Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Is Warren Ellis gayer than Erik Larsen ?

Yesterday I was reading an article on comicgate ( one of Germany's biggest comic websites ) about gay / lesbian superheroes in comics.


It was the second part of a series in which the first part was about gay / lesbian / homosexual characters in comics in general. Now I don't have a problem with gay comic characters or gay superheroes. I think it's strange that we still have to read about this topic because quite frankly I thought that it was already old news.

Like I thought that the topic of alcoholism has already been handled enough in comics. Not that I think it shouldn't been mentioned or happen in comics. I just think that after Iron Man's demon in a bottle storyline and the resulting fallout it was old news. Now I know most people think that the whole deal with Tony Stark becoming an alcoholic and then fighting against it was just a short storyline. They think that was all to it.


Because it seems that everybody and his brother - and this includes the guys from ComicGeekSpeak ( sorry, you should do better research before your next book of the month episode ) - just read the DEMON IN A BOTTLE trade and nothing else.

And it seems nobody even wonders why Jim Rhodes took up the mantle of Iron Man. Well, he had to do it because his former boss Tony Stark was living on the streets as a hobo. After he had lost his company Tony went on a drinking tour to put hundred russian sailors to shame and thought : Why bother ? So he just hit the bottle instead of super villains and Jim had to learn handling the armor on the fly. Because the real Iron Man was an alcoholic. Comic readers seem to forget that.


Or there are comic readers out there who are not aware of it. It seems that there are still new readers entering the comic universes so the discussions about gay superheroes start all over again. If you have been in one you have been in all of them. Because they all follow the same ritual. And there is always a new article about it. Now I'm not saying we need more gay superheroes or that homosexuality is something that has no place in superhero comics.

The times in which comics were just pure escapism without mentioning sexuality, rassism, bigotry, religion or politics are long behind us. Everybody who has read WATCHMEN ( are there still comic readers out there who haven't ? ) should know that. There are a lot of homosexual characters in comics now even in the two big companies and they are not portrayed as the stereotypes like they used to. But it seems that gay superheroes are still not as ordinary as we would like it which brings us to the reason for this post.

What I find strange is that there seem to be two kind of gay comic characters. There are the ones that everybody knows of and there are the other gay heroes that nobody hears of unknown and unsung. In every article about it Warren Ellis is mentioned.


Because he created the gay couple Apollo and Midnighter ( I don't have to tell you who these world's finest represent, do I ? ) and they have been all over the news and it's been mentioned in thousand of articles, and on thousand of websites and they're always using it for publicity purposes. Here : gay kick - ass superhero couple.

And of course Northstar is also mentioned as the first openly gay Marvel character. Although John Byrne's argumentation that it was believable that Northstar was gay because his relationships with women never worked out sounds a bit bogus to me. If it's a sign for being gay that you have troubles in relationships with women then 90 percent of all males on earth are gay. I mean, who hasn't had a relationship with a woman taht didn't work out ? Men and women just don't mix very well. Women are like a different species or something. Ever heard the Bob Marley song " No woman no cry " ? So the whole " Oh, he has womantroubles so he must be gay. " doesn't work well for me.

I mean it's not that I didn't think Northstar was gay. There was no doubt of that. But it had nothing to do with his relationships.


Now as I mentioned Warren Ellis created what is today sold to comic readers as the first gay superhero couple of comicdom. I'm not so sure about that. Because what nobody mentions ( and probably most writers of articles don't care to research ) is that in the pages of THE SAVAGE DRAGON Erik Larsen created a gay superhero couple that may preceed Apollo and Midnighter. You see, Erik created Mace


a Punisher - like vigilante in his book featured here on the cover of issue number 16 that was published on January 1995.


Mace was later revealed as former superhero sidekick Young Tough. And it was revealed even later on that he and his mentor Super Tough had been a couple - when Mace was released from prison Super Tough received him with a big wet kiss.

And I'm not talking about the kind of " little shy catholic school girl " kiss you see Apollo and Midnighter exchanging. I'm talking about heavy tongue action and stuff. Okay, that happened around issue 49 of the Savage Dragon ( I'm guessing because I don't have the issues in front of me......otherwise I could tell you the exact page and panel ) which was published on May 1998.


So let's make a timeline. If you just talk about the first appearence you could argue that Apollo and Midnighter made their first appearance in Stormwatch issue 4 that was published on February 1998.


You might say that was three whole months before issue 49 of Savage Dragon. That may be, but Mace didn't make his first appearance in issue 49. Remember he was on the cover of issue 16 published on January 1995. But he had already made his first appearance in issue 9 published on April 1994. Which preceeds Stormwatch issue 4 by three years and a half ( maybe a bit more...who cares ) !


