Batgirl Feat. First Trans Wedding: Why Comics Are More Progressive
It’s a celebratory time for comic lovers everywhere, as the popular series Batgirl has recently incorporated a trans wedding into its storyline. Back in 2013, Barbara Gordon’s (aka Batgirl’s) roommate, Alysia Yeoh, came out to her as a trans woman. While it’s been a long journey from that moment, the newest issue involves Alysia finally getting married to her longtime partner and activist, Jo, in the first ever trans wedding to be featured in a comic series – something that has yet to be seen in other mainstream mediums.
The comic industry has a long history of being the first to address representation and tackle social injustice in its content. Back in 1963, when Marvel first ran its classic X-Men, author Stan Lee used the story of ‘mutant rights’ to mirror the civil rights movement that was coming to a head. Fans have often accepted the two leaders of the mutant movement, Professor Xavier (the bald guy in the wheelchair) and Magneto (the bad guy in basically every X-Men film you’ve ever seen), as parallels to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Other characters even refer to the goal of mutant equality as ‘Xavier’s Dream‘. The industry has been able to use these coded stories in order to bring social injustice to the forefront of their reader’s mind.
Comics have also been able to be far more inclusive and diverse in their characters than film and television. These include Kamala Khan, Pakistani-American girl, as Ms. Marvel; the new Spiderman, half black, half Puerto Rican Mile Morales; Sam Wilson, a black man, as DC’s Captain America; and Holly Robinson, the open lesbian that carried Catwoman’s mantle for a time.
But why has it been so much easier for comics to use social commentary than it has been for television or movies? First of all, it just costs way less to write, illustrate, print, and subsequently buy the approximately 30 pages found in each single trade (which includes ads) than it does to create an entire TV/film set with actors, directors, cameramen, props, and expensive equipment. As a reference, Game of Thrones had an $8 million budget for just one of their episodes.
It’s also simpler because comics, for the most part, inhabit a world of suspended disbelief. It’s not people of color fighting racial injustice; it’s mutants fighting injustice against mutants. The general population doesn’t want to believe that they’re racist, but can feel sympathy for a world and concept that they can’t be a part of. While film and TV have also created worlds of fantasy, comics are the only visual medium that has a history so ingrained in the fantastical.
Comics have flourished into an art form of inclusion and rebellion. From female lead comics like Bitch Planet and Rat Queens, to racially charged comics like the sci-fi epic like Saga, there’s no shortage of diverse character and commentary.
Hero image art by Babs Tarr & Serge Lapointe.