Brandon: Basically, Sammy and I wanted to comment on this “Shatterstar’s Gay” kinda controversy and even yelled about it to one another on the phone for a bit, but both of us were hoping the other dude would be the one to sit down and write the essay. So, we thought we'd attempt a kind of back and forth, working our through this comics controversy which is both really stupid and really fascinating. It's also sort of important. We'll get to that. Maybe.
But yeah, before we begin, here's the deal: X-Factor #46 features the characters Shatterstar and Rictor kissing. This has been speculated by readers of the comic before and it's even been sorta playfully hinted at in previous books featuring Shatterstar...but the game just got real. Thank Peter David. Unless you’re Rob Liefeld, then you’re really mad about it.
Sammy: There are two kinds of gay comics characters in mainstream--and I mean actual mainstream, not just Marvel and DC, I mean Alison Bechdel and the like as well comics--and that leads to two kinds of stories. One kind has comics that, while trying to be progressive and show gay characters living their lives, presents all homosexuals as people who thrive on drama, and being sad-asses rooted in their oppression, stereotyping, etc.
The other kind of book is actually progressive, where characters just are gay. It's not all they talk about, they aren’t always creeping up on other characters, they just are gay. Sometimes it even really sucks for them but it doesn’t dominate the narrative—just as it doesn’t dominate a gay person’s real-world narrative. I don't care if characters are gay, I don't care if they are in relationships, I don't care if they kiss. I just want my comics to be good, and worth the three bucks I spend on them.
B: Peter David's always been something of an envelope pusher and a muckraker, and something of a capital-P Progressive, but he’s also not Alison Bechdel, and so, story comes first—he’s gotta entertain and work this into whatever strands of plot and character already coarsing through the book, so my guess is, he’ll handle this well. That said, that in 2009, in a business that though the general public thinks is for kids, is really for nerdy twenty to forty somethings, making a character gay would be considered envelope-pushing is kinda crazy.
S: David's been making a lot of crazy decisions lately, Madrox the Multiple Man reabsorbing his baby is akin to him eating it, many of the current X-Factor issues come with a letter from Peter David asking readers to not drop any spoiler alerts; obviously to create hype and get new readers involved without ruining any plot points. David could be, possibly, just creating a new relationship between two characters and just happened to choose two men. The dude is an outspoken supporter of gay rights, maybe to him it just wasn't a big deal.
B: To him it isn’t a big deal, but he’s gotta realize it’s gonna be a big deal to others. David strikes me as a kind of bleeding-heart Liberal, which comics need more of—it’s really the only place in the world in need of bleeding-heart Liberals—and so, this was certainly in addition to an interesting storyline, a cool challenge. I'm reminded of David and Todd Macfarlane's debates, in which it seemed David really enjoyed pushing MacFarlane's buttons. Though it'd be crazy if that was David's sole intention in gay-ifying a character, to upset another IMAGE Comics O.G. My guess is though, David's devilishly smiling.
S: Also, this isn’t the first time this has happened in an “X” book. In Ultimate X-Men, Colossus, a huge mutant Russian with the ability to become encased in metal while gaining super strength (in short, he’s stereotypicaly masculine and following Liefeld’s logic, not gay), is eventually revealed as gay. It's hinted at for a while in the series, but you never think the writers will actually take it there, or maybe they don't feel the need to show him being gay and the knowledge is enough. That is until Colossus is invited by Northstar, another gay mutant, to attend his homecoming. The real "controversy" starts when Nightcrawler, the best friend of Colossus, gets wigged out and stops talking to his friend. The change is sudden, and frankly, real. We've all had a friend who's come out of the closet, and in reaction, we've had a friend that's sort of a homophobe not come around as much because "he doesn't hate gay people, just doesn't like to be around them".
B: Colossus in 'Ultimate X-Men' is the sort of treatment of gay characters we both prefer--the "actually progressive" kind and I gather, where David will take the character. What's so fascinating about David’s choice to make the character gay is how it ultimately seems to be an earned evolution of a character. Shatterstar began asexual and for him to have finally found his sexuality and for it to manifest itself as homosexuality implies a lot about how sexuality is rather porous. David's rejecting the belief still held by many, and especially comics fans--who are a conservative and Conservative lot--that homosexuality is abnormal or a sort of transgressive choice (that part of the belief, someone like Bechdel also believes, so that muddles it further) and not just a normal feeling.
