which are modified words, mind you) has sent someone into a frenzy. To date, there have actually been no portrayals of such relationships and very little follow-up to the conversation. In this latest issue, Striker tells a former possible sexual partner that he is gay, and she says she figured it out. That’s it. So far there are no other out characters. It’s hard to see what Smith’s problem is, except for the fact that it happened. He doesn’t believe that any time should be spent on beliefs that are not his own. He could pick up almost any other comic on the stand and get exactly what he wants – macho guys who punch things and date women.
Maybe someone ought to introduce him to the works of Frank Miller.