On October 11th — National Coming Out Day — DC announced that its current iteration of Superman comes out as bi in the November issue of “Superman Son of Kal-El.” Backpedal: it’s not Superman, not quite, but his son Jonathan Kent who comes out. The real real Superman’s off in space somewhere. Jonathan’s been hanging out as Superboy for a while, and he takes up the cape — then kisses a boy. So he’s both Superman and plausibly not-Superman since DC reboots and remixes and retcons its heroes on the reg.
And of course, the fact that the Man of Steel is now going all steely for men has scrambled brains across America.
Superman’s an OG superhero. He’s one of the Top Two: ask someone to name a superhero, and they’ll say “Superman” or “Batman.” Ask them to name the most powerful superhero, and even if their heart belongs to Gotham, they’ll admit that Bruce Wayne is a playboy with cash (much like Tony Stark), and Kal-El is a superhuman alien whose Kryptonian biological makeup is enhanced by the qualities of Earth’s yellow sun. Batman might be that sexy heart of darkness, but Superman’s a shiningly masculine light of Truth, Justice, and The American Way. When Superman comes out as queer, he changes a narrative about masculinity and heroism, about what qualities matter most in our admirable characters and whose stories are worth telling.
This is not as if Aqualad’s coming out.
Wait, he already did. Did you miss that part? Maybe you did. Maybe because he’s freaking Aqualad, and if “Aqua” doesn’t involve “Jason Momoa,” no one in America is there for it.
In fact, DC and Marvel have had a slew of minor characters and bit players come out: John Constantine. Poison Ivy. Catwoman. Loki (more of a major player since Loki, but still a marginalized antihero). Deadpool creator Gerry Duggan has admitted that Deadpool will do “anything with a pulse.” But none of them can come close to Superman’s cache. If you’ve ever heard of John Constantine, you probably love comics and already know freaking Wiccan is gay (Wiccan, by the way, is actually Billy from WandaVision, and he was the first gay marriage in DC). You’re also probably in a corner tweeting support for a nonbinary actor playing Desire in the upcoming release of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and news that Superman comes out isn’t so much news as an “oh, interesting take on Jon Kent’s identity issues.”
But for many people, news that Superman came out is news.
And just like great power comes with great responsibility, big news comes with Big Feelings™.
But “Superman Comes Out” Isn’t Really Superman
NPR throws serious shade at DC for allegedly “attaching an all-important asterisk” to news that Superman comes out. He’s Superman, they argue, but because Jon’s Clark Kent/Kal-El’s son, he’s not the real-real Superman, so he’s still safe. Which is a whole lot of bullshit, since characters get rebooted and remixed so often in comic universes that claiming anything is the original anyone is sort of like claiming, at this point, there’s a one and only Spiderman (in fact a postmodern take on creators’ remixing and reclamation).
For the same reason, they claim that the new bi/gay Robin (of Gotham City fame) doesn’t count either because he’s third-iteration Robin, Tim Drake, not original Dick Grayson. But if someone would like to explain how a major comics distributor could make someone named Dick go all-in for dick, I’m absolutely there for it. Hilarity of that scandal would rank up there with the BatPenis fiasco of three years ago, when creators in the first Batman Damned issue dared to draw a very blurry, unsatisfying BatWang. With all their other issues, including all the creative job cuts, DC ain’t got time for that.
No, this really is Superman. He counts. And you can accuse DC of leaving itself a nice little pressure value to turn down conservative heat, but if that’s true, they leave that on everything they release. When Superman comes out, it’s no less authentic than another iteration of Superman coming out, because Jon Kent’s Superman now, like, at this moment.
They could always reboot and retcon a queer Kal-El Superman, and if that’s what you want, well, you’d find a way to bitch about that, too. He’s not the real Superman blah because they retconned him as queer blah blah and it’s tokenism and blah. See?
Which Is What Conservatives Think Is Happening
Of course, conservative ‘Murica has no such eye for nuance, much less comic history, and they’re losing their collective minds about Superman going super-in on dudes. Of course, they’re venting their wrath on Twitter, leaving the comics world with a record of their hysteria which would be absolutely hilarious if it didn’t point to such vitriol about the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole.
Well, Arizona state senator Wendy (and in your honor we’re making “Wendy” the new “Karen”), if Superman did love “Louis” Lane, that would be some hardcore queer retconning, and while we’d totally show up for that, it’s not happening ATM, so calm your tits. She’s so far out of the loop she’s saying our hero should fall for his mother. Also, as Them points out, thanks for the bi erasure along with your blatant homophobia.
Literally. Like, when Superman comes out, America will be torn apart! Only Superman could save us in some crazy Superman v. Superman scenario which was basically Superman III, but wait — he’s bi! We’re doomed!
As another tweet points out, “If bisexual comic books can destroy America, we probably weren’t worth saving in the first place.”
Why Superman Comes Out
Because why not?
“The idea of replacing Clark Kent with another straight white savior felt like a missed opportunity,” says writer Tom Taylor. A “new Superman had to have new fights — real world problems — that he could stand up to as one of the most powerful people in the world.” So if Superman wants to stay oh-so-very super, he has to deal with our world. In “Son of Kal-El,” Jon has put out “wildfires caused by climate change, thwarted a high school shooting and protested the deportation of refugees in Metropolis.”
We need to change our stories to fit our lived narratives, and those narratives demand a different type of hero — sorry, ‘Murica. While we’ve got a lot of villain-punching to do, it’s a postmodern kind of villain-punching: more K-pop fans punking the Trump campaign via TikTok than actual, physical, fist-meet-villain.
Glen Weldon, the author of “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography,” and the co-host of the Pop Culture Happy Hour on N.P.R, despite bitching about DC’s allegedly leaving itself an out, says, “Any step that can be taken to make the world on the superhero comics page look more like the world outside of it is good… That gives you access to more varied stories, more interesting stories, more compelling stories, more different ways of telling stories.”
“I’ve always said everyone needs heroes and they deserve to see themselves in their heroes,” Taylor says. “For so many people, having the strongest superhero in comics come out is incredibly powerful.”
Who’s crying? Not me. I’m not crying. Not one bit. I’m not like, imagining a comic fanboy somewhere in flyover country getting his issue of “Superman Son of Kal-El” and staring at that panel, seeing himself, seeing validation —
I’m not crying! You’re crying!
Bitch about Superman coming out all you want. I’ll be tweeting about Sandman and thinking about that kid in flyover country. He’s worth all your stupid Big Feelings, conservative America, because one in six members of Gen Z is LGBT, a number likely to grow. You’re dying.
He’s the real Man of Tomorrow.