Days of Future Past: Mystique Without a Destiny.

23 05 2014

imageFor as long as they have been in print, the plight of Marvel’s mutants has stood as a metaphor for oppressed minorities dealing with prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. The Civil Rights Movement, the Stonewall riots, the current fight for LGBT rights. Parallels to these real-life events can be found sprinkled throughout the 50+ years of X-Men history.

The X-Men, themselves, are not without their own LGBT representation. A minority within a minority, if you will. Jean-Paul Beaubier (Northstar), Xi’an Coy Manh (Karma), Victor Borkowski (Anole), Roxy Washington (Bling!), Shatterstar, Cessily Kincaid (Mercury), and David Alleyne (Prodigy) are just a few.

Perhaps the most notable bisexual character on Marvel’s LGBT roster, Raven Darkholme (Mystique) made her debut within the pages of Ms. Marvel in the 1970s. From there, she would eventually go on to lead an incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and become one of the X-Men’s most infamous adversaries. Ever morally ambiguous, the shapeshifter would also rear an adopted daughter (the future X-Man, Rogue) with her lover, the blind precognitive, Irene Adler (Destiny).

Created by Chris Claremont in 1981 and first appearing in Uncanny X-Men #141, Destiny was intended, from the beginning, to be an intimate companion for Mystique. At that time, however, probibitions against gay/lesbian depictions in comic books were in place by the Comics Code Authority and the villains’ relationship had to be presented in a very subtle manner, often labeled only as “friends”. The original plans to have Nightcrawler be a biological child to both women (with Mystique shapeshifting into a man for the conception) had to be scrapped.

tumblr_lo2r5zFj1K1qj1ajtIt wasn’t until long after Irene’s death on Muir Island, at the hands of Legion, that the true nature of her relationship with Mystique was fleshed out and fully awknowledged. At Northstar’s wedding, Rogue would even make it a point to wonder if her childhood would’ve been different had her mothers been allowed to marry.

To date, Mystique has appeared in five of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films, portrayed by both Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence. While her questionable allegiances and motives are fairly true to her comic book counterpart, her sexuality has barely been touched upon (it was implied that she and Magneto had been schtupping).

X-Men: Days of Future Past is Bryan Singer’s return to mutant cinematic universe. Loosely based on the two-part Uncanny X-Men story of the same name, the basic premise sees Wolverine time-traveling back to the 1970s to prevent the birth of the Sentinel program by stopping the assassination of Bolivar Trask at the hands of Mystique. A glaring difference between the two depictions is that, while Mystique works alone in her attempts to murder Trask in the film, her entire Brotherhood, including Destiny, aims for the target (Sen. Robert Kelly) in the original storyline. In fact, Irene is the last member of the team to make an attempt on the Senator’s life.

While this may not seem like an enormous deal to most viewers, some fans could be left questioning whether or not Fox just fumbled a perfect opportunity to include LGBT representation into the X-Men cinematic universe.

Mystique scatters Destiny's ashes at sea. Destiny still gets the last word.

Mystique scatters Destiny’s ashes at sea. Destiny still gets the last word.

With the size of the cast already busting at the seams, it was quite clear that adding an entire Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was highly improbable from the start. Focusing on Mystique as an antagonist is not necessarily a bad idea. It helps establish a distinct development that was necessary to show how the character evolved, following the events of First Class, to become the woman we remember from X2.

With that in mind, including Irene Adler could still have easily worked in a different capacity and, with the amount of time that passed between First Class and Days of Future Past, the organic development of a relationship between Raven and Irene is not beyond the realm of plausibility. Not only would this have humanized the character of Mystique and allowed the audience to view her as more than just a mutant terrorist, it would have also added an extra layer to the motives behind her contentious actions throughout the series.

In essence, Days of Future Past, is a film about the “butterfly effect”. The slightest interactions by Wolverine and co. with the past can drastically and continuously alter the events of the future. The character of Destiny would have been an interesting liaison, of sorts, to the changes befalling the future timeline, randomly updating the characters as to their actions’ repercussions on the time stream.

1678700-brotherhood_of_evil_mutants_02Fox and the X-Men film franchise are not alone when it comes to lacking in LGBT representation. Despite a handful of gay/lesbian characters in its ranks, the Avengers have yet to really venture into that territory within their cinematic universe. Lesbian H.A.M.M.E.R./S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Victoria Hand, who was featured during Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure on Dark Avengers, appeared briefly in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series before being killed off after four episodes. Little development of the character was done before her subsequent demise and viewers would have no knowledge of her sexuality if they were unfamiliar with her comic book appearances.

