DC Comics recently revealed a plot twist for its new Superman comic books: He’s bisexual. Jon Kent is the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and he falls in love with a male reporter. Many fans have said a leading queer character is a welcome and long-overdue addition. But it’s strange that Superman was ever straight in the first place, according to writer and advice columnist John Paul Brammer.
“When talking about aliens, for example, we've always mapped human features, human sexuality onto them, which is kind of weird to do with aliens,” Brammer tells KCRW. “It's kind of funny that Superman, who hails from planet Krypton, happens to be heterosexual, happens to look a whole lot like a European. I don't think he should have had a kind of human sexuality.”
He says in the past, comic writers have limited themselves to already-existing tropes. He argues: Why not use the imagination and bring representation in new and exciting ways?
“It is a really big deal when you move in a different direction. And you take someone like Superman, who's supposed to represent sort of like the paragon of what a man should be, and you change [his] sexuality a little bit.”
Although making the son of the original Superman isn’t groundbreaking, Brammer says it's a good first step to providing bisexual representation in a medium where it’s so limited already.
Why LGBTQ people can see themselves in comics
Brammer argues that queer people can often easily relate to superhero characters due to the themes of having a secret identity or feeling like an outsider.
“Anywhere you find people who are kind of ostracized for their interests, or who have had to form little communities on the fringes of what we would consider the dominant culture, you're going to find a lot of symmetry with the LGBT experience.”
But because of a lack of representation in comics, queer readers have always been forced to read between the lines in finding relatable characters. For example, some gay men refer to Batman’s sidekick, Robin, as their sexual awakening, Brammer points out. And in August 2021, Tim Drake, the third person to take on the mantle of Robin, came out as bisexual.
“We've always had to kind of read ourselves into it with subtext. We've never really had a whole lot of explicit text that is dedicated to saying, ‘Yes, this character is gay. This character is bi, etc.’ And I think you're only recently seeing things like that. We've had LGBT characters in comics before, but never to the extent we have now, and it's still not a whole lot, but it's still a very welcome sign.”
But even though there are characters who are coming out, it’s not the time to applaud comic book writers just yet because representation isn’t adequate in the books.
The power of fiction (shouldn’t be limited)
Brammer says because writers are creating fictional worlds, it’s possible to break the already-existing character molds.
“We're dealing with a fictional universe where we can dream big. We can think big. And within the confines of that prompt, we haven't done as much as we could have,” he says. “We are still very much restricting ourselves to the world around us when I think we could maybe look to the stars and dream even bigger.”
He even challenges creators to do the extraordinary: “Don't restrict yourself to just what you've been served up time and time again, when you have the opportunity to do something cool. Do something that could really chart a new path, that could really bring people into the scripts and into the texts that have previously been excluded. Because if the sky's the limit, then that's where we should go.”