On the heels of the most recent discussion about Marvel’s ratings policy regarding books starring gay and lesbian characters, Gay League‘s Joe Palmer posts a lengthy article that’s part history lesson, part industry snapshot, and part editorial.
If our comments thread is any indication, this could shape up to be a hot-button topic over the next few days.
The whole issue is off-putting for so many reasons — not the least of which is the puzzling and often-contentious response to gay characters in mainstream comics. That, though, is a topic requiring more energy than I have today.
It’s a little disconcerting that Marvel points to reaction to the campy 2003 Rawhide Kid miniseries as the reason for its reluctance to release an ongoing solo series starring a gay or lesbian character without the “MAX” label.
The five-issue miniseries was published, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, at a time when Marvel openly courted controversy — or at least the appearance of controversy. And while the comic’s story was fairly tame, and reportedly further toned down before its release, the covers to the first three issues were highly suggestive and hyper-sexualized. It was an attempt at camp — or is it kitsch? — that stumbled out of the gate.
So perhaps the problem was not in the subject matter, but in the execution. And that’s one of the things I find frustrating about Marvel using Rawhide Kid as an example of what happened last time. It’s akin to offering up, I don’t know, Trouble as a reason to shy away from romance comics.
There’s also the matter of the “MAX” label, which Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada says would be required on a solo series starring a gay or lesbian character. Rawhide Kid prominently displayed the label three years ago, but that didn’t seem to lessen the sting for Marvel.
When Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition sparred with Stan Lee on CNN’s Crossfire in December 2002, she acknowledged the “parental advisory” then promptly dismissed it, saying, “OK, but kids are going to get their hands on this. Kids have been reading these comics for a long time.”
Setting aside the fact that Lafferty’s argument was built on the shaky foundation of “Comics are for kids,” if the “MAX” label didn’t protect Marvel from criticism last time, why would it shield the publisher now? The company’s reasoning doesn’t hold up.
But probably the most convincing proof that Marvel’s thinking is flawed comes from the publisher’s chief rival, DC Comics, which recently introduced a lesbian Batwoman with a staggering level of mainstream media interest. Some questioned the company’s motives, or the “appropriateness” of a gay superhero in a “kids’ medium” — something that inevitably comes up — but there was no Seduction of the Innocent-style witchhunt, and no one came “down on the entire comic book industry.”
Marvel obviously isn’t harboring an anti-gay agenda. Several openly gay creators work on high-profile titles, and comics like Runaways, Young Avengers and Marvel Team-Up prominently feature gay and lesbian characters. And that, I think, adds to the level of frustration and bewilderment over this policy.