With the number of LGBT comic book characters increasing, it seems, by the year, one can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the respective cinematic universes begin to follow suit. Including gay/lesbian diversity in these films is not a recipe for box office disaster and the throngs of queer fans at any number of comic book conventions can attest to that.

 

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Looking for Realism: Defending HBO’s “Looking”.

23 02 2014
(L to R) Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Álvarez

(L to R) Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Álvarez

If you’re not already familiar with HBO’s new series, Looking, I will assume one of two things about you… you’re either buried under a rock or you’re living a heterosexual lifestyle. I can’t judge you if you fall into the latter category. That’s your choice, afterall.

See what I did there? Sorry, I now digress…

Looking follows the lives of three gay friends in San Francisco as they search for love and their own identity in the City by the Bay. After five half-hour episodes, the show has received generally favorable reviews from critics who have praised both the unobnoxious use of humor and “authentic situations” that abound in the developing story.

Despite the overall critical acclaim, the show, itself, has proved polarizing with viewers. On one hand, you have folks who agree with critics the elements that make this series stand out from the pack of vapid television shows that have seemed to clog our airwaves over the past decade. The opposite end of the spectrum houses folks that have chosen to see the slow pace of the show as a negative aspect and even go so far as to frivilously whine about the lack of full frontal nudity and sex. If that latter complaint wasn’t shallow enough, some have even taken to denigrating the wardrobe choices of the main cast.

You don’t have to take my word as gospel. All one has to do is sign on to any number of gay blogs the morning after an episode airs to watch the lambasting comments unfurl.

To the viewers disparage the clothing, I am curious as to where you reside and if the gay community there is still trapped in the early 2000s. The Queer Eye laws of fashion that seemed to be etched into stone tablets during that time are not necessarily canon anymore. Areas like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Manhattan’s East Village are rife with gay men whose closets are stocked with vintage t-shirts, flannel button-downs, and skinny yet comfortable-looking jeans. They’re tattooed, bearded, and their look comes across as casual and effortless. If the wardrobe department of Looking was attempting to keep the authenticity regarding the physical appearance of San Francisco’s gay community, they hit the nail on the head. Sorry, nay-sayers, your argument for waxed bodies, manicured eyebrows, Prada loafers is invalid.

Russell Tovey

Russell Tovey

The disapproval of the way sex/nudity is handled on the show is worthy of nothing less than an eye-roll. The most common argument that has been tossed out on message boards is that other HBO shows, like Girls, don’t leave much up to the imagination when it comes to sex. This segment of viewers would do well with being reminded that just because two shows are on the same network, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they share any other similarities… or even SHOULD. Why should the merits of a television series rely so heavily on how hardcore the sex scenes are? With the episodes only being a half an hour long, we’ve still managed to see park cruising, a threesome, a bath house visit, a Grindr hookup. If you’re knickers are still in a twist over these scenes not being titillating enough, you may want to swap out this 30-minute time slot for another browse of XTube. It has all the uninhibited sex you could want without any of that pesky character development getting in the way.

With attention spans being as shot as they are today, “boring” and “slow” are other words that are thrown around when describing Looking. Apparently, there’s a segment of viewers who need over-the-top dramatics, toxic relationships, and insufferable characters on a television series in order to hold their attention. Looking is not Queer as Folk, Desperate Housewives, or any number of reality shows featuring wealthy (alleged) gold-diggers. The show doesn’t deal with a myriad of clichés that are often prevalent in any gay-themed visual medium (i.e. coming out of the closet, AIDS, etc.). It’s a show about a handful of men, who happen to be gay, living their lives. They go to work, they go on bad dates, and they spend time with friends. There’s no campy, dramatic crisis or standout villain. As monotonous and bland as that seems, that’s real life for a large segment of the community.

As much as many of us think we are as fabulous as Karen Walker or have lives that rival those of any random jet-setter, the truth is we don’t. The sooner that people realize that there’s nothing wrong with this fact, the sooner that shows like Looking will be appreciated for what they are instead of being eviscerated for what they aren’t.

 





The Gays vs. The Grammys.

27 01 2014

A friend from New York City posted the following status update this morning, “If only people would have as much courage to stand up to their enemies as vigorously as they try to rip apart their allies.” My feelings toward the social media commentary (from a particular segment of the population), regarding last night’s Grammy Awards, had been perfectly captured.

Ah, award shows. A time-honored tradition that I had pretty much written off once the music industry segued from recognizing the innovative in favor of the commercial (that’s an article for another day). With that said, I had very little interest in any aspect of the 2014 Grammy Awards until I came across a blurb about a scheduled performance of Macklemore’s marriage equality anthem, “Same Love.” The rendition was also set to feature the track’s collaborators, Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert, as well as Madonna and Queen Latifah (the latter would be the officiant during a mass wedding ceremony to take place during the performance).

