Marvel Comics has come a long way in terms of its portrayal of sexual orientation – you just can’t deny that. We’ve gone from the pre-eminent hokey presentations of people we just assume are sexually active (I mean, Franklin Richards had to come from somewhere) to very fleshed out, believable characters who are gay and lesbian (and…in relationships). Heck, one of the ‘star couples’ of Marvel is a gay couple (arguably Hulkling and Wiccan, who I wrote about before), so that is a major step forward. So, no matter how snarky this piece may seem, one must give Marvel their props there.
However, Marvel has done a not-so-great job in their portrayal of bisexual characters, and specifically bisexual male characters. In this, we have to cut Marvel a bit of slack: American society isn’t the greatest in its understanding (or sensitivity) to male bisexuality. I have to tell you, when I decided to write this piece and told some people about discussing bisexuality, some of the reactions I got crossed the spectrum of downright Victorian to bordering on Neanderthal. It is absolutely shocking how many people believe that bisexuality is a ‘phase’, or ‘faking’ or ‘greedy’ or whatever other negative connotation one might imagine. So bisexuality, especially male bisexuality, is the victim of a pretty bad rap.
However, that pales in comparison to what one might consider what Marvel presents. A number of the most prominently presented male bisexuals don’t even seem to be really bisexual. Take a look at these three characters, who are recognized as bisexuals, and the reason why they are bisexual.
Prodigy. The recent Young Avengers reveal that former New X-Man Prodigy is indeed bisexual was quite a shock, especially given little evidence of this in the past and his mad love for fellow New X-Man Surge. However, the issue of Prodigy isn’t the fact that he is, indeed, bisexual, but why he is bisexual. He seems to indicate to Hulkling, in explaining his orientation, that it was a result of his now gone mutant power (which allowed him to absorb knowledges and abilities from others, albeit temporarily). Somehow, when the Stepford Cuckoos broke down his blocks and gave him access to his past info, bisexuality seemed like the logical thing. So….sexual attraction is now a result of your power set? Okay.
Daken. One simply cannot speak about ‘sexual power as your power set’ without talking about Daken, Wolverine’s wayward and (formerly) dead son who everyone just loved to hate. Beyond claws and a healing factor, Daken also had pheromone based powers that could affect whomsoever he wanted. (Death Daken might still have it; not sure) The implication was that Daken (who we were told was bisexual) was such because sexuality is yet another arsenal in the weapon of manipulation; when Daken was using his bisexual (or expressing it), it seemed to be to get the upper hand or to question the orientation of his opponents. So, in that sense, a question could be raised: was/is Daken truly bisexual, or is it simply beneficial for a manipulator to simply be bisexual (something we’ve seen in media many, many times, and recent reports suggest we might seem in the new Loki: Agent of Asgard book)?
Shatterstar. Ah, committer of the kiss that ticked off a thousand Rob Liefleds , Shatterstars’ sexuality has been called into question for over a decade, and it was Peter David who set the record, er, straight. Well, sort of. It turns out Shatterstar is sort of without a sexual orientation; he didn’t grow up with experiences of what orientation meant, so he’s sort of bisexual by default (of wanting to experience everything). I commend Peter David for a million, million things, and he is one of my favorite writers of all time, but this (unwittingly) led into the stereotype of ‘bisexuals as greedy’ given that several times in the comics Shatterstar made simple comments into double entendres with others regarding sex. I would like to believe I know where Peter David was going (sort of like a Captain Jack Harkness from Dr. Who thing, a sexual orientation refinement where gender, or species, doesn’t really matter), but it got perceived as an “alien with no real sexual orientation, so, he just rolls with bisexuality”. (On the other hand, it should be stated that David’s portrayal of Rictor, and his explanation of his bisexuality to the weirded-out Rahne Sinclair, was just down right masterful).
Again, this topic seems nit-picky when compared to the quantum leap in thinking that’s come in regards to Marvel comics under Joe Quesada’s leadership. However, I do believe, speaking as a behavioral scientist and comic nerd, that this encourages us (as in, all of us) to continue conversations about sexual orientation outside of the gay/straight binary, because there’s a lot of learning that needs to go on about the middle.