So Batman is gay. Well, maybe.
The comic book world freaked out today because Dan DiDio, the head of DC Comics, now says that in June his company is going to turn one of the publisher’s big, legacy characters gay.
For people who don’t follow these things (read: normal, well-adjusted adults) Dan DiDio took over DC Comics in 2006 and drove the company into disarray. Sales were down. The company’s flagship characters were in books nobody bought. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, none of the DC characters were successfully being brought to movie screens—which is, at this point, the primary business mission for comic book publishers.
After six years of DiDio’s management, the company believed that it was so creatively bankrupt that it had to cancel every single title it owned. And then re-imagine—and re-launch—the entire brand. Imagine New Coke, if Coke was the only product the Coca-Cola company owned in 1985.
Comic book nerds were pretty worked up about all of this, but the mainstream press was thrilled. They don’t normally pay much attention to comics, but DiDio got places like the New York Times to smile upon DC because he promised that, as part of the re-imagining, DC was going to the diversity woodshed. The New DC would have more minorities. And homosexuals. And drunks. And drunk, minority, homosexuals. (I’m kidding—but only about the alcoholism.) The Times, and other organs of polite society who otherwise couldn’t care less about comic books, loved it.
To DiDio’s credit, the New DC series sold like gangbusters. At first, anyway. After four months, a bunch of the new titles were canceled when their sales cratered. (Fittingly, one of these was the book DiDio wrote himself.) And now, nine months into the New DC, sales are, well, a mixed bag. A year ago, only one DC title sold more than 75,000 copies. Today, five of them do. Which is a big improvement. But as a whole, the line isn’t in all that much better shape. A year ago, DC had 12 of the top 30 titles; today they have 14 of the top 30. And ever since they re-launched, the overall direction of DC sales has been downward. By the time the first anniversary of the New DC rolls around this September, their share of the market could well be below what it was before the re-launch.
All of which leads us to DiDio’s latest stunt—the announcement that some major character is going to come out. The reason people have fixated on Batman (aside from the legacy of Adam West) is that, a few weeks ago, DC writer Grant Morrison told Playboy:
[Batman is] very plutonian in the sense that he's wealthy and also in the sense that he's sexually deviant. Gayness is built into Batman. I'm not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay. There's just no denying it.
Put the two statements together and—POW!—Batman’s gay.
For whatever it’s worth, I suspect that Batman will not be the hero DC conjures from the closet. Not because the decision would be absolutely antithetical to the entire idea of Batman as secular monk. (Which is to say, that it would absolutely be ludicrous in terms of character; but DiDio is not concerned with such things.) But because the New DC has invested quite of lot in the idea of Batman carrying on a highly sexualized affair with Catwoman in another of their titles. (DiDio believed it would be the height of subversion to show Batman and Catwoman totally doing it! Such are DC’s attempts to épater le bourgeois.)
So who will the new gay superhero be? Who knows. It could be Aquaman. He’s royalty, if you know what I mean. Plus, back in the ’80s, when it was pejorative, and not descriptive, basically everyone called him gay. It could be Robin—that would scratch a bunch of cultural itches and, because there is no Robin in the Nolanverse, keep Time-Warner from getting too nervous. It could be the Flash, he’s so fastidious. It could be Green Lantern, because if it goes over poorly, you can always kill him off and use another Lantern.
But really, who cares? The New DC is already a creative failure. It looks like it’s going to wind up a business failure, too. And as a piece of social activism? This morning Marvel announced that their big homosexual character, Northstar, will get gay married—interracially gay married!—in June’s issue of Astonishing X-Men. So even in the contest for transparently commercial attempts at cultural relevance, DC is a already loser, too.