I’ve been reading comics for most of my life. In that time, I’ve seen many major upheavals and big events. A few of them even made mainstream news. I still remember how big it was when the Death of Superman first came out. That event made for some big headlines and its effect on the comic book industry is still felt today.
At the same time, reading comics for so long has given me a knack for sensing when an event will make mainstream news. It has also helped me get a feel for the kind of reaction it’ll get from those who don’t follow comics that closely. As a result, their reaction tends to be somewhat misguided.
With that in mind, I’d like to talk about Superman coming out as bisexual, a big reveal that made national headlines earlier this week. When I saw this, I was temped to post my immediate reaction. However, I held off because I suspected the oncoming storm of outrage would obscure any sentiment or point I made.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for some of that outrage to take hold.
Plenty of reactionaries whined about it for plenty of non-surprising reasons, ranging from your traditional anti-LGBTQ whining from religious zealots to people who just whine about comics becoming “political.” I put “political” in quotes because by political, it usually denotes “politics I don’t like.” It’s still just whining at the end of the day.
For me, personally, I’m all for this. I love that DC Comics is doing this with one of their characters. It’s something that I think fits the spirit and principles of Superman. He is someone who has love, compassion, and understanding for all. He saves men, women, and everything in between. His capacity for connecting with others knows no gender or preference. That’s what makes him Superman.
That being said, there is some important context to add to this. If you just read the mainstream headlines, you might get the wrong idea. For the most balanced take, I recommend the following NPR piece. It nicely sums up what’s going on here.
By now you’ve likely heard.
He’s queer now.
Yep: Superman, Champion of the Oppressed, the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the Last Son of Krypton, the Big Blue Boy Scout, Mr. Not-A-Bird-Nor-A-Plane Himself.
Queer. All of a sudden.
And at 83 years old, no less! Bless his heart.
But that’s not what’s happening here. Comics being comics, the truth is a lot more granular.
We’re not talking about the classic, original-recipe Clark Kent/Kal-El Superman that’s been around since the June 1938 issue of Action Comics #1 first hit the stands. It’s not the Superman who’s infiltrated the global zeitgeist to become a part of our collective consciousness via comics, serials, radio, television, film, toys, roller coasters and the bedsheets I got for Christmas 1979.
No, it’s his son, Jonathan Kent. Whose precise backstory in the comics has been so ruthlessly pummeled by a series of reboots, retcons, space missions, time-travel and rapid aging as to render it so incomprehensible that it sends even diehards like me scurrying to the nearest wiki.
He’s slated to come out as bisexual in the pages of Superman: Son of Kal-El #5, written by Tom Taylor with art by John Timms, which will published on November 9th. Jonathan and his male friend Jay, introduced earlier in the series, will share a kiss.
I hope that clears things up. You don’t need to know all the complex continuity behind the details. You just need to know the basics.
In short, the Superman who came out as bisexual isn’t the primary Superman we’ve known since Action Comics #1. It’s Superman and Lois Lane’s son, Jon Kent. He’s actually a relatively new character, having debuted in 2015 just before DC’s Rebirth event. In that time, he’s grown and developed a lot, becoming one of the best Superman offspring characters we’ve seen in years.
He’s certainly grown on me in that time. This latest twist to his story only makes me love him more. I also encourage everyone curious about Jon Kent to read about him. If you need a starting point, I highly suggest a series called Super Sons. That firmly established Jon as someone who could wear his cape proudly.
In addition, it gives Jon something that further sets him apart from his father. Clark Kent will always be Superman, but that’s a title that need not be restricted to one man. Plenty of other characters have gone by that title and not all of them are directly related to Clark like Jon is. The title and the values behind it have always mattered more than the person.
Clark Kent understands that.
Jon Kent understands that.
The longtime fans of Superman also understand that.
Everyone who wields that cape protects, defends, and champions the values behind that name. Truth, justice, and the American way need not be the exclusive domain of a straight white man from Smallville. Someone like Jon Kent can also fight for them, but doing so doesn’t require that he be exactly like his father.
He can still be his own person and part of that persona just happens to involve bisexuality. That doesn’t at all detract from his ability to fight for those same values. It doesn’t change the importance of those values, either. At the end of the day, what matters most is that he fights for them with the same spirit and passion as his father.
That’s what makes him Superman.
It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s bisexual. He’s still Superman and one worth celebrating.