“Marvel Doesn’t Care About LGBT People”

To start with, I hope that the reference in the title is apparent.

If not, let’s flashback to September 2005 and A Concert for Hurricane Relief. It was during this live star-studded benefit concert that Kanye West very famously said:

“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

The following week, on The Ellen Degeneres Show, West elaborated on the incident. Given the immense loss caused by Hurricane Katrina, he explained that “[it was] the least [he] could do to go up there and say something from [his] heart, to say something that’s real.” At the risk of misrepresenting him, my takeaway was that there’s something very pure and genuine about personal emotional reactions that makes them worth expressing. While the facts may reveal otherwise, their having elicited this response speaks for itself, in a way.

It’s a sentiment that many readers of Marvel comics may strongly agree with given the fallout of Guardians of the Galaxy #18, which hit stands this past Wednesday.

Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool reported on the resulting outcry, first presenting a fairly comprehensive rundown on both Angela and Sera, albeit with the handful of errors many have come to expect from the site [they appeared in Angela: Asgard’s (not “Angel’s) Assassin and 1602: Witch Hunter (not “Witchfinder”) Angela]. To recap: while the former is Thor’s long-lost sister, Sera was once a male angel [or “anchorite”] who became a female, ostensibly through magical means.

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, #3. Written by Marguerite Bennett & Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Stephanie Hans.

The two are also in a romantic relationship.

Angela: Queen of Hel, #1. Written by Marguerite Bennett, illustrated by Kim Jacinto & Israel Silva.

The aforementioned issue of Guardians of the Galaxy has Angela departing from the team to see her partner, only to find Sera missing without a trace. Given the scarcity of LGBT couples in the Marvel universe, let alone trans characters, reactions were far from subdued. Johnston compiled a number of tweets, as well as one tumblr post that’s so toxic I’ve decided to allow you all to find it and read it on your own, that heavily criticized the creative decision.

My first response to the majority of these fans is empathy. With so much at stake, and with so little faith that the publisher will do the right thing, it’s painfully easy to expect the worse and lash out before those fears have been confirmed. They’re words from people who have been hurt so often they’re ready to strike back before being hurt again. What follows, however, is a deep disappointment in the form that takes. The aforementioned tumblr post not only declares that Marvel will surely retcon Angela’s sexual orientation, but personally attacks Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote the issue.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 4, #18. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Valerio Schiti.

At the end of the day all we really know is that Angela and Sera have been separated. While the repetition of this theme [Angela: Queen of Hel was centred on the title character journeying to the underworld to save her love] may feel needless, there’s nothing that directly implies that the two have broken up or that their relationship has come to an end.

In summary, I acknowledge and understand why fans have reacted this way, but at this point it doesn’t seem to be predicated on quite enough evidence. I get why people are upset, but both Bendis and Marvel deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point. What I think people should actually be getting riled up about is the article Johnston links to at the bottom.

March is Women’s History Month, and Marvel celebrated it in part by publishing an article subtitled “Friends Forever” on their website. It begins by describing the characters in question as being:

“friends and teammates. These ladies support one another through challenging hardships and we enjoy seeing how this helps them grow and evolve.”

Before digging deep into her list Sarah Cooke once again frames them as being  “the Marvel Universe’s most notable female friendships.”

Given the introduction it may be a little surprising that, close to the bottom, we see Angela and Sera’s names pop up. As one of the publisher’s “true ‘power couples'” what they share is illustrated as “a companionship that grew to a romance”, but it’s still curious that they’re listed under the heading “Friends Forever”.

Right below them are Ayo and Aneka, who were introduced in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther. Both former Dora Milaje, or personal bodyguards of the Wakandan hero, the end of that issue shows them being more than just sisters in arms:

Black Panther Vol. 6, #1. Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze.

Ayo and Aneka are likened to Angela and Sera, in that their relationship “grew out of the bond that forms as a result of fighting side by side”. A currently published title, though soon to be ending, Black Panther: World of Wakanda actually focuses on the couple, beginning with their meeting and continuing on up until their first appearance in Coates’ book. Given the number of pages dedicated to what began as a burgeoning affair, the following description isn’t inaccurate:

“Their relationship is complex, and their development as characters nuanced. They know how to fight, but they also know how to be there for one another.”

The primary issue once again is the title of the article, “Women’s History Month: Friends Forever”. It’s not to say that romantic relationships don’t or shouldn’t have a strong basis in friendship, but that the term is so often used to offset potential romance. Consider the line “we’re just friends” or what has been dubbed “the friend zone”.

The question is whether or not heterosexual couples would have been presented in the same fashion. Would an article generally titled “Friends Forever” highlight Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, husband and wife? How about the on-again off-again Daredevil and Elektra, or Spider-Man and his various girlfriends [including one-time-wife Mary Jane Watson]?

Comic books are a visual medium, and anyone who works in the industry should know the importance of how something looks. If the story is sound and the art middling, a title will fail [I’m looking at you, Silk]. Allowing these two couples to have the spotlight is commendable, but the way it’s presented doesn’t look good. Or, at the risk of overusing a line, the optics are bad, man.

It’s also not like things haven’t been shaky with Angela and Sera in the past, either. Back in 2015 a Q&A with editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, in a since discontinued feature on Comic Book Resources, held the following exchange:

The issue also confirmed the romantic relationship between Angela and Sera, something that had been speculated about by fans. So is it accurate to say that Angela is the first gay or bisexual lead character in the All-New, All-Different Marvel era?

Alonso: That’s a question for readers to ponder and answer for themselves. We’re not looking to put labels on the character or the series. We’d prefer that the story Marguerite, Kim and Stephanie are telling — all aspects of it — speak for itself.

Why was there so much hesitancy to directly state that Angela was an LGBT character? If your company surely believes enough in the story to publish it, so why the coyness in outright telling people that, yes, at its heart this title has a gay relationship at its core?

All of that being said, “Marvel Doesn’t Care About LGBT People” is far from the truth. Sina Grace, a gay man himself, will be penning an upcoming Iceman solo that will touch on the titular character’s experiences as a superhero and a homosexual. The first of this month gave us America #1, which stars America Chavez, a lesbian interdimensional adventurer. Add to that an LGBT couple in the pages of U.S.Avengers and LGBT characters in titles from Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! to The Totally Awesome Hulk and it’s apparent that the publisher doesn’t have anything against the demographic.

What Marvel does have, however, is an issue with not taking more pride in these characters. Maybe the response to Guardians of the Galaxy #18 wouldn’t have been as strong if readers felt that these individuals were valued by the company. October is LGBT History Month, yet if we look back at their website there aren’t any articles from then in the same vein of the one Cooke wrote. Again, I’m not defending or excusing a lot of what was said this past Wednesday, but nothing takes place in a vacuum.

To refer back to another line I’ve dropped here on this blog, better doesn’t equal good. It’s undeniable that Marvel has taken significant strides in this area, and they’re definitely worth noting and applauding. On that same note, mistakes will still be made, and there should also be efforts to address the concerns of fans if possible. I do not believe Bendis or Marvel or homophobic, but the dialogue surrounding LGBT representation, as a whole, is much in need of improvement.

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2 responses to ““Marvel Doesn’t Care About LGBT People”

  1. Pingback: For Your Consideration: The Happiness of LGBT Characters | Culture War Reporters

  2. Pingback: The Unbearable Whiteness Of Being (Part I) | Culture War Reporters

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