S: Yeah, I mean it seems to be the real-life weird shit that X-Men has been doing forever. Perfect parts something close to real, everyday human drama but also complete Sci-Fi too. Just like when a character comes around and is racist, or how the Friends Of Humanity is handled, it's different because the world is fake, but is also just as real because it's this real thing stuck in there. It’s what comics are all about.
In the video game world, large RPGs give you the opportunity to chose sexual orientation on occasion, the most notable being Fable and multiple game of the year away winner Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In Fable you can be a gay man, and in KOTOR you can be a gay woman. The video game community, which I would consider much, much more liberal, embraced the games, and characters, most reviews not even noting the option.
B: It also seems like the only person upset about this is Liefeld? Has anyone else spoken out against it? David’s a guy who has left books when they didn't like his injection of highly-politicized ideas into the plots. This is David doing more of the same but that same's a pretty cool/interesting/challenging thing. Liefeld is also unfortunately doing more of the same. I'd love to defend him because he gets shit on way too much and maybe when I eventually drop my bomb-of-a-theory that Liefeld and Jack Kirby are pretty much exactly the same, I can defend the guy, but he's a fucking dick flat-out. That he's basically an angry frat-boy who took one Queer Studies class, so he's learned enough to be like "Look, this isn't anything against gay people", but still doesn't fucking get it, is a shame.
S: Liefeld is completely irrelevant in today's comic industry, people see him as a joke, or as Brandon said on the phone to me earlier,a "comics nerd's punching bag". Ignoring his long list of comic book creator faux pas, the reality of Shatterstar is that ROB DOESN'T OWN THE CHARACTER! He may have created another Liefeldian character for Marvel, but he has no ownership of that character, and so therefore, Peter David can kill him or make him lose his powers or turn him into a frog, becoming Shatterfrog, if he wants. David has the rights to do what he pleases, as long as Marvel, the owner of all the characters, says it's ok. David works for Marvel and may use their characters, Liefeld doesn't. That's what it comes down to.
B: Yeah, I mean clearly Marvel editors said this was a good idea or at least let David do it, Yes it’s political, but my guess is it will at least attempt to illuminate X-Factor’s stories even more.The issue with gay or gay-themed comics is essentially the problem with being a part of a sub-culture that the world, especially America, has labeled a "sub-culture" or "minority" and so, the simple act of being and/or being a character in a comic becomes political. The recent death of Michael Jackson would be good example. Forced to represent black people simply because he was black and then labeled some kind of “race traitor” when he got into all that weird skin-bleaching/plastic surgery, we all forget he was just a single person first and foremost. He can do what he wants. It’s like that Jay-Z line, “Can I live?” MJ probably thought that and if there was some Grant Morrisonian meta-rip in comics time wherein Shatterstar could confront Liefeld, I think he’d ask Liefeld the same question: “Can I live?”
S: While reading the 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings for the fiftieth time, and as much about Liefeld as I could, I sorta started to feel bad for the guy. He's just a dude who (probably) isn't that smart and is just a Dude, he probably doesn't hate gay people but like most white people are with anyone who isn't a straight white male, he's just a little weirded out.
B: Well, this is devolved into a Liefeld conversation, but that’s totally appropriate. The story’s really rooted it seems, in all of us dorks loving to pile-on top of Liefeld (not in a gay way though, don’t worry Rob) and in Liefeld enjoying the chance to speak out on shit like this because what else is he gonna do? I’d suggest the whole controversy to be contrived or drummed up by both sides if again, anyone other than Liefeld seemed upset about this. Him saying stupid stuff like "Shatterstar is akin to Maximus in Gladiator. He’s a warrior, a Spartan, and not a gay one" and of course, prefacing this stupid stuff with, "I have nothing against gays, I have gay family, nuthin’ but love here” really does seem to come from the heart. What also comes from the heart though is the disgustingly cynical comment, "Can't wait to someday undo this" which implies Liefield will get the chance to because he's such a big deal (though he isn't a writer or a big deal anymore, so not sure how he'll undo this) and just sorta highlights how calculated and fleeting he perceives this comics stuff--which is way more offensive than a gay superhero.