Color me intrigued. The social and political ramifications following a live broadcast of over 30 couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) exchanging vows during a performance of an immensely successful and mainstream pop single were too tempting to ignore. I elected to rely on various social media feeds to recap the show and then tune in once the performance in question was about to begin.

Lorde

Lorde

My Facebook news feed is mainly comprised of the opinions and rantings of gay men that I’ve met over the years. Some I have known for over a decade. Others I have met in passing, once or twice. The one thing that we all have in common is that we are part of a community that has, unquestionably, been subjected to harassment, insults, inequality, and disparaging comments for as long as memory serves.

We are also more than just casually aware of the rising epidemic of teenage suicide due to an increase in both the brutality involved with bullying and new methods with which to do it… namely, social media.

After having my visual senses assaulted by a flood of vicious commentary aimed at various performers at last night’s ceremony, I am suggesting that some of these acquaintances in the gay community look up the word “hypocrisy” in the dictionary.

A large segment of last night’s cyber-vitriol was hurled towards the physical appearance of 17-year-old, Lorde. The New Zealand native is one of the indie-pop scene’s newest darlings and has even earned the praise of David Bowie (note to haters: all of her talent aside, just garnering the approval of Ziggy Stardust makes her better than you). I would like to reiterate the fact that she is a 17-year-old girl. A 17-year-old girl with a penchant for the arts. I would actually be critical if she was NOT taking the liberty of being creative with her wardrobe and makeup to express herself. What I found interesting about the abuse directed at Lorde was that it made me question how much, if any, of that would be aimed at the likes of Lady Gaga if she walked out onstage in a similar look.

Further insults flew in the direction of older musical legends like Willie Nelson, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and Carole King. Again, all based on physical appearances. I suppose this can be chalked up to the ignorance that many 20-something-year-old gays have when it comes to, not only the artistic merits of these accomplished individuals, but also their contributions to gay rights over the years. A simple Google search would reveal the very outspoken support for gay rights by both Nelson and Ono. Apparently, when an older generation of heterosexual music icons lend their voices against bigotry, they are thanked by being referred to as looking like a “redneck crackhead” or an “Oriental woman dancing like she’s having a seizure.”

"Same Love"

“Same Love”

I was especially surprised at some of the nasty references to both Madonna and Mary Lambert, two of the co-performers during “Same Love.” You would never guess that the gay community held these two women in any sort of esteem with gratitude for their support of marriage equality. Mary Lambert’s weight was an easy target for some as was Madonna’s cosmetic surgery and use of a cane due to a recent foot injury.

By the time “Same Love” came and went, any excitement I had for the performance had waned due to the sheer ugliness floating through cyberspace towards many folks who have had the community’s back when very few others did. Some of these individuals have done more for gay rights and AIDS awareness than most of us could ever attempt to do in our lifetime.

Most of the folks slinging these comments would, undoubtedly, claim they were just “joking around” and being “witty.” You know who else said they were “joking around”? The cretins who drove Jamey Rodemeyer and Tyler Clementi to suicide. Remind me how we are any better than them? And, no, the likelihood (or lack, thereof) of these celebrities committing suicide in the wake of cyber-bullying does not give people the proverbial “green light” to eviscerate them via the internet. That line of defense is so weak it would get you laughed off of a 9th grade debate team.

I would also like to point out that a key element in the definition of “witty” is “inventive.” None of the comments that I read last night were even remotely inventive. Instead, most were just cruel and shallow and did nothing but further perpetuate unfortunate stereotypes about the gay community.

The next time we are looking for support from the straight community against anti-gay politicians, bigots, or bullies, we should ask ourselves, “Why would they support us if this is how we show our appreciation?”





Editorial: The New World Order.

6 09 2013
BATWOMAN_25

Batwoman #25

The beautiful cover of the upcoming 25th issue of Batwoman (as drawn by J.H. Williams III) is just a little bit more ominous, if not foretelling, in light of yesterday’s news regarding the title’s creative team.

Twitter was ablaze since early yesterday morning with a barrage of furious tweets from comic book readers. The common denominator? A Batwoman hashtag. Thanks to a powerful combination of social media and the outrage of fans, DC Comics was about to experience a public relations nightmare… something that appears to be the latest trend from the publisher since the launch of The New 52.

To sum up the drama, editorial has once again driven a creative team to the point of abandoning the slowly sinking ship that is DC Comics. This time, the casualty was the creative team responsible for the monthly exploits of the fiery-haired socialite in a cowl, Kate Kane a.k.a. Batwoman. J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman released a joint statement regarding their voluntary departure from the Batwoman title in which they sited conflicts with editorial such as a demands to axe a planned origin story for Killer Croc and alter the planned ending for the current Batwoman vs. Batman arc.

