This week we took a little trip to one of our favorite places in the world…
Target to check out the new DC Superhero Girls dolls and the new Black Widow doll (action figure, if you wish) from Marvel. Maddy also explores the choice of geek socks made for women that somehow forgot to include women.
If you celebrate Christmas, merry belated Christmas. And a happy early New Year.
Now that I got that out of the way, the New Year coming up has me reflecting on this past year. We’ve seen some interesting things diversity wise. We saw at least a couple of firsts in comics, we saw some steps forward as well as some steps backward, and overall we may have ended up not too far from where we started. But I do like to think we did get a little further than we did in 2014.
I don’t want to go over every little thing that happened in detail, as I’ve already covered most of those in my other columns the past few months. So here are just the highlights.
We saw an increase in bi visibility with DC Comics clarifying that Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman are all bisexual. We saw bi erasure with Constantine being portrayed as straight in his NBC series and Marvel’s Hercules being straight in his current iteration.
We’ve seen two different Icemans come out as gay over at Marvel, and Midnighter get his own series at DC as an openly gay superhero. We also saw Northstar and Batwoman fade into the background, and still haven’t heard too much from Rictor and Shatterstar, or Hulkling and Wiccan. I know Hulkling and Wiccan are in New Avengers, but that only came out toward the end of this year and they don’t have the same of attention they did in Young Avengers and the book has been met with mixed reviews.
We also saw the first trans woman get married in a mainstream comic without actually having a single active trans superhero.
One of the more interesting phenomena towards the end of this year has been fans projecting queer relationships into franchises where they just don’t exist. Yes, Marvel’s Jessica Jones did have a lesbian relationship in it, but it wasn’t with Jessica Jones. Despite that, some fans were projecting that notion on Jessica Jones, as seen in this opinion piece.
The most recent example of this, just making the cut off for this year, has been the outpouring of online hopes and rumors that in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the real love story is with Finn and Poe. Here is just one of the many pieces speculating that they will be lovers. Personally, this frustrates me.
There is absolutely no indication in the movie that this happens. Yes, they hug each other. They’re polite to each other. Hell, they even care about each other. None of that indicates a desire to have a sexual relationship.
Finn also makes it very clear he’s interested in Rey. He’s not only being protective of her from moments after he meets her, he lies to make himself sound more impressive to her, and he flat out asks her if she has a boyfriend. How does all of that somehow invalidate his clear interest in her? Yes, Finn could be bisexual. However, he doesn’t express any interest in anyone outside of Rey, including Poe.
It makes me wonder if some of the same people that watched this also watched Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke and Han have their disagreements, but they also compliment each other, hug, and clearly care about each more through the movie. Han even saves Luke’s life at the end of the A New Hope. How’s that for romance?
Yes, I know that the Han and Leia relationship wasn’t really fleshed out until The Empire Strikes Back. I get that. However, they did lay the groundwork in A New Hope. They lay it on you really think. Han even speculates about it with Luke. And I almost forgot the part where Han asks Luke to run away with him on the Millennium Falcon right before the Death Star trench run. When you think about it that way, nothing in The Force Awakens between Finn and Poe even comes close to the romantic implications between Han and Luke, huh?
All of this is indicative of at least two larger problems. The first of which I mentioned before when discussing Jessica Jones. Many people are absolutely starved for LGBTQ representation. Gay, straight, and everyone in between are looking for it. People are so starved for it, they’re inventing elaborate, implausible theories just to reach the level of representation they feel we should have. Sure, we can point to slash fiction as the start, or one of the starts, of the contemporary push for this. However, slash fiction was never the topic of discussion in the same way as the examples I’ve just mentioned.
The second part of this larger problem is the culture that’s been cultivated. Up until very recently, queer characters have had to be hidden in pop culture. Nothing too overt. The comics code authority didn’t even allow openly queer characters until the very end of the 80s. Characters like Mystique and Northstar could only have hints at their sexualities. Never anything open. Between rules and regulations like that, and TV and movies in many ways taking even longer to catch up, that we cultivated a culture that overanalyzes characters and their actions to unveil hidden queerness. Even though we no longer need to hide queerness to get stories out there, people still look long and hard to find any semblance of it around a story because we’ve been trained to and many of us are starved for it.
And even though we’re starved for it, publishers, networks, and movie studios are more often than not dragging their feet to put queerness out there. Don’t get me wrong, we’re way better off than we were even ten years ago. That said, the powers that be are still reluctant to change things too drastically. You would think Star Wars would be a natural place to explore queerness. Why would all of these different races and cultures that have never even met us mimic our heteronormative customs? Why would they have marriage? Why wouldn’t they have something else?
