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The new, bisexual superman edited over homophobic commentary from the internet. Via Varun Biddanda.

What's The Deal With Truth, Justice, and The American Way?

Written by
Varun Biddanda
and
and
November 20, 2021

Content Warning: This article discusses homophobic comments and attitudes.

What's The Deal With Truth, Justice, and The American Way?
The new, bisexual superman edited over homophobic commentary from the internet. Via Varun Biddanda.

Comic book media is more popular than ever - and comic books themselves simply can’t compete. While TV and movie adaptations of comic book characters pull in hundreds of millions of dollars every year, the average comic book from a major publisher rarely manages to sell more than 100,000 copies. Thus, it’s not often that the goings-on in comic books tend to hit mainstream media unless something mind-bogglingly flabbergasting manages to make its way past the editorial team... something like Superman dying (which has canonically happened a few times already). Or Captain America outing himself to be an actual Nazi. Or a look at Batman’s junk. Or some embarrassing details about Catwoman’s sex life. So when I heard that social media was in a tizzy over something from a Superman comic, I was prepared to read the literary equivalent of being punched in the gut. Instead, I was amazed to find out that nerds around the world were throwing a huge tantrum on social media after finding out that Jonathan Kent, the current holder of the “Superman” moniker, came out as bisexual.

Intense bigotry surrounding pop culture is hardly surprising - it most recently happened prior to the release of Marvel’s Eternals, which got review bombed on IMDb following news that it would briefly feature a homosexual relationship. I was more surprised that this vitriol was surrounding a comic book, particularly one from DC Comics. Jonathan Kent is far from the first major LGBTQIA+ character in the DC comics universe. In fact, he’s a very small part of a long, long list of bisexual characters introduced in DC media- a list which includes prolific characters such as Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Tim Drake (formerly Robin) and Catwoman. However, Jon’s coming out story is the first one to provoke such intense ire. Why? Where does this story come from? And is it any good?

In Superman: Son of Kal-El (written by Tom Taylor), Clark Kent, the traditional holder of the “Superman” title, passes the baton to his son, 17-year-old Jonathan Kent, in order to deal with pressing off-world matters. This new series aims to portray a younger, more idealistic Superman trying to follow in the footsteps of his father and dealing with more smaller-scale problems than you’d typically see the original Man of Steel take part in. Instead of spending his debut series punching the hell out of planet-ending threats like Mongul and Darkseid, we watch Jon as he chaperones a group of asylum seekers safely into the U.S., learns the ropes of investigative journalism so that he can take down a supervillain without super-strength and tries to maintain his cover as a mild-mannered college student in an attempt to get a taste of normal life. 

Jim Lee, the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, has made it clear from the get-go that Jonathan Kent is a Superman for a new age - Superman’s motto, “Truth, justice and the American way” has now been updated to “Truth, justice and a better tomorrow," moving Superman away from his roots as a symbol of American propaganda, and towards a more inclusive future. Following up with this, writer Tom Taylor announced that his new Superman series would “stand for something more,” and revealed that Jon would fall for Jay Nakamura, a journalist and activist, as a part of DC’s National Coming Out Day event. 

“The idea of replacing Clark Kent with another straight white saviour felt like a missed opportunity,” said Taylor in an interview with The New York Times. "[Superman] had to have new fights — real-world problems — that he could stand up to as one of the most powerful people in the world." 

To say that the response to DC’s decision has been predominantly negative would be ingenuine of me. Most of the outcry is now buried under happy replies from queer folk who feel thrilled to be represented by one of the most popular comic book characters in the world. But scroll down long enough, and you’ll be sure to find remnants of a flamewar, usually from faceless netizens that lack the courage to attach an identity to their bigotry. Combing through the social media outrage, one finds several cries of the same, stale, icy-cold takes we’ve been hearing for years now whenever any kind of representation makes its way into a piece of popular media…“Get woke, go broke!”, “SJWs [Social Justice Warriors] have ruined our childhoods!”, “Will the gay-communist-liberal agenda ever draw the line?!”, “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”

[gif source: The Simpsons: “Much Apu About Nothing”, S7 E23]

To me, the most interesting thing about this outrage is that these conversations are always started around innocent and fleeting depictions of intimacy between two men, which was also seen with the reactions to Marvel’s Eternals. Intimacy between two women evokes little to no outrage -- Harley Quinn’s infamous relationship with Poison Ivy has been depicted in comic books, graphic novels and TV alike for over a decade. The same can be said for Wonder Woman, another one of DC’s flagship characters, who was revealed to be in a relationship with one of her fellow Amazons back in 2016. It really makes one think -- do these people only give a pass to queer relationships when they can get off on it? 

And I’m always amused by how people still find ways to bring up the Helen Lovejoy rhetoric like it’s still the ‘60s. The era of comic book media being considered “kids-only” entertainment is long gone - in fact, a demographic analysis of comic book buyers in 2017 found that the majority of shoppers at comic book stores were men aged between 30-50. Comic books are free to feature nudity, sex, and the most extreme gore - DC is no stranger to having their own heroes be shot, stabbed, impaled and even (content warning) chopped up into pieces. But no, an innocent embrace between two teenagers is WAY too far. 

Passionate anti-homophobia rant aside, how good was the actual comic book that got this whole debate started? Personally, I enjoyed it!

I’ve always been of the opinion that comic books suffer heavily from event fatigue - a phenomenon where the editorial team creates massive crossover events that each claim to “forever change the status quo.” In moderation, they’re okay, but in quick succession, they’re a slog to keep up with. Let’s take a look at the Batman comics to illustrate what I mean; the stakes never got higher after The Riddler took over all of Gotham City in the Zero Year event (2011)! Except when he took over all of Gotham City again alongside The Joker in 2017. And that’s not counting when Bane took over all of Gotham City in the City of Bane event (2020). Oh, don’t forget that time The Joker took over all of Gotham City again in Joker War (also in 2020). And also…well, you get the picture. When comic books aren’t relying on events to draw in viewers, they tend to kill off characters to generate buzz (Flash fact! Every character to canonically hold the title of Batman’s protege “Robin” has also died and come back to life). Jon himself has not been spared by the wrath of the editorial team - in 2019, the DC editorial team aged him up from 10 to 17 in order to hastily push him into a relationship with Saturn Girl, but when this pairing was met with indifference from the fans, their relationship was quietly swept under the rug. 

Thankfully, this new comic appears to be bereft of the aforementioned flaws. Regardless of whether or not Jon and Jay’s relationship is an editorial decision or a creative one, Tom Taylor's Superman: Son of Kal-El is an impressively fresh and original take on a hero that’s been through countless iterations since his introduction more than 80 years ago. Taylor has always excelled in writing heartfelt, character-driven stories amid large-scale conflicts, as seen in his Injustice: Gods Among Us tie-in comic, as well as his zombie epic DCeased. A more down-to-earth Superman tackling modern problems as opposed to facing over-the-top, world-ending stakes nearly every week feels like the breath of fresh air that Superman comics have needed for years. It shows that even without the “American way” being part of his identity, this Superman is still everything a Superman should be.

So the next time you see nerds and boomers on social media throwing a fit over some utterly benign pop culture tidbit, maybe turn a deaf ear to their cries and give whatever they’re whining about a chance. Maybe whatever they’re crying about will bring a smile to your face. I know it worked for me.

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How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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