Felix Masquerade

I dreamed of super-powers to be like the mutant X-Men, just as I had dreamed about being like the other boys in school.  I didn’t understand why I had to feel alienated and alone from everyone in my school and home; why couldn’t what made me different be celebrated the way athleticism and super-powers were? The character, Felix, I created was originally purely escapism, a way to join my favorite mutants as I read their new issues.   Over time he developed as I grew, becoming a character that I armored myself with in new and boundary-pushing situations.

The original power I grafted onto Felix were my wish fulfillment, liberating me from the conflicts I had with homosexuality’s shame.  Originally, I gave Felix shapeshifting abilities because I’d be able to become anyone other than myself.  With shapeshifting, I’d reflect the popular students throughout middle and most of high school, avoiding the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  Changing my appearance, Felix could literally become or match anyone’s desire, gaining the perfection that I had desired.  Being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal to make my goals and fantasies match my outside.

Felix was eventually given telepathy as I struggled to juggle the various facades I had created to navigate interactions.  Telepathy ensured that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with, removing the guess work about how to be part of the group.  I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.

As I began to fully explore what differentiated me from others, I added the final super-power: teleportation.  Felix would be able to truly escape any situation that was uncomfortable; I’d be free to be away from ticky-tacky suburbia and be where the different, foreign, and unique are celebrated –  New York City, home to many of Marvel’s superheroes and faraway from the mundane.  By this time Felix stopped becoming escapism and became the armor for every day, designed to masquerade as popular and fleeting.  Felix had become the mysterious character whose silent smile spoke, so that I didn’t have to expose myself to isolation and alienation.

What Comics Mean to Me

avengers_youngbabyx_02It’s always been easier to say, “I enjoy comic books” then “I am gay.”  In school, comic books sheltered me from isolation growing because they offered a world to escape into that was more acceptable than homosexuality.  The differences I had from other boys was easily masked by the label “geek.”  I welcomed being considered a geek because it allowed me to avoid being ostracized as a “sissy.”  The popular boys were my superheroes, the ones that I modeled my failed mimicry after because they embodied acceptability, which I could not do on my own.

Away from school, comic books provided a space to explore my queer identity, which has allowed me to state my queerness with greater confidence.  Prior to comic books, queer experiences shown in TV mass-media were rooted in pain, neglected, and isolated.  Comic books offered the first examples of characters who took their uniqueness, and amplified them to create identities that were admired.  The loud personalities of super-heroes demonstrated to me that it was possible to be accepted for brashness.  Super-heroes, like myself, hid their true self behind mild-mannered civilian identities.  A world was opened to me where underneath the mask I created in school the true self was possible to be celebrated, and accepted, for its accomplishments.

Wonder Woman as Queer

Wonder Woman by Nathan FoxWonder Woman is from Paradise Island, a single-sex island, where in the twenty-first century began canonical displays of romantic love towards one another.  Wonder Woman’s advocacy of queer eroticism, which began with her creation by William Marston in 1942 until Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent labeled Wonder Woman dangerous to young American girls by promoting lesbianism.  Fearing cancellation DC Comics’ writers and artists began suppressing Wonder Woman’s textual queer support, barely addressing her erotic history as subtext.  During this time Wonder Woman abandoned promoting equality between the sexes for earning Steve Trevor’s affections.  In the twenty-first century writers leaned-in to modern interpretations of Paradise Island, once again freeing Wonder Woman from heteronormativity, and regaining her role as an advocate of queerness.  Freedom from heteronormative expectations removes preconceived notions of “sex” and “gender” labels, allowing Wonder Woman to embody the idea of universal love.  Wonder Woman’s love for all extends to acceptance, such as in the 2016 (v3, #48), when she officiated over a same-sex wedding, legitimizing homosexuality as a mainstream.  Additionally, given Wonder Woman’s Amazon Princess role means that Hippolyta, queen-mother, would have performed officiations on Paradise Island, and given being royalty her participation would lend significance and validity to the ceremony.