Science fiction has had this problem for a very long time. Star Wars didn’t cause this, but it could help end this if it wanted to. Though I think that many people are reading too deeply into Finn and Poe’s relationship, it does give me hope for the future of queer representation. My new hope is that all this clamoring for queer representation in a franchise like Star Wars will help move us all in that direction, and that our lack of queer diversity in comics and science fiction will soon be a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
As promised in my last column, this week is about bi-erasure in comics. It’s come up too often as of late and deserves its own column rather than being crammed into an already dense essay on critiques of Iceman’s coming out. It’s a problem that extends beyond the comics themselves, and has reached the TV adaptations as well.
Before diving in, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page. Bi-erasure is varying levels of denying bisexuality truly exists, whether intentional or not. In comics, this manifests itself in rewriting bisexual characters as being straight or gay, having characters tell other characters they’re definitely just gay and not bisexual despite many decades being written as straight and refusing to even entertain the idea that maybe that character would be bi, using shapeshifters to skirt around the issue of bisexuality, and that’s just a few general examples.
Marvel has recently given us two examples: Hercules and Angela. Hercules, a historically bisexual demigod, will definitively be straight according to editor-in-chief Axel Alonso. He did address that Hercules was in a relationship with James Howlett in X-Treme X-Men at one point, but that was outside the main universe and doesn’t count.
With Angela, despite her being intimate with Sera in the first issue of Angela: Queen of Hel, Axel makes it a point that he doesn’t want to put any labels on these characters to let the readers decide. Angela’s actions with Sera make it clear to the reader that she is bisexual, pansexual, or possibly a lesbian. Sera herself is even considered a trans character at Marvel, as she was assigned male at birth. Her being an Angel of the tenth realm and not someone of earth makes me a little hesitant to consider her Marvel’s first trans superhero. Axel saying that Hercules is definitively straight, then saying with Angela he doesn’t want to put labels on these things within a couple of months of each other will make just about anyone scratch their head in wonder.
On a positive note, the director of the Deadpool movie has said that Deadpool will be depicted as openly pansexual. I’m cautiously optimistic about this. It could be great, or it could be using Deadpool’s pansexuality to make lazy homophobic jokes where the entire joke is it’s funny because he’s hitting on a guy! We’ll have to wait and see.
Over at DC, they’ve made some very positive strives towards bisexual representation. They’ll have four ongoing series with a bisexual lead: Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Constantine: Hellblazer. Granted, all but Constantine are very recent revelations, but this is a great step forward. All the characters are fairly well known to general audiences, have had some suggestions in the past of their bisexuality, and now it’s just been confirmed. And with Constantine, since the latest reboot, his bisexuality has been more prevalent than ever.
On a negative note, one of the larger missteps in bi representation lately was NBC’s decision to make Constantine straight for their TV adaptation. From NBC’s perspective, Constantine’s bisexuality was rarely delved into in the comic, that it wasn’t important for the adaptation. This is probably one of the best/worst examples of bi-erasure as of late. Unlike Axel Alonso, the excuse of “That’s a different version of the character!” isn’t even viable here. It was NBC flat out stating they were perfectly aware of the character’s bisexuality, but it wasn’t important enough so it got nixed. That might not have been a factor in the show getting cancelled, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t something in all that happening that wasn’t at least kind of satisfying to see.
It’s easy to see how bi-erasure comes about. We live in a society where the end goal for most people is to find a partner to maintain a monogamous relationship with. When someone is coupled off in a monogamous relationship, others view you as being actively straight or gay. If you aren’t perceived as being actively with both men and women, it’s easier for people to assume you’re just one or the other, regardless of what you tell them.
Part of that also comes from the antiquated idea that gays and lesbians used the label of bisexual as a transitioning term, being unsure or afraid to commit to the labels of gay or lesbian. When I was a teenager I didn’t come out as gay at first, I came out to a few people as bi before identifying as gay. And to be entirely honest with you, bisexual, pansexual, or queer are probably more accurate labels for myself, despite being far on one end of that spectrum. Perhaps I’ve been unintentionally adding to bi-erasure. It’s something for me to think about. In the meantime, I’ve decided to update my bio here to queer rather than gay.
With more openly bi leads in comic books at the big two, we are starting to combat bi-erasure. However, it’s still rampant throughout comics because of the mentalities of some of the people working on them, even though it’s usually unintentional. If we’re going to push for an end of bi-erasure, we need to support books with openly bi leads, let them know about other bi characters we’d like to see more of, that we want more representation, and make our voices heard every single time the comic industry gets it wrong.
It’s a strange power. Almost a mutant ability. Being right for the wrong reason.
Ask anyone who’s played a round of trivia with me, they’ll tell you. I frequently figure out the correct answer by making logical deductions from a known fact. Then, when I give my reasons for my answer, I’m told my “known” fact was incorrect. Still, I came up with the right answer. For the wrong reason.
In the story, Batgirl and Poison Ivy were investigating a large, fenced-in medical research compound in Kane County somewhere on the mainland just outside of Gotham City. Why they were there isn’t really important to this column. So I’m not going to bother explaining. That way I don’t have to write another spoiler warning.