Most notably, Williams and Blackman were also forbidden from ever depicting the wedding of Kate Kane and her long-time partner, Maggie Sawyer, on panel. While DC claims that this decision was not homophobic in nature, one has to wonder if they even bothered to consider how the prohibition of a wedding between two lesbian characters, regardless of the reason, would translate to readers… especially readers from the LGBT community.  

Many comic book marriages have been dissolved in the past (Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, Clark Kent and Lois Lane). Publishers usually chalk it up to the fact that marriage can often stump a character’s growth and limit future storytelling. This explanation could easily be applied to the Kate/Maggie wedding debacle. However, gay and lesbian fans were bound to take this as a slight against homosexuality and rightfully so. Society is finally just starting to slowly come around to the acceptance of same-sex marriage. Up to this point, marginalization and discrimiation has been commonplace and, sadly, still expected.

untitled

Over the past year, we’ve seen Robert Liefeld walk away from The Savage Hawkman. James Robinson cut ties with the publisher in the midst of his work on Earth 2. Gail Simone was fired via email from the Batgirl title (she was subsequently rehired after the news went viral and caused a massive internet backlash). All were attributed to the heavy hand of editorial.

At what point did editorial stop concentrating on the quality of the product and making sure story continuity flowed properly? When did they decide to start dictating what to write to the actual writers?To demand revisions and rewrites How long before “Edited By:” appears on the cover of each book in bold lettering and twice the font size as that used to designate the artists and writers… the actual talent behind the title?

Williams has stood by Batwoman since her days on Detective Comics. He soldiered on when Greg Rucka left the book in the wake of the launch ofThe New 52. It’s truly tragic that a man so talented and with such a passion for this character was given no other option than to bid farewell.





Actions Speak Louder Than Printed Words.

9 08 2013

If we have learned one thing from Orson Scott Card’s vocal bigotry against the LGBT community and the “Skip Ender’s Game” campaign (as launched by GeeksOUT), it is that a creator’s actions outside the scope of the work they are doing can, and WILL, effect said work regardless of the quality or merit of the finished product. From what I am told, Ender’s Game is quite a fantastic piece of literature and judging by the names attached to the cinematic adaptation, it stands to reason that the film will be quite a sci-fi spectacle as well. Thanks to Card’s deplorable, dehumanizing, and very public attitude towards a segment of the population, I won’t be shelling out my hard-earned gay money to help line his pockets.

With that being said, at what point do we, as a niche market (the LGBT community being an even smaller niche within that niche), separate the art from the artist? Is it even possible to do so when the artist chooses to squawk his reprehensible opinions in a manner such as Card’s? Representatives from Lionsgate Entertainment as well as members of the cast and production have stated that the film “should be judged on its message, not the personal beliefs of the author” and that Card’s views are “completely irrelevant” to the film adaptation.

My apologies to everyone involved in the production of Ender’s Game, but that is far easier said than done. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, however despicable they may be, there are always consequences to airing them out like so much dirty laundry and, unfortunately for Mr. Card and Lionsgate, they are seeing this firsthand.  

Separate the art from the artist. Sorry, it can’t be done… not completely… not 100%.

Meeting Gail Simone at Emerald City Comic Con 2013

Gail Simone at Emerald City Comic Con 2013

It’s a two-way street, however. For every one Orson Scott Card who has been shamed for his unpopular opinions and less-than-respectable character, there are plenty of artists who not only respect but appreciate their fans for their support. They are humble and excited to meet and talk with you. They are Marjorie Liu at Comicopia, Gail Simone at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Marc and Bridget Silvestri playing with Will’s kids at Niagara Falls Comic Con, and Phil Jimenez excitedly joking about a Roulette/Danielle Moonstar miniseries involving a Las Vegas casino, a stripper pole, and free-flowing alcohol. 

These are the artists who will benefit from a fan’s inability to completely separate the art from the artist. These are the writers who will the focal points of stories that begin with “Remember how awesome it was to meet so-and-so?” and they are the creators whose new book might sell an extra copy to a fan they gave a hug to at a signing. 

Orson Scott Card will undoubtedly be playing the victim angle for the foreseeable future, especially if the box office sales for Ender’s Game are as low as his respect for cultural diversity. He would do well to remember that this PR catastrophe was his own doing and he is the cause for his art’s suffering. 

Like it or not, there is no undoing the connection between the art and the artist. Not only is that fine with me as a consumer but I am sure it is also fine with all those writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, etc. whose wonderful personalities and character help their art flourish and succeed. And to those artists, we thank you… wholeheartedly.