Confirmed: Superman is gay

(Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

He’s insanely ripped and wears a cape as part of his regular wardrobe. Of course he’s gay.

Actually, it’s his son who’s gay, according to D.C. Comics — or rather, bi. Jonathan Kent, Clark’s kid and inheritor of the superhero role, will have a same-sex love interest in an upcoming series but it’s not clear that he’ll be playing for the other team indefinitely.

Is that problematic, by the way? D.C. deciding to make Superman Jr swing both ways instead of having him announce his homosexuality may come off as a cop-out to some lefty activists. “Gay erasure,” if you will.

If the company were truly woke, they would have made him trans. Picture Superman in a Wonder Woman costume.

“The idea of replacing Clark Kent with another straight white savior felt like a missed opportunity,” said Superman writer Tom Taylor to the NYT, thereby instantly igniting an online culture war that’ll rage for the next 24-48 hours. Ohio Senate GOP primary frontrunner Josh Mandel was out of the box quickly, following his usual strategy of performatively outraged populist doomsaying:

If the country could survive Superman being a Soviet communist, it can survive his youthful “experimentation” phase.

In the writers’ defense, it was must be tough to come up with new adventures for a character after 83 years. Having Jon Kent play tonsil hockey with some dude at least sounds more entertaining than this dreary progressive oatmeal:

“I think Clark said it best when he left Earth in Jon’s hands. Clark was the Superman of tomorrow. Jon is the Superman for the days after,” Taylor says. “The question for Jon (and for our creative team) is, what should a new Superman fight for today? Can a seventeen-year-old Superman battle giant robots while ignoring the climate crisis? Of course not. Can someone with super sight and super hearing ignore injustices beyond his borders? Can he ignore the plight of asylum seekers?”

If you can’t make your superhero comic fun, you can at least try to make it “relevant.” Although I’m not sure how relevant this new story arc is. “In August, DC published an issue in which Tim Drake — aka Robin, Batman’s loyal sidekick — also came out as bisexual,” notes Variety. “Other major LGBTQ comic characters include DC’s Batwoman, Harley Quinn and Alan Scott (aka the first Green Lantern), and Marvel’s Iceman, America Chavez (aka Miss America) and Northstar — one of the very first openly gay comic book characters when he came out in 1992.” We’ve had nearly 30 years of gay superheroes, in other words. Superman may be the first A-lister among them but Phil Klein is right that this feels stale in an era when openly gay characters are common in fiction:

There’s no particular reason to get worked up over a comic-book character, of course. This development — as well as Superman getting more political — just strikes me as a boring and lazy way to try to generate headlines and put the iconic franchise on the correct side of the cultural divide. But the latest turn also seems to be a bit behind the times — in 2021, a character being gay does not quite generate the shock value it did decades ago.

The novelty here and the reason why it’ll briefly become a culture-war flashpoint lies partly in Superman’s image as an archetype of masculinity, Earth’s strongest, most indestructible man. (Well, alien. He “presents” as human, which makes him trans in a way.) The most virile figure in comics just can’t be into guys.

On the other hand, he is a journalist.

But beyond that, Superman is the most quintessentially “American” superhero by dint of his rise to popularity in the middle of the 20th century, as the U.S. rose to preeminence as leader of the free world. He’s a small-town boy who became the world’s most powerful figure by fighting for truth, justice, and, most importantly, the American way. He’s great because he’s good, the personification of our idealized past. It’s no wonder then that Mandel and other nationalists would take special offense to the character now displaying a trait that was forbidden in the era when Superman became an icon. It’s a cultural affront insofar as it signals that the America of today is fundamentally different from the America of the “glory days” of the mid-20th century. That core grievance is the whole reason Trump and Trumpism became a thing, notwithstanding Trump’s own tolerant views of gays.

Exit question: If a real-life NFL player can be gay, why can’t the Man of Steel?