What does matter to this column is that Batgirl and Poison Ivy cut through the chain link fence and forcibly trespassed in the compound. And what is even more important to this column is that the compound’s security guards came running out brandishing their weapons and warned, “You’re trespassing on private land. We have the legal right to use lethal force.”
Which is wrong. But it’s also right; just for the wrong reason. Oh, let’s see if I can make it easier.
Oops, sorry. Wrong simplification. Although maybe I should stick with it. I’m trying to explain self-defense law. And that’s a long, long way to run. See, self-defense has more twists, turns, and convolutions than a mountain road, a plate of spaghetti, and your small intestine. Combined.
When someone attacks you, you have the right to defend yourself and you have the right to use the same amount of force as is being used against you. So, if you’re being attacked with lethal force, you can use lethal force to defend yourself. You can even use a force that’s more potentially lethal than the lethal force being used against you. That’s why, in the words of Sean Connery, you can bring a gun to a knife fight. As long as you have a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm, you can use deadly force.
But, and self-defense law has more buts in it than all the port-a-potties at a rock concert, there are exceptions. Biggest? You can’t claim self-defense, if you violated your duty to retreat.
The duty to retreat is not the battle strategy of the Cowardly Lion. Rather, it’s a legal principle that says, before you can claim self-defense, you must be able to show that you tried to avoid the confrontation by retreating. If, for example, you’re in a bar and a drunk tries to pick a fight with you. If you can walk away from the fight without endangering yourself, you must do so. You can’t just stay there, let the fight happen, then claim self-defense. You must first try to retreat from the situation. And you’re not absolved of the duty to retreat because someone called you chicken, so Marty McFly is SOL.
But, and like I said navigating self-defense is like playing a round of but-but golf, there is an exception to the duty to retreat. The Castle doctrine.
Some jurisdictions even extend the castle doctrine to other places such as one’s car or place of business. So if you’re in your car or place of business, you don’t have to retreat before using self-defense. Other jurisdictions have taken the castle doctrine even farther by passing a stand-your-ground law. Stand-your-ground laws extend the castle doctrine to anywhere. Under stand-your-ground laws, if you are in a place where you have a legal right to be, there is no duty to retreat and you may use deadly force if you believe you face a real and imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death, no matter where you are.
But – remember self-defense law has more buts than the ashtrays outside a Nicotine Anonymous meeting – not even the castle doctrine gives you full and free range to open fire on all trespassers. The castle doctrine – and even stand-your-ground laws – requires that in order to use deadly force, the actor have a reasonable belief that the trespasser intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death on someone, and the actor must not have provoked the intrusion.
So if you’re the neighborhood curmudgeon and you have a “No Solicitors” sign prominently posted on your house, you still can’t use the Castle doctrine to justify shooting the local Girl Scouts. No matter how much you hate Thin Mints.
Now having set the parameters, could the security guards in Kane County assert the castle doctrine against Batgirl and Poison Ivy to justify the use lethal force against the trespassers? The short answer is no.
And as much as I’d like to leave it at the short answer, you know I can’t. Gotham City is in New Jersey. New Jersey does have a castle doctrine on its books – it’s here. But New Jersey’s castle doctrine only applies to one’s house. New Jersey did not extend its castle doctrine to a car or an occupied place of business. The security guards at the medical complex could not rely on the castle doctrine and deadly force did not flow automatically from the fact that Batgirl and Poison Ivy were trespassing on private property.
So the security guards were wrong. But – and I think we’re up to at least But-terfield 10 by now – they were still right. If the security guards honestly believed they faced an immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death, they could use deadly force, just so long as they didn’t violate their duty to retreat.
Did the security guards violate a duty to retreat? No. They were, after all, security guards. They were hired to repel forcible trespasses. The guards wouldn’t be able to do their jobs very well, if every time there was a trespasser, they had to back away to comply with a duty to retreat.
The duty to retreat is suspended for armed security guards. But they still don’t have the right to use deadly force against any trespasser; like some really ambitious Girl Scouts who were trying sell cookies at a remote medical research complex. But they could use deadly force against trespassers whom they feared were about to inflict serious physical harm or death.
These security guards didn’t have Girl Scouts. They had Batgirl, a masked vigilante whose usual modus operandi is to resort to physical force. Hell, during the fight scene Batgirl’s internal dialogue caption even said she was “pretty good at force.” They also had Poison Ivy, a known super villain who was even quicker to use serious physical force, and sometimes even deadly force. I don’t think the security guards would have had much of a problem proving they had a reasonable fear of serious physical harm or death.
So, the guards were right, they did have the legal right to use deadly force against Batgirl and Poison. But for the wrong reason. They couldn’t claim the castle doctrine, but they could invoke standard self-defense.
Gee, armed security guards in Gotham City actually did something right. It’s almost enough to make you start believing that armed, uniformed authority figures in Gotham City are actually good at their jobs.
But only almost. Let’s not get carried away or anything