By now, you’ve probably seen Gail Simone’s fierce, utterly awesome rebuttal to an aspiring comic book writer who said, essentially, that characters should not be forced on publishers for the sake of inclusion. Specifically, gay characters. This person’s argument is annoying for a number of reasons, but what struck me is how frequently I’ve heard versions of this from otherwise reasonable people. Say that you want to see more high-profile minorities in comics, and someone inevitably will respond, “Race/sexual orientation shouldn’t enter into it. I hate it when someone does that just to look progressive. A good character is a good character.” What they’re really saying is the default is white and straight (and often male), and anything outside of that default is possibly tainted by a 1) a quota system or 2) an attempt to appease a narrow, agitated fan base.
I’m sorry, but that is both insulting and outrageously presumptuous. When was the last time someone took issue with the creation of a straight, white, male hero? Fans might deride the character for being lame, but no one will say, “I think the publisher is trying to make some kind of statement here.” Exhibit A: Batwoman. When Greg Rucka rebooted Kate Kane as a modern heroine who happened to be gay, some cynical fans claimed her sexuality was a naked publicity stunt. You could practically hear the sneering. Look, I understand that reporters need a newsworthy hook for a story, and launching a high-profile, gay, female character IS quite a hook. But as Rucka later explained — and readers eventually saw for themselves — being gay is just one piece of who Kate is. Like being an alien is just one piece of who Clark Kent is. Like being obsessive is one piece of who Bruce Wayne is. If Batwoman’s stories had sucked or been strained and inauthentic, that would have nothing to do with her sexual orientation and everything to do with poor writing. Of course, that turned out not to be the case.
Gail came down hard on old boy, but I think she just snapped, and understandably so. Comics are far more inclusive than they used to be, and they keep getting better. But the fact that someone felt moved to complain about a fan’s desire for a marquee, gay, male superhero — in 2011! — floors me. People of color and gays happen to be, I dunno, part of society, not mere artistic fetishes. But what do I know? Perhaps I’m just an angry, unreasonable black geek with an agenda and a quota Excel spreadsheet.