If there's any topic that can get a crowd of comic fans talking, it's the attempt by publishers to add diversity to comics. And recently, that buzz has often focused on efforts to represent gays and lesbians in the traditionally straight world of superheroes.
It certainly isn't a new issue, since gay comic book characters have been around for decades. But only in the last few years have they begun to show up in some of the more high-profile books. Whether it's Marvel's introduction of two gay teens in Young Avengers or the media attention garnered by DC's "lipstick lesbian" Batwoman, the past few years have put a spotlight on the introduction of homosexual characters to the more mainstream comics in the Marvel and DC universes.
In Part 3 of our look at "Hot Button Topics" in 2011, we explore this topic by looking specifically at one of this month's comics: Starman/Congorilla #1. Although we'll look at the subject of diversity in more detail tomorrow, for this installment, Newsarama talked with writer James Robinson about the low-key introduction of a gay superhero to one of the most high-profile teams in the DC Universe, the Justice League of America.
A tie-in to Robinson's regular Justice League of America series, last week's Starman/Congorilla resurrected a gay superhero named Tasmanian Devil and established him as the boyfriend of Starman, a member of the JLA.
But of special interest in this interview is the fact that dealing with diversity can cut both ways. As Robinson reveals in the discussion, Tasmanian Devil's death was met with outrage by some readers who thought he was killed because he was gay.
But we've given Robinson a chance to discuss why Tasmanian Devil was killed then resurrected. And within the discussion, we also talked about the diversity he's representing in his Justice League, and the well-received yet fairly groundbreaking incorporation of a gay male superhero and his boyfriend as readers saw in last week's Starman/Congorilla.
Newsarama: James, now that the Starman/Congorilla special has been released, what motivated you to tell this story?
James Robinson: The Starman/Congorilla one-shot is one of those stories that I've been meaning to tell ever since Cry for Justice – well, actually, I knew this was coming even when I was writing Cry for Justice.
Plus it involves a hunt for the Lazarus Pit and the Fountain of Youth, and Rex the Wonder Dog, and all these different, interesting, bizarre aspects of the DC universe, which is something that I enjoy messing around with.
But it was always a story that was leading toward the return of Tasmanian Devil, who will be Starman's boyfriend.
Nrama: You were the one that killed off the Tasmanian Devil in Cry for Justice. Was it always your intent to bring him back?
Robinson: Absolutely. I was hoping to write it immediately. Because I killed Tasmanian Devil off rather cruelly in Cry for Justice.
I always intended for that to be the case, that Starman would eventually have Tasmanian Devil as his boyfriend. Congorilla finding his friend was going to be sub-plot that I was going to use, and tie it in with the apparent murder of Tasmanian Devil. I had to put it off for a while, but I found a way to fold it into the Omega storyline.
And I had always planed that it would lead toward Starman finding love with Tasmanian Devil. They're two of the main gay characters of DC Universe. So I wanted to bring them together.
Nrama: I think it's safe to say that nobody saw that coming.
Robinson: Not when I've apparently had one of them skinned! [laughs] And in a rug on the floor. No, not at all. But I didn't want to reveal anything.
Nrama: But didn't you get some flack for killing Tasmanian Devil?
Robinson: Yes. People online were like, "James Robinson hates gay people" and all of this. Which is utterly ridiculous, and it was a little bit hurtful, considering the gay friends I have here in San Francisco and other parts of the world.
It's ironic because in Starman – and I believe this to be true. And I’m willing to be called a liar. I’m not 100 percent sure of this. But I think within mainstream comics, be that Marvel and DC basically – I think in Starman, I had the first main, male gay kiss ever. So for me to be called a gay hater is ridiculous.
But it was always intended that Tasmanian Devil would return, that he'd be part of this story and become Starman's boyfriend. And it's just taken me way longer than I thought. So I’m glad it's finally happened, and we can bring Tasmanian Devil back.
Nrama: Are you a fan of the character?
Robinson: I am! And Brett Booth did one thing that I’m very happy with – and this is just me being a fan and a bit of a geek about it – but it always bugged me that Tasmanian Devil's fur had this very straight "T" thing on his chest. So he's actually turned it into, like, white fur that's growing out of his chest that looks like a T. Small, little cosmetic thing, but it made me smile when I saw it.
Nrama: I’m trying to think if there's any other major superhero team with a male gay character. Do you know if there is?
Robinson: I don't know. The Justice League, at the moment, only has one straight man. But the other people on the team are all female, plus there's one gay character, and there's Congorilla, who has the consciousness of a man, but he's a big gorilla. And there we go.
It's a really diverse and interesting line up that fans either really respond to, or hate with a passion.
Nrama: I've talked to some other writers who have introduced male gay characters. They've told me that comic book fans seem to be much more accepting of lesbian superheroes than they are of gay men.
Robinson: Well, I don't know what that is. I know that whether or not they're allowed to talk about it, you have brave gay soldiers in every army in the world, serving their country. You have gay policemen. One of my best friends in San Francisco is a gay policeman. Gay firemen. Every walk of life where people are putting their lives on the line, there's gays doing it as well as straights. So why not superheroes too?
Nrama: Will we see much of the relationship between Starman and Tasmanian Devil in the Justice League book?
Robinson: It won't be central to the comic, if that's what you're asking. After Congorilla and Starman reunite with the main part of the team, after this one-shot, Tasmanian Devil will just be seen every once in awhile. You'll see them going out on a date or something. It isn't like it's going to be big old primary thing. It's always going to be about the story, the big threats and the life-threatening, world-threatening dangers. That's what the JLA books will be about more than first dates. Gay or straight.
Come back tomorrow to Newsarama as we look again at diversity in superhero comics, and check back as we explore more Hot Button Topics of 2011.Previous Hot Button 2011 installments: