I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the announcement that DC Comics will, in a reversal of an existing policy, have an established character from their stable come out of the closet as gay.
In theory, I’m all for this kind of development. If you’re going to have multiple iterations of characters in multiple universes, one of the smartest ways to take advantage of that setup is to change the characters substantially so you see how people with different life experiences react to gaining great power and how they use it. Making Spider-Man a teenager of African-American and Latino origin is an opportunity to show us a different New York, one with public school entrance lotteries rather than gleaming research laboratories, an initial skepticism about his powers rather than a joyful enthusiasm, a set of family issues that make him vulnerable to S.H.I.E.L.D. bureacuracy rather than to his own inner demons. A gay superhero who comes out offers a new spin on covertness, secret identities, a new sense of what kind of people are vulnerable and need protection.
I just worry about how well this reveal will be done. A headline about Superman being gay would result in huge press for DC—Batman, by contrast, would retroactively make anti-comics crusader Frederic Wertham smile smugly in his grave—but that doesn’t guarantee that DC will be able to weave a coherent cloth between that old sense of a character and the new one. J.K. Rowling did a lovely job, I thought, when she revealed that Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay: the information made all sorts of disparate elements of Dumbledore’s biography come together in a coherent whole. Comics characters have so much more history and backstory that it might be hard to find a character where a coming out story feels natural and clarifying rather than requiring a hard reset. And natural and clarifying, with a smart plan beyond the big reveal, should be the goal DC should set and the standard we should hold them to.