Understanding the Era of Woke Comic Books

(Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Every week, I will end up reading whatever Batman-related comics get released. It’s one of the few opportunities for reading non-news/non-political stuff these days. Given my schedule, it takes me a month or more to read a novel that would have taken me maybe a couple of weeks to read just a few years ago. But comic books are easy enough to knock out in an afternoon and still (mostly) get a good story.

Back in October, the streams were crossed and there was a bunch of outrage online about DC announcing a bisexual Superman. My colleague, Brandon Morse, summed up a lot of why people were upset in probably the most level-headed response one could find on the right.

Many will say that it’s homophobia driving the anger toward DC’s decision on their character’s sexualities, but that’s not it. The anger it drives has more to do with what we know the decision was based on, not homosexuality itself.

The issue is that homosexuality has been used as a cudgel with which to club the non-woke with, which is the vast majority of America. They simultaneously want to use Superman’s sexuality to normalize homosexuality to the young and purposefully anger everyone else for both publicity and personal reasons. They want to shove it in your face and make you watch as they destroy characters you grew up with with “modern” values that make no sense to the character or the story half the time.

Here’s the kicker.

DC Comics’ bad writing is just punching holes in its own hull, and as a result, it will continue to sink into oblivion until it’s not worth much in printed form. At some point, people will just get tired of reading about their favorite characters being molested by undeserving creators and tune out. The sales and publicity will disappear, and DC will be a memory some once had from back when they were kids. Back when DC was actually trying to write good stories and sell comics to Americans, not just a small subsection of hateful ones.

Last week, there was another heavily-pushed news item from the media, this time over Wonder Woman and her new girlfriend. Every mainstream outlet that reported on it breathlessly covered it as though it were a major change for the character, and there were a few reactions on the right that were predictable responses to that.

Except, in both stories, most of those involved fell into a bit of a media trap: The media chose to cover both stories pretty dishonestly, using headlines that suggested the stories were more impactful than they actually were. Most people on social media never gave the issue a deeper read than the headlines, which said that Superman is now bisexual. In reality, it’s the original Superman’s son, Jon Kent. Clark Kent would be heading off-world for an extended period, leaving the mantle of Superman in his son’s hands.

The younger Kent, who is not going to be “Superman” forever, is getting fleshed out as a character. He’ll still appear in comics after the “return” of Clark Kent, but that is really as far as it goes.

The Wonder Woman story was even more dishonest in its framing. The intimate moment between her and another character happened in the series “Dark Knights of Steel,” which is not part of the main continuity of the comics. Further, it’s not even news that Wonder Woman is bisexual. One of the best writers in the business, Greg Rucka, confirmed she was bisexual back in 2016. But the headlines (and the reaction) were based on a false premise.

Over the summer, DC Comics celebrated pride month with a special issue focusing on LGBT heroes and relationships. It saw names you knew (like Harley Quinn and Batwoman) and names you may be less familiar with (like Renee Montoya/The Question) and how they balance their romantic lives with their superhero (or villain?) lives. It was an absolute pander, because we see those relationship struggles throughout the series those characters have been involved with. More importantly, we know that sexuality isn’t what makes the hero any more than the skin tone does.

And that’s the real trick, though. This isn’t so much a trap from the media generating outrage clicks as it is DC generating headlines and PR. They are making plays to increase their visibility because the comic book industry is struggling. Overall sales have grown, but the bulk of the sales are in graphic novel format versus individual books and book subscriptions. Digital sales are up, but comic book stores are struggling. There have been some issues over the past several years concerning distribution and cost. These comic book companies are businesses that wish to stay profitable.

And… well, let’s face it. The DC Extended Universe movies have been hit-or-miss at best. They aren’t getting the solid headlines they like from there, so they have to make adjustments, and this is one of them. Appeal to a broader audience by increasing LGBT representation.

The sexuality of Superman’s son or the relationship between Wonder Woman and another character in a non-canonical book don’t really have any greater effect on the stories. But they are all out there because they think it will grow the business. And, frankly, comics books are not an area that conservatives really fight on, so it’s not like a massive wave of boycotts would happen, much less help.

At the end of the day, it’s all PR. Always has been.