Wonder Woman’s Dichotomy

 

Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes
Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes

Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, with her powerful abilities, centuries of training and experienced at handling threats that range from petty crime to threats that are of a magical or supernatural nature, Diana is capable of competing with nearly any hero or villain.  She’s concurrently the fiercest and most nurturing member of the Justice League, capable of making the hard decisions.  Wonder Woman’s hard-decision making is brought from her backstory and characterization.  In comic books and the DC Universe Wonder Woman’s nickname, The Amazon Princess, makes obvious the dichotomy inherent in the premiere super-heroine.  As an Amazonian she is a trained warrior, powerful, strong-willed, and does not back-down from a battle.  The princess aspect of the character places her in the political and diplomatic spheres, pursing peace without escalating conflicts.  In both worlds Wonder Woman is a leader, who, unlike Superman and Batman, understands the ramifications globally and locally of her actions.  Throughout the character’s seventy-five-year history, and several retcons, Wonder Woman has remained consistently nurtured humanity through compassion and a strong conscience.

 

Wonder Woman and American Ideals

 

wonder woman by iumazark-d3iekm2
By Gabriel Iumazark

Batman and Superman are aspects of the American experience in ways that Wonder Woman is not.  Superman is the immigrant experience, constantly having to be better and stronger than the ideals – truth, justice, the American Way – he embodies because if he does not than all immigrants/aliens/heroes would be viewed as untrustworthy.  Batman is the guilt wealth brings, fighting the shadows to right the wrongs upon which success is built upon.  Wonder Woman though is not born of the American Dream – she does not come from guilt due to success, nor is she an immigrant who holds ideals of a culture.  Wonder Woman, is a visitor to America; she is an emissary of foreign ideals that she hopes to impart.  By her actions and adventures Wonder Woman inspires all peoples to possess physical and mental strength, values, and ethical and moral attributes, proving that not only American values need dominate the world stage.  She is not looking to eclipse the core of American ideals, rather Wonder Woman’s goal is to symbolize that anyone can embody truth and justice.  Wonder Woman normalizes that esteem for human life is a source of strength.  This diminishes the American belief, which has vacillated through its history, that armed conflict leads to conflict resolution.

 

Queerly Geek

Enigma            Peter Milligan’s The Enigma confronts society’s expectations about identity.  The Enigma, narrated in the first person, tells the story of 20-something Michael Smith. Smith meets Titus Bird, the writer of the superhero comic book The Enigma, the story of a man with omnipotent powers who adopts the identity of a superhero. Smith runs into the Enigma, who reveals that he is an emotionless being, unfamiliar with concepts of right and wrong.  Enigma take Smith on life changing adventure where Smith is challenged by how consciously he is aware of himself.  His experience with Enigma reveal a deeper understanding of his, and the reader’s, place in the world.

In a twist at the end the narrator is revealed to be a lizard, that had been gifted human consciousness by Enigma, and the lizard is attempting to explain its new awareness to other lizards.  The other lizards though are unable to comprehend the story they are being told because their own knowledge of self and the world is limited.  The lizard’s interaction with Enigma mirrors Smith’s, who too has been changed and grown from experiences with Enigma, and finds it difficult to explain to friends.

[To Read the Complete Personal Essay Click the PDF Below]

Queerly Geek

MCU: Cloak & Dagger

 

Cloak & Dagger by Marco Xiconhoca
Cloak & Dagger by Marco Xiconhoca

Yesterday, Freeform (the rebranded Family Channel) released the trailer for the Cloak & Dagger TV series’ 2018 premiere.  I first found Cloak & Dagger at the same barbershop where I had discovered comic books; it was their first four issue mini-series.  Unlike the X-Men I did not follow Tandy Bowen (Dagger) and Tyrone Johnson (Cloak) with a zealous vigor, but I picked-up every appearance they made once I discovered back issues at Empire Comics, captivated by their Romeo & Juliet relationship.  Tandy, a privileged white girl who took ballet lessons, ran away because she felt ignored by her super-model mom; Tyrone, an African American, was mistaken by the police to be a murderer.  Similar to the Shakespeare characters Tandy and Tyrone followed their misguided desires and broke from their parents’ world.  The romance discovered while running away was balanced by the everyday struggles of living on the streets.  That Romeo and Juliet bond realistically portrayed love and relationships as a strength and weakness because the support that is given can embolden action, but creates fear that action can drive the loved one away.  Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger trailer retains the core aspects that made me follow the characters.