Okay, you might argue that when he made his first appearance Mace wasn't played as a gay character. But I'm not so sure if the fact that Apollo and Midnighter were gay was already shown in their first issue. And if that's the case Erik Larsen may have been the first. So why is it that in every article about gay superheroes Warren Ellis is mentioned and Erik Larsen is ignored ? Is it because Warren Ellis has the better press agent ? Or have Apollo and Midnighter become the poster boys of gay superheroes because they are politically incorrect - in a political correct way ? Is Warren Ellis just gayer - or are Midnighter and Apollo gayer than Mace and Super Tough ?


One reason may be that there is a certain grade of political correctness in the way that Apollo and Midnighter's realtionship is presented. And in the way everyone reacts to it. I mean it shouldn't be the main focus but there is not one member of the team who is in the least bit weirded out by it ? They're all okay with it. Not one comment of off color joke. I know we're all enlightend and liberal and metrosexual ( whatever that means ) and whatnot but is there not one of them all who's a bit flawed and human ? And the whole relationship is always shown in a nice nonthreatening way.....it almost makes me sick.

Savage Dragon is nothing like that. The relationship between Mace and Super Tough is not shown as a sugarcoated homosexual dream everyone's okay with.


In fact Erik Larsen doesn't shy away from demonstrating some very human reactions as a lot of people are disgusted when they find out that Young Tough and Super Tough are gay. Like in the real world we see that the sidekick and the superhero are okay with that but not everybody else is. Now I'm not saying that SAVAGE DRAGON is high literature that's above using characters names for a quick laugh like in the scene where Dragon is looking for a friend and shouting in a bar when he realizes that it may not be the best thing to say : I'm looking for Amanda Love ( you connect the dots ). And yes, there are scenes of explicit character that show violence and r - rated stuff especially involving Dragon's flame at that time Rapture. Erik even printed a second not so explicit version of an issue just to be on the safe side.


Sadly the book has been sorely lacking in that departement over the last few years. Damn, I want to see someone sticking his hand under someone's facial skin or some hot superheroine booty again. What happened to all the naked boob shots, the wet t - shirts and the hot lingery pics ? Since when is this an all ages book ? Where's the blood, guts and gore we have come to appreciate ? Don't wuss out on us Mr. Larsen. We know you can do it.

And yes, in the pages of SAVAGE DRAGON we can see trippy stuff like God and the Devil duking it out



but although there is a lot of tongue in cheek stuff involved for me the couple of Mace and Super Tough is just as important if not more realistic than the Apollo and Midnighter couple. Not to mention that Erik Larsen has somehow managed to get a kind of transsexual / whatever relationship into the pages of the Dragon without anybody noticing. I'm talking about the character of nurse Ann Stevens who has the power to turn into the superhero Mighty Man. So this woman transforms into a man but nobody knows that. So in one issue Dragon is almost killed but the fighting stops when Mighty Man ( Ann Stevens ) shouts : " Don't kill him. I love him. " Because everybody now thinks that Mighty Man is gay....and maybe Dragon too.

There are lots of weird things like this or Hitler's brain in a glass bowl on the head of a Gorilla


or a superhero with a chicken head who's more of an badass than Doctor Doom that makes the book so special. But it still seems that the old saying is true that SAVAGE DRAGON is the best book nobody reads. Maybe that's because everybody's too busy reading other stuff like FABLES or whatever. Fact is that there are gay characters like Rawhide Kid or Batwoman that get hyped but really have no story value and still manage to steal the spotlight somehow. There are other characters like Hulkling and Wiccan who slowly get noticed because being gay is not their only reason for existence and Marvel didn't make a big announcement of it. And there are others who never get noticed like Mace or Living Lightning who can be happy if he has screentime for a quick joke in Dan Slott's GREAT LAKE AVENGERS ( sadly the book did not live up to it's full potential ).


And there are others who are a couple but nobody ever mentions it like with DC's lesbian couple par excellence Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Comicdom's Xena ande Gabrielle of Gotham are living their relationship in such an open way that nobody ever thinks it's noteworthy in an article.


At least I never read about it in any of the numerous essays about this topic. You have to keep in mind that this bond is so strong that it even pales the one Harley has with Mr.J. Be as it may I don't think we will ever know why some artists get all the credit and others don't. But on the other side this is not a competition. It's not about who's got the biggest, longest or whatever. It's about writing good comics and that also should involve different orientations and staying away from stereotypes. And of course avoid just adding gay supporting characters to fill any representative quotas.

And I don't think Erik Larsen will feel bad if it turns out that he really isn't as gay as Warren Ellis.


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