Holding Out For A (S)Hero: West Valley Discusses LGBTQs in Comics and Anime
By Avi Vieira
As Phoenix Comicon draws closer, our youth had been asking for an evening about LGBTQs in comic books and anime. With heroes and sheroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – where are the mythical role models for those of the rainbow persuasion? With this week’s ice-breaking question for West Valley one·n·ten being “What super power do you wish you had?” the theme was set for a night introducing LGBTQ characters and themes in comic books that went from the golden age of comics and the first appearances of Superman and Batman through to the modern craze for Japanese manga and anime.
With the group discussion lead by Wonder Twins and volunteers extraordinaire Bryan English and Avi Vieira, the evening began with the concept of comic books and super heroes being modern mythology where the heroes trials and tribulations, virtues and morality are just as necessary today as in ancient times. The discussion quickly moved to the early days of comic books through to the silver age of the 1950s and the censorship of the Comics Code Authority and its restrictions banning any depictions of homosexuality that essentially lasted until the mid 1990s. Until that time, writers had to be creative in their stories and characters – such as focusing on common themes of bullying in school, alienation from peers, secrets from family members (Spider-Man); possessing inborn traits that make one different from everyone else, and living with social and legal persecution for those traits (The X-Men) that were and are so personally familiar to our community.
The group explored modern LGBTQ characters such as Batwoman, Wanda (Sandman), Rainmaker (Gen13), the relationships of Young Avengers Wiccan and Hulking and how LGBTQs in comics now reflect open, healthy, and complex characters who have meaningful relationships, rather than the tragic, flawed (and often closeted) characters seen in earlier times. Also discussed were the controversies and protests in recent times over The X-Men’s Northstar (and his recent wedding), Archie Comics’ Kevin Keller, and the “new” Green Lantern Alan Scott. The evening ended with a brief discussion of Japanese manga with LGBTQ themes such as Ranma ½ (gender bending comedy), Ouran High School Host Club (gender bending, implied and overt homosexuality), Gravitation (gay romantic comedy), Sailor Moon (lesbian characters), and Wandering Son (gender dysphoria) and all age-appropriate yaoi (boy love) and yuri (girl love) titles.
The discussion allowed the youth to see that the superheroes that appeal to everyone also are becoming much more diverse and supportive in adding LGBTQs to the modern pantheon of heroes who will go on to inspire new generations. Our youth had been looking forward to this night for months, putting some pressure on the staff and volunteers to do their own heroics to make this a fun, informative, and memorable evening.