The media is buzzing again with conflict on diversity in comic books, comic book-inspired properties, and fantasy in general.
Marvel sales execs are under fire for mentioning diversity in their line – and a dip in sales – in the same breath. The Lego Batman Movie caught heat for gay-friendly undertones and recent The Beauty and the Beast remake inspired some teeth-gnashing for its inclusion of a gay supporting character.
Every time I pop on Newsarama it seems, another diversity story flares, and invariably, someone is grouchy about too much diversity on his plate.
As a gay man, dad to an adopted daughter, and life-long comic book junkie, I have a unique vantage point on all this controversy, one I felt the need to share.
I recently attended a matinee of The Lego Batman Movie with Renée, who is four and a half. This was my kid’s first time at a 3D movie. She was thrilled just to put on the goggles. We got our popcorn and a fistful of napkins and headed into the dark cave of the theater, eager for a couple hours of Lego car crashes, superhero exploits, musical numbers, and snarky puns.
The reviews for the movie were so good; I was dying to share the experience.
The movie got off to a good start - lots of crashes, lots of heroes, and an army of villains too. Renée was swept up in the 3D barrage, we were having a blast, when the Lego Robin character made a brief aside that caught us off guard.
Tiny spoiler ahead.
In the movie, Lego Robin believes that Bruce Wayne and Batman are separate people, and as a result, two dads are watching out for him. “Two dads?!?!” says Robin. He’s thrilled.
The reaction is brief, but it hit me in the gut. My husband and I adopted Renée when she was a newborn. At the time, we knew very few gay parents. We had the same doubts all new parents have about our ability to parent well, and the world of diapers/sleep deprivation/daycare/formula seemed scarier than any EC comic compendium.
Media stories about gay dads, in their effort to provide a balanced view, always include at least one heat-blast from a conservative source who feels gay parenting is a vile substitute for a household with a mom and a dad.
Like a real-world Johnny Storm, I absorb the heat well, but after a while, after a lifetime, it wears on me a little.
Unabashed support for gay dads is rare, and I never expected to hear it in a superhero movie, even if it’s only an allusion, built on a gag.
Then I looked down at Renée. Half her face was swallowed by goggles, but it was impossible to miss the smile underneath. Even in the dark, I could see her beaming. Robin got it. Renée noticed. She was proud of her dads, and she just got a verbal fist-pump from the masked kid on screen.
We live in a modern, evolving world, but certain standards still reign. In kid books, kid shows, kid magazines, kid comics, kid toys, even on kid t-shirts, family norms are pretty specific. There’s little or no room in the kid marketing empire for diversity, for families of color, families with one parent, families of different cultural backgrounds, gay families, etc. Kids like Renée get by assuming that families like theirs are just outside the entertainment lens.
It's gotta wear her down too.
Things aren’t all dark and gloomy. Someone felt the need to wedge a gay character into Disney’s latest big screen extravaganza, we have a couple gay characters headlining their own comic books (America! Midnighter! Iceman! Woot!), and the diversity circus, with all its heat blasts, draws attention to a void in our entertainment culture.
Superheroes still have the power to inspire. I see that every time I share a Squirrel Girl comic with Renée, or get busy playing with the DC Super Hero Girl dolls that she worships.
And now we have Lego Robin. One little hero made us both feel a little more sane.
Bill Eisele is a freelance writer and comic lover. His new novel, Soulmates Inc., about a paranormal invasion in Seattle, is available on Lulu.com and other online book distributors. Bill can be found on www.billeisele.com and he is happy to discuss this issue further with anyone who wants to stop by.