Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Which The Warlock Objects to a Lack of Marriage...

It figures.

No sooner do I offer some praise to DC comics (in my immediately previous post, a look back at the timeless Justice League/Justice League Unlimited), they go ahead and do something profoundly stupid.

Despite my love of superhero comics and superhero gaming, I've been fairly critical of DC Comics' design choices since their inception of the "New 52" initiative, which rebooted their entire universe and discarded decades of classic comics storylines.  However, the minds behind the New 52 made a poor choice worse through sexist depictions of female characters, its ill treatment of legendary comics writers, and its retraction of numerous important comics events, not the least of which were the events of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, in which Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by the Joker, leading her to later re-invent herself as Oracle.

I've expounded on my feelings on the New 52 before.  My opinions since that post really haven't changed; even the PlatinumChick--a DC girl through-and-through--has all but given up hope that DC might turn things around.  Our pull file just keeps growing smaller and smaller.

But, this time around?  There are bigger issues to deal with, this time with Batwoman.

No, not Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).  Batwoman--Kate Kane.

Batwoman was given the spotlight by stored scribe Greg Rucka during the fantastic 52 event, where she was introduced as a potential love interest for Renee Montoya, a former Gotham city police detective who took up the mantle of The Question following the death of Vic Sage.  Yes, Batwoman is a lesbian.  She's also a kick-ass crimefighter with tons of great symbolic ties throughout Gotham City.  After the New 52 reboot, Montoya was nowhere to be seen, though Batwoman remained.

Rucka parted ways with DC over creative differences (notice a pattern here?), after which the book was assigned to the writer/artist combo of JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman.  Williams and Blackman's work on Batwoman was stellar, winning several Harvey awards and even the GLAAD award for Outstanding Comic Book.  Batwoman represented a jump forward for LGBT representation in comics...and has now been cut off at the knees.

From Batwoman #17:
Kathy Kane's proposal to Maggie Sawyer.
Long story short?  Williams and Blackman's plot involved Kane proposing to current girlfriend Maggie Sawyer with the intent of having the pair marry.  DC editorial outright forbade this, despite allowing Williams and Blackman to build to this point over the past year's worth of issues.  Williams and Blackman were "crushed", ultimately deciding to leave DC Comics due to the editorial interference.

DC Comics claims that homophobia has no place in this decision, stating that "the editorial differences with the writers of Batwoman had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the character."  Rather, Dan Didio explained that the anti-marriage edict extended to all their characters--not just the solitary lesbian hero with her own book--and that marriage simply has no place in the lives of a masked vigilante:

"They shouldn't have happy personal lives…They put on a cape and a cowl for a reason, They’re committed to being that person, they’re committed to defending others—at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts….That’s something we reinforce. If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck." --Dan Didio
As you well know if you've read this blog at all, I love dark, tortured anti-heroes.  All the best heroes require motivation and pathos, to say nothing of a great villain to fight against.  But here?  There's a problem.

First, there's the issue of perception.  While you may state that forbidding the only lesbian heroine's marriage isn't homophobic, it still looks homophobic.  And, as a member of the LGBT community myself?  It sure feels homophobic!  When you an issue a statement like this, you forfeit the ability to tell the reader/listener how they feel about it.  That's our decision, individually, as readers.  You might not have intended to be a bigot, but you sure did it anyway, Mr. Didio.

There aren't exactly a lot of LGBT heroes in comics today.  Batwoman was certainly the most celebrated, most visible of those heroes.  Preventing her from engaging in a healthy, monogamous relationship makes for a slap in the face of the LGBT community who fight every day for the right to marry, even if it's not what you intended.  When you're on the stage, you don't just get to step back because you think "its not right for any character".

Secondly, there's the issue of the creators.  Williams and Blackman are among the most celebrated writers in comics today.  Batwoman, under these two, has been among the most celebrated books on an underwhelming DC slate.  Mr. Didio, can you really afford to anger these two?  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini are now at Marvel Animation, alongside Jeph Loeb.  Mark Waid is writing on Daredevil and Greg Rucka just wrapped up a run on Punisher.  Can you really afford to keep handing storied writers and artists to your competition?  They're leaving in droves, because of your continual interference.

Finally, let's talk a little about tragedy.  Let's take you at your word and assume that there's no anti-LGBT bias in this decision; that, instead, you really believe that marriage has no place in comics.  I decry that point utterly.  The best sorts of characterization come from interpersonal drama, not the least of which comes directly from marriage, which we've seen in comics over and over again for the past 50 years.  To say that "marriage has no place in comics" ignores countless decades of committed relationships throughout comics!

