This article recently appeared in the Summer issue of GAYDAR magazine.

Flame On! art by Brian Biggs

[the above link is to the art that appeared with thisFlame On! illustration by Brian Biggs
piece by the fantastic Brian Biggs]


Gay Culture, Straight Culture and Geek Culture or, Just how did so much chocolate get in my peanut butter?

The FANTASTIC FOUR! Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, a man so malleable he can stretch his body into nearly any shape imaginable! Oh my! Ben Grimm, the super strong, rock hard (literally) Thing – whose favorite expression is, “It’s clobberin’ time!? Oh, do go on. Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Woman. Every gay man’s fantasy! And last, but never least, the red hot Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, a young, blonde, single – dare I say – hottie, who actually says “Flame on!? before self immolating and flying away like a Calvin Klein Jean model shot out of a cannon. Now I don’t know what you think of as gay, but…

Ok, stop. I’ve had my fun and there’s more where that came from, but I think we need step back a second.

There is no easy way to explain what this piece is without explaining in brief how it was solicited. I was sitting in my coffee shop, minding my own business, when the editor said to me, “Why don’t you write something for us?? At first I thought he was joking, but before I could follow-up with, “What do I have to say to the readers of Gaydar?,? he said, “C’mon, I know how your mind works!?

Bent. Twisted. Somewhat askew, is what I think he was implying. I said I would think about it.

Thirty minutes later I wandered back to his table and said “Ok, of the four men at this table, how many read super-hero comics when we were kids?? We all had. “How many read Fantastic Four?? We all had. Now, bonus round question, and keep in mind this was asked in early February, months before the big media push, “How many of us had seen the trailer for the Fantastic Four movie coming out? Did he say “coming out?? Yes, and he said “big push? also, now shut up. And we all had. At the time, this meant we were probably downloading the preview from the Internet. There are worse things to do with a broadband connection.

So, the question in my mind was, is this a straight thing? A gay thing? A comic geek thing? Who is borrowing what from whom? Who is inspiring what? Is there gay intent or is it all innuendo after the fact? Where does all this come from? Does anybody care? Well, oddly enough I found I did care, and the more I looked at it the more I found there was to look at.

What’s he on about? Goddamnit, get back to talking about shooting models out of a cannon! The point is, it doesn’t matter what part of the rainbow of human sexuality this magazine tries to represent, if you are reading this, you were probably raised in the same culture as I was. American Pop culture. And there the damage and mutation begins.

You see Culture doesn’t start out as “straight? culture or “gay? culture. It’s just culture, and you’re soaking in it Marge. We’re like those leather beasts, the Borg on Star Trek – we want to assimilate whatever is around and make it useful to our needs. A friend reminded me of an anthropology phrase – the low hanging fruit metaphor – whereby we take what is easiest for us to grasp and use it to suit our own needs. I said “it’s all about fruits with you, isn’t it?? Nevertheless, if you’re a kid and you were brought up in America, after television, toys and the movies, comic books and super-heroes was one of those things claiming your attention.

Before we ever had to think about sex or sexual orientation we had already been exposed to these characters. And just what sort of characters are we really talking about here? Are these the role models of future generations of Ozzy and Harriet? I think not.

Outsiders? Oh, we have a boatload. Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are all orphans, for starters. Know anybody who’s gay and from a broken home? Why the hell not identify with a “strange visitor from another planet?? Hell, yes.

Spider-Man? Sure he’s with Mary Jane Watson now, but for ten years he lived with his Aunt May and he was as likely to get shoved into a locker by local jock Flash Thompson as battle a super-villain. Any suppressed childhood memories? Sorry, but these stories work for a reason and the reason isn’t always Doctor Octopus. Never mind your fantasies about men with four extra arms.

Batman is really too easy a target. People have been cracking wise about Robin, the Boy Wonder since the 1940’s and there is no end, ahem, in sight. Just a few months back when the knee-jerk homophobes went after Sponge Bob Square Pants and Patrick as being a same sex couple – and time out right there – if you’re worried about same sex, consider for a moment that they’re different species and phylum with some fairly alien methods of reproduction, and then the gender problems kind of fall by the wayside. Nevertheless, The New Yorker had a cartoon for Valentine’s Day with Sponge Bob holding up a envelope and saying, “it’s from Batman and Robin, they always send such nice cards.? Apparently even folks at that aging madame of periodicals knew when to wink and get into the act. Batman’s always been a target for this kind of humor. Living alone with his butler, he brings it on himself. Hell, his other inspiration, besides the bat, was Zorro. Good old Don Diego. He has a secret hideout in a cave, acts out as a fop by day, and masked avenger by night. Could we possibly be more closeted?

And speaking of closeted, I have a friend, Rodrigo, who has a theory about the Uncanny X-Men. He thinks the X-Men and Professor Xavier’s college for mutants learning to “control? their powers are the closeted mutants, and Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants trying to run the world represent all the “outed? militant homosexuals. Understand, I don’t think that’s what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had in mind when they came up with these characters in the early 1960’s, but who am I to ruin his fun. He also thinks all the female villains in Marvel comics after 1980 or so look like drag queens who aren’t trying hard enough, but that’s somebody else’s treatise.

Then you have Wonder Woman, who was kicked off her own island by her fellow Amazonians and is given ropes and bracelets to cope with the outside world. Show me forty years of Wonder Woman comics and I’ll show you four decades of Amazonians tied to chairs and strapped to tables. They might as well have sold ball gags and handcuffs on the same page as the Sea Monkeys while they were at it.

Bruce Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk, is a total dweeb. Puny Banner! This guy was wailed on by his father and now has world-class anger management issues. Does this remind us of anybody we know?

The Punisher. Puh-lease. Big guns, leather and Kevlar, and he wears a big skull on his chest. I mean if The Village People had a Pete Best, this guy would be it. Compensate much?

These are just the comics. When I mentioned the Sponge Bob fiasco to a friend he came back with, “what about Jonny Quest and Hadji?? This admittedly gave me pause as I had not thought about these two jet-setting Hardy Boys in this way and I finally fired back with “As for Jonny and Hadji, well, Dr. Quest’s son might have let Hadji help him rub one out behind the hydro-foil in exchange for saving him from nazis, frogmen and Komodo Dragons, but I think the Quest’s were more about preventing manumission in the case of Hadji than encouraging homo-erotic miscegenation and nocturnal emissions. That’s my theory anyway.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all spin and I’m delusional. But I don’t believe it. A busload of Americans went to see Spider-Man 2 last year. And some mysterious percentage of that demographic saw Spider-Man standing in an elevator, being given a full head-to-toe “What’s-he-got-in-those-leotards?? by some guy. Then we said, “Hey! That’s Hal Sparks, who plays Michael the comic shop owner from Queer As Folk!? There are no accidents, my friends.

So this summer, we’ll all go see Christian Bale in the new Batman franchise and we’ll see Julian MacMahon, that Australian beefcake from Nip/Tuck, as Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four. Maybe we’ll identify with Ben Grimm, The Thing, the outcast who is afraid he is unfit to be loved, or even be seen out of doors, for that matter. Or maybe we’ll just wish we could get it on with someone wearing spandex with a team logo made out of unstable molecules. I couldn’t make that little detail up. Still, we’ll all be hoping, in between all the CGI “gosh-wow? special effects, to be shown someone with whom we can identify. Two hours of flaws, costumes, mutation and masks, for sure. But beyond all that, we’ll be looking for a little bit of ourselves.

– Barney Dannelke [March 01, 2005]