The Queer Appeal of Superheroes

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Summer is the season of sun, sand, and cinematic superheroes. Each summer the studios scramble to launch what they hope will be the next big superhero franchise, and this year is no exception.

 

Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger will all have blazed across movie screens by summer’s end. While superheroes have timeless international appeal, certain elements of these tales have special resonance for LGBT audiences.

 

The Eye Candy Factor: Superheroes are traditionally gorgeous, built men (and women in X-Men) fighting the bad guys in tight suits. Thor’s Chris Hemsworth, Green Lantern’s Ryan Reynolds and Captain America’s Chris Evans? Check, check, and double check.

 

The “Why Am I Different?” Factor: The superhero’s struggle with the fact that he or she is different from “normal” people is at the heart of their conflict – just as it is with LGBT folks. This is especially poignant in the X-Men series, where the mutants are both estranged from and persecuted by society.

 

X-Men: First Class is the origin story of the series, in which each of the young mutants first discovers their difference – and is profoundly relieved to learn that there are others like them. Sound familiar?

 

The Proving Your Worth to Parents Factor: While most superheroes, from Superman to Batman to Spider-Man, are orphans raised by surrogate parents, Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth by his true father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). His crime is belligerent arrogance, but replace that with being gay and you have the key family conflict that haunts millions of gays and lesbians.

 

The 98-Pound Weakling Factor: The Charles Atlas ads featuring the skinny guy who gets picked on transforming into a muscular hunk have appeared in comic books for decades. Captain America is both the comic book — and the ad — come to life.

 

Chris Evans plays the skinny, bullied dude with a heart of gold who’s transformed into a mountain of muscle by a machine that, if it actually existed, would put Gold’s Gym out of business. How many gay men have dealt with their feelings of inferiority by hitting the gym to transform themselves into Greek gods?

 

Cultural criticism aside – I want one of those machines. There, I’ve said it and I’m glad.

 

About The Author

Adam Sandel is a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, journalist and film critic living in San Francisco, California. He's the film writer for dot429 Magazine and is the host of the internet radio show "Happy Hour" on energytalkradio.com. adamsandel@yahoo.com adam@dot429.com

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