(A slightly revised version of this article can be found here, on World of Superheroes.....)
At this weekend's Kapow comic convention, DC Comics' co-publisher, Dan Didio announced that DC would be switching the sexual orientation of a previously straight character and making them “one of our most prominent gay characters.” DC already have a number of LGBT characters, for example Batwoman, Apollo, Midnighter, Scandal Savage and a brand new member of the Teen Titans named Bunker. But this will be the first time, with the exception of a few minor characters such as Pied Piper and Captain Stingaree, that an established character's sexual orientation has been switched.
I realise that what I'm about to suggest will never happen, but I think that this established character should be Superman.
I recently discussed with a friend the notion that Marvel Comics' Captain America should be revealed as gay, a suggestion based on an article featured on ComicsAlliance.com. He argued quite persuasively that changing a character's established sexual identity just to be progressive sends the wrong message and is not a good way to embrace tolerance. He argued that this is applicable to both Captain America and Superman. I'm inclined to agree with him regarding Cap and I'd likewise agree regarding Superman were it not for one thing. The New 52.
Superman has been pretty well established as straight. Over the years he's been shown to be romantically involved with (or at least attracted to) a number of female characters, including Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Lyra Lerrol, Wonder Woman, Maxima and Cat Grant. In the late '80s, comics legend and pervert of note John Byrne went out of his way to establish Superman as sexually active with female partners. He wrote and drew stories that strongly implied that Superman had sexual encounters (while being mind controlled!) with a villain named Amazing Grace (Adventures of Superman Vol 1 #426, 1987) and a fellow hero named Big Barda (Action Comics Vol 1 #592, 1987). He also made much of Superman's strong attraction to Wonder Woman, even going as far as to have Superman describe to her "an intense dream" he'd had about her! (Action Comics Vol.1 #600, 1988)
In Superman: The Wedding Album (1996) this interpretation of Superman went on to leave his "intense dreams" behind him and married the love of his life, Lois Lane. He remained completely devoted to her from then onwards. In Action Comics Vol.1 #761 (2000) Superman found himself trapped for centuries in a magical dimension fighting monsters alongside Wonder Woman and the Norse Gods. Gradually his memories of Lois fell away, how she looked, her smell, the sound of her voice, even her name. But his intense love for her remained and he never succumbed to temptation and never began a sexual relationship with Wonder Woman, his only female companion in that dimension.
So not only is this interpretation of Superman straight, he's also married and hopelessly devoted to his wife. But this version of Superman isn't around any more. Last September most of the DC Universe, including Superman, was revamped and every issue was relaunched from Number One. These 52 relaunched comics were dubbed the New 52. In Action Comics Vol. 2 #1 (2011) we met a brand new younger version of Superman who had never married, or even dated Lois Lane. This new Superman has certainly been established as being attracted to Lois. In Superman Vol. 3 #1 (2011) we see a forlorn Clark Kent sent packing from Lois' door while Lois entertains another gentleman. But DC Comics have no plans to get Clark and Lois together again. In fact Superman editor Matt Idelson has stated;
"Clark and Lois are NOT inevitable, and in fact it isn’t going to happen, at least while I’m on watch duty. There will be romance of varying degrees in both characters’ lives in the months to come, but not with each other."It does seem then that DC have no plans to reunite Clark and Lois any time soon and would like to explore story lines involving alternate avenues of romance for Clark. I think it's fair to say however that these romances aren't likely to last long term. I believe that, despite what Idelson says, the attraction between Superman and Lois is a core part of the Superman myth and if DC ever decide that Superman is going to settle down with someone again, it will probably be Lois. But in the meantime it does seem that Clark is going to be dating.
So why not have him dating both men and women?
Other than Lois, we haven't really seen any evidence of what type of person New 52 Clark is attracted to, so why the heck not? Don't get me wrong, I don't expect Superman to suddenly become really promiscuous, dating multiple characters at the same time. But DC obviously want him to have a few romances. Why not make a few of them men? After all, a storyline featuring Clark having relationship trouble with a male partner because of his career as Superman would be a lot more tasteful than some mind controlled, alien nookie with Amazing Grace.
So I've argued, "why NOT make Superman bi-sexual", but I haven't really said why he should be. Well quite simply because of the message it would send. We all know that attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people all over the world are depressingly and dangerously backwards, even in supposedly progressive countries. Right now, all over the world people are being marginalised, bullied and even killed because of their sexuality. Religious and political leaders are still debating whether two people of the same sex who love each other should be allowed to marry when the very idea that it's even any of their business in the first place is absurd.
The fact is, some people are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender and it's not immoral, it's not wrong and it's not a punchline to a big joke. What better way to say "It's okay to be gay" than have one of the biggest cultural icons in the whole world have a romantic relationship with another man, and it's no big deal! Superman dating a man would be a cultural milestone. It would be looked back on in history as one of the moments when attitudes to sexuality began to change for the better. Superman is that powerful an icon. He can literally change the world! And there's never been a better time to do it than now, with the New 52.
Of course, I don't believe this will happen. I honestly don't believe that DC Comics will reveal that Superman is gay or bi-sexual. But I do believe that the fact that they are switching the sexual orientation of an established character is still a very positive thing. The trick now will be sticking to their guns. Whatever character comes out of the closet must stay out. This issue is far too important to sweep under the carpet with a cosmic do-over.
And eventually with any luck, we'll live in a world where characters in popular culture, as well as real life people will be straight, gay or transgender and it won't be an issue and we can all be spared self righteous fanboys like me getting on their internet high horse!
Update: Click here for a brief follow up to this article, written in light of the announcement of a Superman/Wonder Woman romance in the pages of Justice League.