In the pages of DC Comics’s “Superman: The Son of Kal-El” No. 5, Jon Kent will fall for a reporter named Jay Nakamura. “Superman’s symbol has always stood for hope, for truth and for justice,” writer Tom Taylor said. “Today, that symbol represents something more. Today, more people can see themselves in the most powerful superhero in comics.”
The news is an exciting, if mixed, development for queer comic fans. Unsurprisingly, a breathless brouhaha showed not everyone was pleased. Perhaps less unsurprisingly, the detractors revealed some important points about what real representation looks like.
LGBTQ people have long read ourselves into comics. The “otherness” of superheroes, the differences that ultimately make them strong naturally fostered an affinity between them and us. These heroes come from other worlds, they’re often ostracized for traits beyond their control (see the X-Men), and many have secret identities. Sounds gay to me.
When it comes to explicit representation, though, we’ve made do with just a handful of characters in the comics, and far fewer in movies and on TV. So it’s great to have an LGBTQ person front and center in a tentpole property, especially the one whose hero’s whole deal is literally being the best man. It looks as though Jon Kent’s relationship will actually be explored, too, not just mentioned, dropped and chalked up as a diversity win.
But still . . . Superman’s son?
He’s billed as the “new” Superman, but it feels like a cop-out to make the Man of Steel’s progeny the guinea pig here. It’s in keeping, though, with how the world of superheroes has been dipping its toe into queerness.
So far, “representation” has been exclusively for eagle-eyed fans — blink and you’ll miss it. Take “Loki,” a recent Marvel show in which the Norse god of mischief is revealed as genderfluid via a brief glance at an ID card, and a line of dialogue about past relationships with both princesses and princes. This also takes place in a “multiverse” with many different versions of Lokis of assumedly different genders. One is an alligator. Alligator rights!
This multiverse business is a convenient way for creators to have their cake and eat it in an entirely different dimension. The workaround surfaces in DC’s Superman, too. Taylor affirmed that the other Kent, the one currently on TV in the CW’s “Superman and Lois,” is still straight. “We can have Jon Kent exploring his identity in the comics as well as Jon Kent learning the secrets of his family on TV,” Taylor said. “They coexist in their own worlds and times, and our fans get to enjoy both simultaneously.” If your company is struggling with the low bar for LGBTQ representation, simply make up a parallel universe in which you clear it.
Whom does this serve? Such technicalities suck the joy out of ostensible breakthroughs for queer fans, and it’s not as though they temper backlash. The Superman news still riled conservatives, whose reaction could be summarized as “It’s Clark Kent, not Clark and Kent!” Traditionalists are invested in Superman and his Superspawn being red-blooded, American heterosexuals, and tinkering with that in any way is a capitulation to the woke mob. My God, what’s next? Will they make him Mexican? Can’t they just have their own heroes?
That last bit, lodged in among all the fearmongering over Supergays and Superbis, is actually a decent point: Why can’t we have completely new LGBTQ characters, and why should we praise DC Comics as brave for a half-measure that, frankly, is long overdue? Why should we keep celebrating the scraps?
Minting some super queers and giving them the spotlight they deserve sounds like an excellent idea, but it’s not as though the critics of Superman’s new direction are advocating to provide LGBTQ creators the resources and opportunities to do so. They’re just mad that their longtime exemplar of the best of us isn’t as straight as they need him to be.
Honestly, it makes way more sense if the far-off alien Superman is bisexual, or reproduces by spores, or at least assumes some terrifying nonhuman form and is a very vocal ally. But for now, we’ll take what we can get from DC, and hold out for our own queer hero to come crashing to Earth.