RACHEL: YES, PLEASE. I think this is a tricky area, because there’s a really thin line between visible representation and the kind of Very-Special-Issue heavy-handed proclamation that, say, Northstar’s coming-out scene exemplifies:
This came up on the panel specifically in terms of disability—that Hawkeye uses a hearing aid, but that a lot of readers (and, I’d wager, some of the folks who’ve written or drawn the character in the last decade) don’t know that. I wonder how many Hellblazer fans know that Constantine’s canonically queer?
I talked some on the panel about how much I love Renee Montoya, particularly as drawn by Cully Hamner. Renee’s awesome for a lot of reasons, but one that speaks to me really directly is that I’d never before seen a masculine-of-center queer woman as a protagonist in a mainstream superhero comic. With the exceptions of flagrant extremes, queer characters—and particularly queer women—tend to be super-stealth, at least visually.
And, for what it’s worth—as someone with a lot of history with mental illness and invisible disability, I’ve been hella impressed with how well, directly, and consistently superhero comics, at least, have portrayed and addressed mental health issues.
CHERYL LYNN: Just wanted to chime in and mention the amazing Incognegro, which deals with the issue of passing. Of course, it’s not a superhero tale! I often wish that the topic would be addressed more in Marvel and DC works given the number of characters that do not “look like” what they have been written to identify as.
RACHEL: Stuck Rubber Baby, too, in context of both sexual orientation and race, as well as points of intersection. Again, not a superhero comic, though. The idea of passing comes up in X-Men explicitly and frequently in context of mutants, and there’s a long and interesting conversation to be had about Superman and Martian Manhunter’s origins as different takes on assimilation and passing narratives (Manhunter in particular), but in all three cases, it’s pretty much all allegorical.
With regards to those Marvel and DC characters - there’s an ongoing pattern of deviation from the (white/homogenously physically idealized/&c.) norm being gradually erased over generations of artists. For me, that speaks more to an editorial failure than an artistic one: either the people in positions to communicate this stuff to artists as priorities aren’t doing it, or they don’t wield sufficient authority to insist that artists to stay on-model. Style-bible and continuity checking are usually lower-level editorial responsibilities, and there’s not a lot an assistant editor can do to address the problem directly without support from higher up. Which is to say: This isn’t a few artists fucking up. It’s a systemic case of misplaced priorities.