I’ve been looking forward to reviewing Teen Titans #3 ever since artist Brett Booth announced on his blog that the issue would be introducing Miguel Jose Barragan, a new flamboyant, openly gay, Mexican superhero who goes by the alias Bunker.
In a recent interview with Comic Vine, Scott Lobdell explained his decision to create a new openly gay Titan: “It just came about because when Brett [Booth] and I were asked to create some new characters, he and I agreed that the comics industry is filled to overflowing with straight white male characters… and it was time (well, past time) to bring an openly gay teenager to the series.”
I’ve also been worried, but not for the reasons so commonly expressed by some of the more conservative elements in the comic book community. In fact, I whole heartily support the addition of an openly gay Titan. I also applaud the addition of more non-Caucasian heroes. What we need in superhero comics is more diversity, not less. However, recently I have become aware of an alarming trend in comics I refer to as minority stuffing.
Minority stuffing is exactly what is sounds like. It’s when creators make a character a member of multiple minority groups simply for the sake of “diversity.”
I am not suggesting that characters, like Bunker, who are members of multiple minorities are intrinsically offensive. What I am suggesting is that there is a serious problem within the industry of letting one or two characters represent all that is not white, straight, and male.
As a whole, I was rather happy with Bunker’s first true appearance in Teen Titans #3. The comic is a good one. It manages to fit a surprising amount of character development and action in a book with numerous characters and only 20 pages of story. Plus, I like Bunker. He’s a confident, easy-going youth who seems comfortable with who he is. What’s more, he holds his own against Red Robin both in a physical confrontation and also in regard to his ability to carry a scene.
But Bunker is far from perfect. I can’t get over the fact that he is an openly gay character who wears a purple suit and makes purple energy bricks. Really? Purple? How original. We get it, he’s gay.
Purple costume aside, I actually think that Bunker’s sexual orientation is handled better than his ethnicity. When we first meet Bunker, he’s trying to get to the U.S. by sneaking onto a train. So right away, the first things I know about this character are that he’s a flamboyant, gay Mexican boy who wears purple, manipulates purple energy, and is heading to the U.S. by… sneaking onto a train. If the purple costume wasn’t stereotypical enough, this sure as hell is.
The fact that DC only has two prominent LGBT characters in their mainstream continuity, one of whom is a combat-boot-wearing Jewish lesbian (Batwoman), the other a flamboyant Mexican immigrant (Bunker), is a problem for me. Not only do both characters consist of gay stereotypes, but they are each one of the only superheros of their respective ethnicities.
But DC’s not the only company who tries to cram multiple minorities into the same character. Marvel is guilty too. Not only is the new Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales) of African American and Latino descent, but there are also hints that he may be gay. So not only is he the Ultimate line’s token Latino, and one of the line’s few black characters, but he could also be the token gay character.
Honestly, the Teen Titans’ creative team is about the only one who’s gotten DC’s New 52 relaunch right. Lobdell and Booth actually took this as an opportunity to make their book more diverse, more inclusive, and more compelling to a larger percent of the population. Just compare the new Teen Titans to the “new” almost entirely white, almost entirely male Justice League. The Titans have 3 Caucasian males, 1 Caucasian female, 1 non-Caucasian openly gay male, and 2 non-Caucasian females. Compare that to the Justice League’s 5 white guys, 1 lady, and only 1 non-Caucasian member!
I would like to clarify that this is not an attack on white, straight characters. This also not an attack on Kate Kane, Miguel Jose Barragan, or Miles Morales as individual characters. Hell, it’s not even an attack on these characters’ creators. As a whole, I applaud these creators for their collective and individual efforts to make comics a more diverse space. This a critique on the comic industry (and to an extent pop culture) as a whole and its unwillingness to give us the truly diverse characters we deserve.
I still dream of the day that comics and other media better represent the world’s ethnicities, races, religions, genders, and other minorities, but for now, I guess I’ll take Bunker and the handful of characters like him who are forced to exist as individual microcosms of our world. Mr. Lobdell and Mr. Booth, take care of Bunker. It’s not right and it’s not fair, but he’s now the source of a significant part of the industry’s diversity.
[Update: It appears that the rumors of Miles Morales being gay were just that: unfounded rumors. However, I have left the article as it first appeared. While he may not be one of the Ultimate line’s only LGBT characters, he’s still one of the line’s very few Latino and Black characters.]