Bunker Begins: The Debut of DC’s Newest Gay Superhero
Last month, I gave DC Comics suggestions as to how to tastefully craft its newest gay superhero, Bunker―an addition to the company’s high-profile Teen Titans superhero squad. Touted by artist Brett Booth as a more “effeminate” representation of queer men than DC’s typical gay fare, Bunker’s potentially stereotypical role put the publisher at risk of more backlash regarding its struggle to aptly diversify its cast of characters. But based on Bunker’s full-fledged appearance in Teen Titans #3, it looks like DC might successfully―and deservedly―sidestep any real scorn for how the character is portrayed.
Straight off the bat, Booth’s design of Bunker in civilian clothing―A.K.A. Miguel Barran―undercuts a bit of the reasoning behind some fans’ initial worry. When Bunker was first announced, pictures of him wearing purple in his superhero costume and pink in his civvies sparked some concern about overemphasizing his sexual identity. On the same day as the announcement, however, Booth wrote on his blog that the pink shirt would be changed to blue, and even referenced the fact that purple wasn’t his first choice for Miguel’s costume. Although the latter aspect of Bunker’s look was left unchanged (and begs the question of who insisted it stay), the decision to have him wear blue―while admittedly minor―seems to indicate on some level that Teen Titans‘ creators are consciously resisting a slippery slope toward stereotyping.
Far more convincing than any costume design, however, is writer Scott Lobdell’s dialogue for the character, which supports his clear intention to make Miguel much more than a gay caricature. Among my list of suggestions for DC’s treatment of Bunker was the prompt to “forget he’s gay” to a certain degree, and to flesh out for him a distinctive and memorable personality. Teen Titans #3 absolutely delivers on this front, not even explicitly addressing Bunker’s orientation (as Booth asserted way back in September) and instead establishing a likable mix of compassion, graciousness, goofiness, optimism, insecurity, vanity and valor in Miguel all within a handful of pages.
Another tip I gave DC in my previous Bunker article was to refrain from having Miguel hit on straight guys, due to homophobic generalizations on the subject often made about real life gays. That said, it was pleasing to see that when Miguel makes unwanted physical contact with a straight male in Teen Titans #3, his motive and method are completely non-sexual; once he meets Red Robin, his entire inspiration for immigrating to the United States to fight crime, he gives him an affectionate hug without the least bit of subtext or subversion.
The last of my suggestions relevant to Bunker’s debut was a request for the character to be just as hard-hitting and useful to the team as everyone else involved, in order to drive home the idea of his overall equality. But at least according to this inaugural Bunker story, it looks like readers will have to wait for him to become the badass that could serve gay comic representation best; Miguel seems to be in the beginnings of using his powers, making him vulnerable at one point to a physical assault by the powerless Red Robin, as well as prone to fumble with his abilities when handling an important task on his own later on. However, the story leaves room for a learning curve for Bunker to eventually develop into a superhero just as formidable as some of his teammates (although he’s shown as being no less skilled than future colleague Kid Flash, whose dangerous ineptitude with his powers makes Bunker far from the “worst” member of the group).
Other suggestions I put forward understandably weren’t all addressed in Bunker’s first full appearance, but Lobdell has supplied enough information via blog posting and interviewing to reveal that issues I brought up are on his mind, as well. For instance, my piece tackled the need for Miguel to have an emotion-based love life that transcends the sex-only relationships that stereotypes pin on the gay community, and according to Lobdell’s post on DC Comics’ blog The Source, Bunker will indeed be a man of love as well as lust.
“In order to join the Teen Titans, Miguel had to turn his back on the first great love of his life. When that love comes back, he’s going to learn that the same passion that fueled their relationship might very well consume him.” -Scott Lobdell
Comic Vine: Do you plan on taking on the prejudice and hate some feel towards the gay community or is his sexual orientation not going to be a major issue?
Scott Lobdell: Who plans on confronting homophobia? So, no, I don’t plan out it… but I’m sure it is out there and relatively sure Miguel or other members of the team are going to have to deal with it in some capacity or the other…. but, no, I don’t have any “plans”. (Sigh. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I — and Miggs — didn’t ever have to?)
And more specifically…
Comic Vine: Will anyone on the team have difficulty adjusting to/accepting who he is?
Scott Lobdell: I can’t imagine, can you? I think for the most part super heroes are the most open minded people in the first place, but also (and everyone can rail against this theory if they chose) but I just don’t think being gay is much of an issue for today’s more enlightened youth. Now, certainly there is bullying and coming out to one’s family and all the myriad problems and obstacles that come with coming out… but we’re living in a time where there are more gay celebrities and television and movie stars and talk show hosts and rock stars and reality show contestants and even other super heroes… but as far as this new generations acceptance of gays it just feels like it would be false note on our part if we decided that one of the Teen Titans would have any difficulty accepting Miggs because he’s gay.
Given the skyrocketing pile of teen suicides resulting from anti-gay bulling in North America, it’s strange that Lobdell would acknowledge how hard gay teens have it while at the same time asserting that homophobia is a relative non-issue among this generation of teenagers. Perhaps in wanting to make all of his Teen Titans lineup sympathetic, he’s justified in keeping homophobia out of his core cast; but Lobdell goes a step farther in his interview responses, heavily implying that he’s not interested in addressing the issue much at all. Perhaps there’s some value in having a gay character unburdened by the prejudice for the sake of wish fulfillment, but in terms of creating a character of emotional resonance and authentic relatability, Lobdell is taking an enormous misstep. Homophobia, unfortunately, is still a pervasive and blatant part of US culture―in some ways especially with teens. And although most aspects of Bunker’s debut have been solid so far, Lobdell should continue considering what will make Miguel’s story most significant.
Photos courtesy of DC Comics.
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