A new licensing agreement between Sony and Marvel Comics surfaced detailing the mandates for Spider-Man. “Spidey should be male, not smoke tobacco nor abuse alcohol, and not be a homosexual’ (unless Marvel has portrayed that alter ego as a homosexual).’”
The documents prompted Stan Lee, the man behind Spider-Man and many of Marvel’s characters, to speak out, “I wouldn’t mind if, Peter Parker had originally been black, a Latino, an Indian or anything else, that he stay that way.” Lee further told Newsarama. “But we originally made him white. I don’t see any reason to change that.”
Lee believes the full-body Spider-Man suit has contributed to the popularity of the character. “What I like about the costume is that anybody reading Spider-Man in any part of the world can imagine that they themselves are under the costume, and that’s a good thing.”
He wasn’t finished. “It has nothing to do with being anti-gay, or anti-black, or anti-Latino, or anything like that. Latino characters should stay Latino. The Black Panther should certainly not be Swiss. I just see no reason to change that which has already been established when it’s so easy to add new characters. I say create new characters the way you want to. Hell, I’ll do it myself.”
Lee is onto something important here. Instead of attempting to create new characters to break boundaries and develop their own stories, Marvel is co-opting already established characters and either gender-swapping them or changing their race in the case of Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel. There are even calls to retcon Magneto into a black man despite having one of the most powerful back stories as a Holocaust survivor.
Marvel is not the only publisher doing this. DC Comics is doing a very similar activity with Constantine. In the new title Constantine: The Hellblazer, Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV have fully embraced Constantine as a bisexual. They spent the entire first half of the first issue on his sexuality. This is not the first move DC has made. In 2012, they turned the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, into a homosexual.
However, Marvel appears to be taking Lee’s advice, although none of the characters have really broken out yet. In Angela, Asgard’s Assassin #3, Kieron Gillen, Marguerite Bennett, Stephanie Hans, and Phil Jimenez introduce an origin story for Angela’s companion Sera. The story depicts her transformation from a man into a woman, effectively making her transgender.
DC just launched an on-going title featuring Midnighter, a gay comic book superhero created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch in the late 90s. In the early 90s, DC also introduced one of the most wildly popular characters in their universe. Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series. She has since taken the comic world by storm and received her own on-going title that consistently sells in the top 20 comic books.
Outside of the Big 2, there are plenty of creators inventing new characters with new stories. One of my favorite books from last year was C.O.W.L. Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel introduced two very strong characters in Radia and Blaze. Radia bucks the union leadership to strike out on her own in order to put a stop to organized crime. Blaze is an African American and the second in command at C.O.W.L.
Fred Van Lente’s Resurrectionists introduces a gay black man, Mac, who looks like he could be in the World’s Strongest Man contest. Van Lente also had two lesbian lovers, one an Asian American and the other African American. He even uses the concept of past-lives to tell a story about Egyptians. (If you haven’t read this I definitely recommend it!)
Another of my favorites is Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus. The main character, Forever Carlyle, is a complete badass. She is a highly-trained warrior and battle commander who makes strategic combat decisions in defense of her family.
Although I have never read it, Rat Queens is a wildly popular and award winning book that depicts a group of four female heroines: Hannah, an elven mage; Violet, a hipster dwarf warrior; Dee, an atheist human cleric; and Betty, a hippie Halfling rogue. The book won the 2015 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book due to its portrayals of LGBT characters.
Stjepan Sejic, one of the artists who has worked on Rat Queens, has also been publishing an adult webcomic called Sunstone since 2011. The book is about an erotic, romantic comedy. It focuses on the relationship between Lisa and her homosexual partner Ally and their interest in BDSM. Lisa plays the part of the submissive while Ally is a dominant businesswoman. The webcomic has been collected and turned into trade paperback form by Image Comics and Top Cow Productions.
There are probably a ton of other comics out there that are creating new characters and breaking boundaries with new, innovative, and unique stories. Marvel, DC, or any publisher has no need to change already-established characters. Instead they should focus on creating new characters with their own personality and unique experiences.
On a lighter note, if there is any class of people not getting representation in the comic book world it is Czarnians. I mean they only have one person representing them and well here’s one of his big concerns: “Y’know, I sometimes wonder what happened t’ th’ universe. Like, how’d everythin’ get so goody-fraggin’-goody?”