Tagged: transgender

Joe Corallo: Batgirl and that Wedding

Batgirl 45

As many of you may know, last week was the release of Batgirl #45, the issue in which Barbara’s former roommate/good friend Alysia Yeoh gets married to her lover, Jo. The resulting wedding was the first time in mainstream comics that a transgender woman got married. Googling this will lead you to a slew of articles and blog posts covering the groundbreaking nature of this issue. How important is this event though, and will this have any impact on mainstream comics? I picked up a copy so I could try to figure that out.

Like many a comic book wedding before it, it’s a filler issue. It’s about Batgirl at this wedding. This is an important point. It’s about Batgirl. It’s not primarily about Alysia and Jo. They’re the B plot of the issue. With the way the wedding has been hyped this past week, the cover for this issue, and thinking back not too long ago to Northstar’s wedding in Astonishing X-Men #51, it’d be easy to see how one might think that Alysia and Jo would be in the A plot. So if you haven’t read it yet and that’s what you were anticipating, I hope I helped you to avoid going into it with that mindset.

The fact that they weren’t the A plot shouldn’t be a bad thing. Yes, it would be great for diversity in comics if they were. However, the book is still about Batgirl, and not Alysia. Batgirl #45 is a twenty-page story. Six of those pages feature Alysia, and she has six word balloons throughout the comic. Her partner, Jo, is featured on three of those pages and has one line of dialogue, which is “And I love you.” Batgirl has ten times the dialogue that Alysia has, and the story is mostly about Batgirl and her relationships with Luke Fox and Grayson with the wedding as a backdrop.

None of that takes away from the fact that Alysia Yeoh is a long overdue representation in comics, and that she had an important moment in her life that Barbara got to be a part of. Current trans representation in mainstream comics is nearly nonexistent outside of Alysia. We do need trans representation outside of the heroes themselves as part of having a world more reflective of our own, and Alysia has been a step towards that. It’s not ideal, but this is where we are.

I encourage everyone who wants to see more and better representation to pick up this book if they haven’t yet at their LCS. If it’s sold out, ask them about ordering more. If we can show that trans representation can help sell comics, we will get more of it. That’s just how it works.

At the end of the day, both DC and Marvel, and nearly every other comics publisher for that matter, is a business first and foremost. They may be willing to occasionally take a risk, but when all is said and done they need books that sell. We could have a discussion about how we don’t necessarily know some of the sales potential more trans representation could have over time, and how maybe expanding that quicker could lead to great things for the publishers and the readers, but if we don’t buy and support the offerings they’re already trying to give us, than they’ll just stop where they are and potentially take years to try again.

This does not mean you can’t also demand more and demand better. Social media alone isn’t going to necessarily bring about the kind of characters and story lines you want, but it does have power. Earlier in this Batgirl run, as I mentioned last week, the same team that worked on the first trans wedding in comics wrote an issue with a story and dialogue that was considered transphobic. It was public outcry through social media that got us an apology and changes in the reprints of that issue.

People and companies can learn and adapt to changing demands from their customers. By both buying comics with queer characters like Batgirl and Midnighter, and speaking up through social media and other outlets available about these issues and what can be improved upon, we can assure a bright future for mainstream queer comics.

Martha Thomases: Where Have You Gone Mr. Robinson?


It’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of James Robinson. I’ve loved his work since I saw preview pages of The Golden Age more than twenty years ago. Those first few pages gave me goosebumps. When I met James, I thought he was cute and funny and completely charming. I’m a sucker for an accent.

So you can imagine how upset I am that I seem to be on the wrong side of the most recent kerfuffle in comics, the depiction of transgendered characters in the second issue of Airboy. I read that issue, and I didn’t notice.

That’s on me.

I’m writing this because I think the reaction is overblown, and I think I might be wrong about that. I want to untangle my thoughts, and ask for advice on how to see this differently. Is this a failing of empathy on my part? Do I have a blind spot brought on by thoughtlessness or privilege or something else or all of the above?

(Note: I don’t want anyone to turn this around into some kind of “It’s their fault because they’re too sensitive” screed. I’m not blaming the victim. People read something and they have emotions about it. That’s what fiction is for.)

I read the first issue and thought it was hilarious. The depiction of James and artist/co-conspirator Greg Hinkle was so over the top and filled with self-loathing that I related immediately. With the drugs and the drinking and the indiscriminate sex, the story seemed to show a couple of middle-aged guys behaving in a way that I (and most of my friends) got out of our systems in our twenties.

And then (SPOILER ALERT!) Airboy showed up.

In the second issue, the one that upset some people, James and Greg try to figure out if Airboy is really there or if they’re hallucinating. Airboy is just as confused. They go to a bar. A gay bar that attracts drag queens (their usage) and transgendered women. James doesn’t let Greg explain that part to Airboy.

Hence, Airboy is upset when he discovers that the person who blew him in the bathroom has a penis.

In between, there is a two-page scene in which Robinson complains that he can’t get what he wants from writing comics for DC and Marvel. He says he’s pigeon-holed as the “Golden Age” guy. Rather than wondering where Airboy was at this time, I was too busy feeling guilty that perhaps I was part of the audience that contributed to James’ professional problems.

And when the story revealed where Airboy had been, I was more surprised that a comic book hero, already depicted as rigidly proper and straight, had participated in a sex act in a public restroom. At that point, his partner and her genitals seemed like the least startling element.

When I read about the controversy later, I felt terrible. Some people said they felt threatened. Others complained that the transgendered characters weren’t even characters. A few called for a boycott. A few demanded the scene be expunged from the trade paperback.

I went and re-read the story. I still didn’t get it. The transgendered characters aren’t developed, but neither is any other person in the story but our three leads. The bartender is there to serve drinks. The drug dealers are there to deal drugs. James’ then-wife, Jann, is there to show what James is pissing away. The point of view of the story is deliberately myopic.

To his credit, Robinson apologized. It’s a nice apology, heartfelt and contrite and gracious. He explains what he was trying to do, but he doesn’t try to weasel out of the hurt that he caused.

So, help me out here, members and allies of the LGBTQ community. What am I not seeing? I get that it’s thoughtless, but hurtful?

It seems to me that the solution is not to (only) bitch about this particular story (which every reader should do when so moved), but to enable more people to tell more different stories. A comic book medium with more transgendered writers and artists telling the stories they want to tell would lessen the impact of this particular comic book.

In the meantime, I’m grateful that my crush on James never came to anything. Clearly, I would have disappointed him.