LGBTQ Hide Month: DC’s Rebirth Demotes Queer Characters

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

Last week, DC Comics released to press a splash image promoting Rebirth, its purported new and optimistic creative force for its main continuity comic line-up. In an interview with Newsarama, DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns said “Rebirth is the compass, here’s where we’re going.”

The splash image, according to its accompanying press copy, is “a visual Who’s Who of the DCU.” If you want to know who matters in the DC Rebirth, well, here’s your guidemap. It’s linked below.

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In the preceding image (illustrated by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Hi-Fi) you will find the Trinity, Raven sans avian attire, Captain Boomerang, and two Wally Wests—one white, one black.

What you won’t find in this image, this veritable directory of DC’s plans over the next weeks, months, years, is much queer representation. I’ve edited the image to highlight the company-acknowledged-as-LGBTQ characters present.

Queer Rebirth

What’s pictured: Batwoman, Harley Quinn, and Constantine (bottom center, if his muted colors lost you).

What’s not pictured: transgender characters, non-binary characters, gay men, queer people of color, any of the several queer characters created since the New 52. No Bunker, Black Orchid, Virtue, Operator, Porcelain, Ya’Wara, or Starling. Even some of DC’s most noteworthy or headline-nabbing queer characters failed to make the cut.

At last April’s Emerald City Comic Con DC Entertainment: All-Access Panel, DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio claimed that Midnighter, star of a critically-acclaimed recent solo series and one of the most famous gay male superheroes, was “still an important part of the DC Universe.” Not more important than almost 70 other characters, apparently. Not more important than Captain Boomerang.

At May 2012’s Kapow Comic Convention DC New 52 Panel, Didio promised that an established hero would have their sexuality switched to something more queer, becoming one of DC’s “most prominent gay characters.” That character would Alan Scott, an alternate Earth’s Green Lantern. He does not appear in this splash presumably because his home, Earth-2: Society, is one of DC’s two main-continuity series (with Gotham Academy) to not take part in Rebirth promotion, denying him and his other diversified peers thousands of eyeballs. If this Rebirth’s hourglass teaser is to be believed, Scott may also have to compete his “classic,” “previously straight” self, a situation familiar to that of black Wally West. DC_Rebirth_catalog__00036-1

Even Batwoman, arguably DC’s most iconic LGBT character and pictured above for her upcoming role in Detective Comics, was recently victim to a forced, year-long sabbatical. In a glowing piece from the Advocate in May 2015, DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee said of Batwoman, “there are great characters and sometimes you have to give them a rest to bring them back.” Meanwhile Deathstroke has no time for naps, as Rebirth’s giving him his third series in nearly five years.

And though it seems unfair to quibble over a piece of promotional artwork, it actually does represent what Rebirth’s presented of DC’s queer characters so far. Constantine has a solo series, Batwoman is an ensemble lead in Detective Comics, and Harley Quinn swings both ways with a solo and a leading team role in Suicide Squad. And that’s it. As is with the promotional image, there are no other yet-acknowledged queer characters in significant roles.

If these concerns seem somewhat incongruent with a portion of DC Rebirth #1, consider invisibility. Spoilers for the issue (written by Geoff Johns with art by Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez) follow.

Across his two-panel appearance, Jackson Hyde (more popularly known as Aqualad of the Young Justice animated series) comes out as liking guys, framed by his mother’s homophobia. In and out and out. He doesn’t appear again.

It’s hard to believe that DC would give him a broom closet’s worth of real estate in one of their most important comics for nothing; it’s just a matter of finding where. Unfortunately, fans hoping up to follow his story currently have nowhere to turn. He hasn’t appeared in any DC Rebirth press material—not in the announcement, in interviews, on series covers, or even in the above splash page, which was included in DC Rebirth #1.

Amidst tearful reunions and a supposed more optimistic return to storytelling, the one corner granted to a queer character is one of prejudice and no clear future.

Queer invisibility (onset by hetero/cisnormativity) is precisely why LGBTQ folk are burdened with coming out. If cis+straight weren’t made the default, then there’d be no impetus to come out. Fitting, then, that DC leads a creative charge that positions cis+straight characters so aggressively as the default. No wonder Jackson’s mother is a homophobe; the universe DC’s Rebirth is building is one where LGBTQ people barely get to exist.

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Numerous interviews with Johns, Lee, and Didio reference “core readers,” previous runs, the past. The event’s name pays homage to Johns’ Green Lantern: Rebirth, which returned Green Lantern Hal Jordan to the publishing foray.

By centering so much on the past, DC eclipses its diversity gains—particularly recent years’ genuinely forward-moving queer representation—in favor of yet again restoring its straight (and white and male) characters to glory.

Black Wally West gets less definitive alongside White Wally West. Jaime Reyes and Ryan Choi, the Mexican-American Blue Beetle and Chinese-American Atom, get to return to comics only if chaperoned by their white male contemporaries. If the “classic” (all-white, based on that teaser) JSA truly returns as they were, they’ll be full-on rendering their Earth-2 counterparts as derivatives.

At the end of the day, there is only finite space. There is only finite space on a team’s roster, in a comic’s pages, in an event’s promotional material, in a publisher’s slate, on the shelf of a comic book store.

There was no room for Bunker on Teen Titans (there barely was even when he was on it), Operator in Birds of Prey, any queer character on the Justice League, an Authority book starring Midnighter and Apollo, or a leading transgender character anywhere. Queer characters have been pushed out. It’s sad, then, that the most hopeful and inclusive places for queer fans and characters is not the “core readers'” present day, but in the past—the lone series of DC Comics Bombshells, an alternate universe, digital-first comic set during World War II.

And, at the end of the day, there is only finite space in fans’ budgets.

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