Saturday, January 26, 2013

Its okay if you're fascistic, judgemental and murderous - just don't dare be gay.

"I worry because everyone seems to look up to me and it's making me a little uncomfortable. I can try but I can't solve every problem. I don't know if I can live up to this... myth they want me to be." - Superman, JLA #6

I used to be terribly embarrassed about the fact that I enjoyed reading comics. I'd be the one who used to call them "graphic novels" to legitimise them, the guy who used to sit on the train surreptitiously reading Preacher or 2000ad inside his copy of the Metro. It was like an underground hobby, and nothing reinforced that more than the kind of people who used to frequent my local Forbidden Planet - a disproportionally high number of socially awkward overweight men who reeked of B.O, sweat, dried semen and (in my wife's words, as an ex-employee of FP) that "odd buttery sour-milk smell". 

And I'm not sure what happened - either I thought, "Oh, fuck it" and stopped being embarrassed about my hobby or somehow it became more socially acceptable to like comics - A great number of successful films were emerging that were based on comics - The Spiderman and X Man franchises leading the way - and comics began to appear on the bookshelves of "normal" book shops. There was still an underlying shame to be caught reading them in public, but comic readers were moving away from the realms of being social pariahs.

And as the hobby matured, so did the content. I'm not simply referring to breakthrough titles like Maus (the excellent tales of a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor told through a tale of Cats and Mice) but in the content of standard comic titles - gay characters were introduced (Apollo and Midnighter who were clearly the gay variants of Superman and Batman) into both the Marvel and DC Universes and topics like rape, AIDs, racism, child abuse and drug addiction were tackled. And DC introduced the Vertigo titles, and it looked as though this particular hobby (apart from its permanent obsession with unfeasibly large breasted super-heroines in ridiculous poses) was growing up a little.

But it was maturing faster than a great many of the fans.

We're a section of fandom with very short memories and ones who feel a sense of ridiculous ownership over what we're reading - We spend our time varying between being obsessive and entitled little brats.

Nobody ever stays dead for long - it's kind of a rule we've come to accept. Superman and Batman both "died" until they invariably had to return with a big fanfare. There's a telling line in a copy of JLA where Superman is at a poorly attended meta-human funeral (As in the illustration at the head of this article) - When questioning the low turnout, he's told "People aren't interested in meta-human funerals anymore. You guys don't tend to stay dead for long.". And yet despite this, Spiderman writer Dan Slott has been receiving death threats for killing off Spiderman. Yes, you read that right - an actual person is being threatened with death for killing off a fictional person. And a fictional person who will probably be back to life in a year or so once the experiment (and press headlines) come to an end.

I share a fanbase with people who will write foaming angry letters because DC dare to have a character (in this case Alan Scott, Green Lantern) come out as gay. The same fanbase who will accept Greek Gods, Alien shapechangers, beings from alternate realities and sentient robots as their heroes draw the line and descend into apoplectic rage if one of them tends to fancy blokes a bit.

Closet - Page 1
My reason for writing this article is the recent furore about the new Dredd storyline, "Closet" featuring in the latest copy of 2000ad (Prog 1817). In the story by Rob Williams and Mike Dowling, Dredd finds himself investigating a Mega-City One Gay fetish club where the fetish is Dredd himself. It's made the newspapers for exactly the wrong reason - in which they're putting the spin that Dredd himself might be gay - and I'll be honest in that I wasn't quite expecting the uproar that it has created, with some fans so hostile that they're threatening to burn the comic.

(A subtle hint to anyone wanting to register their complaint with 2000ad - buying a copy and giving them your money isn't necessarily the best way to show your dislike. But as a homophobe, I'm not expecting you to be the smartest. Just sayin').

This bothers me for two reasons - one, because some of the revolting homophobia thats emerged around it - although, to be fair, it did give me the opportunity to see the phrase "shirt lifter" written down for the first time I've seen it in the 21st century, and two - it shows that there are a lot of people out there who simply don't understand what Dredd is about. If anything, the character is devoid of any sexuality - Dredd would consider it a pointless show of emotion that gets in the way of his job.

And even if Dredd did turn out to have homosexual tendencies - so fucking what?

I won't say I'm shocked, but I'm certainly disappointed. We're a niche hobby and we don't do ourselves any favours by alienating or offending huge members of it. And I thought we'd certainly moved beyond the stage of getting offending about things until we'd actually read them.

And, for the record while we're on the subject of maturity, slagging off Rob Liefeld is not considered childish. In fact its positively encouraged.

"Well, I'm going to spend some time with my scrotum. We may as well enjoy our last couple of hours together." - Herr Starr, Preacher

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