On Very Special issues

In my last post, I commented on a moment at the close of Teen Titans #1 in which the character Bunker took a moment to soapbox a bit on a comment someone made that he saw as derogatory against gay people.  The scene, in its entirety, is below:

bunker1 bunker2 bunker3When I picked up the issue, I had no idea who Bunker was.  I had skipped the Scott Lobdell Titans run and he did not exist before that book launched with the New 52.  But with this moment, I immediately thought “Oh, this is the gay character.”  And I don’t mean that derogatory – but with the purple and pink outfit, the earrings coming juuuust below the mask, and then the speech, it was obvious.

So I looked up Bunker on Wikipedia and learned that not only was he indeed gay, but had been created specifically to be “the gay character”.  It’s one of those oft-touted things that comic companies do to reach out and show how forward-thinking they are.  Like launching an entire X-Men team of females or announcing in big bold print that the new Ms. Marvel is Muslim.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that.  A team like Teen Titans should have a gay character in there if his presence is justified than more than simply “he’s the gay one”.  Of course, if you’re going for good representation, you might want to toss in someone who’s not white.  I suppose Bunker is Mexican, so he fills two minority spots.

So okay, Bunker’s cool.  What’s my problem with this scene?

The problem is the story didn’t lead into the speech.  The main plot wrapped, and then it’s like the story went “And here’s the part for the anti-hate speech” so some spectator walks in and delivers a gay line, and Bunker says his lines.  So now he doesn’t feel like his homosexuality is a part of the character, but rather to toss out After-school Special lines about acceptance.

So do I have a problem with talking about acceptance?  Absolutely not.  But there are far better ways of doing.  Sticking with the DCU (and a few of the characters, even) let’s jump back and remember the rather amazing Young Justice #43, titled “Liberty Throughout the Land”.

This book is focused on Traya Smith, the adopted daughter of Young Justice’s mentor the Red Tornado, who is attending an all-girls boarding school along with former-heroine Arrowette, still functioning in the book as a supporting character.  Traya is picked on because she’s intelligent at a young age, and well-off teenage girls can be like that.  I saw Mean Girls.

One of the student’s parents are doing mission work in the war-torn country of Bialya (a DC equivalent to a war-torn Middle Eastern country) and are killed by a suicide bomber just before being able to come home.  The student is amongst the more popular of the crowd, and thus her heartbreaking loss affects the entire student populace.

As the students begin talking about how horrible Bialya is where something like this happens, Traya reveals that she is Bialyan and was adopted by Red Tornado to free her from the war-torn nation.  Unable to separate her nationality from the actual person, the girls begin mercilessly picking on her, going so far as to blacken her eye with a dodge ball and cut a chunk of her hair out.  Cissie (Arrowette) calls in Young Justice to save Traya from a horrible beating about to take place, and Wonder Girl talks to the orphaned girl, trying to explain why horrible things happen.

Finally, as Traya is about to leave the school, she remembers an earlier lesson taught by one of the teachers about Japanese internment camps during World War II and realizes that she is who she is and she won’t run away from it, despite the acts of others who fear her for no good reason.

This is a Very Special Issue done Very Well.  Released in early 2002, just months after the 9/11 attacks in New York, the issue speaks out against hatred towards people based on their religion or race based solely on the actions of others.  Traya had nothing to do with the attackers that killed the student’s parents, yet she was still used as an output for the girls’ anger and sadness.  This was a timely issue representing things happening around the country, and sadly still take place now, 12 years later.

But this was also a well done issue.  Traya, a supporting character throughout Young Justice, was used well here to gain sympathy for the cause from the readers who knew her well.  You realized that there was no reason for anyone to even dislike her, let alone lash out against her, and Peter David used that familiarity to teach the lesson that other people in the real world are just like her.  That’s a message well received.

Now look at the Bunker thing again.  An issue is devoted to a runaway school bus and at the end someone walks by and says “gay heroes suck” so he physically attacks him and gives a three-panel speech about how it’s fine to be gay.  Good message.  Bad way to share it.

And that is what I failed to say in my eXamination of the issue.  And it’s given me a bit of a dislike for Bunker, as written by Will Pfeifer.



One comment

  1. I had a problem with that little “soap box” speech as well. In addition to being quite “forced”, it just felt/read awkward. A more logical response to the father I feel, would have been something along the lines of: “These costumed freaks just saved your daughter, you ungrateful piece of shite. Think about that the next time you or your little brat find yourself hanging off the side of a fucking tower at the mercy of The Joker.” Or something like that.


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