Published on August 9th, 2012 | by Joe Glass0
Tales from the Four Colour Closet – When Batman Saved a Fag
In this week’s Batman #12 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke, we’re finally introduced to Harper Row, a character who had appeared previously, but with little explanation or expansion; and presumably also the major new LGBTQ character that would have a massive impact on Batman that Snyder promised us at Kapow Comic Con this year. Or possibly LGBTQ characters, which I’ll get to later. Harper Row previously appeared in Batman #7, when she helps our hero but he rather gruffly rebuffs her, suggesting at a history that we were not privy to.
We now know that she actually appeared in issue one, in an even more background manner. Now at Kapow, at the same time as all the existing-character-reintroduced-as-gay stuff was revealed, Scott Snyder mentioned a new LGBTQ character coming up in Batman who’d have a big impact. Now, personally, I immediately assumed it was this character…but I may or may not have been wrong. In the course of the issue, we are also introduced to Harper’s brother, Cullen. Cullen is clearly gay, and not at all closeted…however, he is the victim of seemingly constant homophobic abuse. It is after one such case of abuse (involving a terrible beating, home invasion and unwanted haircuts) that this happens:
In case you can’t make it out, they shaved FAG into Cullen’s head. And in an effort to stand up to all the haters in the world and solidarity with her brother, Harper does the same to her head.
Now, the rest of the story I will leave to you to read, because frankly it’s amazing, heartfelt and really a great read with stunning art from two amazing artists and I’ve already spoiled far too much in my effort to discuss the complicated topic that the writers bring up here. But the act of shaving the word FAG into their heads and standing tall is important.
It’s been a long time since I can think of what is essentially a very grounded and realistic telling of the kind of negative reactions and abuse the gay community faces on a regular basis has been depicted in a comic. Nowadays, we’re all coming out easily, no one’s a homophobe and getting married left, right and centre. But here we have the dark side; the struggle that some of us as a community still face to this day. In the 21st Century. And we have shown here one of the LGBTQ communities strongest, most enduring and most effective weapon in our arsenal to diffuse the enemy: appropriating their weapons against us. The words ‘gay’, ‘poof’, ‘bender’ etc etc were all appropriated over time: initially they were used to abuse us, until we stood up to and dressed ourselves in the labels and showed our foes we can not be harmed in that way anymore.We stand up for ourselves, sometimes against frightening odds, and when we look them dead in the eyes we stare them down.
What the creators of this comic have done is go against the prevailing popular methodology of gays in comics and shown everyone that yes, even now, gay people get beat up and worse due to idiots and hatred. But they also celebrate the strength of the individual who stands up, uses their own weapons against them and says ‘no more’. Now, I am hoping that Cullen will appear more (and in my deepest, darkest fanboy fantasies, I hope he really does get Tim Drake in the end). I hope that his impact on Batman’s life extends to more than just getting beaten up a whole bunch of times until his sister gets the inspiration to become an ally (wanted or not) to Batman.
Now, I am also left a little unclear on if Harper herself is actually LGBTQ as well…so it may be that Cullen’s story is finished and the new queer member of Batman’s supporting cast roster is actually Harper. Or hell, if we’re lucky it’s both. Whatever the case, in this issue they’ve crafted a great story and a powerful message about the bravery and commitment of those few who really make things so much better for the rest of us.