Friday, August 22, 2003


In the August 8 issue of Entertainment Weekly, a producer makes explicit what was clear from the get-go about the Bravo series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: that its quintet of lifestyle consultants, the Fab 5, are intended as gay superheroes. (There’s even a nice illustration of a rainbow-tights-clad masked avenger accompanying a related article—not really my type, but I’d still do him.) I’ve been loving the way Ted, Carson, and company race to the rescue of style-impaired mortals as the campiest crusaders since a certain 1966 series. The show is even as rigidly structured as William Dozier’s Batman: opening background info, initial meeting with “victim” packed with catty comments, field trip to spa/clothier/grocer, return to transformed abode, disembodied viewing of the big night from Fortress of Solitude, final toast.

I’ve thought for years about fashioning an out comic book character (as opposed to a gay rewrite of the Batman mythos) myself, either in personal fantasy (which I guess I’ve already done) or in some more public fiction. I haven’t been that happy with most of the existing attempts – that “Northstar” dude doesn’t really do it for me, asethetically speaking, and I can never remember which “Flash” villain is supposed to be a 'mo. (Ah, yes, the Pied Piper, who is also a commie, I hear. Flash’s suit gets me hot, but his comics have always left me a little cold.) I was intrigued when two characters on the American version of Queer as Folk created a hero called Rage, but then the show is so horrendously terrible on the whole that I can’t really care. (Throughout the first season I kept waiting for Michael’s childhood comic-book crush, Captain Somebody Or Other, to enter the narrative, but no such luck. Again, I assume the writers would just fuck it up anyway.) Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure some of the characters in Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen are gay, but it’s been a long time since I read that one. (If you haven’t read it yet, let this be your cue. Almost as good is Peter Milligan’s graphic novel Enigma, which directly addresses some of the stuff I’m talking about here.)

So you can imagine my excitement when I finally picked up on Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s The Authority, a truly demented variation on/spoof of the Justice League of America, a few weeks ago. I know I’m several years behind the curve on this one, since the comics first appeared in 1999, but hey, I’m just not an Early Adopter. And as a result of holding off, I was able to buy three of the softcover compilation volumes at once – a good thing, since the minute I finished the first one I was hungry for more.

If you don’t already know the basic story, here’s an article from The London Times (inexplicably reprinted by the apocalpyse-minded Christadelphians) that gives you a taste, along with a more recent interview in a gay publication. The Authority is a group of super-powered individuals who save the world on numerous occasions (but not always; sometimes they leave the mortals to solve their own problems). Among its members are Apollo, a blonde-tressed, solar-powered Superman equivalent, and The Midnighter, a leather-clad ass-kicker who can predict his opponent’s every move. (The latter’s incredibly sexy mask and outfit give him the clear advantage in my book; if this guy had been around in the 1960s, I might never have given Batman a second glance.) At first they just seem inseparable and stand-offish, but by Volume Two of the collected adventures, The Midnighter is massaging Apollo’s shoulders while they watch Friends and saying, “God, I just love you to bits sometimes.” (Those are their only names, by the way; they don’t have alter egos or everyday monikers, much to their colleagues’ annoyance.)

What’s so striking about these two (beyond their irresistable looks) is how thoroughly they disrupt gay stereotyping. Both men are extremely violent; they dish out enough macho swagger to make Schwarzenegger blush. At the same time, by Book Four they’re raising a child together, and anytime one of them gets hurt, the effect on the other is heartbreaking. The balance between aggression and tenderness is a total turn-on for me, and their relationship seems completely true to a lot of leathermen’s partnerships. As a bonus, those of you who share my fondness for unmasking scenes and bondage will be particularly excited by Book Four, which features the original members of The Authority being replaced by corporate-controlled surrogates. Not only do all of the true Authority team meet horrible (if temporary) fates, but The Midnighter’s stand-in, adamantly heterosexual “Last Call,” finds himself bound and trapped in a birdcage with a ball gag over his mouth. (I should also put in a word for the one of the two other — hetero — male members of the original group, barefoot Jack, who’s yet another hottie.)

It’s not clear to me exactly what role a homo hero’s sexuality could or should play in his adventures, but I suspect that’s because hetero crusaders don’t often “use” their erotic inclinations while doing their jobs either – unless you count James Bond. Apollo and The Midnighter’s gayness isn’t really part of their superpowers, just a key dimension of their personalities, among many others. On the other hand, perhaps there is a stronger link than that. As a recent article originally printed in The San Francisco Bay Guardian (which I found out about via InSequence) points out, many superheroes and gay civilians share a talent for secrecy, double identities, and quick-witted resourcefulness. That’s obviously part of the lure for folks like me: the fantasy that the very thing which sets us apart from our peers also makes us special.

Whether you call it “x-ray vision” or a “queer eye,” the point is this: it’s a feature, not a bug.

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