 

Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger is the story of Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph) – two teenagers from very different backgrounds, who find themselves burdened and awakened to newly acquired superpowers which are mysteriously linked to one another. Tandy can emit light daggers and Tyrone has the ability to engulf others in […]

via Freeform and Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger Gets a Trailer — Graphic Policy

Kabuki

Kabuki (david Mack)            I first read David Mack’s Kabuki with the 1998 storyline, ‘Metamorphosis.’  A storyline where the titular character, an assassin, must escape an institution that reprograms secret agents to work in other organizations.  While escaping Kabuki is pursued by released inmates and former teammates.  Kabuki’s fights are battles against mainstream’s expectations, rejecting the limiting philosophies each inmate represents through their fighting style.  The story is a metaphor for Kabuki rejecting expectations and the role she was groomed for, itself an allegory for teenage rebellion.

Kabuki is weighed down by history and without an identity separate from role.  Her motivation comes from the scar on her face, a feature she views as making her less than, separating her from the group.  To compensate Kabuki perfects the skills of an assassin to impress her paternal grandfather, a general.  Kabuki repurposes her combat skills into dance to express herself in pursuit of a new identity against the routine status quo, reflecting the rebellious nature of a maligned subculture.  I saw how an identity can shatter expectations, particularly when the pursuit of that identity uses the previous life’s tools.  By escaping Kabuki rejects the world, and the role it has tragically giver her.

Empire Comics

Empire ComicsEvery week I went grocery shopping with my mother and ran off to the magazines to check out the comic books.  After a few months I realized that there really was no rhyme or reason to the comics that were on the spin-rack, so I expanded out discovering Wizard Magazine, with comic book news, art, and a back issue price guide – giving me my first inclination that comics lasted longer than three months before disappearing.  When this no longer kept me contained so mom could grocery shop in peace, my parents began taking me to local comic book shops (LCBS) that were found through the yellow pages.  It took a few weeks until we ventured to Empire Comics.  In this LCBS, I found organized rows of new comics, shelves like a book store filled with the most recent 6 months of each title, and longboxes filled with back issues.  Empire Comics treated a comic book shop as more than just a secret club, but treated comic books themselves as the escapism that they had become for me.  I scanned the shelves, intimidated by the independent comic books I had read about, and grabbed the issues to fill in the gaps in my new X-Men collection.

My Comic Book Fan Origin

perez-wonder-woman

I discovered comic books through barbershop trips with my father.  The barber had old issues of George Perez’s Wonder Woman, which I’d read while my dad had his turn in the chair.  I remember being discouraged once I realized it was a serialized story, “War of the Gods,” and the barber only had intermittent issues.

In 1993 I was allowed to leave my mom in the grocery store and stay in the magazine section; reading has always been a preferred past-time, so being left alone was an easy sell, and she knew I wasn’t going to leave the area.  The magazines were not very interesting, but occasionally I did stop to flip through a Time, Newsweek, maybe RollingStone, depending on the cover.  This time when I opened comic books I connected with every aspect of the superhero genre: the ordinary persona was a cover for the true fascinating life away from restrictions.

Most comics in the spinner rack were c-list, Ex-Mutants or SleepWalker; others were b-list or cult heroes like the growing Dark Horse line, Ghost or X.  I sampled each one, but their struggles felt too distant from my own.  When I tried the X-Men I found the heroes that instinctually understood me.