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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Superhero Now: Sexuality on the big screen

DIANA LI / AGGIE
DIANA LI / AGGIE

After watching Deadpool on Valentine’s Day weekend, my friends and I discussed the movie after leaving the theater. Out of my friend group, only one person other than myself had read Deadpool comics in our scarce free time, and we were interested in the film’s portrayal of Deadpool’s sexuality. Our other friends did not know that Deadpool identifies as pansexual — a person attracted to another individual regardless of their sex or gender identity. We pointed out the many references to his sexuality, such as his concern with Wolverine’s manhood, blowjobs (the drink) and his flirtatious comment to a male cab driver. But why didn’t they notice these sly and relatively well-thought out references? Was it because Deadpool didn’t enter a relationship with another male? That many people assume a superhero to be monosexual despite numerous hints suggesting otherwise often erases a part of their identity.

Statistically, it’s more likely for an individual to be straight, especially in comic books. However, much like today’s diverse world, queer superheroes do exist, even if they are less visible.

The first well-known out superhero was Marvel Comics’s Northstar, in 1992. Two decades later, in issue #50 of the Astonishing X-Men, Northstar married his boyfriend Kyle in the first same-sex marriage in mainstream comics. Since then, queer superheroes’ sexualities have been revealed more and more commonly. Sometimes, the creators and artists make it explicit in the comic and other times the creators and artists reveal the fact in interviews or panels.

Let’s use a favorite couple of mine to illustrate why queer visibility in comics is so important. Marvel’s series Young Avengers has teammates Wiccan and Hulkling in a same-sex relationship. Not only does the portrayal of queer characters in mainstream media teach its audience that being queer is okay and validates individual identities, but it also makes for a better portrayal of the world we live in today. Wiccan and Hulkling’s relationship does not define either of their individual characters or roles in the story. Their relationship and their sexuality are merely one facet of their unique and individual characteristics, much like real people today.

Obviously, these portrayals of same-sex relationships are a great step forward in the right direction.

However, there exists a large disparity in the portrayal of superheroes that are queer, but not gay or lesbian. When characters fall out of these categories, their sexual identities are either erased, forcing them into heterosexual relationships, or they are just not featured in larger works or films at all.

For example, DC’s Catwoman is a bisexual woman, yet her desire for women is hardly apparent in the comics. On the other hand, Marvel’s Loki expresses gender fluidity and bisexuality more visibly in the comics but on screen is portrayed as a rather flirtatious and mischievous character — fitting for the God of Mischief. Deadpool, who is portrayed frequently in a relationship with a woman, faces a similar problem to Loki’s. All of these superheroes face the issue that their complex individual identities are not explored to the point where we can see them enter all types of relationships that they could potentially enter.

Obviously, it seems that there isn’t a problem with the number of superheroes that are queer. There are superheroes across the entire spectrum of gender identity and sexuality that I am unable to mention due to this column’s word limit. The issue lies in the fact that queer superheroes are not brought into the larger works and films that get the most national and global attention.

The largest impediment to this issue, however, is not the fans. Marvel, for one, has not been able to transfer the diversity of their print comics to the screen. The company is reportedly working on a Deadpool sequel, and many people, myself included, would love to see Deadpool get with a guy at least once. In an interview published on Salon, Ryan Reynolds, who portrays Deadpool, said “I certainly wouldn’t be the guy standing in the way of that.” Only time will tell if Hollywood and Marvel are ready and willing to handle portraying Deadpool’s pansexuality more overtly in the sequel.

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