In With Great Power:The Stan Lee Story, Stan Lee says, “In X-Men, I guess my intention was to show that the world never fully tolerates people who are different.” The comic books and all the media surrounding them, in the form of movies, animated television shows and films has been carrying that message to generations of readers and viewers ever since 1963. But just in case it wasn’t loud and clear, we now have a little bit of life imitating art to remind us that intolerance is alive and well in the world around us. Enter the Florida Family Association, led by David Caton versus Astonishing X-Men, published by Marvel.
In the courtroom of this article, the defendants: Astonishing X-Men, Marvel Comics and their parent company Disney, will be represented by me, Nicole Rivera; the plaintiffs: the Florida Family Association (FFA) and David Caton, will be represented by their statement.
Marvel’s First Move And Motivation (Scene of The Crime)
On June 27, 2012 Astonishing X-Men #51 hit shelves in comic book shops everywhere (read the Word of the Nerd review of the issue). While it could have been seen as another ordinary Wednesday pull, this particular issue caught the attention of the media, whole. Why? Well, Jean-Paul Beaubier, known as Northstar of the X-Men, married his long time partner, Kyle Jinadu, thereby marking the first ever same-sex marriage to take place in a comic book publication. Marvel Comics’ editor-in-chief Axel Alonso described the motivation for the story as the following, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine:
When gay marriage became legal in New York State, it raised obvious questions since most of our heroes reside in New York State. Northstar is the first openly gay character in comics and he’s been in a longterm relationship with his partner Kyle so the big question was – how would this change his relationship? Our comics are always best when they respond to and reflect developments in the real world. We’ve been doing that for decades, and this is just the latest expression of that.
Some people seem to forget that, as fantastic and other-worldly as many of our comic book superheroes are, they are typically grounded in a basis of reality in order to make them relate-able, understandable and relevant. Northstar married his long time partner because many gay New Yorkers are now marrying their long-term partners since they are finally able to do so. End of story. Happily ever after. The end.
The Variant Cover Argument (First Accusation)
According to the Florida Family Association, there was a completely different tactic at work here. They claim:
This Marvel comic strip encourages children to fantasize about homosexual union by having their own mock same-sex wedding. The Marvel web page states “‘Create Your Own Wedding’ blank variant cover! Select comic book retailers nationwide will host wedding parties at their stores to celebrate this joyous occasion…
Here’s the variant cover in question:
Let’s examine the possibilities present: I could draw a same sex couple in the empty box there, but I could just as easily draw my husband and me, or even me and my friends. If we look at all the other “examples” that are provided on this cover, all of those options are represented, with 80% of them being heterosexual couples. Yes, Marvel left open space for the reader to use for themselves – even to fantasize, I won’t argue that – but there is no implication either on the cover nor in the statement advertising it, that suggests the wedding to be envisioned must be same-sex.
What About The Children? (Second Accusation)
The Florida Family Association seems to be particularly concerned with Marvel Comics’, and their parent company Disney’s, attempt to target children right beneath their parents’ noses. In their statement they had the following to say:
It is shameful that two companies like Marvel and Disney would deliberately create a superhero homosexual wedding for our children to embrace.
These companies should show more respect to the overwhelming majority of families who do not want their children targeted with immoral social propaganda through comics.
Warren Pawlowski, online publishing manager and analyst in the Trade Books Group for Simba Information, a media and publishing market intelligence group, thinks there’s a misconception about this portion of the publishing industry that needs to be examined:
Despite notable efforts from many in the industry, comics and graphic novels continue to be repeatedly mislabeled as just another children’s book category. With nearly a quarter of the comic reading audience beyond the age of retirement, there is a misconception that needs to be corrected.
