Recently, there was a post on Gail Simone's Tumblr. A reader said:
I'm all for the new surge in gay/lesbian characters in the DCU. So when I ask this, I don't wanna sound like I'm against it, but is there perhaps too much of it? I just kinda feel like it's being thrown everywhere. Even though now it's totally cool to have that stuff in comics (God knows we've needed it for awhile), it just seems like now that the gates are open, let's throw as much of it out as possible.
Gail responded with a well-deserved "WTF?" (I'm paraphrasing). But I got to thinking about it. I don't know what the fan meant with his "being thrown everywhere" comment, but I do sometimes find the introduction of gay characters to be sensationalistic. And I think it comes down, as so many things do, to the collision between art and commerce.
Standard disclaimer: I'm a straight white male. I'm speaking from a position of privilege and I have the good sense to know I am. When I see something as sensitive or insensitive to a group I'm not a member of, well, I'm quite clearly observing as an outsider with an outsider's perspective. If anyone thinks I'm off-base, well, I acknowledge that's a distinct possibility.
But from where I'm sitting, anything that appears in a press release just feels crass. It feels manipulative. When a company introduces its new gay character in the exact same way it introduces an upcoming storyline where Spider-Man/Batman/Johnny Storm dies and the series starts over at #1, then it feels like it's the same kind of thing -- a cynical marketing exercise that is meant to boost sales for a few months but will ultimately be meaningless in the scheme of things.
A creator can introduce a minority character for all the right reasons, out of a legitimate desire to thoughtfully and tastefully increase the diversity of a universe that desperately needs it -- but when the marketing machine gets ahold of it, that can be hard to tell.
Here's an example. When I saw all the fanfare leading up to Batwoman's debut, here's what it looked like to me: a token character introduced to generate press and free media publicity. Oh, and she's a sexy redheaded lipstick lesbian in spiked heels -- that didn't look to me like a character designed to appeal to the LGBT community, it looked like a character designed to appeal to the very worst stereotypes of the comic book fan community. And she's Renee Montoya's ex? Of course she is! How could there be two lesbians in Gotham City who didn't sleep together at one point or another?
I was delighted to find my initial impressions to be pretty much dead wrong. While I wasn't sold on Batwoman's original arc in 52, by the time she headlined Detective it was clear that Rucka and Williams had crafted a complex, interesting character, who owned her sexuality but didn't exist simply to satisfy some marketing push for More Sexy Lesbians. (Plus, she ditched the heels for much more sensible boots.) In the years that have followed, Detective and Batwoman have been consistently excellent comics, and Kate Kane is one of the best new characters to come out of DC or Marvel in the new century. I was wrong about her and I couldn't be happier.
But that introduction, with all the fanfare and press coverage, didn't make her inclusion feel organic, in those early days. It felt like a marketing stunt.
By contrast, I was four or five issues into Cornell and Neves's Demon Knights before it actually hit me that this was a superhero team that included a disabled character, a Muslim, and a transgendered character -- Cornell and Neves included them without fanfare, without promotion; they never felt like tokens, it was just a case of "Here are these characters, and here's their background."
There's a downside to that, of course. Comics is, after all, a business, and there's an argument to be made that if you don't promote the diverse lineup of your book, you may very well fly under the radar. People looking for a book featuring a disabled, Muslim, or transgendered hero might very well have no idea that Demon Knights even exists -- and that's bad for them because they don't know that such a book is out there, and it's bad for DC, Cornell, Neves, and everybody else who stands to make money from the book, because that's a sale they're missing out on. Marketing a book based on the presence of minorities in its cast may seem crass -- but it does what it's designed to do, which is to sell the book. A sensitive, thought-provoking book with a diverse cast is a great damn thing -- but if nobody reads it and it gets cancelled, then not only does it fail to reach an audience, it also sets a bad precedent -- like, say, both Static Shock and Mr. Terrific being among the first books cancelled in the New 52 has got to have DC thinking twice about books with African-American leads. Which of course misses the point -- those books sold poorly because they were bad, not because people don't want to read comics about black people.
The press can be complicit, too -- last year, when the new Alan Scott was introduced as a gay man, lots of readers accused DC and Didio of sensationalizing it. But that's not really what happened. James Robinson decided to make the new Alan Scott gay as a genuine effort to maintain diversity in the DC Multiverse; Dan Didio, when asked point-blank about new gay characters, teased that there would indeed be a big-name character reintroduced to the New 52 as a gay man. From there, it wasn't DC that sensationalized the story, it was comics news sites.
At any rate, I do think that more diversity is an inherently good thing; I don't always agree with the way the publishers go about it, or the way the press covers it, but I think most creators' and editors' hearts are in the right place. I don't think there's "too much of it" -- I just hate press releases.