Reed Richards and Sue Storm:
married for all these years, and there's
still tension!  That's good storytelling.
Reed Richards and Sue Storm represent the pinnacle of this point, weathering not just cosmic invaders but also the stresses of family life.  Namor, for instance, becomes much less interesting as a Fantastic Four foe without the sexual tension between himself and Sue.  Peter Parker's entire characterization centers around his ability to juggle the responsibilities of being Spider-Man with the obligations of his family and social life, not the least of which is his faltering relationships with Mary Jane Watson, Felicia Hardy, Gwen Stacy, and others.

Brooding, dark, tormented heroes are all well and good, but they only get that way if they have something to torment them!  While I'm not advocating the "fridging" of characters simply for the sake of drama, a compelling superhero--especially of the low-powered, vigilante style--struggles with the issues of maintaining a double life.  Part of that double life has to be a realistic, nuanced view of romantic relationships.  Marriage raises the stakes in those relationships, representing a monogamous commitment that carries difficulty, ardor, and struggles all its own.

Are you really so naive, Mr. Didio, as to assume that when a hero gets married that their problems end?  That their life is forever happy and carefree?  Marriage takes work, compromise, and continual communication.  In all actuality, a married hero likely faces more trial and tribulation than their single counterparts!  That hero could face the struggles of maintaining their "secret life" behind the mask, while their partner grows closer to the truth.  Or, a hero might share their secret with their partner, leading to even more tension.  To discard all of this literally throws away entire story arcs worth of possibilities!

You know what speaks most highly to this phenomenon?  The below image:

That's Northstar--a C-list X-Men character, getting married to his boyfriend.  Ever since Chris Claremont, the X-Men series has thrived on character drama, not the least of which has come from romantic relationships:  the Cyclops-Jean Grey-Wolverine love triangle alone filled tons of books!  And now, Marvel took pride in letting two LGBT characters marry, on a front cover even.

And DC?  They'd sooner let two fantastic authors walk than let those authors write a lesbian heroine in a realistic manner.


  1. Personally, I've always hated the fact that married characters in general are so rare in media (and RPGs, but that's a different matter). I imagine that's partly because stories of short term falling in love are easier to write than stories of long term commitment. In the rare instance that a married couple does appear, their character arc usually includes either an affair or getting divorced. Sure, you don't have to write them as blissfully married all the time, but is it really so hard to write characters who can at least remain faithfully together?

  2. It's worth mentioning a series that has portrayed a married couple well. The TV series White Collar includes an FBI agent and his wife (who is not an agent) as a happily married couple.

    Most of the time, the marriage is used as a means of having the FBI agent talk candidly about his thoughts of working with an ex-convict, but occasionally they are turned into unofficial partners working together to solve a crime. Heck, the first episode has a minor subplot where the FBI agent is trying to find an anniversary gift for his wife to try and make up for all the time he's had to spend away from her. This marriage isn't the focus of the show, but it's a good example nonetheless.

  3. I totally agree, brother.

    For whatever reason, writers/editors/publishers have this belief that having a main character means that they have to be single. If anything, having a primary love interest provides *opportunities* for drama, rather than pulling them away!

    I haven't seen White Collar, but it sounds interesting, based on your elevator pitch. I might have to take a look!

  4. Chaosmancer11:57 PM

    I agree, this is just a terrible move on all counts. What, personally, makes all this New 52 stuff (not just the Batwoman insanity) upsetting is that, as person who has rarely read comics I had thought it a great opportunity to jump on board. I want to start at #1 and I thought that would be a chance, but ever since I have heard nothing but terrible, terrible decisions. It almost seems like DC is determined to crash and burn and it will be a sad day.

  5. I wish I could tell you a DC book that would provide a good "jumping on" point. There just isn't one. Despite their best efforts to reboot their universe, there's so much baggage that they're trying (and failing) to clear up, it's not worth it.

    Again, I compare it to Marvel: Marvel did a reshuffling of artists and writers in their "Marvel Now" shift, but kept plotlines and character development intact. Jonathan Hickman, when he took over New Avengers, worked wonders with Brian Michael Bendis' "Illuminati" group--the so-called smartest men on the planet, trying to save the world at all costs.

  6. A more accurate pitch of White Collar is that it's basically "Catch Me if You Can: The Series". Basically a man convicted of forgery has a prison sentence of several years, but agrees to work with the FBI agent who caught him in order to catch other white collar criminals. The wife of the FBI agent is a secondary character, but again, it's a decent series that I've actually seen portraying a married couple well.

    As for why characters have to be single, I think part of it is that they can travel the world or whatever the plot requires without being "tied down" with a wife and kids. To an extent I understand that, and I think that's the main reason why I've never seen a married Player Character in an RPG (unless they were out to avenge their wife or whatever). The issue could also be that, like how most writers are male and most writers live in California (for TV and movies anyway), statistically speaking most writers are single. Nonetheless, I think that there are definitely ways to tell a story with a married character, and more writers need to step up to the challenge.