I think it is safe to say that children were never “targeted” in this campaign, but don’t take my word for it. Gerry Gladston CMO/CLO from Midtown Comics, the largest comic book store in the United States, had this to say in an e-mail to fellow staff writer on Word of the Nerd, Mark Driscoll:
Astonishing X-Men is not a title that’s targeted (or widely purchased and read) to young readers, so the protestors are clearly misguided. I agree with the findings of Simba Information, and comic books in general are indeed most widely read by adults nowadays, as kids have long since turned their attention to electronic stimuli, and I would imagine that the protestors are oblivious to this as well. We’ve sold lots of copies of Astonishing X-Men #51, including the “create your own wedding” cover, though I can’t disclose the actual number. I would imagine that very few were sold to children, but again, I don’t have a number.
I guess comic books just aren’t shiny enough for kids these days.
The E-mail (Retaliation)
Finally, in wrapping up their statement, the Florida Family Association solicited a call to action in the form of an e-mail to be sent “to Disney and Marvel officials plus several comic retailers.” The content of the e-mail is as follows:
Marvel’s X-Men #51 comic issue has crossed the line by attempting to legitimize same-sex marriage and asking kids to fantasize about their own homosexual wedding.
It is shameful that two companies like Marvel and Disney would deliberately create a superhero homosexual wedding for our children to embrace and mimic.
PLEASE have more respect for the overwhelming majority of families who do not want their children targeted with immoral propaganda through comics.
My family and I urge your company to pull X-Men #51 from sale.
I look forward to your response.
Midtown Comics is one of those comic retailers on the list. Gerry Gladston’s frustration is palpable in his statement about the e-mail campaign:
We have received some e-mails from numerous numskull Neanderthals who would like us all to believe that they are great in number, but of course, all of the e-mails are the same, consisting of the same message, copied and pasted. I don’t know how many e-mails we’ve received, since they all go to our spam filters, but I would guess perhaps up to 200-300.
(Hopefully this is a representative sample of the entire campaign. If so, the X-Men are sure to take the day!)
Whether the campaign is effective or not, there is only one point raised in their e-mail that has not already been addressed in this article, and I simply cannot ignore it: the claim that Marvel “crossed the line by attempting to legitimize same-sex marriage.” This statement is giving too much credit to Marvel and Astonishing X-Men #51, they did not legitimize same-sex marriage, this did:
The characters in Astonishing X-Men #51 were in the state of New York, the largest state in the US to make gay marriage legal. They weren’t the first same-sex couple to get married in New York, they were just the first comic book characters to do so.
I am fully aware that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and that not everyone agrees with gay marriage. It’s part of our reality. Marvel has an excellent handle on that as well, according to editor-in-chief Axel Alonso,
“Let me make it clear – this story begins with a marriage, but it ain’t over with the marriage. We’d be doing the story a disservice not to reflect the controversy around it. While a lot of Marvel Universe characters will be attending Northstar’s wedding, not everyone is going to accept the invitation and not everyone is going to accept the validity of Northstar’s vows. At least one of Northstar’s team members is going to turn down the invitation, and that’s going to make for an interesting dynamic.
When writer of the Astonishing X-Men #51, Marjorie Liu, was asked about characters uncomfortable with the marriage in an interview with ComicBookResources she said:
One of those characters in particular won’t be comfortable, for cultural reasons. It was important to do this because we wanted to show a balanced, realistic perspective — in the sense that, no matter what our personal beliefs are on the issue of gay marriage, it’s not universally accepted. But we all still need to learn how to accept one another, despite our disagreements, and do so with open hearts.
No one at Marvel, Disney or in any comic shops that I know of is doing anything to try to influence anyone’s sexual preference. They’re writing books, producing entertainment and selling it to a public that can choose to buy something else. In their artistic endeavors they strive to keep their work relevant by steeping it within the real world their readers live in. In that real world there are an infinite number of different kinds of people.
Stan Lee said that his intention with the creation of the X-Men – a group a superheroes that were merely born different – was to show that the world never fully tolerates different people. I wonder if he knew we’d still be fighting that same fight nearly fifty years later.